Discover and Relive America's Past in Historic Beaufort, South Carolina

Jerry Blackwelder

Discover and Relive America's Past in Historic Beaufort, SC

In 1566, long before the founding of Jamestown, Santa Elena on Paris Island in Beaufort County, SC became the first European settlement in North America.

Three centuries later this same area saw the birth of Reconstruction, as former slaves learned to enjoy life in a free society. 

Your students can learn the real history of America’s development at the Santa Elena History Center in Beaufort. The Santa Elena site itself on nearby Paris Island is a National Historic Landmark. 

At the History Center students will see the introductory video and tour the main exhibit – Santa Elena:  America’s Untold Story to understand why Spain, France and England were interested in colonization and why Santa Elena became the Spanish capital of la Florida. 

African American History Month is an especially appropriate time to visit Beaufort for students to learn about its important role in transitioning former African American slaves into free citizens. Shortly after the Civil War broke out, Union forces captured Beaufort, with white residents abandoning their homes and plantations and fleeing the barrier islands of Beaufort County.

But more than 10,000 African Americans refused to leave the area and Beaufort became the birthplace of Reconstruction.

In 2017 President Obama designated the area as the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District. All across the city of Beaufort, St. Helena Island and the town of Port Royal, the freed African Americans banded together to establish homes, schools, churches and other institutions. Important locations inside the Historic District include the Penn School on St. Helena Island, where African Americans were educated for 40 years. Also on St. Helena, the Brick Church was built in 1855 by slaves for white planters who later reclaimed it as their own.

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