Tuesday 19 February 2019
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Sams Family Gather at at Dataw Island for First Reunion

story by Laura McCarthy and Holly Mason
Sams Point Road. BB Sams Drive. How many times have you passed these roads with nary a thought? Recently more than 100 descendants of William and Elizabeth Sams gathered at Dataw Island at their first ever full family reunion to learn about their family history which began here in the 1700s.
Thanks to the efforts of the non-profit Dataw Historic Foundation (DHF), several historic sites on Dataw Island have been preserved and improved with interpretive signage, including the Sams Plantation Ruins, which appear on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as other sites on the island, most notably the slave cemetery. DHF has also built a History and Learning Center to display artifacts and offer further interpretation of the sites.
Several generations (at least 5) of the Sams family, many of whom had dispersed across the country, met family members (in what was quite a unique setting – after all, not many families have volunteers working to preserve their history or museums with their families’ portraits.
“It is so rewarding that so many people who are not even related to the Sams family are willing to spend so much of their own time, and work so hard, preserving our family home,” says John Bonum Sams, Jr. (fourth generation to BB Sams). “We are indebted to the Dataw family. It just keeps getting better!”
Reading through the family history almost feels like walking through a map of Beaufort, sprinkled with names like Sams, Fripp and Barnwell. And, indeed, the reunion attendees were treated to a downtown Historic Beaufort Walking Tour featuring almost 30 homes and points of interest that are all tied to the Sams family. DHF volunteer Joe Roney wrote and led the tour.
“It really is fantastic to share our city’s rich history,” said Roney. “The family is so appreciative and have been wonderful to work with.”
The city of Beaufort was founded by Col. John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell, grandfather to William Sams, whose local story began in 1783 when he purchased Dataw Island (then Datha Island) to escape the political tension in Charleston following the American Revolution. He acquired Dataw Island, situated along the sea island corridor just outside Beaufort, and thrived with growing Sea Island Cotton. In 1798, William Sams died and left the island to his two sons, Berners Barnwell Sams (BB) and Lewis Reeve Sams (LR); the island was then split between them. BB retained the original family home (now known as the Sams Plantation) and later added the east and west wings. LR built a new home along Morgan River, but all that can be seen now of Lewis Reeve’s home is what local boaters refer to as “the chimney,” a stick of bricks peeking through the marsh only at low tide.
Sams family members came from near and far to learn of their family history, and many were surprised of what else they gained while here.
“This is so wonderful to experience,” said attendee William L. Sams. “It is such a great opportunity for my children to meet their family and a great time to connect.” He also spoke of the ruins saying, “The preservation is just amazing.”
John Colgan, DHF, gave lectures throughout the day on the history of the Sams Family; beginning with Bonum Sams who was born in Somerset, England in 1663 and came to Charles Towne in 1681. All of the the Sams today, descend from Bonum.
The day wrapped up with a presentation from a few Sams family members sharing how they met and how this reunion came to fruition. The family then presented Joe Roney with a check for $2300 and thanked Dataw and the DHF for all their hard work and dedication in preserving the Sams Family Plantation.
This is the first time the whole Sams family has come together for a reunion and what a better place than where it all started.