Santa Elena

Local Tradition Continues with the Santa Elena Regatta

2/27/2020 – The Santa Elena Foundation and the Beaufort Yacht and Sailing Club will sponsor the Santa Elena Regatta on April 3rd, 4th, & 5th. This event is the major big boat sailing event in Beaufort each year and commemorates 453 years since the founding of Santa Elena on Parris Island in the spring of 1566.

This Regatta is a combination of the Jean Ribault Cup which will be sailed on April 4th, and the Pedro Menendez Cup on April 5th. The Ribault and Menendez Cups are sailed as separate events and the results from them will be combined to determine the winner of the Santa Elena Regatta and the recipient of the Founder’s Cup.

The Founder’s Cup trophy is unique and quite an honor for the winner. Their name will be etched on the base of a bronze statue of Pedro Menendez, Santa Elena founder, which was donated by Count Alvaro Armada of Spain, the 20th generation descendent of Menendez.
Geography not only plays a major role in the historical references but also in the race logistics. The plan is for the Ribault Cup to be sailed in Port Royal Sound and the Menendez Cup in the Beaufort River starting at the Waterfront Park.

“What a great partnership. The Regatta is a wonderful tradition for the Beaufort Yacht and Sailing Club and, now, the Santa Elena Foundation,” says Megan Morris, Foundation Director. “Its significance is further realized as we think back 450+ years ago… when earliest European settlers too sailed into Port Royal Sound to establish their settlements in the New World.”

The Regatta is open to boats that are at least 22’ LOA. Boats that are 18’ LOA and over will be considered on a case by case basis. Trophies will be awarded for both the Ribault and Menendez Cups as well as to the overall winner of the Santa Elena Regatta.

There will be several social events associated with the Regatta including a kickoff Skippers Meeting and cocktail party on Friday night before the racing starts, an Awards Dinner on Saturday night and an Awards Presentation on Sunday after the racing is over. All social events will take place at the Beaufort Yacht and Sailing Club.
Full details of the Regatta are in the Notice of Race which can be found on the Beaufort Yacht and Sailing Club web site at or by contacting Regatta Chairman, Jim Thomas through the Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club.

Santa Elena manuscript with new research, insights in progress

2/25/20 – At the close of her special lecture at the Santa Elena History Center yesterday, Dr. Karen Paar, of Mars Hill University, signed an agreement to write a book-length manuscript on the significant story of Santa Elena from the perspective of the settlers who lived at America’s first capital in the 16th century.

Building on her research over the past 20 years, Dr. Paar will consult both primary and secondary resources to produce a cohesive and accurate portrayal of this history. She one of a few translators of 16th century Spanish and has extensively studied the Archives of the Indies.

“The goal of this book is to provide a scholarly sound, but readable, account of the history of Santa Elena and its significance for understanding the region’s history,” says Dr. Paar.
“Furthermore, I hope this book will be the launching point for further historical research and that archaeologists will find it helpful as they continue investigation into the Charlesfort-Santa Elena site on Parris Island.”

The Santa Elena Foundation recognizes great value in the work of Dr. Paar and this project, which will meet all three key elements of its mission — to discover, promote, and preserve the first century of American history through the lens of Santa Elena. The manuscript will shed new light on three important perspectives of the history– the role of conquest in America’s development, the role of women in colonization, and the depth of engagement and disruption of the indigenous communities in this land.

“Multi-national colonization is an important part of the history of this nation,” states Dr. Paar.

“And modern-day discovery of America’s first century is changing what we know about our history, how we can learn from it, and what it means to be an American,” agrees Megan Morris, Director of Santa Elena Foundation. “Dr. Paar’s research and writing parallels multiple current efforts to uncover Santa Elena and the much larger context it leads us to understand.”

The timeline for the completion of the manuscript is by May 2021, when it will then be published and disseminated.


Dr. Karen Paar is an archivist, historian, and among a handful of scholars capable of reading archaic paleography from the Columbus era. Dr. Paar grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, attended Oberlin College in Ohio, and completed a Ph.D. in Latin American History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Paar wrote her dissertation on the Santa Elena colony. As Research Assistant Professor at the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Paar continued her grant-funded research on Santa Elena. Dr. Paar returned to North Carolina and attended library school at North Carolina Central University while working at the North Carolina State University Libraries. Karen currently lives in western North Carolina and is the Director of the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies and Archivist of the Southern Appalachian Archives at Mars Hill University. Dr. Paar regularly lectures in support of the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and continues her research on Santa Elena from primary source period archives on the Iberian Peninsula which will be transitioned into a book in 2021.

500+ Years of History Comes to Life, Marsh Tacky Horses, and Festival Fun at 2020 Lowcountry Fair Heritage Event

2/10/2020 – What’s more fun than a Lowcountry spring fair, filled to the brim with historical flair?  With the arrival of warmer weather, the Beaufort Heritage Tourism Corporation, Santa Elena Foundation and Coastal Discovery Museum are collaborating to bring the third Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair on Friday, March 27 for schools and Saturday, March 28 for the public.

It’s the perfect way for the entire family to spend a day in the Lowcountry! And this “better than ever” event showcases 500+ years of history throughout Beaufort County as well as our unique ecology, culture and heritage. The events take place on the grounds of Coastal Discovery Museum, at the north end of Hilton Head Island.

Thanks to several partner organizations and sponsors, plans are in place for all ages to experience activities like the Living History Showcase, travelling Hunley exhibit, Marsh Tacky demonstrations, Lowcountry Animal programs, nature trails, and – of course – music, food, artisans, and much more! Moderately-priced tickets and family ticket packages are on sale in advance and at the gate – and with one ticket, all activities are included.

