History of Tilghman-Boyce

Tilghman-Boyce Cottage

The History of Tilghman-Boyce Cottage

In 1922 Horace L. Tilghman purchased the property around Fort Randall, including the land under this house.  Horace’s “timber buyer” Mr. Hennecy had finally found the land that resembled Horace’s fabled eastern shore of Maryland—the home Horace swore to return to unless he could find a place like it somewhere else.  To avoid the loss of his employer, Mr. Hennecy brought Horace to the property and to the house on the point.  Horace purchased house and land from Mrs. Randall, an later generation in-law of the same Captain Randall who had owned the property at the time of the Civil War.  Eventually, Horace owned the land all the way back to the “gatehouse” at the current entrance.  That included Waties Island and the marsh in between.

Horace was in the timber business all his life, having owned and managed the Tilghman Lumber Company together with his father Merrill and brother Charles.  His family moved south from Maryland and then inland from Georgetown to Sellers, SC driven out of Georgetown by the sandflies, they said, though competition is a more likely explanation.  Horace met Bell Montgomery of Marion, “camped hard on her trail,” and married her in 1915.  Horace, or rather Bell, renovated the Randall House significantly and invited his brother Charles to build anywhere on the property.

In 1924, Charles Tilghman built this house as a hunting and fishing getaway.  It was renovated once when his family returned permanently to the area after WWII.  Anne Tilghman Boyce purchased it from her aunt Elizabeth Tilghman in 1958 and it has remained in her family since that time.

The original holdings are a historical tract that has given up its secrets over the decades.  For a brief look into the history of the area, this site gives an overview.

The property surrounding the Tilghman-Boyce Inlet Cottage comprises 17 historical acres and abundant marsh and creek access.  Guests of the house have access to Waties Island, South Carolina’s northernmost barrier island with pineLoggerhead Turtle forests, natural dunes and uninterrupted beach.  The island’s name goes back to “Indian Trader” William Waties who acquired the island in 1726 along with other property.  The ocean side is a stretch of over two miles of undeveloped beach littered with shells and populated by a wide range of shorebirds and seasonally nesting sea turtles, primarily loggerheads.  In addition to shorebirds, Osprey, Wood Stork and Bald Eagles appear with regularity.  A page from John Boyce’s Field Notes dated August 27-29, 1982 lists sixty-one species of birds seen during this period.  Among them are the Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret and White Ibis.  Also listed are the Pileated Woodpecker, Red Shouldered Hawk and Belted Kingfisher.  Any morning on the terrace of the Tilghman-Boyce Inlet Cottage is front row seating in a symphony of Carolina Wrens, Cardinals and Chickadees.

From as far back as I remember, I heard of arrowheads showing up in the fields when they were plowed.  From there it wasn’t hard for a little boy to stretch to Indian villages and sacred ceremonies.  It’s not hard to imagine a powwow on the bluff right where the house sits, or feasts on the island where fish and shellfish were just a few strides away.  Fresher piles of oyster shells show that even the locals had impromptu oyster roasts as they lived off the land as a matter of survival as recently as the 1950s.

Indians.  Discovery of Indian sites, later explored by archeologists from the Coastal Carolina University, took the human history of Little River neck and the Waties Island back at least 2000 years.  Archeological excavation revealed “shell mounds” which they described as prehistoric “garbage dumps” where shellfish were consumed centuries—possibly millennia—earlier.  Occasionally they found “fragments of pottery of the Wilmington complex (ca. 0-700 AD) and the Savannah I phase (700 – 1200 AD).”  There is unfortunately little physical detail to pinpoint where any of these pre-Columbian activities took place.  That is still a subject for future research and current imagination.

Pirate Captain William KiddPirates.  Hollywood’s addiction to pirates, as well as current piracy on the high seas, has rekindled interest in South Carolina’s pirates of the early 1700s.  No specific tale connects well-known pirates and Little River, but the inlet and meandering river would have provided refuge though it offered only a small population to plunder.  We do know that Stede Bonnet was captured along with his crew in the Cape Fear River and hanged in Charleston in 1718, so he may have visited the inlet during his short and not particularly successful career.  Mary Reade, Anne Bonny and Blackbeard—along with Black Bart and Calico Jack—are among the colorful names associated with piracy in South Carolina.  Though little is known about their wide-ranging voyages, treasure seekers have not given up hope that buried treasure will be recovered somewhere close by.

The Revolutionary War.  Speculation aside, more recent history records the use of the strategic upland neck where the house sits as a camp for 5,500-7,000 Continental soldiers during December of 1776.  Commanded by Colonel Francis Nash, the 1st NC Regiment of the Continental Army encamped on the property “for about a month waiting for further orders, where we cut and cleared about 100 acres of land.”  The army was headed towards Florida to keep the British from entering Georgia.  One can only imagine that 7000 soldiers living on the neck—where only a handful of people lived—for an entire month must have stretched resources and have also left an interesting mark across the property that has yet to be fully explored.

