By Luana M. Graves Sellars

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”

Marcus Tilliuis Cicaro

Hilton Head’s Gullah community dates back over 150 years, yet island-wide, there are only a few visible remnants from the past that remain today. As the Gullah community continues to strive for the preservation of their land and culture, the effort to keep the pride and memories of their ancestors alive with reverence, while maintaining their historic island cemeteries is a daily challenge. 

Hilton Head has nine historic Gullah cemeteries that are located around the island; 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 1700’s and are home to the island’s ancestral slaves and the generations that followed. 

The historic cemeteries extend from one end of the island to another, having endured the test of time and the encroachment of continuous island development. Some of the cemeteries are located behind plantation gates, which creates unique public exposure issues, such as the case with Elliott or Harbour Town, which is at the entrance to a condominium property; and Joe Pope, which is beside the Shelter Cove Shopping Center. Regardless of their location, island-wide the need for upkeep and preservation remains the same. 

Cemetery maintenance is important and has always been a concern, yet the recent storms that have hit the island, made the need to care for them 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. 

Through fund raisers, publicity and a Lowcountry Foundation Fund, the group, under the NIBCAA Community Action Committee, is trying to give the cemeteries a more organized and systematic process of maintenance and utilization. The group has been working diligently to establish some continuity of care for all of the locations, by increasing awareness and having consistent funding for the cemeteries. Additionally, the group has the important objective of encouraging Native Islanders to develop a greater understanding of the value of their heritage and the importance of keeping the cemeteries clean.

Native Islanders Ben Green and Annie Miller taking the lead on preserving island cemeteries.

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

Efforts to raise funds are ongoing, however, in addition to funds, preserving the historic Gullah cemeteries is vitally important. They need physical help to maintain and protect the countless numbers of the buried Gullah ancestors whose remains deserve respect, as well as reverence for the incredible legacies that they left behind.  

Hilton Head Island Historic Gullah Cemetery Directory

Talbird/Talbot/Tabor Cemetery (Mt. Calvary Church)

Founded in the 1800’s

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 either of two paths, one off Deerfield Road and the other out of Dolphin Head Recreation area; located on Marsh Hawk Road on Dolphin Head Point)

Amelia White/Graham/Stoney (ARM) Cemetery

Founded in the 1800’s

95 Squire Pope Road, Hilton Head Island, SC

(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 (St. James Church)

Earliest known date of existence: 18th century

10 Union Cemetery Road, Port Royal Plantation

Jenkins Island Cemetery (Antellebum)

Founded in the late 1700’s

45 William Hilton Pkwy, Jenkins Road

Spanish Wells Cemetery

Overlooking Calibogue Sound, Hilton Head Island, SC

Pinefield Cemetery

Founded in the late 1700’s

36 Broad Pointe Drive, Indigo Run Plantation, Hilton Head Island, SC

(Banks of Broad Creek accessed from Marshland Road; no access from Pineland Road; near Broad Pointe)

Drayton Cemetery (Antebellum) (St. James Church)

 190 Mitchelville Road, Tarpon Trail

(Faces Port Royal Sound; Barker Field is nearby; located on Port Royal Sound in Mitchelville area)

Joe Pope Cemetery

Founded in the 1800’s

720 William Hilton Parkway

(US 278 on one side and the Whole Foods parking lot on other side; surrounded by wooden fence by Shelter Cove Plaza)

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