Baynard Mausoleum and Zion Cemetery: Preserving island history

People

Tucked under a canopy of trees at the crossroads of William Hilton Parkway and Mathews Drive on Hilton Head Island is the 2.8-acre plot of land that is home to the oldest standing structure on the island: the Baynard Mausoleum, part of Zion Cemetery. The mausoleum and cemetery are a great source for information on the community’s history, and the lives of people who made the present possible.

Chiseled into headstone after headstone are the names of people who left their marks on Hilton Head, and in a sense the Baynard Mausoleum and Zion Cemetery have served to preserve and protect the many stories that lie buried there. Built around 1845 by William E. Baynard, one of the island’s wealthy cotton plantation owners, the mausoleum served the needs of the dead, but the inscription on its wall urged the survivors to live with “Integrity and Uprightness.” Some of the torches on the walls were installed upside down to symbolize a life cut short. Baynard himself died in 1849 at the age of 49. This was just four years after the mausoleum was completed. Both Baynard and his wife were buried in the mausoleum.

The cemetery is also the final resting place of several Revolutionary War patriots: Lt. Isaac Baldwin and his wife, Martha Baldwin; James and Lydia Davant; and Charles Davant, who was ambushed while out on patrol; his was the only known patriot death on the island. 

Built beside the first church on the island, Zion Chapel of Ease, the mausoleum was part of the South Carolina Diocese Episcopal Church of St. Luke’s Parish. Founded by Capt. Jack “Saucy” Stoney and Isaac Fripp, the chapel was built as a convenience for parishioners who didn’t want to journey to Bluffton for services.  The congregation grew under its first pastor, Phillip Mathews, for whom the street beside the cemetery is named. Eventually, the church building was among the many casualties of the Civil War, but the cemetery still remains today.

A POKER GAME THAT CHANGED THE ISLAND

A POKER GAMEThe story of the mausoleum is said to have begun in a high-stakes poker game between two men: Baynard, an Edisto native and a major land and slave owner, and Stoney, a Revolutionary War patriot and privateer who at one time owned more than 5,400 acres on the island (including Fairfield, Possum Point, Shipyard Plantation, Honey Horn and Braddock Point). As island residents, both men had strong roots on Hilton Head. A neighborhood on the north end of the island near Squire Pope Road still bears the Stoney name today. While the story of the poker game is lost to time, two versions remain: One story is that Stoney lost one of his properties, Braddock Point, to Baynard in the poker game, but records also suggest that Baynard may have purchased the distressed property from the Bank of Charleston for $10,000 in 1840. 

A LIVING HISTORY ON HILTON HEAD

Constructed from over 1,000 pounds of stone, the mausoleum has suffered the effects of time and the elements, which have left cracks and damage to its roof and foundation. A victim of scavengers and thieves over the years, the tomb is currently empty. Previously owned by the Hilton Head Historical Society, the Heritage Library inherited Zion Cemetery and the Baynard Mausoleum when the entities merged. The building and the surrounding grounds are in urgent need of repair. Currently the Heritage Library is trying to raise $440,000 to refurbish and preserve the structure, maintain the grounds and include an endowment. The capital campaign will end in 2017; thus far, there has been a lot of community interest in the project, but more fundraising efforts are required. To date, several donations to the project include a speaker’s platform from The Bargain Box, electricity provided by the Van Landingham Rotary Club, and labor for the paver path provided by Mike Jukovsky and MAJ Enterprises. The cemetery even has a Learning Center, which was built by Boy Scout Jacob Palchak of Troop 245 for an Eagle Scout badge.  

"The Heritage Library has been very pleased with the community's response to our capital campaign. We are well on our way to creating a wonderful Revolutionary War historical site on Hilton Head Island," says Linda Piekut, executive director of the Heritage Library.

Zion Cemetery and Baynard Mausoleum are important to the history and fabric of Hilton Head. Structures that have stood the test of time should continue to exist for hundreds of years. Without the efforts of the Heritage Library, the mausoleum would be another casualty of time and decay. To support the Zion Cemetery fundraising efforts, go to heritagelib.org.

HERITAGE LIBRARY HISTORY PROGRAMS

Tuesday morning history programs are held at 10:30 a.m. Cost is $10 per person; reservations are required. Call 843-686-6560 or register at heritagelib.org. Here is a schedule of upcoming programs:

  • OCTOBER 4
    The Role of Women in the History and Development of Hilton Head Island: There were many strong women in Hilton Head Island's history whose roles were defined by plantation life, isolation, and war. Women on the island faced challenging but rewarding opportunities. They were pioneers who led the way and fought to establish a healthy lifestyle. This 1 1/2-hour presentation will discuss the roles and contributions of women while looking at the history of the island during the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the isolation after the Union Army left, and the development era to modern times.
  • OCTOBER 11 
    Early Explorers of the South Carolina Lowcountry: Who was here before Capt. William Hilton? Learn about the early explorations of the South Carolina Lowcountry by the Spanish, French and English from 1492-1663.
  • OCTOBER 18 
    Cemeteries of Hilton Head Island: Learn about the history and location of the 16 cemeteries on Hilton Head Island.
  • OCTOBER 25
    Pirates of the Lowcountry: What were pirates doing in the waters of the Lowcountry before the Revolutionary War? Who were they?
  • NOVEMBER 1
    The Story of Mitchelville: Learn about the establishment of Mitchelville, the nation's first self-governed, freed slave village and the reasons why it should be remembered.
  • NOVEMBER 8 
    The Gullah People and Culture: Learn how the Gullah people were brought to Hilton Head Island as slaves, and how their culture has survived and flourished — as well as what is being done today to save that culture and preserve it for future generations. 
  • NOVEMBER 15
    Sea Pines, 1950 to 1983: Learn about the lumbermen, Charles Fraser and the development of Sea Pines.
  • NOVEMBER 22
    Historic Sites of Hilton Head Island: This 1 1/2-hour talk about the history of Hilton Head Island and the historic sites on the island is accompanied by a map that you can then use for your own self-guided tour of the sites by car or by bicycle. Hilton Head has an extensive and varied history, and much of that history can still be seen and enjoyed at a variety of sites around the island. See the tabby remains of the Stoney-Baynard plantation house in Sea Pines, and the ramparts of Fort Mitchel in Hilton Head Plantation. Visit the Mitchelville kiosk at Fish Haul Park to learn about the first self-governed black community created during the Civil War, and the Gullah Museum on Gumtree Road to learn about the Gullah community that continues to flourish on the island.