South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trip
Did you know more Revolutionary War battles happened in South Carolina than in any other state? Explore the battlefields, historic sites, and museums with this 10-part series of road trips across the state.
Beaufort is South Carolina’s second-oldest city after Charleston. But when the American Revolution began far to the north, it was a small city in a sparsely populated region. In 1778, three years of failing to capture George Washington forced the British to change tactics. In a monumental shift, the British unexpectedly captured Savannah.
Suddenly, Beaufort was no longer just a quiet corner. It was a buffer between Charleston and British West Florida. And it would become a hotbed of skirmishes, battles, and troop movements over the next year.
Embark on a 96-mile road trip from the historic small town of Walterboro along U.S. Highway 21 to Beaufort and the Sea Islands. Spend a day or two exploring historic sites, museums, and fabulous local restaurants on Bay Street. Then, continue the road trip to Hilton Head Island to visit the Zion Chapel of Ease and the resting site of an American Revolution Patriot.
This post is proudly sponsored by South Carolina Lowcountry and Resort Islands and South Carolina Association of Tourism Regions.
Road Trip Map
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Walterboro began in the late 1700s when local planters Paul and Jacob Walters built a summer retreat to escape the coast. In 1942, Walterboro Army Airfield became one of the training sites for the Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-black flying squadron. You can visit a memorial at the local airport.
The South Carolina Artisans Center is the state’s official Folk Art and Craft Center. Local handcrafted art must be approved by a jury before adorning the shelves of the retail shop. The large shop is in a restored eight-room Victorian cottage near the middle of town.
Walterboro’s downtown is tiny – two blocks along East Washington Street. But you’ll find a few things worthy of your time.
Start at Colleton Coffee, the town’s official coffee shop. Sisters Mandy and Jessy, owners of the Twig boutique store, decided that Walterboro was missing a community coffee shop. Opened in 2023, you’ll find gourmet coffee freshly ground for every serving.
You’ll feel pleasantly at ease with the front covered porch and rocking chairs at Olde House Café. Their slogan says it all, “Country Cookin’ Makes You Good Lookin’.” The self-serve buffet features southern staples like fried chicken, biscuits, and banana pudding.
The Barrell House Grille is the weekend entertainment hub with dart boards and live music. Their menu features southern dishes like fresh catch seafood and steak.
Walterboro is a great place to stretch your legs after a long drive getting there. But don’t be tempted to skip the town entirely – it’s the best place for lunch or an early dinner on your way to Beaufort.
Colleton Museum & Farmers Market
The Colleton Museum & Farmers Market is the defacto visitor center for the town. This makes sense because it’s also the place you go to learn about the vast history of Colleton County, including the Revolutionary War.
Explore the American Revolution exhibits and learn about the British armies that crossed the region multiple times. Continue your tour through history into the Civil War and learn about General Sherman’s march through the area during the Civil War.
It’s also a great place to learn about the region’s greatest outdoor asset – The ACE Basin. Covering an enormous 1.6 million acres along the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers, the nature preserve is one of the largest undeveloped wetlands remaining on the East Coast. The national wildlife refuge is a great place for coastal hiking and bird watching.
The Farmers Market is held on Tuesday evenings throughout the year and Saturday mornings seasonally. The market is a great place to find local fruits and vegetables, and baked goods to take home after a visit. The gift shop is open along with the museum.
Frampton Plantation House Visitor Center
Just minutes after exiting Interstate 95 in Yemasee, stop at the Frampton Plantation House Visitor Center. A King’s Grant in the 1700s gave the Frampton family hundreds of acres for a family plantation. Sherman burned the plantation house during the Civil War. In 1868, John Frampton built the house that exists today.
In 1993, the house was donated to the Lowcountry Tourism Commission for use as a visitor center. It’s a unique visitor center experience – you drive through a white gate along a curvy road toward a two-story house shaded by giant oak trees.
The visitor center is a great place for maps, brochures, and tips on how to make the most of your Revolutionary War road trip through the region.
Old Sheldon Church Ruins
After leaving the visitor center, take a detour off the four-lane U.S. Highway 17 to a shady two-lane road and a rendezvous with the most gorgeous church ruins in the south.
In the mid-1700s, the need arose for a second church when the inland population grew, and the journey to St. Helena’s Parish in Beaufort became too long. In 1757, Prince William’s Parish church was opened on land donated by Royal Governor William Bull. The locals called it Sheldon Church after Bull’s nearby Sheldon Plantation.
