Monthly Archives: June 2020

Local Organizations Join Forces to Elevate Beaufort County’s Unique Heritage and History

6/5/2020 – Celebrating five years in operation, the Santa Elena History Center sincerely thanks the dedicated volunteers, generous supporters, numerous partners, and especially Beaufort County, for launching efforts to claim Santa Elena as America’s First Capital. Now, the Santa Elena Foundation will move on to an exciting new chapter as a part of the Coastal Discovery Museum, the only Smithsonian affiliate organization in Beaufort County.

Amid the uncertainty and change of these unprecedented times lies new opportunity. The goal of both non-profits is to better serve local communities and everyone interested in the heritage of the Lowcountry. This official collaboration will be known moving forward as the Santa Elena Center at the Coastal Discovery Museum.

Aligning efforts will allow Santa Elena’s mission – To discover, preserve, and share the untold story of America’s first and lost century through the rise and fall of Santa Elena to become part of the overall mission of the Coastal Discovery Museum – To inspire people to care for the Lowcountry. Led by archaeologist Dr. Rex Garniewicz at the Coastal Discovery Museum, the Santa Elena Center will continue to discover, preserve and educate the public about the National Heritage Landmark site of Charlesfort-Santa Elena.

“This is really one of the most incredibly complex and fascinating histories we have to tell in the Lowcountry.” According to Dr. Garniewicz “It was where the brutal rivalry between France and Spain took hold in the New World and where the Spanish based their northern operations, building forts all the way into the Appalachian Mountains. Santa Elena marks the shift from European exploration to settlement, and intense conflict with Native American populations who had already established sophisticated chiefdoms along the coast. In an intense struggle for survival, these Mississippian chiefdoms were able to defeat the Spanish in the interior and burn Santa Elena but eventually suffered great losses to their culture in the face of European colonialism. “

The shared vision is to create a new center of excellence at the museum on the historic Honey Horn property to continue all the progress that Santa Elena Foundation made in its developmental phase, including public programming, special events, educational initiatives, and outreach to students of all ages.  The center will be a resource and repository for scholarly research and publications.

Additional components are in development, such as a 1,000 sq. ft. traveling exhibition to improve the public profile of this incredible story — the story of America’s first century. The first stop is Coastal Discovery Museum’s “Discovery House” on Hilton Head Island, where it will debut in October 2020, adding to the array of local information shared on that historic site. Eventually the goal is to also connect visitors to Beaufort and Parris Island through a tour of the archaeological site and a possible onsite presence, as well as continuing support for the archaeological discoveries yet to be made.

Both institutions see this as a strong, positive move and, to make it possible, they created the Santa Elena Society as an avenue for supporters to provide funding during these challenging times to enable both organizations to seize this opportunity. This will move it forward with great diligence and ensure that future generations know and understand Santa Elena’s place in America’s first century.

“It’s been a rewarding journey for those involved in the establishment of the Santa Elena Foundation,” says Megan Morris, Foundation Director. “There are thousands of stakeholders – donors, volunteers, and partners – that helped this organization progress quickly and thanks to them, we are at a crossroads of success. We are excited to transition to the next chapter and new projects.”

Look for more information about our new initiatives, ways to be involved, and how you can support this important endeavor coming soon!

About Coastal Discovery Museum:

The Coastal Discovery Museum opened at a small mid-island storefront on Hilton Head Island in 1985, moved to 100 William Hilton Parkway in 1995 and moved in 2007 to the beautiful 68-acre Historic Honey Horn property in 2007 with a mission to inspire people to care for the Lowcountry.  Throughout its operation’s history, the Museum it has always focused on education and connecting people to important aspects of the Lowcountry’s environment, history, and art, culture and natural environments.

Since opening at Honey Horn, the museum has become a trusted community resource and source of pride among Beaufort County families and visitors.  The Coastal Discovery Museum envisions that it can help take the Santa Elena story to the next level. Since opening at Honey Horn, the Coastal Discovery Museum has welcomed over 1.3 Million visitors. Beyond this the museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate (one of only 200 organizations in the country with this important designation), has educated over 100,000 students in its standards-based school programming, holds 1,200 family and adult education programs and lectures yearly, hosts numerous large-scale, community events. The Museum has over 250 dedicated volunteers and 2,500 devoted members. Since opening at Honey Horn, the museum is financially sound, even amidst the current health crisis, and has continually operated in the black for over a decade and been able to increase programming and staffing.

