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Sewee Indians. A small tribe, supposedly Siouan, formerly living in east South Carolina. According to Rivers1 they occupied the lower part of Santee river and the coast westward to the divide of Ashley river, about the present Monks Corner, Berkeley County, where they adjoined the Etiwaw. Lawson, who met them in 1701, when they were living at the mouth of Santee river, states that they had been a large tribe, but had been wasted by alcohol and smallpox, which disease was commonly fatal because the afflicted plunged into cold water to alleviate the fever. At Sewer Bay he found a deserted village, Avendaughbough, which may have been one of their towns. Lawson says that they undertook to send a fleet of canoes to England in charge of most of their able-bodied men, for the purpose of trade; a storm swamped most of the canoes, and the survivors were rescued by an English ship and sold as slaves in the West Indies. In 1715 there remained but one village of 57 souls. The Yamasee War of that year probably put an end to their separate existence as a tribe, forcing the survivors to join the Catawba. An anonymous old chronicle published by Rivers2 states that they belonged to the Cusabo tribes.
Sewee Tribe Language
Sewee Tribe Locations
The Sewee seem to have controlled the territory between the head of the Wando and the mouth of the Santee River.
- (1670, 1701, 1707) in the vicinity of Bull’s Bay (cf. also Awendaw)
- (c. 1685, c. 1695, 1711, 1715) “fort” on the S side of the Wando River at 32 55N 79 48W
- (1700, 1715, 1716) on the S side of the Santee River.
Harbor, bay, or sound
- (c. 1685, c. 1695 , 1697 , 1700 , 1704 , 1706 , 1715), now Bulls Bay (32 56-33 03N 79 30-79 37W.)
- (1696, 1962) now Sewee Bay (32 54-32 57 79 38-79 40W)
Creek or river
- (1682, c. 1695, 1700 , 1706, 1708, 1715) generally called Awendaw (q. v.) in local records so probably misapplied. Place (c. 1685, c. 1695, 1703), the area on the mainland behind Bull’s Bay and West of Awendaw Creek.
History of the Sewee Tribe
1564 (Rojas: 121)
Rouffi stated that the Indians of St. Helena knew of the appearance of two large and two small ships at sea
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“…some fifteen days before, in a province called Suye which lies some thirty leagues to the north near a large river….”
This is probably a reference to the Sewee from the similar sounds and the distance (c. 100 m.), placing them near the mouth of the Santee River.
1605 (Ecija) Cf. Kiawah.
The Chief of “Joye” told Ecija that his people traded fish and salt to inland Indians, which came down in canoes, bringing with them “huapieles” and copper and other metals (including nose rings which seem to have been of gold).
1609 (Ecija) Cf. Kiawah
“Xoye” is called a town upstream on the Santee River.
1670 (Carteret: 165-166)
After 17 days of fair weather from Bermuda, the English Colonists reached land “between Cape Romana & Port royall” and sent a longboat ashore to find out where they were:
…vpon its approach to ye Land few were ye natiues who vpon ye Strand made fires & came towards vs whooping in theire own tone & manner making signes also where we should best Land, & when we came a shoare they stroaked vs on ye shoulders with their hands saying Bony Conraro Angles. knowing us to be English by our Collours (as wee supposed) we then gave them Brass rings & tobacco at which they seemed well pleased, & into ye boate after halfe an howre spent with ye Indians we betooke our selues, they liked our Company soe well that they would haue come a board with us. we found a pretty handsome channell about 3 fathoms & a halfe from ye place we Landed to ye Shippe, through which the next day we brought ye shipp to Anchor feareing a contrary winde & to gett in for some fresh watter. A day or two after ye Gouernor. whom we tooke in at Barmuda with seuerall others went a shoare to veiw ye Land here. Some 3 Leagues distant from the shipp, carrying along with us one of ye Eldest Indians who accosted us ye other day, & as we drew to ye shore A good number of Indians appeared clad with deare skins haueing with them their bows & Arrows, but our Indian calling out Appada they withdrew & lodged theire bows & returning ran tifi-to ye middle in mire & watter to carry us a shoare where when we came they gaue us ye stroaking Complimt. of ye country and brought deare skins some raw some drest to trade with us for which we gaue them kniues beads & tobacco and glad they were of ye Market. by & by came theire women clad in their Mosse roabs bringing their potts to boyle a kinde of thickening which they pound & make food of, & as they order it being dryed makes a pretty sort of bread, they brought also plenty of Hickery nutts, a wall nut in shape, & taste onely differing in ye thickness of the shell & smallness of ye kernell. the Gouernor. & seu’all others walking a little distance from ye water side came to ye Hutt Pallace of his Maty. of ye place, who meeteing vs tooke ye Gouernor. on his shoulders & carryed him into ye house in token of his chearfull Entertainement. here we had nutts & root cakes such as their women useily make as before & watter to drink for they use no other lickquor as I can Learne in this Countrey, while we were here his Matyes. three daughters entred the Pallace all in new roabs of new mosse which they are neuer beholding to ye Taylor to trim up, with plenty of beads of diuers Collours about their necks. I could not imagine that ye sauages would so well deport themselues who coming in according to their age & all to sallute the strangers, stroaking of them, these Indians understanding our business to St. Hellena told us that ye Westoes a rangeing sort of people reputed to be the Man eaters had ruinated yt. place killed seu’all of those Indians destroyed & burnt their Habitations & that they had come as far as Kayawah doeing the like there, ye Casseeka of which place was within one sleep of us (which is 24 howrs for they reckon after that rate) with most of his people whome in two days after came aboard of us Leaueing that place which is called Sowee….[cf. Escamacu]
Wando (sehey) and Owen (201, “3 tunn of corne,” Sewel.)
1671 (Mathews: 334)
The “Sewee” are listed north of the St. Pa, are called “our friends,” and are said to have peaceful relations with the sixteen other Carolina tribes listed (cf. Kussoe, 1671).
1672 (2 Jul.; Council in Salley 1907B: 38)
Resolved: to send 30 men to “Sowee against the Westoes who are said to lurke there with an intent to march secrettly towards this place” (Charles Towne at Albemarle Point).
1675 (10 Dec.; Council in Cheves 1897: 474)
Mr. John Boon the English Interpreter & capt Titus the Indian Interpreter came this day voluntarily before the Gd. Councll. & did declare that the Indian prisoners wch. the Sowee & other neighbour Indians have lately taken are Enemies to the sd. Indians who are in Amity wth. the English & that the sd. Indian prisoners are willing to worke in this country or to be transported from hence, upon wch. it is conceived that the sd. Indian prisoners may be transported by any who have or shall purchase them. Cf. also Salley 1907, B: 80.
1677 (14 Jun.; Council in Salley 1907B: 82)
“Mr. John Boone is also to take care that the Sowee and other our Neighbour Indians…” are to be warned of the impending Westo danger. The Westo are hereby forbidden to enter the settlement “… by the way of Sewee where the Sewee Indians are seated…” or by way of any of the other outlying positions mentioned.
1680 (Mathews: 154)
Cf. Etiwan for mention of the reservation of both sides of Wando River beyond 3 m. of its mouth. The Sewee and other Indians who lived there (cf. c. 1685) had moved there within the first decade of colonization, presumably from the edge of Charleston Harbor. Probably the Sewee had moved from the recently granted back beaches.
“Sewee R.” for Awendaw (q. v.) Creek. This is the first time Awendaw Creek is called Sewee River and although it is afterwards called it numerous times (c. 1695, 1700 , 1706, 1708, 1715), each time the name seems traceable to this map or to one derived in part from it. In the local land records (as opposed to maps compiled and printed in England), it is generally, although later, called Awendaw Creek, which probably was its aboriginal name.
c. 1685 (Mathews)
“Sewee Indian fort” is marked (# 93) on the South side of the Wando River, on (or near) the West side of Toomer Creek at 32 55N 79 48w. Also “Sewee” is written on the mainland behind Bull’s Bay and seems to designate the area for several miles around. Awendaw Creek is shown, but not named. “Sewee Harbor” is marked near the entrance of Bull’s Bay.
The proximity of this fort to Major John Boone’s land (it may have been adjacent) suggests that he put the Sewee up to it. It may have been intended to protect them (and him) from the Westo (cf. 1677). No Indians on the Coast are otherwise known to have had a fort, so it seems unlikely that the Sewee would have undertaken to build one on their own, particularly one so far from what seems to have been their principal residence on Sewee Bay (cf. 1690). Even when the Lower Coastal tribes had abandoned European forts they could have occupied, they either destroyed or ignored them.
