Sam’s Ruins on Dataw Island


William Sams (1741-1798) was the third generation owner of land on Wadmalaw Island (Charleston County) and a very successful planter of indigo.  To escape political tension following the American Revolution, William and his family chose to relocate to Beaufort, SC, a town that was founded by his maternal grandfather, Col. John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell. Determined to go back into planting, he purchased Datha Island (present day Dataw Island) in 1783 from his cousin Sarah (Reeve) Gibbes and her husband Robert. England was conforming to post-war sentiments and refusing to buy indigo from America, so William moved on with other Lowcountry planters to the production of Sea Island Cotton. This new crop was finer than today’s Egyptian cotton, and the best could not be grown on the mainland- it thrived in the sandy soil of our coastal islands. Datha was once again a prime piece of real estate and the launching pad for the Sams family fortune by the close of the century.

Berners Barnwell “B.B.” Sams (1787-1855), the sixth son of William Sams and Elizabeth Hext, inherited his share of Datha Island in 1808. He took up residence in the original plantation house on the southern half of the island while older brother Lewis Reeve Sams occupied the northern half. The brothers lived during a time of peace in American history and prosperity in the Lowcountry.  After having just missed the trials of the American Revolution, they came to maturity when Cotton was King.  According to the Dataw Historic Foundation (DHF) News, “By 1850, Lewis and Berners Sams were two of the more successful planters in St. Helena Parish. They owned nearly 350 slaves and had amassed a fortune of greater than $400,000 ($11,136,000.00 today).” The death of B.B. Sams in 1855 was just six years before Union troops occupied the town, and he was spared from witnessing the confiscation of his property during the Civil War.

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