“The Lowcountry Fair is a stand-out event for the community to experience local heritage mixed in with plenty of good fun, food and friendship!” said Megan Morris, executive director of the Santa Elena Foundation. “This furthers county-wide efforts to highlight Beaufort’s unique history and collaborate with others in the region to commemorate significant moments and understand our past.”

The fair features Marsh Tackies – the SC State Horse – who will gladly meet spectators who want to learn more about the breed, and then show off their agility on during the Fun Show on the obstacle course. The Marsh Tacky is a well-protected breed due to its heritage as the horses that originally arrived in today’s America on Spanish ships in the 16th century.

The premier Living History Showcase includes early settlers through the twentieth century. Compelling historical re-enactors show family life, living conditions, and times of war, sacrifice, and change. From 16th century colonial times when Santa Elena was founded by the Spanish, through the American Revolution, the Civil War/Reconstruction era and up to WWII — men, women and children in period costume mingle with spectators, tell fascinating stories of life in days gone by, fire their weaponry, walk in a parade and engage visitors in fun, educational activities.

Among the activities, delicious local concessions are available for purchase throughout the day. Choose from a wide variety of food vendors who uniquely showcase food from around the Lowcountry — from hot lunches to special treats and even local brews. Sip and see around this unique venue with local music playing and skilled artisans displaying their original products from iron-welded signs, to local honey, and everything in between.

Discover many local organizations in the Partner Showcase. Meet friends at the National Park Service and participate in a Junior Ranger program, or head over to see what the Morris Center for Heritage, Port Royal Sound Foundation, and Mitchelville Project have to share – just to name a few!

And just when you think you’ve seen it all, follow a nature trail around the preserved grounds of historic Honey Horn, serving as Coastal Discovery Museum today. Don’t be surprised to meet their critters, like turtles, alligators, and snakes as you enjoy the waterfont view and beautiful oak trees!

With so much to do and enjoy, consult the event webpage for special program times throughout the day. While many of the demonstrations and activities will be ongoing, there will be scheduled times for weapons demonstrations, animal programs, onstage performances and more.
MORE DETAILS: Click here for the full PRESS KIT for the Lowcountry Fair!

TICKETS are available online (, and at the gate.  All tickets are non-refundable, this is a shine-only event.

ADVANCE PURCHASE (until March 20)
General Admission ($12), Children 7-17 ($5), Families (2 adults with 2+ kids) ($35)

AT THE GATE (March 28)
General Admission ($15), Children 7-17 ($5), Families (2 adults with 2+ kids) ($40)

Per person ($5) — reservations must be made in advance (

Beaufort Heritage Tourism Corp. represents: Beaufort County, Jasper County, City of Beaufort, Town of Port Royal, Town of Bluffton, and Town of Hilton Head Island

Organizations participating: Beaufort County Libraries, Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, Charleston Few, Coastal Discovery Museum,  Coastal Heritage Society, Daufuskie Historical Society & Marsh Tackies, Hilton Head Archaeology Society,  Lowcountry Raptors, Men of Menendez, Mighty 8th Airforce, Mitchelville, Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage, The Outside Foundation, Port Royal Sound Foundation, National Park Service, Parris Island Museum & Historical Society, Santa Elena Foundation

Food Vendors:  Fire & Rice Paella, Melly Mel’s, Taco Brown, Smoking Gringo’s BBQ, Hudson’s Seafood, Street Meat, NY City Pizza, Krystyna’s Polish Food, Jack Frost Ice Cream

Craft Beer Tastings: Salt Marsh Brewing Company

Musical Guest: Chilly Willy Band

Broadcast Company: Beaufort County Channel



As the entry sign to Parris Island indicates with its display of the Ribault monument along with the Marine Corps logo, there is rich heritage on this island in Port Royal Sound. Spend a day at Parris Island to learn about its 100+ years of history as a Marine Recruit Depot and its earliest history as the first European capital of North America 450 years ago!

Then, in the afternoon, enjoy a golf tournament at The Legends course, just steps away from the Charlesfort-Santa Elena National Heritage Landmark site!

Schedule for November 15, 2019:

8am Meet at Golf Clubhouse to sign-in
9am Attend Graduation of female and male recruits
10:30am Enjoy a Parris Island Museum Visit
11:30pm Lunch and Ceremony at Charlesfort-Santa Elena site with group photo
1pm Arquebus firing for shotgun start of Golf Tournament
5pm Awards and Closing Ceremony at the Clubhouse


Support this experience as a SPONSOR! To inquire about levels and opportunities:


Beaufort Heritage Explorers SuMmEr CaMp!

Sign up for a week of exploring Beaufort History with lots of dynamic activities and presenters at the Santa Elena History Center!

Proceeds benefit participating non-profits:
Historic Beaufort Foundation, Reconstruction Beaufort Inc. and Santa Elena Foundation

At the Santa Elena History Center

Hosting organizations:  Santa Elena Foundation, Reconstruction Beaufort Inc, and Historic Beaufort Foundation

Immerse your child in a week of interesting local history from 1500s-1900s!
July 29-August 2 9:00am-1:00pm
Each day concludes with lunch from 12:15 until pick up, lunch provided on Friday

$150 per child, proceeds benefit participating non-profits

Rising 3rd grade – Rising 5TH and Rising 6th grade – Rising 8 TH grade
Bring to Santa Elena, Email to,
or mail to PO Box 1005, Beaufort, SC 29901

Schedule and topics


How did early settlers get to the New World?
  –Videos about galleons and 16th century ships, navigation tools and techniques, Recreating the true size of a caravel ship, Name and color your galleon! And make your own rope!