SCIAA & SEF Team Up to Search for Le Prince Shipwreck in Port Royal Sound

NOAA, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology, Santa Elena Foundation
Shoals and Shipwrecks, University of South Carolina launches marine archaeological survey off Port Royal Sound.

 UPDATE, APRIL 2020 — This research project is experiencing some delay due to the Pandemic but will resume as soon as possible.

The South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, Columbia will conduct a two-year search for shipwrecks offshore Port Royal Sound, South Carolina. Extending about seven miles offshore into the Atlantic Ocean, the entrance shoals at Port Royal Sound have proved to be  a “ship trap” since the earliest days of European exploration along the southeastern U.S. coastline. Historical documents suggest approximately forty vessels from the 16th to 19th centuries met their fate on and around this treacherous shoal complex with evocative names such as Martins Industry, Great North Breakers, and Cole’s Care. Shipwrecks include a French galleon called Le Prince that wrecked in 1577, the HM brig Colibri that sank on the shoals during the War of 1812, and the bark Marcia loaded with a cargo of stone and part of the Great Stone Fleet sent by the Union navy to obstruct southern ports during the Civil War. Interspersed amongst these shipwrecks lie numerous other casualties of the shoals.

The project is called “Shoals and Shipwrecks: Archaeological Explorations off Port Royal Sound, South Carolina,” and  is under the direction of James Spirek, the state underwater archaeologist and head of the Maritime Research Division at the institute.

“The resources to explore for Le Prince and other unfortunates lost on the shoals permit a sustained effort to advance our knowledge and understanding of the maritime archaeology and history of Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, and the U.S.,” said Spirek.

Other key institute personnel include Ryan Bradley, underwater archaeologist, and Dr. Chester DePratter, research archaeologist.

“This is a great opportunity to bridge  the land archaeology with underwater archaeological investigations, particularly related to early Spanish colonial endeavors associated with the 16th century settlement site of Santa Elena , “said DePratter, director of the excavations at the Charlesfort/Santa Elena  archaeological site on present-day Parris Island.

The research team seeks to continue and expand efforts to locate shipwrecks and other structures, sites, and objects of archaeological and historical significance in the area. With funding, they aim to support preservation efforts by recording and identifying their discoveries, enabling more in-depth investigations and mitigation in the future. The team will use advanced marine remote-sensing technology and visual inspections in the search area, which includes both state and federal waters. They will complement this work with historical research to develop the maritime historical context of the region.

A significant partner in the project is the Santa Elena History Center based in Beaufort is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to educating the public about the 16th century Spanish colonial presence at Santa Elena and other time periods of South Carolina and Beaufort’s history.

“Our collaborative efforts to discover, promote, and preserve this research and to educate our visitors are very valuable, especially the story of Le Prince, to create a better understanding of many significant stories during 500 years of American history, with many occurring here in Beaufort” said Megan Morris, director of the Santa Elena Foundation and History Center.

In addition to filling in knowledge gaps regarding the region’s historical maritime activities, such as transport, trade, and warfare, findings from this project will also be used to inform state and federal seafloor management decisions. Resource managers will be able to use this information to balance uses and minimize conflicts between the preservation of these archaeological remnants and competing interests in the area’s mineral resources, for example beach quality sand needed to rebuild local beaches.

Another important mission of the team is to engage the public through a variety of educational and outreach opportunities to promote an awareness and appreciation of the maritime and historical archaeological legacy in Port Royal Sound. The information derived from the project will provide the foundation for informing the public about ongoing progress and results delivered through various mediums including newsletter articles, social media postings, a webpage devoted to the project, as well as public and professional lectures. The project team will also contribute to NOAA’s Ocean Explorer website ( The team will also develop a short film about the project hosted on the institute’s YouTube Channel and at the center.

Project findings will also be incorporated into the institute’s educational programming “SUBMERGED: The Underwater Archaeology of South Carolina,” that targets middle school students in underserved school districts throughout the Palmetto State.

“The process of fieldwork and research associated with this underwater archaeological exploration will augment our educational offerings and provide students with a greater understanding of the blending of science, archaeology, and history to gain a deeper understanding of our past,” said Bradley.

A formal report documenting the scope and results will be made available for download at the conclusion of the project.