Beaufort, SC

History of Beaufort

The history of Beaufort, SC is one of the most comprehensive and diverse of any community its size in the US. The area has been subject to numerous European explorations and several aborted attempts at colonization before the British successfully founded the city in 1711, the second oldest in SC behind Charleston. The city initially grew slowly, subject to numerous attacks from Native Americans before flourishing as a regional center for the Lowcountry Plantation economy up through the Civil War. The community rebounded in the latter half of the 20th century and is today recognized as one of the most livable small towns in the country. Beaufort has retained much of its historic character through its renowned architecture and historic preservation efforts.


Beaufort was chartered in 1711 as the second major settlement in SC and named after Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort. The settlement grew very slowly due to a major attack by the Yemassee in 1717 and the threat of Spanish invasion. It was not until 1733 and the founding of Georgia as a buffer colony did Beaufort truly grow in population and prestige.

The Civil War had a dramatic effect on Beaufort, as an amphibious attack and subsequent occupation of the city in November 1861 made it one of the first communities in the Deep South to be held in Union hands. Some of Beaufort’s most prominent families returned to the area but never regained the enormous wealth that slave-based agriculture provided.


In the mid to late antebellum period, the rise of Carolina Gold rice and Sea Island cotton brought enormous wealth to Beaufort and the surrounding plantations. Beaufort was one of the wealthiest cities in the US prior to the Civil War. Lowcountry planters in the city and surrounding islands were among the most ardent supports of the state secession with a population of about 4,000 excluding slaves.


New investment in the form of resort and lifestyle development on nearby Hilton Head Island and Fripp Island contributed to the economy of Beaufort and the Lowcountry starting in the 1960’s.

Next time you’re walking around in Beaufort, SC, take a tour with the Historic Walking Tour app!