Pinckney's Island


Also known as Lookout Island, Mackey's Island 

Colonel Mackey bought the island closest to the northwest corner of Hilton Head and the water between it and the main island became known as Mackey's Creek.  The small island was known as Mackey's Island until it became Pinckney's Island.  "Apparently it was an old Indian stronghold, for the words 'Ruins of Indian Fort' are marked on the northern tip of the Island on a map drawn by Captain John Gascoigne, who bought land from Bayley's Barony in 1729." 

  • Holmgren, Virginia C., Hilton Head, A Sea Island Chronicle, p. 42

"The islands along the inland waterway were situated on the "super highway" of that era. Lookout Island as the Indians called Pinckney Island, was a land grant to the Osbourne family, and Mackey, an Indian trader, got the island when he married their daughter.  In 1734, Charles Pinckney bought the island Lookout from the Mackeys...and remained in the family until sold to Mrs. Ellen Keyser Bruce in 1937."

"During the last twenty-four years of his life when he lived there in the fall and spring months, Charles cared for the plantation as his most cherished possession and exciting adventure of all until he died in 1825."

  • Powell, Mary Pinckney, Over Home, The Heritage of Pinckneys of Pinckney Colony, p. 35

In 1862 a detachment of sixty men from Company H of the Third New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment under Lt. Joseph C. Wiggins was sent to set up pickets on Pinckney Island. Company headquarters were in the main house called 'The Point' on a bluff where the Broad River and Skull Creek joined.  Discipline was very sloppy.

On the night of August 20th Captain Stephen Elliott of the Beaufort Artillery Company led two detachments of men ashore, surprising the Federal soldiers and taking the entire group prisoner.

  • Carse, Robert, Hilton Head in the Civil War, Department of the South, p. 89

Issue of Island Packet, February 8, 1973:  Pinckney Island to be preserved as a coastal wilderness.  Edward Starr, Jr. has given his half of the island to the Natural Land Trust, Inc..   James M. Barker has agreed to leave his 4000 acres to the Federal Bureau of Sports, Fisheries and Wildlife.  Sea Pines Plantation (Charles Fraser) is to act as custodial of the Barker land.

  • Daniels, Jonathan, The Gentlemanly Serpent and Other Columns from a Newspaperman in Paradise, p. 392

Early Indian sites from about 7000 BC with extensive Indian occupation from 400 BC to 1000AD.   Evidence of both French and Spanish on Pinckney Island. In 1707 a scout boat was stationed at south end of island with a small fortification on the north end to watch for the Spanish. 

Evidence of rice fields on both sides of island in early 1700's.

See Mackey in Individuals. Mackey's widow married William Osbourne; sold island to Charles Pinckney in 1734. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney inherited island in 1758; see Pinckney in Individuals. Seems to have been three plantations - the Point, the Old Place and the Crescent.  The Point had a two story home with extensive ornamental gardens developed by Charles Cotesworth. These were destroyed by a hurricane in 1824. 

Daughter, Harriott, inherited island in 1825 and managed the plantations and their 349 slaves until about 1860.  She died in 1866 and the land was confiscated for back taxes of $310.   Land was leased until heirs regained it in 1869.

In August of 1862 forces of the Beaufort Artillery and 11th Infantry CSA captured Company H, 3rd Regular New Hampshire Volunteers stationed on the eastern end of the island.

Former slaves continued to live on and farm the land.  In 1862 the freed blacks were being drafted for military service; five graves on the island have markers showing they served with the 21st Company, US Infantry.

Heirs never rebuilt the home or lived on the island.  Cotton was raised by black tenant farmers until the boll weevil killed the crops.   

In 1937 heirs sold the property to James Bruce,  New York sportsman and millionaire.  His wife maintained the property as a game preserve.  He used it as a private hunting preserve.   In 1954 Edward Starr and James Barker became co-owners, eventually becoming sole owners of the island.   In 1975 Barker deeded his half of the island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be used exclusively as a wildlife refuge and as a nature preserve for aesthetic and conservation purposes.  Refuge was established.  In 1982 Pinckney Island was opened for public visits. 

  • Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, Department of the Interior, July 1990
  • Coastal Discovery Museum Docent Notes

On maps of the late 1600’s the island is called Lookout Island. On Bayley’s Barony map of 1725 it is called Mackey’s  Island. It had been granted to Indian trader, Col. Alexander Mackey, in 1708.   One map shows ruins of an Indian fort on the island.

In 1734 Col. Charles Pinckney aquired the island and in 1758 his son, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, inherited the three plantations on the island - Old Place, Crescent and The Place - where Sea Island cotton was raised.   In 1818 President James Monroe was entertained there.  The plantations were destroyed during the Union occupation.  

In 1937 descendents sold the island to Mr. James Bruce and his wife, Ellen Keyser, of Baltimore who was Ambassador to Argentina and first director of  America’s Mutual Defense Assistance Program in 1949 and 1950.   His brother David Bruce - Ambassador to the Court of St. James - shared the property. They leased the ‘shooting’ to General Robert E. Wood, president of Sears, Roebuck and Company.

In 1955 Wood, James Barker, Edward Starr, Jr. and another man bought the island.

  • Inglesby, Edith, Islander Magazine, May 1967