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Did the early Europeans first settle here?


Before Daryl Ferguson retired in Beaufort, he led an exciting career as president of a Fortune 500 company. But his life got more exciting when a Lowcountry historian, Dr. Larry Rowland, told him that there is evidence that there is a 16th-century Spanish town on a remote corner of Parris Island … and it may have been settled before either Plymouth or Jamestown. With the support of two of the nation’s top 16th-century historians, Ferguson waded into the dangerous waters of challenging our nation’s American history. That history clearly says that it was England that first settled our country.

Ferguson had the curiosity and drive of any explorer, but he was not a historian; just an amateur historian. However, he dedicated eight years with the single goal of determining if our American history needs to be changed. His answer? Almost everything that we have taught our children for more than 400 years about how England first settled this country is wrong. It wasn’t England that first settled our country in 1620. It was Spain, and their first settlement was in 1569 on Parris Island, South Carolina.

While most historians focus on what our European settlers did once they landed on our shores, Ferguson went back in time to answer such questions as “Why did Spain want to first settle at the Punta Santa Elena, which described Hilton Head Island and the Port Royal Sound area?”

In early May he introduced American Conquistador. Ferguson feels the book will change our American history; and it will put a surprising focus on Hilton Head Island and the Port Royal Sound area.

Spain and France were enemies throughout the 16th century. That schism grew as France saw Spain’s treasure armadas collect more and more silver and gold. Spain soon felt the pain from France’s privateers. Then it realized that its most vulnerable spot was the Punta Santa Elena. At that location an enemy could anchor its ships in the deep harbor of Port Royal Sound before ambushing Spain’s passing armada.

France tested the opportunity in 1562. It ordered Jean Ribault to land on the Punta and establish a military fort. Ribault landed on Parris Island and called his fortress Charlesfort. It lasted a little over one year. Then in 1564 French deserters informed the Spanish Crown that France had a second rogue fort a few miles up the St. Johns River. That sounded the alarms and led to a cross-Atlantic race in the summer of 1565. That race interrupted Spain’s plan to send an armada to the Punta Santa Elena and build the first North American settlement.

Both France and Spain knew that this cross-Atlantic race would probably decide which country would first control North America. However, as Spain’s armada sailed across the Atlantic, they were hit by a hurricane. Half of their ships were either sunk or badly damaged. When Pedro Menendez, the Spanish Conquistador, approached the mouth of the St. Johns River, he soon spotted France’s armada anchored at the mouth of the river. Spain had lost the race. But Menendez was not through. He immediately sailed south 30 miles and anchored his ships off of the waters of St. Augustine. Then, as a nor’easter hit the area, he took 500 of his men and marched north for three days to surprise the French fort. Spain turned the tables on France, and after Menendez and the nor’easter destroyed the French armada, he sailed north to the Punta Santa Elena in April of 1566 and landed at Parris Island. In 1569 the Spanish town of Santa Elena became the first European settlement in North America.

The level of detail Ferguson provides gives the reader the opportunity to imagine what it was like to stand up to royalty, brave seas in ships that leaked, load ships by hand and hear the cries of port vendors. This isn’t a novel. It’s a true story. He makes the reader feel as if he or she was there at the time. Ferguson hopes his account of royal and religious intrigue and treachery, incredible bravery and fickle fate will finally get the Punta Santa Elena the recognition that it deserves. As one Hilton Head leader recently told him, “This changes everything for us.”

Hidden treasure likely still here

Not only did the Spanish set up a town in Beaufort County long before any other Europeans, but marauders might have hidden some stolen gold and silver here.

Ferguson found an intriguing reference in a rare 1905 book, “The Spanish Settlements Within the Present Limits of the United States.” The following letter was sent to a French king:

“A party of 20 Indians were carrying along with them great lumps of gold and silver stamped with the mark of the Spanish mint which they had gathered from the wreckage of vessels along the coast. The soldiers, having possessed themselves of the treasure, buried it in the earth and bound themselves by oath not to reveal its hiding places either to their captain or to any other person.”

No other reference to the treasure has been found, which means it is likely still here. Somewhere. LL