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Preserving Hilton Head’s historic Gullah Cemeteries

Hilton Head Island’s Gullah community dates back more than 150 years, yet island wide, there are only a few visible remnants of its historic past.

As the Gullah community continues to strive for the preservation of its land and culture, there’s an effort to keep the pride and memories of its ancestors alive with reverence. Maintaining its historic island cemeteries is an ongoing challenge.

Cleaning up the mess
Ben Greene and Annie Miller are part of a group of locals raising funds to help clean up storm debris left behind at Hilton Head’s Gullah cemeteries.

The 10 historic Gullah cemeteries on Hilton Head are Talbird, Elliot, Graham/Stoney, Union, Harbour Town, Pinefield, Squire Pope, Drayton, Joe Pope and Jenkins Island.

Some of the cemeteries date as far back as the 1700s and are home to the island’s ancestral slaves and the generations that followed.

The cemeteries extend from one end of the island to the other, having endured the test of time and the encroachment of continuous island development. Some of the cemeteries are behind plantation gates, which creates unique public exposure issues. Elliott is at the entrance to a condominium property, while Joe Pope is alongside Shelter Cove Towne Centre. Regardless of location, the need for upkeep and preservation remains the same.

The recent storms that have hit the island made the need to care a greater priority. The damage left behind from Hurricane Matthew’s downed trees brought an increased awareness to the historic cemeteries. Previously, the cemeteries weren’t much of a public concern, until a group of native Islanders came together to raise funds to clean up storm debris left behind at Talbird Cemetery.

Through fundraisers, publicity and a Lowcountry Foundation Fund, a group is trying to give the cemeteries a more organized and systematic process of maintenance and utilization.

The foundation functions under the NIBCAA’s Community Action Committee.

The most current and pressing issue is that some of the sites have specific challenges that need immediate attention due to their proximity to the water’s edge, specifically Talbird, Spanish Wells and Jenkins Island. These three cemeteries have a particular urgency because of the ravages of time and the destruction of the surf. Erosion and graves sites going into the water is a significant concern, because they are so close to the water’s edge.

In addition to funds, the historic cemeteries need physical help to preserve and protect the countless numbers of the buried Gullah ancestors whose remains deserve respect, as well as reverence for the incredible legacies they left behind.

Hilton Head Island Historic Gullah Cemetery Directory

Talbird/Talbot/Tabor Cemetery
Founded in the 1800s
(Mt. Calvary Church)
8 Waterway Place, Hilton Head Plantation
(North end of Skull Creek Drive, adjacent to Grandview Condominiums and near Skull Creek Marina)

Elliott Cemetery at Dolphin Head
​Founded in the 1830’s
167 Hilton Head Drive, Hilton Head Plantation
(Accessed by walking off Deerfield Road or out of Dolphin Head Recreation area. Located at Marsh Hawk Road on Dolphin Head Point)

Amelia White/Graham/Stoney (ARM) Cemetery
Founded in the 1800s
95 Squire Pope Road
(Adjacent to the two-acre Green’s Shell Enclosure, a nature park maintained by the Town of Hilton Head)

​Military/Government/Union/White Family Cemetery
Earliest known date of existence is the 18th century
(St. James Church)

Union Cemetery Road, Port Royal Plantation
Jenkins Island Cemetery (Antellebum)
Founded in the late 1700s
45 William Hilton Parkway, Jenkins Road

Spanish Wells Cemetery
​Overlooking Calibogue Sound

Pinefield Cemetery
Founded in the late 1700s
36 Broad Pointe Drive, Indigo Run Plantation
(Banks of Broad Creek accessed from Marshland Road; no access from Pineland Road; near Broad Pointe)

Drayton Cemetery
190 Mitchelville Road, Tarpon Trail
(Faces Port Royal Sound in Mitchelville area. Barker Field is nearby.)

Joe Pope Cemetery
Founded in the 1800s
720 William Hilton Parkway
(Whole Foods parking lot is on one side.)

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