Origins of St. Helena Island, formerly known as Santa Elena, begin in 1521, where Spanish colonist Francisco Gordillo, was sent by Luis Vasquez de Ayllon to capture Native Americans to work as slaves in the Caribbean sugar plantations. The island became anglicized when English settlers arrived 150 years later, and the island was renamed Saint Helena's Island. During the Civil War, the islanders built a small fort called Fort Beauregard, but efforts to withstand Union warships were futile. When Union forces occupied the island in 1861, all the slaves working on local plantations immediately became free. In 1862, St. Helena Island featured the first-ever school for freed slaves in America, called the Penn School. Almost a century later, St. Helena Island became a crucial area for civil rights during the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King stayed in a home there for a time, where he helped plan strategies for non-violent protests and marches. Today, the Penn Center serves to preserve and protect the island's rich history.