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It became an important base of operations for the Union blockade of the Southern ports during the Civil War.Once the island fell to Union troops, hundreds of ex-slaves flocked to Hilton Head, which is still home to many "native islanders", many of whom are descendants of freed slaves known as the Gullah (or Geechee) who have managed to hold on to much of their ethnic and cultural identity.Hilton Head Island is a primary city within the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort metropolitan area, which had an estimated population of 207,413 in 2015.The island has a rich history that started with seasonal occupation by Native Americans thousands of years ago, and continued with European exploration and the Sea Island Cotton trade.

Two other shell rings on Hilton Head were destroyed when the shells were removed and used to make tabby for roads and buildings.

The town's Natural Resources Division enforces the Land Management Ordinance which minimizes the impact of development and governs the style of buildings and how they are situated amongst existing trees.

However, the town maintains several public beach access points, including one for the exclusive use of town residents, who have approved several multimillion-dollar land-buying bond referendums to control commercial growth.

William Elliott II of Myrtle Bank Plantation grew the first crop of Sea Island Cotton in South Carolina on Hilton Head Island in 1790.

During the Civil War, Fort Walker was a Confederate fort in what is now Port Royal Plantation.

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