The Anchorage 1770, Beaufort, South Carolina

What the heck is tabby and where in the world did it come from?History2014 Renovation

Tabby wall in the Anchorage 1770Now that we know when the Anchorage was built, we can explore how it was built. Did you ever hear someone say something and you sort of knew what they are talking about? That’s the way it was for me when someone told me the Anchorage is made of tabby. I knew they were talking about a mortar/concrete building material, but beyond that I didn’t really know what tabby was made of or how it is made.

Tabby is made from lime, sand and oyster shells. Sand and shells are plentiful here in Beaufort, but lime is not something that you can just walk out the back door and pick up off the ground. In fact, lime is another one of those things that I “sort of” know what it is. I know I have spread it on my lawn before to reduce the acidity in the soil. Beyond that, no idea…

Lime is a white caustic alkaline substance consisting of calcium oxide, usually obtained by heating limestone. At some point, either by accident or intention, someone discovered that another source of lime was in fact Oyster Shells. Heating the shells (primarily made of calcium carbonate) to a high enough temperature will eventually break them down into the by product of calcium oxide a.k.a. lime.

So by taking some oyster shells and heating them into lime, then adding water, sand and more oyster shells, a bond is created for the mixture. Thus, tabby is a type of concrete. Today, artificial tabby is made using Portland cement instead of lime and the resulting 'tabby' is stronger and more stable. In Beaufort there are many driveways and walks made from the artificial “tabby."

It is believed that tabby originated in Northern Africa. A form of tabby is still used in Morocco. From there it was brought to Spain, known as Tapia, and then Britain. Spanish tabby is more prevalent in St Augustine, while British tabby is found in Beaufort. In fact, according to Colin Brooker, an expert on Tabby, Beaufort County has more tabby ruins than any other area in the United States. 

Some other notable tabby structures close by are:

- The Chapel of Ease on St. Helena Island;
- The Sea Wall east of the intersection of Bay Street and Carteret facing the river;
- The Francis Saltus House at 802 Bay Street; and
- Tabby Manse at 1211 Bay Street.

If you want to learn more, the Beaufort County Library has a great background piece on tabby here