The Rustic Paradise of Daufuskie Island: South Carolina’s Best Kept Secret

Daufuskie Island
South Carolina is one of America’s most-visited states, drawing approximately 30 million domestic travelers annually. Many of those travelers — often seeking sun, seafood and the undeniably American charm of the state’s quintessential Atlantic coastal towns — spend their time in hotspots like Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Charleston and Huntington Beach. But sandwiched between Hilton Head and Savannah, Ga., there’s a rustic, hidden gem worthy of a visit: Daufuskie Island. Though it’s one of the most intriguing and historically rich places in the American South, it’s one of the least-known — perhaps because the place is accessible only by boat.

The History of Daufuskie Island

According to Fran Heyward Marscher, author of “Remembering the Way It Was at Hilton Head, Bluffton and Daufuskie,” Daufuskie Island joins its surroundings as a quintessentially Lowcountry destination, rich with history, color and natural beauty. She imagines the scene if it were put together on screen or stage, depicting the past:
“For props, the Lowcountry players would need a bateau (flat-bottom rowboat) and a steamboat, an ox and a thoroughbred horse, a handmade fiddle and a grand piano. They would need a patch of okra, Atlantic blue crabs and a wood-burning stove. The scenery would include salt marsh, courtrooms and dining rooms, a few big houses with finely carved mantelpieces and a lot of small cabins with blue paint on the door to protect against bad luck.”
The island was named “Daufuskie,” which means “sharp feather,” by the native Muskogean people that predated the Spanish settlers who inhabited much of the Atlantic coast in 1521. A clash between indigenous people and the Spanish settlers came to a head at Daufuskie during the Yamasee Uprising between 1715 and 1717, spurring the naming of the southernmost tip of the island: Bloody Point. In the subsequent years, a handful of powerful European plantation owners dominated the island.
Marscher explains that the region was one of the first “free places” following the Civil War, attracting many newly emancipated settlers following the abolishment of slavery. During that period, black residents outnumbered white ones 10 to one, and the island acted as a harbor for the Gullah culture. Due to Daufuskie’s remoteness, the Gullah legacy was able to sustain and flourish there. The booming oyster industry — which ultimately dried up due to pollution in the 1950s — nurtured the island’s economy for centuries.
Daufuskie Island historic home
These days, Daufuskie draws visitors who come to learn about the Gullah culture and experience some old-fashioned, Lowcountry charm. Though it has a full-time population of only 400 people, the island’s many unique, cultural attractions draw plenty of off-the-beaten-path tourists annually. The entire island is on the National Register of Historic Places.

What to Do in Daufuskie

  1. Step Back in Time at the Historical Foundation — The Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation is the place to start for history-seekers. It operates a museum with artifacts and exhibits from pre-colonial era Daufuskie through today, including the Midwife Carriage, a one-seated buggy once owned by midwife Sarah Grant.
  2. Dine on Classic Lowcountry Cuisine — You simply can’t travel to Daufuskie Island, or South Carolina in general, without tasting some traditional Lowcountry cuisine. The Daufuskie flavor is marked by fresh seafood and Gullah staples like okra, yams, peanuts and hot peppers. Some of the best places to eat on the island include the Daufuskie Crab Co. and Lucy Bell’s Café.
  3. Shop Daufuskie’s Galleries and Studios — At the heart of Daufuskie Island is a local cultural revival, and the island has become an unexpected hotbed for artisans, crafters and fine artists. The many galleries and studios that dot the island showcase woodworking, basket weaving, pottery and painting.
  4. Take a Sip of Daufuskie Island Rum — The Daufuskie Island Rum Company has the unique honor of being one of the world’s only rums made entirely on an island. Distilled and bottled onsite, this world-class rum is well worth the ferry fare for a day trip to Daufuskie.  
plate of food

Getting to Daufuskie Island 

If taking the road slightly less traveled is your goal, then you might want to consider spending some time at Daufuskie Island the next time you find yourself in the lower Carolina. The island is only accessible by boat or passenger ferry, with vessels leaving from Hilton Head and Bluffton daily. With so much to eat, see and discover, Daufuskie Island makes an ideal day trip for Lowcountry explorers!