Hilton Head’s untold history: Mackays (Pinckney) Island

Story by Richard Thomas

Mackays (Pinckney) Island

©Heritage Library

Shortly after the settlement of the Province of Carolina, the owners of the lands, called the Lords Proprietors, invited the Yemassee Indians to inhabit the area in the southern part of the provincial territory so there would be a buffer between the English colony in Charleston and the Spanish in St. Augustine. The Indians began to arrive in the area of the Port Royal Sound in 1683 and had fully inhabited Daufuskie and Hilton Head Islands by 1685. In 1684, a Scottish colony named Stuart Town was established on Port Royal Island, but a surprise sea attack by the Spanish destroyed the colony two years later. In the meantime, the Yemassee had become allies and trading partners of the Scots in Stuart Town, and Hilton Head had been leased by the Lords Proprietors in 1685 to the Yemassee Chief Altamaha.

The Scots retreated to the safety of Charleston after the Spanish attack, and English traders from that colony began to exploit the inroads that the Scottish traders had made when in Stuart Town. Unwilling to venture deep into “Indian Territory” and be so close to St. Augustine, they sought adventurers who would. One of the settlers of Stuart Town, Alexander Mackay, became one of the first to receive a land grant from the Lords to settle the southern part of the province. Mackay received a grant of 200 acres on an island, part of which was a 1694 land grant to the Osbourne family. It had been occupied by the Yemassee as a lookout station for the Council of Safety of the Province. With an Indian fort at its north end, it was called Lookout Island by the natives, and it became known as Mackays Island in 1708, serving as a frontier trading post for the Indian trade out of Charleston.

When the Yemassee War broke out in 1715, Mackay became a colonel in the Beaufort District Militia and led repeated defenses against the marauding Yemassee warriors in the area over nearly 10 years. By 1725, Mackay had acquired the rest of the island’s acreage, and he lived there until his death in 1734. His wife sold the land to Charleston lawyer Charles Pinckney in 1736, from which time it was known as Pinckney Island.


Read more Hilton Head Island history here

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