Today picturesque docks, any manner of pleasure boats and net-draped shrimp boats make this Mount Pleasant creek one of the most scenic and popular spots in the Lowcountry. Restaurants on both sides of the creek offer both superb seafood and up-close-and-personal views at the nature of the creek itself. Kayakers and paddleboarders navigate the creek’s narrow waters side-by-side with schools of porpoise and armadas of pelicans, making it a busy creek for both man and wildlife.
The creek’s name derives from the Sewee Native American word “shemee,” but whether that was the name of a tribe who lived along the banks or the name they gave to the creek itself is undetermined. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the Native Americans who lived north of the harbor were members of the Eastern Sioux linguistic group called the Sewee, and inhabited the coastal area from what is now Mount Pleasant to the Santee River. There was likely a Sewee village somewhere on the banks of Shem Creek, for the same sheltered deep water and easy accessibility to the harbor would have been as important to them as it was for the Englishmen who began settling on the creek in the 1670s.
After settlement, the name of the creek began to change according to ownership. The first person who was granted lands adjacent to the creek was Captain Florence O’Sullivan (for whom Sullivan’s Island is named) and during his ownership in the 1670s-80s, the creek was known as Sullivan’s Creek. Later, Barbadian colonist Captain George Dearsley owned the lands and the creek became known as Dearsley’s Creek. It was probably during Dearsley’s ownership that shipbuilding was introduced to the creek. The name then changed again throughout the 1700’s. It became Rowser’s Creek during the ownership of shipwright Richard Rowser and Parris’ Creek for later owner Alexander Parris, who owned Hog Island (now Patriots Point) and who was the same man for whom Parris Island in Beaufort County is named. During the Revolutionary War, the creek was called Lempriere’s Creek for Captain Clement Lempriere, a noted shipbuilder and master of the ferry to Charleston at Haddrell’s Point where Shem Creek enters the harbor. At a period in the early 1800s, it was briefly known as Distillery Creek for a short-lived distillery built along the creek’s shoreline. Between ownerships, it was always referred to as Shem Creek and the name remains today.