Historical Nuggets: Beaufort County was named for Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort (1684-1714). The district was formed in 1769 from the parishes of Prince William, St. Luke, St Helena, and St. Peter. Beaufort, the county seat, Bluffton, Hilton Head island, Port Royal and Yemassee are just a few of the cities and towns that make up the 576 square miles that fall inside the county lines with an average of 281 persons living per square mile. The city of Beaufort is the second oldest town in South Carolina and was founded in 1710.
In the years preceding the Civil War, rice and sea island cotton brought incredible wealth to the area’s plantation owners. In 1862, before the outbreak of the Civil War, the Penn School was created as an experimental program to educate Sea Island freed slaves. It was the first school of its kind in the South and remains the oldest and most persistent survivor of the Port Royal Experiment. The first principals were Northern missionaries from Massahcusetts – Laura Towne and Ellen Murray – who spent forty years living among and educating former Sea Island slaves, the Gullah people of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Charlotte Forten, the first African American teacher, also taught at Penn School, which is now called the Penn Center – a non-profit organization committed to promoting and preserving Sea Island history and culture.
During the turbulent 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference chose Penn as a training site for retreat and strategic planning in their fight for equality. Some of Beaufort County’s more famous residents include Robert Smalls (1839-1915), a former slave who became a United States Congressman; boxer Joe Frazier; and best-selling author Pat Conroy.
Population & Demographics: Per the 2010 U.S. Census, Beaufort County had a total population of 162,233 with 20% being African American. Although the county’s median household income is $57,133, fully 11% of the population is identified as “living below the poverty line” with 6.1% being White and 22.2% being Black.
Heirs’ property is an important issue when considering the generational poverty among many African American families in Beaufort County. For most of us, our property is our most valuable asset. Not so, for heirs’ property owners. Because the land is owned “in common”, there is no clear title to the land which prevents the family from obtaining a loan or mortgage or accessing any public funds to improve their home or land. Therefore, owning heirs’ property is more of a liability than an asset until the title is cleared.
Mapping Project: According to the Center’s HP mapping research completed in 2012, there are more than 40,000 acres of heirs’ property remaining in our six-county service area, of which 3,304 acres remain in Beaufort County, representing 8.1% of the whole. The Center has developed a strategic plan to reach out to the areas with higher concentrations and larger tracts of HP in Beaufort County to deliver services where they are needed most.
The Center offers education seminars and legal services to low wealth families in Beaufort County to help them obtain clear title to their family land and keep it. The Center’s attorney spends one day a month in Beaufort to meet with heirs’ property owners to discuss their situations. PLEASE CALL OUR OFFICE to schedule an appointment WITH OUR ATTORNEY to talk about your particular heirs’ property issues or to request a seminar: (843) 745-7055.
To learn more about Beaufort County visit http://www.sciway.net/cnty/beaufort.html or check out the resources shown below.