By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Photo Credit: Mike Ritterbeck

In a world where we need to be reminded often through puff pieces at the end of the news that service and honor does exist, it was a pleasant surprise to find several examples within the Ferguson family right here in the island.  The old saying that an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is defiantly true with this family. Family traits that run deep through the roots and branches often provide a strong and rich foundation that can live on for generations. That is the case from the patriarch of the family, Bacchus Sr., who was born a slave in 1829. Bacchus lived on the island in the days when what we know as 278 was just a wagon road with no electricity. Back then, the island was still in the process of being divided and formed into a community. One such division was when he became the recipient of 55 ½ acres of land in the Marshland/Chaplin tract. The land was originally owned by the Chaplin Plantation, but was seized by the Direct Tax Commission and given to the former slaves, whose descendants continue to live on the land today. The subdivision of land included about 800 acres that was sold from the US Tax Act of 1862 to Adam Green and divided among seven men for $290. Four of the seven men were former Colored Troop soldiers.   

Genealogy research has not confirmed his participating as a Civil War Colored Troop soldier, however, based on his age at the time, he probably did serve. Research has proven that he joined the Militia Enrollment of 1869, whose primary purpose was to serve as garrison and infrastructure guards after the Civil War. Bacchus’ service and dedication to his country was only the beginning of a long tradition of military and civil servants in his family. There is a very long list of family members who fought for our nation’s freedom; Bacchus, Jr. served in the Army and won a Nation Defense Service Metal, Kid Ferguson, Nathan Ferguson, Ben Ferguson served in the Air Force as well as his great-great grandson Willie “Bill” Ferguson served in the Army in Vietnam. 

The desire to serve was evident in Bill Ferguson, who returned to the island with the need to do what he could to make it a better place.  After winning the election for the Ward 1 town council seat, Bill became known for his love of the island and fought to improve the lives of everyone on the island, especially the native islanders. Considered a strong and determined “grassroots leader”, his core platform of the importance of education, job security, and an increased minimum wage were very important issues for him. According to his daughter Jamila Ferguson Griffery, “he was passionate about all native islanders going to college.” A landscaper by occupation, his love of the land made him fight against overdevelopment and the commercialization of the island. “he didn’t want the native islanders to be overlooked. He wanted them to have the chance to enjoy the island just like the tourists,” she says. 

Described as an “eloquent and classy man” who was always teaching when he could.  “He defiantly knew how to voice his opinion,” said Ben. Bill’s strong voice and determination was what was needed to keep the native islander’s issues included in the town’s growth and change. That determination enabled him to accomplish several island first’s as first black town council member as well as by the time of his death in 2013, after 19 years was the town’s longest-serving council member.  His longevity in office came in part from his supporters knowing that he was always there for the people to make their voices known on issues such as the need for mainline sewage connections and proper drainage on their property. “He didn’t back down and always fought for what was right and was very passionate about not letting the land go. He didn’t hold his tongue,” says his father Daniel. 

Read more from the series of Hilton Head First Family stories

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