Hilton Head Island was originally occupied by various Native America tribes. The first Europeans to arrive were the Spanish, in 1521. The Spanish mistreated the local Indians and were eventually driven off by them.
In 1663 an Englishman, captain William Hilton, arrived looking for a place to plant sugar cane and indigo and claimed the island for the British crown. Hilton Head soon thrived as landowners established plantations of these crops and cotton.
In 1861 Hilton Head Island was overrun by Union army troops and many of the residents fled, to be replaced by escaped slaves as well as the Union troops and their Confederate prisoners. After the civil war the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop and Hilton Head was all but abandoned. A few remaining blacks, former slaves and their descendants, stayed and survived by farming and fishing. These residents were so isolated from the mainland they developed their own language and culture based on their African heritage. Today these people and their language are known as ''Gullah" and they are widely regarded as ''native" islanders.
In the 1940's Hilton Head was rediscovered as a hunting ground for wealthy sportsmen, who later saw the commercial potential in the tall pine trees that covered the island. As the lumbering industry began to grow, electricity was brought to the island, in 1950. This paved the way to development of the island as a tourist destination.
In 1956 a bridge was built connecting the island to the mainland. At that same time, a visionary young developer, son of a family who owned most of the land on the southern end of the island, conceived a resort community that would blend with the natural beauty and ecology of the island. Charles Fraser's resulting Sea Pines Plantation resort has become a model for resorts world wide that focus on the preservation of nature and the blending of structures with the environment. Charles was killed in a boating accident in the Caribbean in December 2002.
Since then, development has continued in other areas of Hilton Head, but always under strict architectural guidelines. Buildings are painted in earth tones, heavy landscaping is required, signage is subdued, and Hilton Head remains elegant.
As of the 2010 census, the population of Hilton Head is approximately 37,099 and the island hosts more than 2.5 million visitors each year.
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This page Updated 02/09/2019