In 1629, King Charles I of England granted the Proprietors the southern half of the English land in the New World between 36 degrees and 31 degrees north latitude from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The land was named “Province of Carolina.” The Proprietors sent Lt. Colonel Robert Sanford to explore the coast of the area which would become South Carolina in 1666, which at the time was inhabited by Native Americans. Sanford claimed the area for the English king, Charles II. After its settlement in 1670, the area now known as Seabrook Island was named “Colleton” in honor of Sir John Colleton.
The English Proprietors awarded the first deed on Seabrook Island in 1696 to Sir Joseph Blake who held the title of “Landgrave” and served as the Governor of the territory from 1694 through 1700. His family held title to the Island until 1732 when it was sold to Samuel Jones who renamed his purchase “Jones Island.” The Island was sold again in 1753, to Ebenezer Simmons who, not unexpectedly, named it “Simmons Island.” The name was changed to Seabrook Island in 1816 after the property was purchased by William Seabrook, a Sea Island cotton planter and part owner of the Edisto Island Ferry. During the Civil War Seabrook sold the land to William Gregg, founder of the Granitville Company and a leading cotton manufacturer, for $150,000 in Confederate money.
Several subsequent purchasers included the family of William Andell, who owned most of the Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For many years Andell planted Sea Island cotton on his Seabrook Island and Johns Island properties. The Andell family sold a portion of their holdings to Victor Morawetz, a personal lawyer to Andrew Carnegie and the general counsel of the Santa Fe Railroad. The Morawetz family subsequently bequeathed some 1300 acres of its Seabrook Island property to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in 1951 with the understanding that the property could be sold, but that a portion had to be retained for use as Camp St. Christopher. When the Diocese discovered that it could not claim tax-exempt status on all of the property, it sold all but 230 acres in 1969 to Seabrook Island Limited Partnership for $1,800,000.
The general partner of Seabrook Island Limited Partnership was the Seabrook Development Corporation which in turn was owned by William Whitner and Dorothy Miller, his future wife. Over the next few years the Seabrook Development Corporation added a number of interior properties on the Island through its purchases from the Andell heirs: Dorothy McKee, Betty Stringfellow and Margaret Beckett. Whitner retained Willard Byrd & Associates of Atlanta to prepare a development plan for the combined properties which became Charleston County Planned Unit Development Number 1. The master development plan projected 1,236 single family home sites and 1,415 multi-family residences. The recreational amenities included a Beach Club, a golf club, driving range and racquet club.
In November of 1972, Seabrook Island Development Corporation sold its interests on the Island to the Seabrook Island Company (“SIC”), a South Carolina partnership of two companies: Land Logistics Limited of Palm Beach Florida (which served as general partner and was owned by Harry Gonzalez, his son Henry, and Richard Collier) and a Wall Street firm, the Gerry Brothers and Co., which served as limited partner. The Gerry Brothers financed the purchase and paid $4 million for the Island. It was at this point that the Seabrook Island Company officially began marketing property on the Island for residential purposes.
In August of 1975, the Gerry Brothers bought out the equity interest of Land Logistics Corporation in the Seabrook Island Company. In 1976, the Seabrook Island Company came under the operational control of a general partnership owned by Jack Kessler, with the Gerry Brothers continuing to own the limited partnership interest. Kessler bought out the interests of the Gerry Brothers in December of 1981. The amenities and the remaining undeveloped properties of the island were sold by Kessler in July of 1985, to Robert B. Russell. Russell took title to the purchased assets in the name of his development company, the Seabrook Island Ocean Club (“SIOC”).
About the same time, the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association established a task force to study the benefits of incorporation as an independent municipality. In October of 1986, that task force recommended an attempt to incorporate. The task force petitioned the Secretary of State to hold a referendum.
On May 19, 1987, eighty-four percent of the registered voters of the proposed Town of Seabrook Island who went to the polls approved the incorporation of the Town by a 341-65 vote. This action created a “legal entity” but a vote of the town’s residents was required to determine if the entity would in fact become a municipality. An election to determine the Town’s elected officials was scheduled for August 18th of 1987.
The Town’s only precinct was a moving van parked at the Bohicket Marina on Seabrook Island Road. Four hundred and forty-one votes were cast (78% of the registered voters). Joel Thompson was elected the Town’s first mayor.
Suffering financial difficulties as a result of a down-turn in the real estate market, on September 20, 1989, SIOC filed for protection under Chapter XI of the United States Bankruptcy Code in Charleston. Ominously, the very next day, hurricane Hugo brushed Seabrook Island and hit the city of Charleston. On July 27, 1990, a group of Seabrook Island property owners made an offer to Bank South – Russell’s principal creditor – to purchase SIOC’s assets. On June 28, 1991, the property owners group purchased the two golf courses, the tennis courts and SIOC’s other amenities. The assets were subsequently transferred to a newly incorporated Seabrook Island Club owned by participating property owners.