Beaufort South Carolina
Welcome to the Low Country!
We drove past Beaufort twice, it being half way between Savannah and Charleston, but saved a whole day to tour it. Beaufort came highly recommended to us as an example of a small antebellum town that survived being burned in the Civil War. We were in a quandary about the pronunciation of the name: is it BOW-fort, or BEW-fort? We heard it both ways. We discovered the truth, and the story behind it. I’ll tell you now, because you will constantly be flummoxed by it as you read your way through the rest of this blog. There is also a Beaufort in North Carolina, named after a Civil War era general whose last name was Beaufort (BOW-fort). In South Carolina, Beaufort was named after a Colonial era businessman who was also the British Earl of Beaufort (BEW-fort). So, although both were named after a person, only one took the name of the person. The other, South Carolina’s, was named after a royal title.
Less than an hour from Savannah, the drive to Beaufort takes you through some gorgeous “Low Country” landscapes. The drive constantly crosses water, reminding us that much of the surrounding land was rice farming during the last half of the 19th century. Not much has overtaken the land; the small towns are still small, even if there are a whole lot more appliances on the front porches and junk cars. There is a pretty generous speed limit of 70 mph on the mostly 2 lane highway, but it seems nobody pays much attention to it. We clocked 80 much of the time, and routinely had cars blow by us. We never saw a wreck, but WAZE frequently warned us “Caution, a disabled car is on the shoulder ahead”. That was true for Georgia as well. It makes me wonder if folks in the south are just well off enough to walk away from a disabled car and get a new one? Likely not.
We arrived a little early and found yet another swing next to the Marina, which was our Tour meet-up spot. Swings just seem so natural in the South.
We couldn’t find a Free Walking Tour for Beaufort; the town is too small to support it. But we did find Janet Mattock’s Walking History Tour (www.janetswalkinghistory.com), a for-hire, smaller-group sized deal at $25 each. Janet is a transplanted retiree who really exemplifies the laid back southern life style and “Southern Belle” mannerisms. In short, she’s a hoot. On this particular day, Memorial Day, 6 of her neighbors (who had never been on her tour), joined us and 2 other tourists (also from Seattle!) for a stroll through history, and Beaufort.
When the Union army captured Beaufort, it was a very sudden assault and victory. The locals were a smallish group of wealthy land owners who had built their mansions as summer retreats to escape the heat of their deep-south plantations by getting closer to the ocean for a few months of the year. They were pretty much all in residence when the alarm was sounded that the Union soldiers were making their way to the waterfront docks after defeating Fort Sumter at the mouth of the river, just a few miles downstream. Fearing for their lives, they grabbed whatever they could, and abandoned their mansions, belongings, and slaves in what is called “The Great Skeeeedaddle” (you have to say it like that, with the emphasis). So, the Union forces found an undefended town full of poor folk and slaves that were feasting and drinking heartily on the contents of the mansions, Party City! It occurred to the Union folk that many of the super large mansions in town would make excellent hospitals, and converted 8 of them into just that. This act spared the town from destruction. That, and the fact that Beaufort hasn’t seen the big city sprawl that other southern towns have seen, has preserved not only some of the finest antebellum architecture to be seen, but also the small town feel. We walked right down the middle of the street in many areas of town. Pretty sleepy.
Janet, being a local, has access to the insides of some of the historic buildings. We toured a local B&B that was once a stately home, and her church, which used to be a Union hospital. She also gave us a colorful tour through the church’s graveyard, which contains some notable spirits, both Confederate and Union, and even Revolutionary. It was perfect for a Memorial Day to be surrounded by all those courageous figures. One banker, F.W. Scheper, so thought he could “take it with him” that he adorned his mausoleum with dollar signs. That pretentious, if funny, display didn’t even partly overshadow the greatness of many of the tombstones. The Hamilton stones below, ARE related to the Hamilton you all know from Broadway.
Like Savannah, Beaufort has had its share of movie filming over the years. More of Forest Gump was filmed here, as was The Prince of Tides, and one of my favorites, The Big Chill. We eyeballed the BC house, which is under renovation for some big celebrity who, we were told, will only be using in 3 weeks out of the year for a retreat. We’re available for the other 49.
So many astoundingly beautiful historic artifacts and stories, and even a little humor snuck into the day. In addition to a visit with Sinatra the cat (beautiful blue eyes), we almost missed this Historic Marker.
We were pleased to see that Harriet Tubman is going to be more prominently remembered in the land that spawned the Underground Railway, and loved the story of Robert Smalls, the slave that figured out how, amidst all the turmoil of the Civil War, to escape slavery by stealing a fully loaded Confederate supply ship, turning it over the Union Army, and then using the reward (and freedom) that they granted him to buy his master’s house for the back taxes. The ultimate turn around. We were inspired enought to buy the book, Be Free or Die, by Cate Lineberry (Amazon, $17.18).
We loved Janet, and the tour. She really brought the history of Beaufort to life. In lieu of a tip, we took her out for ice cream at the end of her walk, and then skedaddled back to Savannah.
Tippy doesn’t wear shoes, but…