1690 (23 June; Stewart B: 114)
Speedily a court martiall or counsell of war is to be caltd;…a fictitious alarme by Boon wes hatch’t by his Influencing the Sirvee Indians who cam to town and reported 3 grande ships laye under the Hunting Ilands thus he did invalidate heathen witnesses to outdo a caise befor the Counsell that pinch’t him wherein Indians wer witnesses agst. him and all the Company’s being in armes on this false alarm….
This refers to “Maj: John Boone [who had land]…where the Sewee Indians lived…” (11 Mar. 1697/8 & cf. 1675 & 1677). c. 1695 (Thornton-Morden) “Sewel Indian Fort” (miscopied from Mathews c. 1685); “Sewee River” for Awendaw Creek (cf. 1682); “Sewee Harbor” for Bull’s Bay; “Sewee” at the back of Bull’s Bay and West of Awendaw Creek.
c. 1695 (Archdale: A)
“Sheawee bay” for Bull’s Bay.
1696 (Cooper 1837: 108-110)
Act 128, ratified 16 March 1695/6, provided magistrates to settle Indian controversies and required each hunter of the “nations of … Sewee” and ten others (cf. Kussah, 1696) to remit one preditor’s skin annually by 25 November or be flogged. Indians bringing in additional preditor’s skins received one pound of powder and thirty bullets.
1696 (5 July; Anon. 1694-1740: 168-169)
Note by John Beresford, Sur. Gen., for a plat of Roger Player’s 300 a. “In Berkly County being on ye Northside of Sheawee Sound….” (Cf. Bowat; war. 25 Jun. 1696; deed 14 Aug 1697). This probably refers to the present Sewee Bay, which is more a sound than a bay.
1697 (1 Mar. 1696/7; Anon. 1709-1712: 55)
Note by John Beresford, Sur. Gen., for a plat of Samuel Hartley’s grant of Bull Island “…Lying on ye southwest side of Shee=a=wee Bay…” (cf. Onisecau, 1697, & Anon. 167501705: 331). Here, the name is applied to the present Bull’s Bay (32 56-33 03N 79 30-79 37W).
169 (8 Sept.; Anon. 1675-1705: 342)
Grant to Thomas Cary for 1470 a. “to the southward of Sheawee Bay” (cf. Timicau).
1698 (11 Mar. 1697/8; Salley & Olsberg 1973: 581-582)
“Maj: John Boone had a warrant out of the Secritaries office for 500: hundred Acres of land where the Sewee Indians lived upon Same Called by the Indian Mockand….” Note that the Sewee had moved form here by this time. Cf. Mockand.
1700 (10 May; Anon. 1675-1705: 439)
Grant to Samuel Silby for 160 a. “in Berkley County bounding to the Southeast on Seawee Bay, to the North West and West on lands not laid out and to the Eatt on John Boones Land.”
1700 (25 Nov.; Salley & Olsberg 1973: 595)
Warrant for James Scheult’s 500 a. “on ye North side Sewee=boo & to ye Sea Eastward….” Since “bou” (q. v.) means river, this seems to be a reference to the “Sewee River” of Thornton & Mordents
c. 1695 Map or Awendaw (q. v.) Crk.
Awendaw sometimes has bou appended (as in Atwin=da=boo, 1700) and seems always to have been the name used locally for this body of water. Cf. 1695.
1701 (2-7 Jan.; Lawson 1700/1701: 10-16)
John Lawson spent the night of 2 January 1701 at Avendaugh-bough (cf. Awendaw), which was between “Sewee-Bay” and the mouth of the Santee River. From the location, it was almost certainly a Sewee settlement.
On 3 January, his expedition went from Avendaugh-bough to the mouth of the Santee River and with hard rowing got two leagues inland (about seven miles). On 4 January, they continued farther to “Mons. Eugee’s [Huger’s] house, which stands about fifteen miles up the River.” At one point along this eight mile stretch (seven to fifteen miles inland), they encountered a group of Sewee Indians.
