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Hilton Head Island History

Inhabited by Native American tribes for thousands of years, Hilton Head was first explored by the Spanish in the early-1500s. In 1663, English Captain William Hilton arrived from Barbados and named the island after himself. "Hilton's Head," as it was originally called, became a cotton plantation, later serving as a major base in the Civil War. Post-war, a number of freed slaves moved to the island seeking housing and work. In the early-1930s, a Wall Street tycoon purchased more than 60 percent of the island to use as a private game reserve. In 1956, Charles Fraser developed the Sea Pines Resort, and Hilton Head's transformation into a vacation destination was begun. Today, the island is almost entirely tourism- and retirement community-oriented, with an estimated $1.5 billion in tourist dollars flowing into Hilton Head each year.