Dewees Island History Tour Station 2: Memory Garden

Records show that Cornelius Dewees owned Dewees Island as early as 1761.  Dewees leased the land to a shipuilder, Mr. William Harper. Ships constructed here, including the Neptune, were intended for trade between the United States and Barbados.  A model of the Neptune can be seen in the Huyler House.

It is uncertain where the shipyard was located.  The most probable location was near the present Old House Creek (the impoundment opening to your left as you look out from the memory Garden).   Sheltered water is near and the shipyard had ready access from the Dewees residence.  It is not known when the shipyard ceased operation.  It is not mentioned in the 1790 newspaper advertisement of Dewees Island. 

Originally, the newspaper clippings from the state attributed the construction of the Neptune to Dewees himself, but a few days later the paper printed a retraction.

The brigantine said to have been built by Mr. Cornelius Dewies [Dewees], was only built on his island, not by Mr. Dewies [sic], but by Mr. William Harper, who is now in partnership with Mr. George Noddings.”

(Harper and Noddings then leased land at the east end of Pinckney Street in Charleston for their shipwork.)

Thwarting the British by Destroying the Glasgow Packet

With credit due to residents of Dewees island for warning of the British (See the Start at the Landings Building Post)  and for sending Palmettos to Fort Moultrie (See the Palmetto part of Station 5) Admiral Parker was unable to capture Sullivan’s island with his British troops.  After crossing the bar at Charleston Harbor, several ships were aground, and the vessels who were able to float off before firing from the Fort disabled them retreated towards Dewees Inlet to wait for reinforcement. From this point, the British transport ship The Glasgow Packet would have been visible. It ran aground in Dewees Inlet and send a small boat to the fleet for help, but it the fleet was already 12 miles away. Cornelius and William Dewees joined the 2nd South Carolina Regiment, capturing the crew and setting fire to the vessel. It would be two more years before the British returned. 

According to Jim Cochrane’s book, 

One transport ship, the Glasgow, armed with six four-pounder guns, provided cover for other vessels but went aground trying to sail from Dewees Inlet.  Before a rescue party could return, men from a 10 gun row galley from Dewees boarded the Glasgow, captured its crew and fifty Highlanders on the ship, removed all that could be taken and set the Glasgow on fire. The American gunboat was manned by a crew from Dewees Island, including Cornelius Dewees and his some William.

On May 12 1780, Charleston surrendered to the British, and when the British exiled wives and dependents of Rebels in 1781, Sarah Dewees fled to Philadelphia. Her 1781 exile is documented in this page from Josiah Smith’s diary in the SC Historical and Genealogical Magazine.

Images of the Battle of Sullivan's Island From the Charleston Museum

The Dewees Island Memory Garden

The memory garden was designed by Stephen Anderson, an architect and professor at Temple University. The son of island resident Jim Anderson, Stephen is fascinated by the intersection of cities, ecology, and architecture, especially regarding concepts of nature and human nature.

His design created a shelter with sweeping sunset views of the marsh, with echoes of historic island structures and used a combination of tabby, wood, and metal. The sloping roof funnels the southern wind through the shelter for ventilation, and a trough in the roof would collect rainwater into a cistern for watering the enclosed gardens.

Local experts and historians were enlisted to recreate authentic tabby using local oyster shells. Volunteers came together on a regular basis over 18 months, staking out the project, building forms, mixing and pouring concrete, supplying snacks to workers, cleaning the tabby, building the floors and benches, designing the garden and preparing the time capsule.

A time capsule was sealed into one of the walls with an historic snapshot of the community at the time of construction. The project was approved by the ARB and by the POA Board with the stipulation that it would be built and maintained by volunteers at no cost to the POA.


The finished work is a breathtaking space with unparalleled views of the marsh and the sunsets that is a testimonial to community spirit and our longing for connections to the past, the future, each other, and the natural world.

The Dedication

At the Dedication, Steven Anderson, the architect, made the following speech on the word “mun” meaning gift, as the root word of community.

The word, that syllable “mun,” it meant, as it does today still, “gift.” “Gift” is the root of community. It just occurs to me that what we’ve all done here is we’ve given each other a gift, of sorts. And we’ve given this gift also to those who will come after us, who we won’t know. And in a funny way it’s also a gift to the people of the past. Maybe in some ways that is what is most important. Serving their memories and bringing them into our present. I’m very very pleased to be a part of that, so thank you! 

Thank you, thank you.