Parris Island, SC
Parris Island, SC

I posed this question to several of my learned friends and got a variety of answers such as:

“Well, because South Carolina was settled by the English, dummy.”

“A whole bunch of them do.”

“Well, because the English drove the Spanish out of the State.”

And my favorite:

“Who do you suppose really gives a damn?”

I soon realized that I had hit upon an area of great concern, not only to natives of South Carolina, but to many Southerners in general. Just the subject I was seeking for this week’s history blog.  I decided to do some research and get to the bottom of the issue. What I found was very interesting and illustrated just how close the Capital of the State came to being in Santa Elena on Parris Island rather than Charleston.

The first reliable record of Europeans in South Carolina looks at the efforts of a Spanish Naval Officer and slave trader.  In 1520 Lucas Vasquez de Allyon, a Spanish official based in Hispaniola, modern Dominican Republic and Haiti, ordered Captain Francisco Gordillo of the Spanish Navy to explore northward of the Bahamas, seeking Indians to be taken as slaves to feed the mines in Central America.

He met up with an independent contractor who was running a slave trading operation and the two of them began searching for Indians to enslave.  As they sailed along the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas they discovered and named many rivers and geographic points, but they found very few Indians.  The combination of Jesuits, venereal disease and slavery had pretty much wiped out the natives of the Caribbean.

Their next move was to turn to the mainland for Indians to kidnap.   They landed near the mouth of the Santee River in present day South Carolina and managed to kidnap about 60 unsuspecting natives.  One of the Indians taken by the slavers was a young man whom they named “El Chicorano.”  The young Indian became a renowned story teller and regaled the authorities in Hispaniola and eventually Spain itself with tales of great riches to be had in his homeland.

The tales of riches prompted Ayllon to obtain  a patent from King Charles V and in 1526 he  led an expedition to establish a settlement in the area now known as “The Land of Chicorano.”  After landing near present day Georgetown, SC and moving inland for 40 to 50 leagues, he built a fort and called it San Miguel de Gauldape.

This was the second attempt by the Spanish to establish a colony in what is now the United States, The first was an effort near Charlotte Harbor, Florida by Ponce de Leon in 1522.  They both failed and in 1527 the survivors of Ayllon’s folly returned to Hispaniola.  It would be nearly fifty years before Spain returned to the area, but return they did.

In response to the French building a fort on Parris Island in 1562,  the Spanish returned to the area in 1566 and drove the French out and established a fortified village and named it Santa Elena.  The Spanish were active in exploring the interior of North America for the next two decades, but due to constant pressure of Indian warfare, they were forced to retreat to Florida and Santa Elena was abandoned in 1587.  It would be 125 years before the English showed up in 1712. -Tom Lawrence