In an area as flat as the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a 30-foot hill will catch most people's attention. The fact that it was once an Indian ceremonial and burial site and later a British fort makes it a must-see attraction in the Santee National Wildlife Refuge.
Located in the preserve's Bluff Unit, the Santee Indian Mound dates back a thousand years to a native culture that flourished on the coastal plain in the centuries before the founding of Charleston.
Aside from being the site of various religious rites, it also was used for burials by the local Santee Indians, part of the Mississippian culture that lived in this area for thousands of years. Archeologists have excavated at least 16 graves from the mound.
By the beginning of the American Revolution, the site had been abandoned by the Indians, many of whom were shipped to the West Indies as slaves during the Yemassee War. The British made use of the high ground to build an outpost. Fort Watson provided an elevated vantage point that overlooked the Santee River and the road to Charleston.
The mound was incorporated into a stockade with vertical logs around the summit and a surrounding ditch with three rows of pointed stakes aimed outward. An attempt by the Patriots to take the post in February 1781 failed miserably. In April, General Francis Marion, known as the "Swamp Fox", and Lt. Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee initiated a siege that consisted of scattered small arms duels.
But the course of the battle changed when the Patriots built a tower that could be used to fire into the stockade, neutralizing the British troop's advantage of elevation. Once Marion had overtaken Fort Watson, he demolished the works to ensure the British would not return to occupy it.
Although the action lasted only eight days, it was an important American victory - one of several skirmishes that forced the British to abandon the back country of South Carolina.
No remnants of the fort remain, but visitors can climb to an observation platform at the top of the mound to read about the siege and its prehistoric past. You'll also enjoy a fantastic view of the lake and Santee Cooper country.