The History of Kiawah Island
The Past, Present, and Future of Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island is more than just a luxurious coastal destination. It is the legacy behind a vibrant and exciting history. The Island’s centuries-old past began in the early 1600s, with stories of Native American inhabitants living off the land — a history that is still reflected on Kiawah Island to this day. Take a look into how Kiawah came to be, and how it has stayed true to itself through award-winning conservation efforts and by honoring its historic past.
Kiawah Island’s Historical Timeline
The early 1600s – The Kiawah Native American Tribe
The first inhabitants of the Island were a tribe of Native Americans called “The Kiawah”, a subtribe of the Cusabo Indians that populated the South Carolina coast. These natives inhabited the Island for decades in the early 1600s before the English arrived in 1670. The Kiawah called their chiefs by the name of “Cassique”. Today, we pay homage to the history of these influential Kiawah Island ancestors with the naming of the Cassique golf course and Cassique enclaves.
1670 – Kiawah’s Cassique Chief
When the English arrived in 1670, Cassique was able to convince the colonists to change their plans of settling south of Kiawah, near present-day Beaufort. At the time, the Spanish claimed this area and destroyed a Scottish colony where the English had also planned to settle. If the English hadn’t trusted Cassique’s guidance, their colony would have faced the same fate as the Scottish. Instead, the colonists settled north of Kiawah and created the city of Charleston.
1675 – The Lords Proprietary
Lords Proprietors were high-ranking men appointed by English rule to create settlements in the New World. In 1675, these powerful men traded simple goods such as hatchets, cloth materials, and beads with Kiawah natives to purchase the Island.
1699 – Captain George Raynor
In 1699, 2,700 acres of the 10,000 acre Island were sold to Captain George Raynor by the Lords Proprietors. Raynor was a pirate who raided faraway places such as the Red Sea and Madagascar. He eventually made his way to the Carolinas where he decided to change his pirate ways and settle on the quiet island of Kiawah. Raynor was later absolved for piracy and became a member of Charleton’s high society through generous donations to the town and its people.
1719 – William Davis
Twenty years later, in 1719, Captain Raynor sold his part of Kiawah to a fellow captain by the name of William Davis. William went on to eventually gift the 2,700-acre share of property to his daughter, Mary Raynor Moore.
1737 – John Stanyarne
A wealthy farmer by the name of John Stanyarne went on to purchase the entire Island from the Moore family in 1737. He used the various Island landscapes for farming, grew indigo crops, and raised cattle for his family to use and sell for profit.
1772 – The Gibbs and Vanderhorst Families
John Stanyarne passed away in 1772 and left Kiawah to his two granddaughters. The west half of the Island was passed on to Mary Gibbs, and the east side to Elizabeth Vanderhorst.
1782 – The Revolutionary War
During the Revolutionary War, sick and wounded officers were granted permission to stay on Kiawah Island to recover and heal from injuries sustained in battle. The Island was a safe haven for the soldiers to recoup and enjoy leisurely activities during difficult times.
1861 – The Civil War
The Civil War lasted until 1865, and during this time in history, the Gibbs and Vanderhorst family abandoned the Island due to its lack of protection and susceptibility to enemy attack. The nearby Fort Sumter in Charleston had one of the largest battles in history, only a mere 21 miles away.
Years passed by and Elizabeth Vanderhorst and her family eventually acquired the entire Island from the Gibbs family. Elizabeth and her husband, Arnoldus, built the Vanderhorst Mansion which still stands today as a glimpse of Kiawah Island’s history.
1950 – C.C. Royal of Aiken
Almost 100 years later, after being in the Vanderhorst family for centuries, Kiawah Island sold for $125,000 to Charles Clance Royal of Aiken. Royal was a lumberman and real estate developer who built the first summer home in Kiawah on Eugenia Avenue, which he named after his wife. He began developing across the Island shortly after, transforming Kiawah into a private resort and residential community.
1974 – Kiawah Island Resort
Kiawah was sold once again to a Kuwaiti-owned development group for $17 million. Soon after purchase, they invested approximately $200 million in development and built the Kiawah Island Resort which opened two years later in 1976.
1988 – Kiawah Resort Associates
Fourteen years later, Kiawah Resort Associates made history and purchased Kiawah Island for $105 million, beginning the Island’s transformation into the world-class destination it is today.
1997 – Kiawah Island Conservancy
Kiawah Island is a marriage of the South and Sea, with maritime forests, marshes, and sand dune beaches. To protect this ecosystem, residents created a non-profit organization to maintain the Island’s wildlife and natural habitats. The Kiawah Island Conservancy acts as a land trust, protecting 2,273 acres of Kiawah’s 10,000 acres.
2013 – South Street Partners Acquisition
Kiawah Partners, the master developer of the Island, was acquired by South Street Partners based out of Charlotte, NC in 2013. The purchase also included two private golf courses, the Cassique and River Course, 400 undeveloped lots, Freshfields Village, Kiawah Island Real Estate, and Kiawah Island Utility.
2017 – Conservation Efforts Accreditation
The Kiawah Conservancy gained national recognition as an Accredited Land Trust from the Land Trust Alliance. Only 372 land trusts have achieved this superior status of proving commitment to land and wildlife preservation, making this an accreditation we are proud to bear our name to.
Kiawah Island’s Expanding Future
Kiawah’s legacy illustrates a rich past and an exciting future. As the Island expands and welcomes growth, the area, and its people stay committed to preserving the Island’s identity. Thanks to successful conservation strategies, much of Kiawah’s landscape remains the same as hundreds of years ago. However, even with the expansion of homes and amenities on Kiawah Island, you’ll find that residential and commercial properties seamlessly blend into the surrounding environment.
New homes are built to reflect their environment and compliment the scenery, rather than compete with it. Stunning architectural design, like the Cassique Garden Cottages, gives nod to the Lowcountry spirit and past English influences.
If you’d like to learn the story of Kiawah Island yourself, reach out to one of our Sales Executives to help arrange an experiential weekend. This way, you can experience the history and the natural beauty of Kiawah Island first-hand. We’re passionate about sharing this history with you and can’t wait to show you our slice of paradise.