As we went up the River, we heard a great Noise, as if two Parties were engag’d against each other, seeming exactly like small Shot. When we approach’d nearer the Place, we found it to be some Sewee Indians firing the Canes Swamps, which drives out the Game, then taking their particular Stands, kill great Quantities of both Bear, Deer, Turkies, and what wild Creatures the Parts afford. These Sewees have been formerly a large Nation, though now very much decreas’d, since the English hath seated their Land, and all other Nations of Indians are observ’d to partake of the same Fate, where the Europeans come, the Indians being a People very apt to catch any Distemper they are afflicted withal; the Small-Pox has destroy’d many thousands of these Natives, who no sooner than they are attack’d with the violent Fevers, and the Burning which attends that Distemper, fling themselves over Head in the Water, in the very Extremity of the Disease; which shutting up the Pores, hinders a kindly Evacuation of the pestilential Matter, and drives it back; by which Means Death most commonly ensues; not but in other Distempers which are epidemical, you may find among ’em Practitioners that have extraordinary Skill and Success in removing those morbifick Qualities which afflict ’em, not often going above 100 Yards from their Abode for their Remedies, some of their chiefest Physicians commonly carrying their Compliment of Drugs continually about them, which are Roots, Barks, Berries, Nuts, & c. that are strung upon a Thread. So like a Pomander, the Physician wears them about his Neck. An Indian hath been often found to heal an English-man of a Malady, for the Value of a Match-Coat; which the ablest of our English Pretenders in America, after repeated Applications, have deserted the Patient as incurable; God having furnish’d every Country with specifick Remedies for their peculiar Diseases.
Rum, a Liquor now so much in Use with them, that they will part with the dearest Thing they have, to purchase it; and when they have got a little in their Heads, are the impatients Creatures living, ’till they have enough to make ’em quite drunk; and the most miserable Spectacles when they are so, some falling into the Fires, burn their Legs or Arms, contracting the Sinews, and become Cripples all ther Life-time; others from Precipices break their Bones and Joints, with abundance of Instances, yet none are so greatto deter them from that accurs’d Practice of Drunkenness, though sensible how many of them (are by it) hurry’d into the other World before their Time, as themselves oftentimes will confess. The Indians, I was now speaking of, were not content with the common Enemies that lessen and destroy their Country-men, but invented an infallible Stratagem to purge their Tribe, and reduce their Multitude into far less Numbers. Their Contrivance was thus, as a Trader amongst them inform’d me.
They seeing several Ships coming in, to bring the English Supplies from Old England, one chief Part of their Cargo being for a Trade with the Indians, some of the craftiest of them had observ’d, that the Ships came always in at one Place, which made them very confident that Way was the exact Road to England; and seeing so many Ships come thence, they believ’d it could not be far thither, esteeming the English that were among them, no better than Cheats, and thought, if they could carry the Skins and Furs they got, themselves to England, which were inhabited with a better Sort of People than those sent amongst them, that then they should purchase twenty times the Value for every Pelt they sold Abroad, in Consideration of what Rates they sold for at Home. The intended Barter was exceeding well approv’d of, and after a general Consultation of the ablest Heads amongst them, it was, Nemine Contradicente, agreed upon, immediately to make an Addition of their Fleet, by building more Canoes, and those to be of the best Sort, and biggest Size, as fit for their intended Discovery. Some Indians were employ’d about making the Canoes, others to hunting, every one to the Post he was most fit for, all Endeavours tending towards an able Fleet and Cargo for Europe. The Affair was carry’d on with a great deal of Secrecy and Expedition, so as in a small Time they had gotten a Navy, Loading, Provisions, and Hands ready to set Sail, leaving only the Old, Impotent, and Minors at Home, ’till their successful Return. The Wind presenting, they set up their Mat-Sails, and were scarce out of Sight, when there rose a Tempest, which it’s suppost.d carry’d one Part of these Indian Merchants, by Way of the other World, whilst the others were taken up at Sea by an English Ship, and sold for Slaves to the Islands. The Remainder are better satisfy’d with their Imbecilities in such an Undertaking, nothing affronting them more, than to rehearse their Voyage to England….
We lay all that Night at Mons. Eugee’s, and the next Morning set out farther, to go the Remainder of our Voyage by Land: At ten a Clock [on the 5th] we pass’d over a narrow, deep Swamp, having left the three Indian Men and one Woman, that had pilotted the Canoe from Ashly-River, having hir’d a Sewee-Indian, a tall, lusty Fellow, who carry’d a Pack of our Cloaths, of great Weight; notwithstanding his Burden, we had much a-do to keep pace with him….