The Civil War.  The Civil War brought Little River Inlet prominence when other east coast ports were blockaded and Little River village became an interesting port of trade though the shifting inlet provided a challenge to even the most experienced seamen.  Fort Randall, established prior to March 1861, overlooked the inlet from a strategic bluff; it was a “blockhouse pierced for musketry” surrounded by a parapet and a trench ten feet wide and five feet deep.  Two 6-pounder cannons provided the fort’s heavy defense.  There was a separate “magazine” for powder and ammunition.  Various reports count between 100 and 175 infantry and cavalry at the fort full time.  The “historic remains” are a subdued rectangular earthworks raised in the middle that have to be filled in with a great deal of imagination. Fort Randall is situated due east of the house and its support activity probably extended to the creek and bluff where the Tilghman-Boyce Inlet Cottage is situated

One enterprising Union officer Lt William Cushing attacked Fort Randall on January 5, 1863 at night with about 25 men.  He later wrote that he had taken a “garrison five times our number” though Lt. Cushing did not see, capture or kill anyone, and the “enemy left in such haste that their stores, clothing, ammunition and a portion of their arms were captured.”  From his report, in which he describes launching his assault through 200 yards of woods, it is possible to imagine that Lt Cushing staged his attack from the landing in front of this house and attacked the fort from the rear.  “I charged with the bayonet and captured their works, going over one side as they escaped over the other.”

A summer 1863 report from the commanders of the Maratanza (a 209 foot wooden side-wheel steamer built for plying the coastal waters of the Confederacy) describes the capture in Little River of a small boat carrying supplies.  The commanders’ decision not to go further upriver was based on their prisoners’ report “that there was a company of infantry and one of cavalry, about 175 men in all” based at the fort.  This and the fact that their prisoners had already alerted the fort “by their firing muskets and rockets” was apparently enough deterrent and the Maratanza turned back.  The Confederate presence at Fort Randall seems to have been significant throughout the war, especially once the Union blockade choked off trade with Wilmington and Charleston and after the Battle of Port Royal in November of 1861—about 200 miles southwest; a day away for a ship like the Maratanza—showed the Union intended to invade and hold Confederate territory.

The 175 men (with their equipment and horses) required support and supplies—much of it doubtless coming by water—and the image of 175 men living on this point supposes a array of mess halls, tents and latrines as well as widely distributed sentry posts, especially after the surprise raid by Lt Cushing.

World War II.  During WWII, Waties Island hosted a Coast Guard observation post.  Remnants of the shack may still exist.  South Carolina’s coast guard engaged in significant coastal patrol activities given its ample and sinuous coastline.  Coastal patrols gained poignancy after Nazi spies came ashore in New York and Florida in 1942.  A Long Island coast guardsman is credited with reporting suspicious activity.  The spies landed between June 13 and June 17, 1942 on Long Island and south of Jacksonville, Florida after a three week trip from Europe by submarine.  Their objective was the destruction of US industrial and transportation infrastructure.  All of the spies had previously lived and worked in the United States.  Before the end of the first week, the operation had cracked from within when one of the spies informed the FBI, resulting in the apprehension of the eight.  Though these proved to be isolated incidents, the idea of the enemy arriving by U-boat off an isolated coast heightened coastal patrol activity as well as increased the number of citizen reports of spies throughout the war.

Weather at the Cottage is a topic.  It can be 70° F in December.  During the summer it is cooler than inland and cooler even than Myrtle Beach with persistent breezes coming over the marsh and with spreading trees providing shade.  The storms that come through—especially during the summer—have a ferocious tenor though they sweep in with cooler air and the sandy soil immediately absorbs the rainwater.  You see the distant warning clouds and then the frontal assault of the storm as it sweeps across the marsh.  Some prefer to encounter a storm from the porch where you can sit comfortably in the middle of the wind and rain with a full 270° view of nature’s best sound and light display.  The experience of a storm at night is simply much more dramatic.

Drama reaches its height during the hurricane season.  There isn’t enough of a database to give the full history but the house stands as if untouched and it has never been damaged in a storm of any magnitude.  We have usually chosen to leave when one is imminent just to avoid being trapped by the blocked roads and power outages that usually come with hurricane activity.  A few stalwarts have stayed through hurricanes, assuming the height of the house above sea level, provisions in the refrigerator, stuff you don’t need to cook in the pantry, and a few flashlights will be sufficient to make a personal story out of the event.

Hurricane Hazel Water LevelHazel is our hurricane.  She came in at high tide on October 15, 1954.  The storm overwashed Ocean Drive, Tilghman Beach and Cherry Grove, swept houses away and did remarkable damage.  Thanks to the protection of the island, marsh and trees, the Tilghman-Boyce house suffered no damage though it was several days before the road into the neck was passable again.  The “Hurrican Hazel” marker below the house stands at the high point of Hazel’s storm surge.  Anxious to check on relatives when the calm eye of the hurricane came over, Raleigh Bellamy (who created the marker) and Emma Bellamy left their house back in the woods—thinking that the storm had ended—and were briefly caught by the fury of the second half as they crossed an open field to find shelter with relatives.

NOAA has retired “Hazel” from its list of recurring hurricane names—just as it has retired Katrina, Ivan and Hugo—in deference to damage done.  We remember Hazel out of respect for her power to do damage and for the havoc she wreaked in North Myrtle Beach and for having soared over this property with her talons retracted.