(Charleston County; 2000 pop. 1,911). Sullivan’s Island was discovered in 1666 by Captain Robert Sandford and named for Captain Florence O’Sullivan, a former Irish soldier and one of South Carolina’s first colonists. On May 30, 1674, O’Sullivan was given the responsibility of manning the signal cannon on the island at the entrance to Charleston harbor. Thus began the island’s relationship with military defense as well as the name “O’Sullivan’s Island.” Throughout the history of Sullivan’s Island, military defense and summer recreation would be the two most important factors in its economic development.
A quarantine station was built on Sullivan’s Island in 1707 and served as the primary line of defense against infectious disease reaching Charleston via newly arriving immigrants, primarily African slaves. On June 28, 1776, the first major defeat suffered by the British forces in the Revolutionary War took place at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, where the American fort on the island forced the withdrawal of British warships threatening the city. Beginning in 1791, private citizens “who thought it beneficial to their health” began spending summers on the island, making Sullivan’s perhaps the state’s original seaside resort. In 1817 the incorporation of the town of Moultrieville reflected the increase in summer and year-round residents. From 1827 to 1828 the resident Edgar Allan Poe, then a young army recruit, was stationed at Fort Moultrie. Years later Poe’s story “The Gold Bug” drew on his time spent on Sullivan’s Island. On January 30, 1838, the imprisoned chief Osceola of the Seminole Indians died and was buried at Fort Moultrie. Taking part in the opening shots of the Civil War on April 12, 1861, Confederate gunners at Fort Moultrie and three other batteries on Sullivan’s Island participated in the bombardment of Fort Sumter.
Sullivan’s Island’s few businesses–boardinghouses, entertainment halls, grocery stores, drugstores, churches, and post offices– served residents and the military over the years. In 1906 the General Assembly revoked the charter for the town of Moultrieville, replacing it with a township government and creating the town of Sullivan’s Island. Fort Moultrie was deactivated in 1947 and turned over to the National Park Service. A navigation beacon or lighthouse is the only remaining defensive fixture on Sullivan’s Island from the days of Florence O’Sullivan. Sullivan’s Island is prone to natural disasters, such as Hurricane Hugo, which hit on September 21, 1989, but still the island remains a desirable place for residents and guests, whether for a few days or all year long.
Miles, Suzannah Smith. Island of History: Sullivan’s Island from 1670 to 1860 with Reminiscences of Moultrieville and Fort Moultrie. Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Historic Views, 1994.
Rhyne, Nancy. Chronicles of the South Carolina Sea Islands. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, 1998.