In 1779, British General Augustine Prevost attempted to capture Charleston. His siege was thwarted, and he hastily retreated back to Savannah. Along the way, his army burned the Sheldon Church.
It was rebuilt in 1826 but burned again when General Sherman marched through during the Civil War. And the ruins remain.
A black cast iron fence, about 2′ tall, was recently installed around the ruins to prevent curious visitors from climbing the ruins. Except “ruins” is a word that almost doesn’t seem to apply. The towering brick columns and exterior walls reach almost as high as the surrounding oak trees. They are amazingly intact and wonderfully gorgeous.
Beaufort was chartered in 1711, forty-one years after Charleston. The town struggled to grow with repeated Native American attacks and Charleston usurping nearly all the lucrative export trade. The population was thin, but it was a prosperous area. Carolina Gold rice and highly demanded indigo were grown on plantations around Beaufort, leading to a surge in prosperity for southern planters.
At the start of the Revolutionary War, South Carolina was the fourth most prosperous colony. That made it a target. After three years of failing to capture George Washington in the north, the British developed the Southern Strategy. Capture Georgia and the Carolinas, fight the Americans to a standstill, sue for peace, and keep the prosperous South.
When the British unexpectedly captured Savannah in 1778, it put Beaufort in the middle of amassing British troops in the south and Charleston. In the summer of 1779, General Augustine Prevost captured Beaufort, and the British occupied the city for three years.
One of the best ways to learn about Beaufort’s extensive history is with a guided tour. Beaufort Tours offers one-hour history, movie, and golf cart tours. Book the 2.5-hour Parris Island and Parris Island History Museum bus tour to enjoy the easiest journey into the military base.
The Sea Island Carriage Company offers 55-minute horse-drawn carriage tours in Beaufort’s historic district. Each tour is fully narrated and covers a range of topics. Coastal Expeditions is a great way to see the town by water. 1.5-hour cruises for sunset, dolphin sightseeing, and history will keep you entertained on their covered boat.
Bay Street is the main thoroughfare through downtown. The two-lane street is lined with boutique shops and restaurants and walkable sidewalks. Old Bay Marketplace is an indoor shopping mall where you can browse vintage and first-edition books at McIntosh Book Shoppe or get something savory at Southern Sweet Ice Cream Shop. Continue through the shopping center to find NeverMore Books on Port Republic Street.
The food in Beaufort isn’t limited to just seafood. At Old Bull Tavern, you can sample British fare on a quirky, eclectic menu that changes with the season. Plums offers waterfront seating with sandwiches and burgers, but you need to try their Shrimp Po-Boy – lightly breaded, deep-fried shrimp on a French baguette topped with remoulade sauce. Sample the best barbecue in the Lowcountry at Q on Bay and top it with homemade sauces. At Hearth Wood Fired Pizza, you can sit at a bar and watch your pizza bake in their brick oven.
Beaufort is the central point on this road trip. Consider booking 2 or more nights here and then driving each half of the road trip on the following days. Two days in Beaufort is good, but three would be best.
Where to Stay
Boutique Hotels and B&Bs
The Beaufort Inn features the original house, but it’s expanded to additional buildings, cottages, and apartments throughout downtown Beaufort. My preferred choice is the Garden Cottages with a patio or balcony overlooking a private courtyard. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Anchorage 1770 is Beaufort’s oldest mansion, but the bed and breakfast offer modern amenities and comfort. Enjoy waterfront views or book a cottage room with a garden view. A hot breakfast is prepared for guests every morning. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
The Rhett House is another historic postbellum home converted into a gorgeous bed and breakfast. Rooms at the Rhett House include a fireplace and access to a veranda. A full Southern breakfast is served to guests each morning. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
The Best Western Sea Island Inn is the closest to a waterfront hotel downtown. You’ll feel at home in the gorgeously decorated motel with an outdoor swimming pool and complimentary hot breakfast. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
City Loft Hotel is an upscale boutique motel one block from Bay Street. You’ll feel pampered with the walk-in glass showers and comfortable furniture. Start your day with coffee and pastries at City Java & Days at the corner of the building. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Boundary Street Hotels
The Hampton Inn features lower rates if you’re willing to drive three miles downtown. The hotel features a nice outdoor swimming pool, and some rooms have a view across the saltwater marsh. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
The Oasis Inn is the closest to a budget lodging in Beaufort. The motel features renovated rooms with engineered hardwood floors, comfortable bedding, and a mini fridge. It’s a 3-mile drive into downtown Beaufort. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
The Parish Church of St. Helena
Churches were more than just places of worship in early Colonial America. They were the centers of government as polling places and collected taxes. The Parish Church of St. Helena was founded in 1712, shortly after the town was established. The first iteration of the present building was completed in 1724.
