Little is known about earlier days on Dewees, but shell mounds are evidence of at least temporary occupation by native Americans, such as the Sewees, who called the island “Timicau”, one of “The hunting islands”.
The Seewee Indians
The Seewee Indians were part of a group of native american indians that lived along the coastal plain of the South Carolina. They were not part of the larger population known as the Cusabo, who inhabited the islands south of Charleston. The Seewee and Santee indians occupied the area north of Charleston. Almost nothing is known of their language and customs . Archeologists have determined that the shell mounds may indicate these tribes were inhabitants for at least part of the year.
What remains are the names they used to refer to areas on the coast:
Most of these tribes succumbed to the tide of European immigration.
Colonel Thomas Cary was the first European to hold title to Dewees Island, by way of a deed from King William III.
Cornelius Dewees, purchased Dewees and the adjacent island (Capers) in the mid 1700s, a few years after it was granted by King William III to Colonel Thomas Cary.Dewees operated a boat yard and boat building business until the land was sold. A scale model of the boats he constructed can be seen in the clubhouse.
The first Dewees community
The island was clearly an established community when it was put for up for sale in 1791 after Cornelius died. It changed hands frequently, and was for a while divided into south and north sections. It supported cattle, pigs and other various crops.
The Huyler family lived on Dewees for much of each year from 1925-52 (photos). The island was purchased by RS Reynolds in 1956 and used as a hunting retreat. An investor partnership bought Dewees and Capers in 1972, and then sold Capers to the state of South Carolina, to be designated as a conservation area.
The first modern residential homes on Dewees were built in the 1980s on the south end of the island by the Royalls, Bobby Kennedy and others. After the island was devastated by hurricane Hugo, in 1989, the investors invited John Knott to consider further development, and “Island Preservation Partnership” was formed in 1991. With great sensitivity to “living in harmony with nature”, the island was laid out to accommodate 150 building lots, and the infrastructure was put in place. Sales and buildings followed quickly. The island was handed over to the owners in 2007, and has been managed by the Property Owners Board and the Utility Board ever since.
A detailed timeline and record of the island presidents and managers are available here.
A “History of Dewees island and its people” was written by a Dewees resident, Jim Cochrane, and published in 2007. The first Chapter “A place apart” is attached