One of the original thirteen British colonies in North America, South Carolina was named after Britain’s King Charles I. It became the eighth official state in the new United States in 1788, after it ratified the US Constitution. When Europeans arrived in the 1600s, humans had already been living in South Carolina for untold millennia.
There were many different Native American tribes in the South Carolina area when the Europeans arrived, but the largest was the Cherokee and the Catawba, whose populations in the area totaled about twenty thousand people. The Spanish began exploring the area in 1521 and tried to establish a settlement there, but it only lasted eight months before the one hundred fifty survivors of the initial five hundred settlers abandoned it and went back to Spain. More Spanish and French explorers came over the next century, but it wasn’t until the English arrived in 1629 that any permanent European settlements were established in South Carolina.
Naturally, with a history so long and culturally rich, South Carolina is the home of some unique and fascinating local folklore. Here are some of the highlights of it.
America’s First Documented Female Serial Killer Was from South Carolina
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, John and Lavinia Fisher, husband and wife, owned and operated Six Mile House, which was an inn for travelers located just north of Charleston. The visitors were usually wealthy men, and Lavinia and her husband took full advantage of this.
According to the story, Lavinia served poisoned drinks to these guests; once they were disabled from the effects of the drinks, her husband would lead them to bed, always in the inn’s “special” bedroom where there was a trapdoor underneath the bed. Once the victim was in the bed, John Fisher would pull a lever, and the man would fall into a pit underneath the house. Sometimes the victims were still alive when they fell, sometimes not. If the poison or the fall did not kill them, John would. Once the deed was done, he robbed the bodies of any valuables, and he and Lavinia spent the money.
It isn’t certain how long John and Lavinia did this, but it was likely a long time. Back in those days, it wasn’t easy to prove someone was a killer unless there was a direct witness or indisputable evidence. The Fishers were discovered when a guest named John Peoples dumped the drink Lavinia served him into a nearby plant (without her seeing him do it, of course), because he didn’t like what was served, and was too polite to refuse the hospitality Lavinia offered. When he went to bed, he sat in a chair by the window for a while and saw his bed fall through the trapdoor in the floor.
One night, a man named John Peoples stopped over, and after being invited to tea discretely dumped the cup into a nearby plant because he didn’t enjoy tea, but was too polite to refuse. Horrified, he jumped out the window and went to Charleston, where he told the police everything he knew. The police investigated, and are said to have found all of the bodies of the missing men under the inn. John and Lavinia Fisher were hanged for their crimes in 1820. Local legend says Lavinia’s ghost still haunts the jail in Charleston, where she was kept before being sent to the other side.
The Legend of the Ravenel Lights
Just outside Ravenel, South Carolina, there is a place where you can see otherworldly lights—if you’ve summoned them correctly. To view the lights, one must go to the ancient Baptist church near Ravenel after dark on a moonless night, knock on the door three times, then walk or drive parallel to the tracks on the ground behind the graveyard that is part of the church’s property. If the summoning has been done correctly, the summoners will see the Ravenel lights when they come to the bend in the tracks.
The lights are otherworldly in appearance and have no obvious or known source. Those who have seen them say that a strong wind accompanies their appearance, and sometimes viewers are pelted by invisible objects. Those who come in cars sometimes find hand-shaped dents in the doors and roofs of their vehicles after viewing the Ravenel lights.
The Boo Hags
While voodoo and Creole culture may be well-known parts of folklore in Louisiana, South Carolina has its own unique local culture in the Gullahs. These are descendants of slaves who live up and down the coastline of South Carolina. Part of the Gullah mythology is the legend of the Boo Hags.
The Gullahs believe that when anyone dies, their spirit stays behind on earth to wander or look over its loved ones who are still on the physical plane. If the person who died was a bad person or evil in some way, they become a Boo Hag once they are in spirit form. The Boo Hags can use magic to manipulate living people and feed off of their energy while they sleep. They can also steal the “skin” of a living person and use it to move around in the world of the living during the day. They shed the skin at night, and look for a different person on whose energy to feed. Legend says that if someone wakes up tired after a seemingly good night’s sleep, they were probably used as a skin by a Boo Hag, and were up walking around without knowing it.
The Lizard Man of South Carolina
While other states may have Bigfoot or variations of it, South Carolina has the Lizard Man. Living in the Scape Ore Swamp, the Lizard Man was first reported by a seventeen-year-old boy named Christopher Davis in 1988. Christopher said he stopped by the swamp to change a flat tire after dark, and the creature came out of the swamp and chased him. It even jumped on the roof of his car and left scratch marks on it. Since then, there have been several reported sightings of the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp.