Story and Photography by
Jacie Elizabeth Millen
Roger Pinckney, XI was raised to be an ideal Southerner. He has the wit, the manners, and the stature of a true gentleman, but there is more to Mr. Pinckney than meets the eye. Roger is the author of multiple books, including Reefer Moon, Blue Roots, and Crying in the Wilderness. He is also a full-time resident on Daufuskie Island, SC, and gives tours of the island, but he is more than that, too: He is an icon.
With a personally rolled cigarette on his lip, Roger and I got to talking.
Roger was born and raised in Beaufort, where he found his love of writing in high school. He got a full ride to the University of Iowa, considered at the time THE writing school. He continued his education and ultimately earned his PhD in Alaska. He moved to Minnesota, where he started a family. Calling himself a “serial husband,” Roger laughed and said, “I love being a father. I am a better father to my seven children than a husband.”
After selling his farm in Minnesota, Roger has now been a staple on Daufuskie Island for 21 years. Around the country he is known for his books and nationally published articles about hunting, nature, and life in the Lowcountry, but on Daufuskie, he’s known for his love of the land. In fact, he stayed on his treasured remote island to ride out both recent destructive hurricanes—Matthew (2016) and Irma (2017). Experiencing the destruction of my family home, I had to ask why he didn’t leave. He simply responded, “It would have been an ass to evacuate.” And this is totally the approach Roger takes on most things. He is one who treads his own way with grit and charm. Roger informed me Daufuskie has the highest point above sea level in Beaufort County. He also spent 14 months building a “natural disaster proof” house. It can withstand 150 miles per hour winds, it’s raised to prevent flooding, and the walls are built with wooden boards, placed diagonally, with zero insulation to make it strong and solid. Roger built it with his own hands, along with some help, and has currently lived in it about six years with his wife, Amy, her two sons, who he calls his own, and their adorable silver lab, Mojo.
“Actually, after the hurricane, I was the only one on the island with Internet, so I helped people stay in contact with their families and make sure everyone was safe. The restaurants were really helpful, too. They opened up for lunch and dinner and gave free meals because they were out of power to keep the food cold. It was a eat until we’re out of food kind of situation.”
I asked Roger if it was tough to live on Daufuskie with only one way—by water—to get to Hilton Head or Bluffton, where groceries and doctors are located. “I go over about once a week; I occasionally hire someone to go over there for me. I only go if I have to. I really don’t like the Yankees that come down here. There are only 300 full-time residents on the island and last year we had over 60,000 visitors. They’re writing too much about this place.”
Roger is a successful author. His newest is Crying in the Wilderness, a compilation of stories about the world’s nature, some from Roger’s perspective and some from other’s. “Pinckney has crammed a lot of living into his 70-odd years,” as it states on the back of the book. His most popular book, Reefer Moon, is a drug smuggling love story set on Daufuskie and his personal favorite. His first book, Blue Roots: African-American Folk Magic of the Gullah People gives reader’s an inside look at the history, practices and people of Gullah country, off the coast of South Carolina. This book’s relevance was recognized and taught in the anthropology department at the University of North Carolina. Currently, Roger is excited because the third book in the trilogy of Reefer Moon is being published.
Before I met Roger, I could tell he was going to be cool. He has a personality so large it comes through in emails. I was right. The minute we met in person, even though I am 19, and he is 70-something, we connected. He is honorable, and I respect that. He is an original and has no problem letting people know what he stands for. He is intriguing and infinitely wise. He truly could hold the title of “The Most Interesting Man in the Lowcountry.”
The Other Guy: The painting Roger is posed next to (above) is of Dr. Buzzard, a famous voodoo doctor that Roger claims cured Melrose Plantation and is responsible for the vacancy of the property.
His Own Love Story: He met Amy on Daufuskie when she was on vacation.
A Wild First Date: “I took Amy on a wild pig hunt, riding Carolina Marsh Tackies.” Now that’s a good first date story!” (The Carolina Marsh Tacky is a rare breed of horse native only to SC.)