How did maps evolve during Age of Discovery?
  –Slideshow of maps from 1492-1607, Create your own map, Understanding Port Royal Sound     history, walk along the bluff, observe the Beaufort River


What were the early settlers like?
  –“Imagine” presentation, Tour exhibit and find crossword clues, Meet Domingo Duramano at his   “soldier’s bunk”

 What was it like to live at Santa Elena?
  –Food and cooking demonstration, Salt-making demonstration, Weaponry program, live fire!


Beaufort is now home to the Reconstruction Era National Park. Camp Reconstruction Beaufort will explore the deep history of this period and why Beaufort was so significant. Not only important to Beaufort, there’s a new wave of interest in this period spreading nationwide, acknowledging that Reconstruction is still shaping today’s narrative.

(ELEMENTARY AGES)  Campers will be transformed back in time and will learn what life was like for children their age in Beaufort. Camp counsellors will use the experiential style approach of learning and explore this deep period of history. Campers will create a Reconstruction Board game exposing them to the many historical landmarks, buildings and homes that have shaped history. Learning history will be relevant and fun!

(MIDDLE SCHOOL AGES)  Campers will dig deep into the history of what was happening during this time in Beaufort but will also explore the significance of the 13th, 14th and 15th Constitutional Amendments, all introduced and passed during Reconstruction. Campers will be encouraged to explore this period of history through conversation learning in exciting and relevant ways. Campers will create a large canvas mural of their interpretation of Reconstruction Beaufort, which will be displayed in the Beaufort Reconstruction gallery.


TOUR THE ONLY PLANTER’S HOUSE IN BEAUFORT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!  Enjoy this special program and activity: “The Mystery and Magic of Indigo and Its Role in Antebellum Beaufort”.

Campers will learn about blue dye in early cultures and how it was made. The session culminates with the participants creating their own dyed bandana, scarf or bookmark.


–Walk to St. Helena Church Cemetery (tour), Walk around downtown park/playground, Return to SEHC to make paper flowers, Pizza Party!!


Santa Maria arrives in Beaufort, Shipwrecks of America’s Lost Century shared at Scholars Symposium, Legendary Dr. Eugene Lyon to be honored
March 27, 2019 – Before Jamestown, before Plymouth Rock, before America’s early settlers carved out the colonies, there was Santa Elena. The story of Santa Elena, and America’s First Century, are shared today with visitors at the Santa Elena History Center in Beaufort and often outside of the museum walls, like the three events announced here.

Settled by the Spanish in 1566, Santa Elena is acknowledged to be North America’s first European capital. It was founded by Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish Naval Captian who went on to become a renowned explorer and then South Carolina’s first governor.

Bolstered by funds from King Philip II, who sought to secure the land called La Florida for the Spanish and to protect Spain’s lucrative treasure routes, Menendez and a brave band of 400 settlers established Santa Elena along the coast of South Carolina in present-day Beaufort. At its height, the settlement housed hundreds of men, women and children who battled disease, hunger and storms to eke out a perilous living. After more than two decades after it was founded, Santa Elena came to a sad ending. When Sir Francis Drake attacked St. Augustine in 1586, Santa Elena’s settlers consolidated with St. Augustine, Havana and other Spanish settlements.

Four hundred years later, the 16th century site of Santa Elena was discovered through archeology conducted by the South Carolina Institute of Archeology. From 1979 through the present, active projects have uncovered evidence of the story researched in historical record. The scientific proof of this history tells much about “America’s First Century” as archeologists continue to find artifacts that provide a window into how the early settlers lived.


Tour the Santa Maria in downtown Beaufort’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. The Nao Santa María is one of the most famous ships of humanity. On October 12, 1492, captained by Christopher Columbus, the Santa Maria led a fleet to the discovery of America and the western hemisphere, launching an age of discovery.

The modern-day replica offers a self-guided tour through the 4 decks of the Santa María, where you can find informative panels with the history of the ship, ornamental elements of the time and understand Spanish sailors from 500 years ago. Meet the crew and hear their stories! Making its first east coast stop in Beaufort, the flagship is open to the public March 29 (Weather may delay arrival) to April 7, 10a-7p.
Special thanks to City of Beaufort, Beaufort Convention & Visitors Bureau, O’Quinn Marine, United Infrastructure and the Nao Victoria Foundation.

Pay tribute to a legendary 16th Century scholar, Dr. Eugene Lyon. Integral to the slate of activities is recognition of Dr. Eugene Lyon, perhaps the pre-eminent historian of Spanish exploration and colonization efforts of North America before the arrival of the English.
The Santa Elena Foundation will culminate the Shipwreck Symposium with a dedication of the Eugene Lyon Center for Scholarship at the Santa Elena History Center on the afternoon of April 6. Aside from his work at the better known Saint Augustine, Dr. Lyon’s work with National Geographic, Spain’s Archives of the Indies, and archaeologists in the 1970’s unveiled the story of America’s First Century that is being told today at the Santa Elena History Center, where his work and a bronze Columbus statue commissioned by National Geographic is on display.

Hear latest research on Shipwrecks of the 16th century. Now, in the newest chapter of the saga of Santa Elena, South Carolina underwater archeologist James Spirek will be joined by ten eminent maritime historians and nautical archeologists at a symposium entitled, “Shipwrecks of America’s Lost Century,” April 5 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the USCB Center for the Arts, 805 Carteret St.

Sponsored by SC Humanities and presented by the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, and the Santa Elena Foundation, the symposium will explore Spain’s colonization attempt along the South Carolina-Georgia coast in 1526, the wrecked 1565 Ribaut fleet, and the 1576 French corsair Le Prince now resting at the bottom of Port Royal Sound, just to name a few.

