Bluffton, SC History - The Story Behind Bluffton

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Bluffton, South Carolina was settled in 1825 as a seasonal retreat for regional rice and cotton planters.  The high bluffs of the May River fostered a community where their families could escape the heat, the mosquitoes, and the yellow fever and malaria that plagued LowCountry plantations.  Travel among the coastal communities in those early days was generally by water, and the town was conveniently situated between Savannah, Georgia and Charleston.  Soon, Bluffton became a significant center of commerce, from which crops were distributed to ports around the world and where incoming goods were stocked and sold in its flourishing general stores.  Business brought year-round residents and the town was incorporated in 1852.

By the early 1840s, though, locals had become increasingly irritated by Federal tariffs on imported merchandise. These duties levied by the government added significant expense to essential goods as well as luxury items coming into the country.  
From their frustration grew the “Bluffton Movement” in protest to the tariffs.  Angry residents met under a massive ancient oak tree in the town which became known as “Secession Oak,” where protests eventually resulted in calls for secession from the Union.

South Carolina was the first of the states to secede in December 1860.  Upon their declaration of secession, the southern states formed a new union, the Confederate States of America, initiating the emotional and bloody War Between the States – the American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 through 1865. Bluffton, as a high-profile headquarters of the Confederate “rebels”, was attacked by Union forces who bombarded and burned the town in June of 1863. Only a few homes, the Campbell Chapel AME Church and the Church of the Cross survived the assault.  It would take nearly a hundred years for the town to recover. 

Rebuilding began in the 1880s when Bluffton once again became a commercial center for riverboat shipping, but when the Coastal Highway (US 17) was completed, waterway travel became less attractive and prosperity in Bluffton suffered, although it remained a summer getaway despite its loss of commerce.  It would take the development of nearby Hilton Head Island to reinvigorate the town.

Within the last few years, the town has annexed several large tracts which are under development as residential and commercial areas and Bluffton has grown from a tiny town encompassing one square mile into a sprawling suburban community.