Compiled by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Historical Resources Coordinator, Beaufort County Library. (Originally posted: 31 October 2012; Latest update: 16 July 2015.)
The purpose of the Beaufort District Collection is to acquire, preserve, maintain and share a research collection of permanent value about the history, Gullah culture, natural history, archaeology and genealogy of Beaufort District’s long and storied past. Our collection focuses on the people, places, issues and themes relevant to Beaufort County, Hampton County, and Jasper County history, 10,000 BCE to the mid-1960s. The Great Sea Island Hurricane devastated the coastal islands of South Carolina, killing thousands, and destroying the economic base of the area for years to come.
Today the story of the “Tide of Death,” the Great Sea Island Hurricane of 1893, is largely unknown outside our region. Nevertheless, it still ranks in most registers as the fifth most deadly hurricane in US history. It remains the biggest natural disaster in Beaufort County history.
When the storm came ashore it hit a radically different Beaufort County than the one we live in in 2015. The county was geographically larger, much less populated, and over 90% black. The sounds were very busy with maritime trade. The major source of employment was phosphate mining.
Indeed 60% of the phosphate produced in the United States came from South Carolina and half of that was mined in Beaufort County as this map from the Beaufort District Collection indicates.
Black Sea Islanders made up the bulk of the labor force. They earned good wages for the time, that is, $1 – $2 a day. The bare bones history of the storm is captured in an historical marker put up at Penn Center in 2008 by the Beaufort County Historical Society: 12 ft tidal surge, 120 mph winds, a dead count of 2000 or more, and up to 70,000 people left destitute in Georgia and South Carolina. Unfortunately few records survive from which we can identify the names of those who perished.
Below is the list of names of 294 people whose deaths were attributed to the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893 in Beaufort County Coroner’s Inquisition Records housed in the Beaufort District Collection. The inquests were held over a period of three days, August 28 – August 30, 1893. Not all bodies could be identified. Due to the nature of this natural disaster, an unspecified number of people were swept out to sea. Thus, this list is only a partial list of the Beaufort County casualties of the hurricane.
Given the population of Beaufort County at the time, the vast majority of the dead were African-Americans. Three people are known to have died in the town of Beaufort: Thomas Ozier and his wife, Kate, an African-American couple; and Mrs. Thomas Talbird, a pregnant white woman.
Only three white people are known to have died as a direct result of the storm according to an article in the Charleston News and Courier (Charleston, SC) published on 2 September 1893: Dr. William Gowan Hazel, who drowned on Parris Island trying to save two black boys; Mrs. Thomas Talbird, “the only white lady who lost her life, was actually frightened to death by the fury of the storm Sunday night;” and, Martin Hand, an engineer on the Kennedy dredge boat.
You are welcomed to come to the Beaufort District Collection Research Room to read through the Coroner’s accounts. However, prepare yourself to a difficult task: 1) The Coroner’s accounts are on microfilm; 2) The script is often faint and hard to decipher; and, 3) The depth of personal human tragedy in the accounts is hard to absorb. For current hours of operation and library addresses consult the Library system’s webpage http://www.beaufortcountylibrary.org/content/hours-locations
|Brown, Unknown child of Walley – 1|
|Brown, Unknown child of Walley – 2|
|Brown, Unknown child of Walley – 3|
|Brown, Unknown child of Walley – 4|
|Brown, Unnamed child of Walter|
|Drayton, Unnamed child of Joe – 1|
|Drayton, Unnamed child of Joe – 2|
|Drayton, Unnamed child of Joe – 3|
|Drayton, Unnamed child of Joe – 4|
|Drayton, Unnamed child of Joe – 5|
|Drayton, Unnamed child of Joe – 6|
|Drayton, Unnamed child of Joe – 7|
|Drayton, Unnamed wife of Joe|
|Green, Noble, Jr.|
|Green, Unnamed child|
|Hazel, William Gowen|
|Heyward, Unnamed child of Scipio – 1|
|Heyward, Unnamed child of Scipio – 2|
|Heyward, Unnamed child of Scipio – 3|
|Heyward, Unnamed child of Scipio – 4|
|Holmes, Unnamed child of Isaac|
|Johnson, Unnamed child of Peggy – 1|
|Johnson, Unnamed child of Peggy – 2|
|Johnson, Unnamed child of Peggy – 3|
|Johnson, Unnamed child of Peggy – 4|
|Lloyd, Unnamed child|
|Main, Unnamed child of Rosa|
|McKnight, Susan J.|
|Middleton, Carolina C.|
|Perry, Unknown child of Sookie – 1|
|Perry, Unknown child of Sookie – 2|
|Perry, Unknown child of Sookie – 3|
|Perry, Unknown child of Sookie – 4|
|Perry, Unknown child of Sookie – 5|
|Perry, Unknown child of Sookie – 6|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Monday – 1|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Monday – 2|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Monday – 3|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Monday – 4|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Rose – 1|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Rose – 2|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Rose – 3|
|Polite, Unnamed child of Rose – 4|
|Seabrook, Unnamed child of Dinah|
|Simmons, John Jr.|
|Simmons, John Sr.|
|Unknown (child) with Th. Barnes|
|Washington, Bristor Jr.|
|Washington, Unknown child of Monday – 1|
|Washington, Unknown child of Monday – 2|
|Washington, Unknown child of Monday – 3|
|Washington, Unknown child of Monday – 4|
|Washington, Unknown child of Monday – 5|
|Washington, Unknown child of Monday – 6|
|Washington, Unknown child of Monday – 7|