Willie Dereef was born on Pawleys Island in the early 1920s. As a young child, he learned traditional boatbuilding skills from his uncle, Abraham Joseph, who was born in 1870. Since his childhood, Mr. Dereef estimated he made over 80 boats, most of which are the flat bottom shad fish or river boats popular in Georgetown County. Boatbuilding was never Mr. Dereef’s livelihood, but a profitable hobby that filled time between his work. Mr. Dereef spent most of his life as a carpenter with a construction crew that traveled to job sites along the East Coast.
Mr. Dereef was the last known traditional bateau builder in Georgetown County. He was committed to the craft and to ensuring the tradition was passed to younger generations. Mr. Dereef instructed his grandson on the craft, thus ensuring that knowledge of the tradition will span at least four generations. Willie Dereef passed away in January of 2015. Dereef received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2004.