Sixteenth century sailing ships fell victim to shipwrecks for a variety of reasons: sometimes just pure carelessness or accidents. Other times, they were overcome by storms, by enemy warships, by scuttling and more. In fact, barely two months after discovering an island in the New World, Columbus lost his ship, the Santa Maria, on the north coast of Hispaniola, the island shared today by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Presenters at the shipwreck symposium represent a virtual who’s who of revered subject authorities:

• James Spirek, the symposium organizer and moderator, is the State Underwater Archeologist at the South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology.
His presentation is entitled, “He who has weapons in his fist, and who is the strongest, carries the day.” – French Corsairing and the Final Voyage of Le Prince.

• Carla Rahn Phillips, Ph.D., Union Pacific Professor, Emerita, in Comparative Early Modern History, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Her presentation is entitled, “Iberean Seafaring and Naval Operations during the Sixteenth Century.”

• Don Keith, Ph.D., president, Ships of Discovery, and research affiliate, Turks & Caicos National Museum. Dr. Keith has more than 45 years of experience in prehistoric and historic terrestrial and underwater archeology. His presentation is entitled, “Early 16 Century Shipwrecks in the New World.”

• Paul E. Hoffman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of History, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge The title of his presentation is “Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón’s discovery of Southeastern North America, 1521-26.”

• Barto Arnold, B.A., M.A., director of Texas Operations, Institute of Nautical Archeology, Texas A&M University. His presentation is entitled, “1554 Flota Wreck, Padre Island, Texas.”

• Roger C. Smith, Ph.D., state underwater archeologist (ret.), Florida Division of Historical Resources. His presentation is entitled, “The Old Spaniard: Exploration and Analysis of the first shipwreck to be discovered from the 1559 expedition to colonize Florida.”

• John R. Bratten, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Anthropology department at the University of West Florida. His presentation is entitled, “Ballast and Timbers Beneath the Sand: Exploration and Analysis of the Second and Third Shipwrecks to be Discovered from the 1559 Expedition to Colonize Florida.”

• Chuck Meide, B.S., M.S., director, Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. His presentation is entitled, “Jean Ribault’s Lost French Fleet of 1565: The Search for and Discovery of the Earliest French Shipwrecks in Florida.”

• Corey Malcom, Ph.D., director of Archaeology, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West, Fla. His presentation is entitled, “On the Eve of La Florida: The Wreck of Santa Clara and the Tierra Firme fleet of 1563-1564.”

• Brad Loewen, Ph.D., professor of Contract Period Archaeology, Post-medieval Archaeology, and Maritime Archaeology in the Anthropology department, Université de Montréal. His presentation is entitled, “The Wreck of the San Juan, a Basque Whaler at Red Bay, Labrador (1565).”

Santa Elena Archaeology Updates in Post & Courier Article

Click here to see the original article by the Post & Courier:

Special Thanks to Author Robert Behre and Photographer Andrew Whitaker


PARRIS ISLAND — As archaeologist Chester DePratter walked toward the tall stone pillar on this island’s southern tip, he underscored how much our knowledge of one of South Carolina’s most historic sites is subject to change.

The impressive monument is an enlarged copy of the one French explorer Jean Ribault erected here more than four centuries ago when he founded Charlesfort in 1562, an early French outpost in the New World.

“This is not Charlesfort,” DePratter said. “The monument is in the wrong place.”

The misplaced monument may be the most prominent example of how this site’s history is being rewritten, but DePratter later points toward a large oak tree not far away for a more recent example.

It was here, under the oak, that he and archaeologist Victor Thompson recently used remote sensing devices — special equipment that detects soil disturbances underground — to find the location of Fort San Marco, one of several Spanish fortifications built shortly after Charlesfort.

This Spanish fort is just a small part of a larger story only recently coming to light, at least in a public way.

It’s a story of South Carolina’s first European settlement, one that took root a century before the English established Charles Towne — or Jamestowne or the Plymouth Colony, for that matter. It’s also a story of the former Spanish capital of La Florida.

Dr. Andrew Beall, chairman of the Santa Elena Foundation, said the young organization spent 18 months figuring if there was a story here, who knew something about it, and how to present it to the public. The work is picking up speed.

“It’s a lost century that’s not known by many,” he said.

‘One common story’

When Ribault arrived in 1562 with 27 men he considered Port Royal Sound the finest harbor in the world. Its breadth made it easily navigable and it was routinely flushed by a nine-foot tidal swing.

From the tip of Parris Island, one can look toward the Atlantic Ocean, framed by modern day Hilton Head Island on the right and Bay Island on the left.

His Charlesfort settlement would not last long. Ribault returned to France for supplies but never made it back. The remaining settlers abandoned the site.

Meanwhile, the Spanish considered this territory part of their New World claim, part of La Florida, which covered everything north of Mexico. A surviving document shows they had named this area Santa Elena as far back as 1526, said Foundation member retired U.S. Army Col. Chris Allen.

“Santa Elena is one of the oldest European place names in continuous use in the New World,” he said, surpassed in age only by Florida and Corpus Christi.

The Spanish first staked their claim by creating a garrison in St. Augustine in 1565, then a permanent settlement in 1566 at Santa Elena, building atop the abandoned French fort. Santa Elena served as the Spanish capital of Florida from 1569 to 1587.

“This was the first European capital in all of North America.”

“Nobody knows that,” Allen said. “It’s an amazing milestone in America’s evolution.”

A third European power, England, ultimately sealed the fate of Santa Elena.

Prompted by Sir Francis Drake’s attacks on Spanish holdings in the Caribbean in 1586, Spain — stretched thin financially — decided to retrench in St. Augustine.

