Edisto Island History
The name Edisto dates back to the first known Native American inhabitants of the area, the Edistow tribe, who lived in the area long before initial European contact in the Americas. The Edistow were present in the region when the Spanish initially arrived in the 16th century, meaning the island holds at least half a millennia of human history, but likely dates back much longer. Today, you can still see some shell mounds from these early people near some back creeks on the island.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore Edisto in the 16th century, but it was the English who established permanent settlements in the following century. They introduced a plantation system that changed the landscape of the island and led to the cultivation of rice, cotton, and indigo. During the Revolutionary War, like many areas in the Lowcountry, British troops occupied Edisto for periods of time.
The Civil War brought Union occupation to Edisto Island, which resulted in the liberation of enslaved individuals there. During Reconstruction, now free African Americans established their own communities and continued to cultivate the Gullah culture that still exists on the island today.
In the early 20th century, industry on Edisto began to shift away from large-scale farming due to a changing economy. Tourism quickly became the primary economic driver on Edisto, and though hurricanes like Gracie in 1959 and Hugo in 1989 led to periods of rebuilding for portions of the island, Edisto has remained plenty of its original look and feel.
Today, Edisto remains one of the last true Lowcountry beach towns.