Walk through the graveyard surrounding the church to find some interesting gravesites. Among them is John Barnwell, one of the two planters who founded Beaufort. Buried in 1724, his is one of the oldest in the graveyard.
But the most intriguing gravesite is the dual burial plot of British soldiers. Lieutenant William Calderwood and Ensign John Finley were killed at the Battle of Port Royal in 1779. It’s a rare example of British soldiers buried at a colonial church.
Did You Know?
In 1740, a chapel of ease was built on nearby St. Helena Island for the island’s planters. When it burned in 1886, it was never rebuilt. Visitors can explore the ruins of the tabby walls about twenty minutes from downtown Beaufort.
Beaufort History Museum
The Beaufort Volunteer Artillery was a militia organized during the early 1700s to fight Native Americans. The unit was active during the Revolutionary War. In 1798, an arsenal and headquarters were built for the militia.
The Arsenal is reminiscent of a castle. Towering concrete walls surround an inner courtyard where the militia would train. The tops of the walls appear like a battlement. The yellow color, gorgeously mottled and stained with age, is an interesting choice for the structure.
The Beaufort History Museum occupies the second floor of The Arsenal. The museum’s exhibits offer a chronological journey through the region’s history – beginning with the Spanish settlement in the 1500s. Did you know the Spanish were the first Europeans to settle in the area? And that the British were the third?
The museum does a wonderful job of explaining colonial conflicts with Native Americans and easing into the Revolutionary War. But don’t stop there – Beaufort’s intriguing history includes the plantation culture, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction Era.
Did You Know?
Reconstruction Era National Historical Park was established in 2017 to preserve and educate about the Reconstruction Era. It’s a great place to learn about the post-Civil War era in the South and how it shaped Beaufort’s future.
Port Royal, SC
In 1566, Pedro Menendez de Aviles established Santa Elena on the small island. Although the early settlement failed, Aviles traveled further south and established St. Augustine in 1665 – a city that played an intriguing part in the Revolutionary War.
In early 1779, British General Augustine Prevost marched from Savannah to capture Beaufort and establish a foothold in South Carolina. On February 3, he was met by General William Moultrie with 300 men. The Battle of Port Royal was a Patriot victory that pushed Prevost back to Savannah, but it was a short-lived victory – Prevost captured Beaufort a few months later.
Did You Know?
Among William Moultrie’s militia at the Battle of Port Royal were two signers of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina: Edward Rutledge and Thomas Heyward Jr.
Get something to eat at Madison’s, a restaurant opened in 2017 by brothers Evan and Brent Hallinan. Everything is made from scratch on the menu, featuring sandwiches, burgers, and seafood baskets. Fishcamp on 11th Street features water views and fresh seafood from the boats that still use the docks.
Stop by Shellring Ale Works and sample craft beers, including IPA, Lager, and Ales. Get street-style food from their resident food truck, RevolveR. Or, visit Carolina Cuppitycakes and choose from almost two dozen flavors of cupcakes baked every day.
After all that, walk to the Observation Tower on the Port Royal Boardwalk. The Sands beach was created by dredging in the 1960s, and the locals have adopted it as their beach. It’s a great place to watch dolphins and sunset.
Parris Island Museum
In 1891, the first United States Marines were assigned to the small island. When the Marine Corps Recruit Depot was established in 1915, it was named Parris Island after Colonel Alexander Parris, a planter who owned most of the island in the 1700s.
The Marine Corps installation is open for limited visitation. At the main gate, you’ll have to provide a valid driver’s license for anyone in the car over 16 and a car registration. Approval takes about 15 minutes. Once approved, it takes about ten minutes to drive to the Parris Island Museum.
The 10,000-square-foot museum is in the War Memorial Building. The museum explores the long history from its first establishment as the Continental Marines in 1775 and then its permanent creation in 1798.
One of the most interesting exhibits about the Revolutionary War is the Battle of Nassau, the Marines’ first amphibious landing. The Marines captured two British forts and a sizeable amount of gunpowder, then retreated to Philadelphia with their prize.
After exploring the American Revolution history, continue through the rest of the museum to see the impressive collection of artifacts and stories.