The guides from Charles Town may have been Sewee who were returning home, but their identity is uncertain.
The next Morning [the 6th] very early, we ferry’d over a Creek that runs near the House [“Mons. Gillian’s the elder” or Gaillard at French James Town]; and, after an Hour’s Travel in the Woods, we came to the River-side, where we stay’d for the Indian, who was our Guide, and was gone round by Water in a small Canoe, to meet us at that Place werested at. He came after a small Time, and ferry’d us in that little Vessel over Santee River 4 Miles, and 84 Miles in the Woods, which the over-flowing of the Freshes, which then came down, had made a perfect Sea of, there running an incredible Current in the River, which had cast our small Craft, and us, away, had we not had this Sewee Indian with us; who are excellent Artists in managing these small Canoes….the French and Indian affir’m’d to me, they never knew such an extraordinary Flood there before.
We all, by God’s Blessing, and the Endeavours of our Indian-Pilot, pass’d safe over the River, but was lost in the Woods, which seem’d like some great Lake, except here and there a Knowl of high Land, which appear’d above Water.
We intended for Mons. Galliar’s, jun’, but was lost, none of us knowing the Way at that Time, altho’ the Indian was born in that Country, it having receiv’d so strange a Metamorphosis. We were in several Opinions concerning the right Way, the Indian and my self, suppos’d the House to bear one Way, the rest thought to the contrary; we differing, it was agreed on amongst us, that one half should go with the Indian to find the House, and the other part to stay upon one of these dry Spots, until some of them return’d to us, and inform’d us where it lay.
My self and two more were left behind, by Reason the Canoe would not carry us all; we had but one Gun amongst us, one Load of Ammunition, and no Provision. Had our Men in the Canoe miscarry’d, we mnst (in all Probability) there have perish’d.
In about six Hours Time, from our Mens Departure, the Indian came back to us in the same Canoe he went in, being half drunk, which assur’d us thay had found some Place of Refreshment. He took us three into the Canoe, telling us all was well: Padling our Vessel several Miles thro’ the Woods, being often half full of Water; but at length we got safe to the Place we sought for, which prov’d to lie the same Way the Indian and I guess’d it did.
When we got to the House, we found our Comrades in the same Trim the Indian was in, and several of the French Inhabitants with them, whotreated us very courteously, wondering at our undertaking such a Voyage, thro’ a Country inhabited by none but Savages, and them of so different Nations and Tongues….
Hearing of a Camp of Santee Indians not far of, we set out intending to take up our Quarters with them that Night….
Tuesday Morning [the 7th] we set towards the Congerees, leaving the Indian Guide Scipio drunk amongst the Santee-Indians.
The expedition seems temporarily not to have had an Indian guide, but at least one of its members had traveled inland before (p. 18).
Jeremy and Washasha
1703 (5 Feb. 1702/3; Salley & Olsberg 1973: 607)
Warrant for Thomas Habden’s 400 a. “on ye Southwest by Henry Attkins Land Scituated on Owendah Creek att Sewee….”
1704 (4 Jan.; Salley & Olsberg 1973: 625)
“Capt. John Perry had a wart, for all ye Marsh leying between his land & Seawee Bay….”- (No earlier warrants are included for him.)
1704 (2 Feb.; Salley & Olsberg 1973: 626)
“Capt. Jno. Perry had a wart, for 600 acres of Marsh land leying before ye Lands of ye Sd. Perry And ye next to it to ye southward on Sewee bay….”
1706 (14 Sept.; Anon. 1694-1740: 288)
“Shee A wee bay” mentioned in the sale of Bulls Island to John Collins by Thomas Cary.
“Sewee Indians,” “Sewee Bay,” & “Sewee River” (copying c. 1695, q. v.).
1707 (Cooper 1837: 300-301)
An act ratified 5 July 1707 established lookouts at four points in South Carolina and others in Georgia, each to be manned by two Englishmen and two “neighboring” Indians (cf. Kussah, 1707). The lookout on “Bull’s Island” was to be manned by “two Sewee or other neighboring Indians”(cf. Cooper 1837: 319).