“It dwarfed St. Augustine at the time,” Allen said. During its peak, Santa Elena had about 400 residents and dozens of buildings, including homes and churches.

Allen said the story complements, not competes with, St. Augustine’s.

“There’s no value into getting into, ‘we’re first, they’re first,’ ” he said. “It’s all one common story.”

What was learned

After the Spanish abandoned Santa Elena to retrench in St. Augustine in 1587, the site never again became a town.

More than a century later, the land eventually became part of a plantation. After the Civil War, the Marine Corps arrived here. While the corps once had an active encampment near the historic settlement, relatively little land was disturbed. In the mid-20th century, a golf course was built over part of it.

Previously, archaeologists, including DePratter and the late Stanley South, had gridded off 34 acres and conducted 1,383 shovel tests.

“What we found was the town of Santa Elena covers 15 acres,” DePratter said.

But there are few surviving structures, aside from remnants of a kiln discovered during a previous dig. The kiln, which dates to about 1585, may be the oldest surviving European kiln in North America. Little else is left over.

“The forts were made out of wood, and you know how wood rots around here, so they would rebuild them,” DePratter said. “They couldn’t fire their guns anymore because they were afraid the fort would fall down because of the rot.”

Thompson, who directs the University of Georgia’s Center for Archaeological Sciences, recently worked with DePratter on the site, using remote sensing equipment to try to create a map.

“The conditions at Santa Elena were just ideal for this type of remote sensing survey,” Thompson said. “We simply could not ask for better circumstances.”

They sent pulses and electric currents into the ground and measured differences in local magnetic fields in order to discern the locations of two missing forts, a church, shops and houses, as well as streets and a plaza.

Their work also pinpointed the likely location of native council houses from the 17th century, sites of former slave cabins, and circular figures that appear to reflect Native American occupation from about three or four millennia ago.

Among their biggest discoveries: the location of Fort San Marco, the third Spanish fort built on the site.

“As it turns out,” DePratter said, “It’s right here under this oak tree.”

Meanwhile, 12 miles away

The U.S. Marine Corps gradually has opened up the Charlesfort-Santa Elena site as more of its history has become known.

In 2007, the Marine Corps reconfigured its Legends Golf Course in 2007, moving a few of its holes further away from the most historic acreage.

The site reopened to the public Aug. 20, after restoration work was done after Hurricane Matthew damage from two years ago. Those visiting will find a trail with a series of markers explaining not only highlights about Charlesfort and Santa Elena but also its Native American, plantation and Marine Corps past.

Meanwhile, the story of Santa Elena also is told in a small exhibit inside the Marine Corps Museum, where several artifacts from past digs are on display. These include assorted pottery shards, a small crucifix, a thimble, a tiny dice made of bone and other small bits. Together, they show the primitive, frontier-like conditions of the early European presence.

But the story is best explained inside a new museum about 12 miles away in Beaufort.

The Santa Elena History Center opened in April 2016 inside the former federal courthouse at 1501 Bay St., and it has expanded its exhibits several times since. The nonprofit running it is interested not only in presenting the story but also with funding research.

Inside, its displays, video and living history try to explain both the 16th century history and the 21st century efforts to rediscover it.

Beaufort County Councilman Stu Rodman serves on the foundation’s board and helped it secure the courthouse space to rewrite the area’s history in a more expansive way.

“History is written by the victors, and the British were the victors, so the history started 50 years later in Plymouth,” Rodman said.

“Santa Elena is a pretty amazing story, and it kind of went undiscovered for a long time,” he added. “It really has renewed interest in the county and many locals about building on a lot of heritage tourism things. … We probably don’t do as much as we could to convince people to stay for an extra day or two days or a week.”

The known and the unknown

As the detailed site map takes shape, archaeologists can plan future excavations on individual structures, such as the church, a house or a fort.

“We know enough now that we can focus on small, specific targets,” DePratter said.

Before any digging begins again, DePratter and others must reprocess (wash, weigh, reanalyze and rebag) the vast trove of artifacts already uncovered since archaeologist Stanley South began work here almost four decades ago.

“Things he identified in 1979 are different than what we’d identify them as today,” DePratter said.

He estimated that only about 5 percent of the site has been explored, meaning that there is much more to discover.

As those mysteries are probed and solved, that will continue to thrust the story of Santa Elena into a more public light.

Megan Meyer, executive director of the foundation, said, “Just as fascinating as what we know is what we don’t know.”

More Information  (From the National Historic Landmark documentation of the site, approved in 2001)


Announcing inaugural HISTORY DAY FOR STUDENTS at the 2018 Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair

10/5/18 — Santa Elena History Center is putting the “FIELD” in “Field Trip!” This year the Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair is opening a day early, exclusively for a STUDENT HISTORY DAY, to allow local students the opportunity to experience the unique culture and heritage of South Carolina first hand on the grounds of Cotton Hall Plantation.

Although the annual Lowcountry Fair and Marsh Tacky races are open to the general public on Saturday, November 3 from 11am – 5pm, students and their teachers are invited to take a field trip to see living history re-enactments, weaponry demonstrations, and selected other educational (and fun!) activities on Friday, November 2, from 10am to 2pm. The richness of our Spanish, French, English , Scottish and Native American history will be the focus of the day’s activities, along with exploring the plantation colonial sugar mill, walking through the petting zoo, and learning about Marsh Tacky horses.

As students meet and greet the gentle marsh tacky horses, they will learn about South Carolina’s heritage horse, an activity led by the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association. Other organizations on display include National Park Service with their Junior Ranger program, Coastal Discovery Museum with information about nature and their own Marsh Tacky “Comet,” Lowcountry Raptors, Morris Center for Heritage, Mitchelville, and more.

