A French Huguenot expedition, led by Jean Ribault in 1562, was the first European group to attempt to colonize Parris Island. Earlier Spanish expeditions had sighted the area, and named it "La Punta de Santa Elena", which now remains one of the oldest continuously used European place names in the United States. The French expedition built an outpost named Charlesfort, and Ribault left a small garrison as he returned to France for colonists and supplies. After a long absence, due to Ribault's delay from wars in Europe, Charlesfort was abandoned after the garrison mutinied, built a ship on the island, and sailed back to France in April 1563. In 1566 the Spanish, led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded a settlement named Santa Elena which became the capital of La Florida for the next decade. Spain finally abandoned Santa Elena in 1587. England took control of the region by the 17th century, and Parris Island became home to British plantations after being purchased by Colonel Alexander Parris, treasurer of the South Carolina colony, in 1715. From the 1720s to the Civil War, the island was divided into a number of plantations, initially growing indigo, then later cotton. During and after the Civil War, the island became home to freed slaves, and was a site of freedmen schools taught by abolitionists such as Frances Gage and Clara Barton.
Marines were first stationed on Parris Island in 1891, in the form of a small security detachment headed by First Sergeant Richard Donovan. His unit was attached to the Naval Station, Port Royal, the forerunner of Parris Island. Donovan's unit was highly commended for preserving life and property during hurricanes and tidal waves that swept over the island in 1891 and 1893.
Recruit training for those enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, includes a thirteen week process during which the recruit becomes cut off from the civilian world and must adapt to a Marine Corps lifestyle. During training, the drill instructors train recruits in a wide variety of subjects including weapons training, Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, personal hygiene and cleanliness, close order drill, and Marine Corps history. The training emphasizes physical fitness and recruits must attain a minimum standard of fitness to graduate. This standard includes a Physical Fitness Test. Recruits must also meet minimum combat-oriented swimming qualifications, qualify in rifle marksmanship with the M16A2 service rifle, and pass a 54-hour simulated combat exercise known as "The Crucible".