Jehossee Island, at approximately 4,500 acres, is separated from the mainland by the Dawho River, South Edisto River, and the Intracoastal Waterway. The Jehossee causeway, the only link to the mainland, was destroyed when the waterway was created in the 1920’s.
The majority of the island consists of salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.
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and non-forested freshwater wetlands. Other habitats include upland forested areas and, open fields, much of which is becoming reforested. Brackish water impoundments and natural tidal marshes of bulrush, cattail, cordgrass, and sea myrtle, interspersed with adjacent upland areas of wax myrtle, pine and palmettos, oak, and sweetgum, provide a remarkable complex of habitats for a broad spectrum of migratory and resident marsh birds, waterfowl, raptors, songbirds and shorebirds. Many wildlife species call the island home and include the American alligator, white-tailed deer, Eastern cottonmouth, Diamondback terrapin, and spotted salamander.
Large numbers of Wood storks, federally listed as a threatened species, are regularly foraging in the impoundments on Jehossee Island, and roosting in the adjacent trees. Marsh birds such as American and least bittern, king, yellow and black rails, gallinules, seaside and wintering saltmarsh sparrows find suitable habitats for foraging, roosting and nesting on Jehossee.
The refuge manages the water levels in the impoundments through the use of rice trunks in the old abandoned rice fields, similar to how field management was done during the rice culture and antebellum period.
A natural haven for wildlife, Jehossee Island is steeped in the cultural past. Settlement on Jehossee is recorded as early as 1685 – 1700. The island has had a number of different owners throughout its history and is representative of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century rice plantation era. Rice cultivation, which began in the 1730’s, changed the economic and cultural life of the low country area until its demise following the Civil War.
In 1830, William Aiken acquired the first of his island holdings and, by 1859, he had acquired the remainder of the island. Aiken served in both the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate, was a state Governor and, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Governor Aiken was well known for Jehossee Plantation. During his ownership, over 800 enslaved people lived and toiled on the plantation. As a result of enslaved people’s skills in rice cultivation, Jehossee Plantation became one of the most productive rice plantations in the area and, known as the largest and wealthiest rice plantation in the South. Jehossee Island remained in the Aiken-Rhett-Maybank family until it was sold to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1993 as part of the ACE Basin NWR.
An archaeological and historical investigation of Jehossee Island was conducted in 2002, with thirteen significant historical sites located on the island. Still standing on Jehossee are the overseer’s house, a chimney of a rice threshing operation, and other historic remains that serve as “placeholders” of sorts, reminding us of a period long past.
Refuge management of the island is to maintain and preserve in perpetuity the archaeological and historical resources that exemplify the natural and cultural history of South Carolina. These sites are provided full protection as provided by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.