An on-site picnic area is perfect for packing a lunch to enjoy on the plantation, and there is plenty of bus parking within the 50 acre field. Many local schools have already signed up, but the more the merrier! Check with your child’s school to make sure he or she is taking part in this unique opportunity. Home school students are also welcome.

For Friday and registered school groups only, a nominal $3 admission is charged per attendee for History Day admission. LINK TO REGISTRATION FORM FOR SCHOOL HISTORY DAY!

The public is invited for the full Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair on Saturday, which will include all these activities and much more — including the only Marsh Tacky horse races of 2018!

Cotton Hall Plantation is located off Route 17 in Northern Beaufort County. Please email Megan Morris at the Santa Elena History Center for more information at

Marsh Tacky Horses, Historical Demonstrations, and Festival Fun at the 2018 Lowcountry Fair

9/19/18 — What could be more fun than an old-fashioned country fair, filled to the brim with historical flair? With the arrival of crisp fall air, the Santa Elena Foundation hosts the second annual Lowcountry Fair on Saturday, November 3 from 11am to 5pm at the beautiful, privately-owned Cotton Hall Plantation, only 5 miles from Interstate-95 in Northern Beaufort County.

It’s the perfect way for the entire family to spend a fall day in the Lowcountry! And the event is the host of the ONLY Marsh Tacky Horse Races in 2018!

With Hargray Communications and several other generous sponsors, plans are in place for a community event unlike any other! Moderately-priced tickets and family ticket packages allow visitors of all ages to enjoy special activities and events throughout the day at no extra cost. The fun, family-friendly atmosphere will showcase Marsh Tacky horses from around the region in obstacle courses, meet-and-greet areas and several racing heats.

“At the end of the day, we will awarding a grand champion of the horse races, but with a great community event like this – everyone wins!” said Megan Morris, executive director of the Santa Elena History Center. “This fall’s Lowcountry Fair will be a stand-out event for the community to experience local heritage mixed in with plenty of good fun, food and friendship. This continues our efforts to highlight Beaufort County’s unique history and collaborate with others in the region.”

The events featuring the Marsh Tacky horse will be the perfect complement to other headline activities, like Living History. Across a 50-acre field, over 500 years of local history will be on display with historical re-enactors showing family life, living conditions, and times of war, sacrifice, and change. From 16th century colonial times when Santa Elena was founded by the Spanish, through the American Revolution, the Civil War/Reconstruction era and up to WWII — men, women and children will demonstrate history in period costume. They will mingle with spectators, tell fascinating stories of life in days gone by, fire their weaponry, walk in a parade and engage visitors in fun, educational activities.

The most delicious local food concessions will be available for purchase throughout the day. Do you love oysters or barbecue? Why choose? Enjoy the day’s activities with a lowcountry lunch, a sweet treat, and perhaps even a local brewed beer or Spanish wine. Sip and see throughout the area with music playing and artisans displaying their original products from iron-welded signs, to local honey, and everything in between.

Children will also enjoy the exotic petting zoo, pony rides, and other fun activities. They can meet friends at the National Park Service and participate in a Junior Ranger program, or head over to see the critters brought by Coastal Discovery Museum, who have their own Marsh Tacky on site, named Comet.

And just when you think you’ve seen it all, follow a trail down to the plantation’s original operating sugar mill, still in use today. Enjoy a walk back in time to see how “sugar” was made in the antebellum South, thanks to the plantation owners who have preserved this art for decades and now welcome us to their home.

Tickets are available online ( and at the gate.
Patron Level ($100), General Admission ($20), Children 7-17 ($5)
Family Package (two Adults and 2+ Children) — $50
Active Military Families (two adults and 2+ Children) — $40
Food Vendors: Plums & Saltus, Q on Bay, Sea Eagle Market, Lady’s Island Single Oysters, and more
Craft Beer Tastings: Salt Marsh Brewing Company
Musical Guest (Before the races): Chilly Willy Band
Broadcast Company: Beaufort County Channel

Organizations participating: Santa Elena Living History Company, Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, National Park Service, Coastal Discovery Museum, Mitchelville, Coastal Heritage Society, Charleston Few, Men of Menendez, Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot

Lead Sponsors: Joe and Allyson Harden, Quarforth Family Foundation, Hargray Communications

Spanish Naval Cadets Make Port of Call in Lowcountry, Visit Santa Elena to Understand Significant, Linking History

7/20/18 — Throughout its year-long, global sailing voyage, the magnificent Spanish Navy Training Vessel, ELCANO, made strategic Ports of Call with one single stop in the United States – Charleston, South Carolina. The vessel is named after Spanish explorer Juan Sebastián Elcano, captain of Ferdinand Magellan’s last exploratory fleet and the man who completed the first circumnavigation of the world in 1522.

During the crew’s time in the Lowcountry, Spanish Embassy and Military leaders thought it imperative for the young men and women to spend a day at Santa Elena to learn about our Spanish – American connections from the 16th Century.

Both the Santa Elena History Center and the Santa Elena historic landmark site on Parris Island gave the sailors an understanding of what their 16th century predecessors endured and accomplished as they explored and settled the New World, notably Santa Elena (1566-1587).

Informative sessions and tours led by Dr. Larry Rowland and Dr. Chester DePratter shared insight into the navigational challenges, settlement efforts, and conflict/hardships faced by the soldiers and settlers who put their lives on the line to claim the New World for Spain. Today’s Beaufort, SC and Port Royal Sound were Santa Elena, and North American land north of present-day Mexico was Spain’s La Florida. The cadets learned that Santa Elena served as the capital of La Florida, and Spanish Naval Captain Pedro Menendez built his home here with his family in 1571.