1707 (Cooper 1837: 309)
Act 269, ratified 19 July 1707, permitted trade with the “Seawees” and other tribes “commonly called Cusabes” (cf. Kussoe, 1707) without a license.
1708 (Dalcho: 275)
An act of the Assembly on 18 Dec. 1708 established the NE boundary of Christ Church Parish as “Awindaw Creek, or Seawee River.” The former by being mentioned first seems to have been more current.
1709 (Lawson: 3)
“Sewee R.” for Awendaw Creek.
“Sewe Indian Fort” and “Sewee River,” copying Thornton-Morden c. 1695. (Bull’s Bay, however, carries no designation.)
1712 (4 Feb. 1711/12; Barnwell: 30-31)
After crossing Cape Fear River on the first Tuscarora Expedition, Barnwell “perceived a great desertion of the Indians….” The Sewee were originally part of the expedition, but by this time were no longer with it (cf. the next entry) and so are not enumerated.
1712 (9 Apr.; Anon. 1712-1715: 19)
Gov. Charles Craven informed the Commons House that the Council had before it the head men of the Seawees, the head men of the Winiaws & the head men of the sucSuscphaws, we have examined them in relation to Col Barnwell & why they left him; they pretend it was for want of Guns & Amunitions, this they plead to excuse themselves, that they did not go farther with him, but their acct. is very darke, so that we must have patience till we hear from Col. Barnwell, in the meantime I shall give them all proper encouragement….
Cf. the previous entry.
“Sewe Indian fort,” “Sewee Bay,” and “Sewee R.” as on Thornton-Morden c. 1695.
1715 (Johnson: 236-239)
A census taken early in this year lists “The Seawees” as having one village “60 miles N. E.” of Charles Town with a total population of 57 (men, women, and children). The census was taken before the Yemassee War; afterwards, in 1720, Johnson notes that the War had the effect of “utterly exterpating some little Tribes, as the…Sewees…” (cf. 1716). Sixty miles NE would place them on or near the Black R., roughly 20 m. beyond the Santee. No other information places them there, and since in 1716, they were near the French settlements (approx. 40 m. NE), 60 is probably an overestimate (unless it is intended to be the distance along the coast and then up the Santee, which is probably how they were usually reached–as by Lawson in 1700/01).
1715 (6 Nov.; Jones: III, 255a)
“…I have no free Indians in my [Christ Church] parish….”
1716 (12 Feb.; De Richebourg: 153; contributed by Wes White)
…not far from us…the Sewe indians who were amongst us and did seem to be our friends have proved themselves to be our enemy by burning a plantation and Killing negroes in our Settlement and by a plott to fall upon us and cut our throat; butt we have- prevented them and took of them two and twenty men, and forty Weemen and children prisoners. Since they at first seemed friendly, some for a few months may have been part of the two regiments the Colonists put together (cf. Etiwan, 1715). Presumably, they were enslaved and sold out of the Province, as was the usual fate of Indian prisoners; their escape could probably not have been prevented had they been kept on or near their former lands.
1894 (Mooney: 78)
Mooney says of the Sewee, Santee, Wateree, and Congaree: “Nothing is known of their linguistic affinities, but their alliances and final incorporation were with the Catawba.” During the Yemassee War, the Catawba first sided against the Province (Milling 1940: 142) while the Sewee sided with it, but later the Catawba sided with the Province (ibid.: 222) while the Sewee turned against it. There is no implication of an alliance, but if anything, the opposite. Since the Sewee did not incorporate with the Catawba, Mooney’s assumption of a linguistic relationship is unsubstantiated.
“Sewee Bay” is W of Bull’s Bay and adjacent to the mainland (32 54-32 57N 79 38-79 40W).
For Further Study
The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Sewee as both an ethnological study, and as a people. Consult:
- Sewee Indians – Swanton
- Mooney, Siouan Tribes of the East, Bull. B. A. E., 1894.
- Sewee Shell Mound Interpretive Trail. This 1 hour trail provides an interpretive view of the marsh area surrounding Shell Mound, a refuse mound attributed to the settlement of the Sewee Tribe. The Sewee shell ring, being estimated at 4,000 years old, is likely of another people, though possibly ancestors of the Sewee tribe.
- If you’re unable to visit in person, Eliza has provided numerous photographs in a blog post she created while hiking with her children on the trail: The Shell Ring