Point of Interest
Thomas Heyward Jr. Gravesite
The Thomas Heyward Jr. gravesite is a short, 16-mile roundtrip detour if you want to visit the final resting place of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A scenic dirt road leads to the small cemetery surrounded by a low brick wall.
Born in 1746 on a family plantation in Ridgeland, Heyward was like many others born to wealthy planters. He studied law in England and was elected to the colonial legislature in Charleston. But when independence was considered, Heyward joined the movement.
He was elected to the First and Second Provincial Congresses and signed the Declaration of Independence Articles of Confederation. In 1779, he was commissioned as a captain of the militia artillery in Beaufort.
After the Fall of Charleston in 1780, Heyward was captured by the British. He was initially granted parole to live at his house in the city. But less than two months later, he was suddenly exiled, along with dozens of other Patriots, to St. Augustine.
When Heyward died in 1809, he was buried in the family cemetery on their plantation in Ridgeland. Today, nothing remains of the plantation except for the small brick-walled cemetery. Heyward’s grave marker is topped with a bronze bust and labeled, “Patriot – Statesman – Soldier – Jurist.”
Hilton Head Island, SC
Hilton Head Island is the grand jewel of South Carolina’s coastal destinations. But during the Revolutionary War, it was a sparsely populated island of Patriots violently opposed by a “nest of Loyalists” on Dafuskie Island. No battles ever happened on the island, and only one recorded death existed.
The Sea Island Cotton industry began in the late 1700s. After the Civil War ended the industry, the island served as a private hunting reserve for various tycoons. In 1956, the same year the first bridge was completed to the island, Charles Fraser began developing the Sea Pines Resort – shifting the island’s destiny toward tourism.
Coligny Beach Park is the best place for day trippers to hit the beach on Hilton Head Island. A boardwalk with an accessible mat leads to the wide beach. The public beach access features public restrooms, changing rooms, and showers.
The Bank is an interesting place – and it’s not a bank. The large building houses several eateries and a brewery under one roof. Get something to eat at Bank Heist Burgers or Benjamin’s Seafood, and then get drinks at Side Hustle Brewing Co.
Locals Vic Neeley and his sons Darrell and Will run the three locations of Plantation Café & Deli, including one at Coligny Beach Park. Their Plantation Classics meals are the best, like the True Country Breakfast with two eggs, hashbrowns or grits, a choice of meat, bread, and two pancakes.
The Sandbar was opened in 2017 by Beaufort native Sam Houston and Erika Waronsky. You’ll find beach snacks like nachos, hush puppies, pretzels, homemade beer cheese, and Beach Plates – hearty entrees with sides.
Flatbread Grill & Bar has a large indoor seating area to escape the summer heat. Choose from a menu of flatbread pizza, burgers, and entrees like their homemade crab cakes and Italian mac and cheese.
Where to Stay
Spend your nights at Hilton Head Island wrapped in luxury at one of the popular resorts. The Westin Resort & Spa (Booking.com | Expedia.com), Marriot Resort & Spa (Booking.com | Expedia.com), and Omni Oceanfront Resort (Booking.com | Expedia.com) are excellent oceanfront choices.
The Holiday Inn Express at Coligny Beach features an outdoor swimming pool and balconies for the guest rooms. It’s within walking distance of the beach, shopping, and restaurants. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
The Best Western Ocean Breeze Inn is a motel with elevated comfort. Take advantage of the walk-in glass showers, engineered hardwood floors, and outdoor swimming pool. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Zion Chapel of Ease
Standing beneath the shady oaks with countless cars zipping along the William Hilton Parkway, it’s hard to imagine Zion Chapel of Ease was once the center of the island’s tiny community. The cemetery was the militia’s muster ground, and a nearby building served as their headquarters. A Chapel of Ease was built in 1788 to serve the island planters.
But nothing remains of the muster ground or the chapel today. Instead, visitors find a small cemetery along the busy highway with a meandering path among the gravesites. A few Revolutionary War Patriots are among the buried.
The most notable gravesite is that of Charles Davant. In 1781, a staunch Loyalist, Captain Martinangel of Daufuskie Island, ambushed Davant on his ride home. Mortally wounded, Davant rode his horse to his plantation at Two Oaks, where he later died.
During a small ceremony in 1996, one of Davant’s descendants unveiled a bronze plaque on his gravesite.
South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trips
Read the other articles in this 10-part series:
And be sure to read this additional article: