Newsletter Signup | Subscribe to Magazine

Unknown stories of Bluffton: The spy who (possibly) named the May River

Story By Barry Kaufman

The spy who (possibly) named the May River

At the heart of Bluffton, you’ll find the meandering waters of the majestic May River. Between the bounty of seafood it provided to a growing town and the vital connection it provided with Savannah and Charleston during the town’s early days, there simply wouldn’t be a Bluffton without it.

As to who came up with the name “May” for our gentle waterway, that remains a mystery. But esteemed historian Jeff Fulgham may have an answer. “The founder of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society (now known as the Historic Bluffton Foundation) was Hunter Saussy, and he did research and believed that Henry Woodward named the May River,” wrote Fulgham. While there is no conclusive evidence, all signs point to Woodward. 

As to who Henry Woodward was, of that much we know a little more. He was a spy. “He wore many hats; interpreter, ambassador to the natives, trade agent, etc. He worked directly for the Lords Proprietors who owned the Carolina charter,” wrote Fulgham. “His mission was to defeat the Spanish and break their control of the coast between Charleston and Florida.”

While nearby Savannah may have a stranglehold on great pirate stories, with its legends of shanghaied sailors being pressed into service after a few too many on River Street, there are a few swashbuckling tales of Bluffton, the evidence of which remains to this day. Located on the lawn of the Huger-Gordon house, tucked away from prying eyes behind a hedgerow, you’ll find a cannon that once graced the deck of a privateer’s ship during the golden age of piracy.

Nicknamed “Boom” by the people of Bluffton, this Swedish-forged cannon was built sometime in the early 18th century and served as a powerful weapon aboard “Saucy Jack,” the privateer vessel of John “Captain Jack” Stoney. A feared captain in the service of his country during the Revolutionary War, Stoney would acquire enough wealth during his time at the helm to settle down on Hilton Head Island.

Boom was last fired on the day South Carolina seceded from the Union. According to historian Katie Epps, those who fired her “didn’t know what they were doing and almost killed themselves.” 

 

Read more Bluffton history here