Captain Hilton Comes to Port Royal


Captain William Hilton wrote the first detailed English account of the Carolina coast. In 1662 at the request of a group of merchants in Boston, Captain Hilton set sail from Charlestown, Massachusetts to explore the Carolina coast.  He sailed as far south as Cape Fear, North Carolina, before returning to Massachusetts.

The following year, a group of merchants from New England, London, and Barbados commissioned him for a second voyage to explore the coastline of the Carolinas.
In September, 1663, Captain William Hilton on the ship Adventure sailed into a harbor which he described as “the River Jordan, and was but four Leagues or thereabouts N. E from Port Royal.” The Spanish , exploring the area in 1533, had named the river Jordan; later historians determined it was the river we now call the Combahee. [1]  
Just inside the entrance to the sound, Hilton noted the existence of a headland - a high point of land used as a reference point by mariners that was later named Hilton's Head.
Captain Hilton found more evidence of Spanish influence. Indians visited his ship using such words as capitan (captain) and camarado (comrade) and adios. These Indians were accustomed to ordnance, and were not startled by gunfire. They were familiar with the settlement at St. Augustine, and some of them had actually visited there, saying it was only ten days journey.

On another day several Indians visited the ship, one of them described as “The Grandy [Grandee?] Captain of Edisto.”
The Indians also told him of four English castaways who were in the custody of one Captain Francisco. The Indians brought Hilton a letter concerning these castaways, but since the letter was in Spanish, no one on the ship could read it, and they suspected some kind of Spanish trick. Eventually Hilton was able to rescue the castaways.
Hilton’s account also tells of many exchanges of gifts; the Indians would bring him baskets of acorns, and the Spanish sent a  quarter of venison and a quarter of pork; Captain Hilton is turn sent the Spanish a jug of brandy.
Captain Hilton’s glowing description of the climate and wildlife on the lands he visited was of great help to those eager to settle the Carolinas, and we find echoes of his description in the pamphlets of the period.
“The Lands are laden with large tall Oaks, Walnut and Bayes, except facing on the Sea, it is most Pines tall and good: The Land generally, except where the Pines grow, is a good Soyl, covered with black Mold, in some places a foot, in some places half a foot, and in other places lesse, with Clay underneath mixed with Sand; and we think may produce anything as well as most part of the Indies that we have seen.
“The Indians plant in the worst Land, because they cannot cut down the Timber in the best, and yet have plenty of Corn, Pumpions, Water-Mellons, Musk-Mellons: although the Land be over grown with weeds through their lazinesse, yet they have two or three crops of Corn a year, as the Indians themselves inform us. The Country abounds with Grapes, large Figs, and Peaches; the Woods with Deer, Conies, Turkeys, Quails, Curlues, Plovers, Teile, Herons; and as the Indians say, in Winter, with Swans, Geese, Cranes, Duck and Mallard, and innumerable of other water-Fowls, whose names we know which lie in the Rivers, Marshes, and on the Sands Oysters in abundance, with great store of Muscles; A sort of fair Crabs, and a round Shelfish called Horsefeet. The Rivers stored plentifully with Fish that we saw play and leap. There are great Marshes, but most as far as we saw little worth, except for a Root that grows in them the Indians make good Bread of.
“The Land we suppose is healthful; for the English that were cast away on that Coast in July last, were there most part of that time of year that is sickly in Virginia; and notwithstanding hard usage, and lying on the ground naked, yet had their perfect healths all the time. The Natives are very healthful; we saw many very Aged amongst them. The Ayr is clear and sweet, the Countrey very pleasant and delightful: And we could wish, that all they that want a happy settlement, of our English Nation, were well transported thither.”

[1]        Alexander S. Salley, Jr., ed., Narratives of Early Carolina, 38. In the Heritage library.