The cadets stood on the ground where their ancestors once stood, and observed the natural harbor that made it possible for ship fleets to sail in from the Atlantic Ocean. Without a doubt, the same harbor today, Port Royal Sound, could accommodate the present-day training vessel, ELCANO. The four-masted vessel is 371 feet long, making it the third-largest tall ship in the world. First launching in 1927, it has sailed the furthest, covering more than 2,000,000 nautical miles in its history.

The Santa Elena Foundation is proud to help host the Spanish Military Attache, Captain and Officers of ELCANO, and her crew. Both Mayor Billy Keyserling and Mayor Sam Murray granted keys from the City of Beaufort and Town of Port Royal for the sailors to display aboard ELCANO, which is now en route back to Spain.

Archaeologists work to create detailed map of 16th-century Spanish town on Parris Island

March 7, 2018 — Less than two years after discovering the location of an elusive Spanish fort on present-day Parris Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, archaeologists have begun mapping a complex and vast array of archaeological features that can provide insight into over 4,000 years of history in the region, including a focus on the 21 year occupation of Santa Elena (1566-1587) to paint a picture of what life was like during the once-capital of Spanish La Florida. (Click here for the full report:

In 2016, University of South Carolina archaeologist Chester DePratter and Victor Thompson, an archaeologist from the University of Georgia, pinpointed fort San Marcos at Santa Elena, founded in 1577 by Pedro Menendez Marquez, the governor of Spanish La Florida.

Archaeologists began excavating the remains of the Charlesfort and Santa Elena site since 1979, but they have never had a good map of the settlement. In a recent paper published in the journal, “Remote Sensing,” DePratter and Thompson discuss how they used remote sensing technology to map the various significant occupations of the site including those of Native Americans, French, Spanish, plantation owners, Freedmen, and World War I era U.S. Marine Corps.

“By combining traditional shovel testing with remote sensing using radar and other instruments, we are well on the way to constructing a detailed map of the Spanish settlement,”
says DePratter, who conducts research through the university’s South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s critical to gather the data necessary for putting together a comprehensive tool that will help us better understand what happened not only during the Spanish settlement of Santa Elena 450 years ago but throughout history.”

The team’s most recent work provided new insights into the Spanish presence at Santa Elena occurring between 1566 and 1587. During its early years, the settlement went from military outpost to capital of Spanish Florida, but it was abandoned in 1576 due to a Native American attack. It was reoccupied in 1577 with the construction of fort San Marcos, but a decade later the town was again abandoned. At its peak, Santa Elena covered nearly 15 acres and had about 400 residents.

Under the sponsorship of the Santa Elena Foundation in the summer of 2016, Thompson and DePratter worked with a University of Georgia archaeology field school to look beneath the surface of the 15-acre site. They sent pulses, and electric currents into the ground and measured differences in local magnetic fields in order to map the remains of Santa Elena. They worked to pinpoint locations of some of the lost Spanish buildings, including two missing forts, a church, shops, and houses, as well as the town’s streets and plaza.

While the “focus” of the work was to test the viability of using modern remote sensing methods in conjunction with previous shovel test data to provide comprehensive distribution data on all of the components of the site over 4000 years of occupation, the work also led to important new discoveries, including:
1) “the probable location of the remains of two native council houses that date to the mid-17th century”;
2) areas that represent “rows of dwellings for enslaved peoples. and,
3) circular features in the northern portion of the site dating to the Late Archaic/Early Woodland period of Native American prehistory, 2750-1360 BC. are roughly the same diameter of “shell rings” of the region and possibly represent a “Stallings period Circular Village”

“There are few sites in country that afford the kind of window into the past, such as we have at Santa Elena,” says Thompson, who directs UGA’s Center for Archaeological Sciences. “The conditions at Santa Elena were just ideal for this type of remote sensing survey. We simply could not ask for better circumstances.” DePratter says Santa Elena is the best preserved 16th century town in the country, in part because of its location, which is underneath a former military golf course that has no standing structures on it. Currently, the site is closed to visitors while the Marine Corps finalizes restoration from the recent hurricanes which caused safety hazards from fallen trees. Analysis, assessments, and protection of the resources were necessary before downed trees could be removed. The Marine Corps plans to re-open the site to visitors in the next few months.

No archaeological excavations have been conducted at Santa Elena since 2008, but the mapping project will likely provide the impetus for more detailed work on the site in the coming years. “Now that we have collected all the data with three instruments, we will move forward with detailed interpretations of our results to create the final site map,” Thompson says. “Once it is completed, it will be one of the best and most completely mapped sixteenth-century sites in the United States.”

“Once we have a detailed site map, we can focus on individual structures—a church, a house, a fort—rather than just having to open large excavation units in the hope of finding something interesting,” says DePratter.

SCIAA archaeologist Stanley South, who died in 2016, found the remains of Santa Elena in 1979, with DePratter joining the project in 1989. The Charlesfort/Santa Elena National Historic Landmark is located on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. The current remote sensing work is funded by the Santa Elena Foundation and SCIAA’s Archaeological Research Trust and supported by the University of Georgia’s anthropology department.

About Chester DePratter:

Chester DePratter is a research professor at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina. He has worked on a variety of Native American sites, primarily in South Carolina and Georgia, and written numerous articles on prehistoric archaeology, exploration routes of Spanish explorers and the early European presence in the southeastern United States. Since 1989 he has focused on 16th-century Spanish site of Santa Elena and the search for the French site of Charlesfort and on the archaeology of Yamasee Indian sites in South Carolina. He is curator of the exhibit at the Santa Elena History Center in Beaufort, South Carolina.

