The History of Bulls Island
Each part and each destination of our tours are so delicately chosen to show each of our patrons what makes South Carolina so special. One location that we truly adore and could never ignore is the infamous and stunning Bulls Island!
Hello, adventurers! It’s time to grab your map, your best adventure cap, and time to sit back and learn a little more about one of our favorite locations right here in our stunning state. Today, we are going to be talking about Bulls Island, one of our premier expedition locations, and one of our most favorite places to go and explore. It is one of our favorite locations to educate everyone we meet about what makes this island and everything about its history and ecosystem special and unique!
Bulls Island is not your regular run of the mill everyday islands. When you think of an island, do you think of a perfectly round piece of land with palm trees, surrounded by water, and inhabited by one unfortunate pirate who lost all his rum? While there are plenty of islands out there that are like that, there is still so much more to Bulls Island than just sand and palm trees, however, there were pirates there at one time but we’ll get to that later. Bulls Island is made up of 5,000 acres of land and it is the largest of the four barrier islands that are found within the National Wildlife Refuge of Cape Romain. The island is a teaming ecosystem that has sandy beaches, old maritime forests, both fresh and brackish waters, and salt marshes. It is also home to some of the most sacred and important trees in South Carolina like Magnolias, Palmettos, Loblolly Pines, and cedar trees. Don’t worry, with a landscape that rich, it is also home to a massive amount of wildlife. Just as we mentioned a few weeks ago in our blog about the ACE Basin, one of the biggest things that Bulls Island is known for are the birds that live and migrate there all year round, according to the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Other animals like dolphins, black fox squirrels, all kinds of fish, raccoons, deer, and alligators call Bulls Island home, too! According to the Refuge, over 290 birds have been recorded appearing on Bulls Island. Of course, one of its most popular destination locations through its 5000 acres is Boneyard Beach. The beach gets its historic name from the dead trees that have fallen on the beach and have been bleached white by the water and the Sun. Up and down Boneyard Beach, trees are strewn against the surge, fighting to survive and fighting against becoming part of the boneyard themselves!
Beyond its amazing geological and ecological life that is brimming with excitement, Bulls Island has historically been a popular and busy location since the early days of settlers here in the Americas, as far back as the 1700’s, and even further back with Native American Tribes. According to the Refuge, the Island and the creek surrounding it were popular hideouts for pirates who were known to attack and plunder ships coming close to the Carolina shores. It was even used during the Revolutionary War by the British who took advantage of the perfectly placed island and used it as a location to replenish their supplies.
According to the Refuge, through its known history from its earliest settlers until 1925 (which spans about 240 years) over 30 different parties all claimed ownership of the Island. This all changed when banker and broker and former U.S State Senator Gayer Dominic purchased the island in 1925. His purchase led to him building a large home on the island and a huge nature reserve, as he was known as an avid outdoors man. It was Dominik that gave Bulls Island to the Cape Romain NWR. Today, the Dominic house is the only house on the Island. After its time spent as a home for Dominik, it was used as an inn for nature lovers until 1969. Now it serves as a housing unit any time there are employees or volunteers on the island. We have had such a passion for Bulls Island that our ferry, the Island Cat, has been ferrying interested passengers, adventures, and wildlife lovers since 1994!
As you travel the intercoastal waterway to make your way to Bulls Island, not only will you be catching some beautiful sights, you will also be stepping back in time. We mentioned that the island had a very rich history, yes? The Island, which was originally inhabited by Sewee Native Americans called it Oneiscau. The Sewee lived on the island through the 1600 and 1700’s, and many footprints like shell mounds still exist to this day to show that the Sewee had been there and left behind their treasures for all who find them. The name “Bull” came later, around the time settlers began to arrive around the 1640’s. When they arrived, they brought along a very strong leader named Stephen Bull, who the island would be named after years later.
The Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge itself is an incredibly important part of South Carolina. Even with how close it is to Charleston, most of its land has thankfully been kept underdeveloped. It is made up of four barrier islands (Bulls being one of them and the most popular) intercoastal marshland, and shallow bays. Ever since it was established in 1932, the refuge has been dedicated to the preservation of all wildlife, plant life, and the human history Bulls Island holds. On top of its history as a nature retreat, hunting retreat, a place to hide plundering pirates, helping in civil war battles, and feeding the Sewee with an abundant amount of food, it was also an important location for rice cultivation.
Here at Coastal Expeditions, we run the only ferry to Bulls Island itself. After floating through the waterway on our ferry, and possibly being escorted by dolphins, the adventure begins. You have the opportunity to explore 16 miles of trails and roads along with 7 miles of underdeveloped shoreline coast. Our ferries do run year-round, and you catch it from Garris Landing out in Awendaw. Before even making landfall on Bulls Island, you will explore and enjoy a 30-minute eco-tour through the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. In total, the refuge has 66,000 acres that make it up full of saltwater estuaries, barrier islands, freshwater impoundments, and much more. You have the chance to see stunning wildlife right in its own backyard and possibly even finding some very exciting shark teeth, shells, and other fossils.
Bulls Island is a pearl nestled along our shores just calling out to us for our next adventure. It has something to offer everyone all year round, and something truly spectacular to see and enjoy all year round. We have the honor of being the only company that charters a ferry to the Island, and we strive to uphold and protect what is truly spectacular about the island itself. Come join us soon adventurers, this amazing island is waiting just for you!