About Victor Thompson:

Victor Thompson is a professor of archaeology and the director of the Center for Archaeological Sciences at the University of Georgia. His research focuses on applications of archaeological science to the study of colonialism, socio-political complexity and the historical ecology of wetland and coastal environments. He uses a number of specialized methods in his research, including the analysis of monumental architecture, shell midden archaeology, stable isotopes, remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS).

About the Santa Elena Foundation:

Established as a 501(c)3 in 2014, the Foundation’s mission is to discover, preserve, and share America’s first – and lost – century through the rise and fall of Santa Elena. In addition to supporting research, the Foundation operates the Santa Elena History Center in downtown Beaufort, SC where visitors can learn about 16th century history and the 21st century re-discovery through exhibits, videos, programs, and living history.


A community event unlike any other, sponsored by the Santa Elena Foundation!

October 18, 2017 — What could be more fun than an old-fashioned country fair, filled to the brim with historical flair, held at a beautiful, local plantation?

With the arrival of crisp fall air, the Santa Elena Foundation is hosting the first annual Lowcountry Fair on Saturday, November 18 from 10am to 4pm at Cotton Hall Plantation, off Highway 17 in Northern Beaufort County.

The fun-filled Saturday is headlined by Marsh Tacky Horse Races, providing an exciting show for all who attend.  The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association showcases this unique breed, originally introduced by the Spanish explorers of the 16th century. The Marsh Tacky is the SC State Heritage Horse and one of the most endangered breeds in the world.  Before they race in the afternoon, these beautiful horses will be on display in fun show demonstrations.  Be sure to bring your chairs!

The Lowcountry Fair will also showcase multiple living history re-enactments from the Colonial era Men of Menendez to Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactors and more, performing throughout the day, along with weapons demonstrations.  For children, petting zoo, pony rides, and sugar cane mill tours will bring delight. On stage, a variety of live performances – from The Chilly Willy Band to flamenco dancing demonstrations — will fill the afternoon.  Broadcasting by the County Channel and use of a Jumbotron display will keep fair-goers from missing any of the action on stage, throughout the fairgrounds, or on the racecourse. All of the activities and festive entertainment are included in the admission price for the day.

Come hungry for a special lunch and explore the local palate as many have throughout history. The finest local food will be for sale from restaurant partners Eat Local Beaufort (Plum’s, Saltus, Hearth), Q on Bay, Lady’s Island Oysters and Sea Eagle Market.  For dessert, the food truck “It’s Only Fair” will sell fair-themed goodies.  Beer, wine, and general refreshments will also be available for purchase.

One of the most significant events of the day will be a presentation by Count Alvaro Armada Barcaiztegui, a descendent of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the founder of Santa Elena in 1566 and Governor of La Florida until 1574.  Arriving from Spain to attend the Lowcountry Fair, the Count will bestow the Foundation with an original 16th century medal and a letter signed by Pedro Menendez, dated in Santa Elena in 1571.

“Our Board and Volunteers wanted to give the community an event unlike any other – to commemorate our history and celebrate our local culture – and that’s just what the Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair will bring. Of course, none of this could be accomplished without the support of our local community,” remarked Megan Meyer, Executive Director of the Santa Elena History Center.

Special thanks Joe and Allison Harden who generously offered use of Cotton Hall Plantation and Ameris Bank, Gold Sponsor. These other community-minded businesses and individuals have also made this a stand-out event as sponsors: Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Dude Magazine, Grayco, Lowcountry Real Estate, Sheldon Plantation, Southern Palmetto Landscaping, TD Bank, Visible Displays, Adams Outdoor Advertising, Creative Interiors, Compass Rose Travel, Cuthbert House Inn, Spirit of Old Beaufort, Tacaron Trading, Eat Sleep Play Beaufort, Printology, Robinson Grant & Co, as well as Andy and Laura Beall, Greg and Sarah Dyson,  Dr. and Mrs. Larry Rowland, Russ and Sandy Dimke.

Tickets are available for purchase online ( and at the event admission gate. If purchased in advance, bring confirmation of your tickets to the gate for entry. Prices are: $20/adult and $10/child (5-17), $50 for families, and $40 for active duty military families (show ID).  Patron tickets, which include seating for lunch and finish-line seating for the races, are available for $100. Event sponsorships are also still available starting at $500.

To visit the website for Santa Elena’s Lowcountry Fair, visit learn more about the SC Marsh Tacky Association, visit

Marsh Tacky horses racing Santa Elena presents A Lowcountry Fair with Historical Flair featuring Marsh Tacky horse races


From Dude Magazine

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The Santa Elena Foundation will soon have a home in a historic building on the corner of Bay and Bladen Streets in Downtown Beaufort. The former Federal Courthouse building will be transformed to meet the mission of the discovery, preservation, and promotion of Santa Elena, the 16th century settlement established on present-day Parris Island. Santa Elena was the European capital city of all Spanish claimed lands from Newfoundland to the Rio Grande known as La Florida.! The children born in Santa Elena would have been forty-years old when Pocahontas met John Smith at Jamestown.

This summer, Beaufort County will finalize a long-term lease with the Foundation to establish a first class Interpretive Center to tell the Santa Elena story. The historic building is located on the original site of the “Barnwell Castle,” one of the finest homes in Beaufort. In 1825, Beau-fort hosted a ceremonial ball honoring the Marquis de Lafayette. Sold to Union officers during the Civil War for taxes, the building was used as a courthouse in the 1870’s until it burned to the ground in 1879.

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