An Overview History of Charleston S.C.
King Charles II of England gave the Carolina territory to eight loyal
friends then collectively known as the “Lords Proprietor”
in 1663. Their first Carolina settlement was “Charles Town”
named after King Charles which would later be shortened to “Charleston”.
The community was established in 1670 across the Ashley River from Charleston’s
present-day location. The site was chosen by Anthony Ashley-Cooper with
a mission of becoming a thriving “port town”.
The initial settlement experienced turbulent times with periodic assaults
by both Spain and France who contested England’s claim to the region.
Combined with resistance from Native Americans and raids by pirates, the
colonists built a fortification wall around the original settlement. All
that remains of the original “walled city” is a preserved
building that housed the settlement’s supply of gunpowder.
A plan for the “new settlement” which is the present-day
site of “Historic Charleston” was created in 1680
at the congruence of where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers flowed into the
Atlantic Ocean. Land surrounding the intersection of “Meeting
and Broad Streets” was set aside for a Civic Square. Over time
it became known as “Four Corners of Law” referring
to the various arms of governmental and religious law which presided over
the growing city.
The Next Era of Charleston
St. Michael’s Episcopal, the oldest church in Charleston was built
in 1752 and a Capitol Building was erected across the square the next
year. The Provincial Court met on the ground floor while the Commons House
of Assembly and the Royal Governor’s Council Chamber resided on
the second floor.
The original settlers of Charles Town were English. As Charleston grew,
it became a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. During this colonial
time, Boston and Charleston became somewhat sister-cities as the wealthy
made Boston their summer home while Charleston became their winter home.
Trade began with Bermuda and the Caribbean with many migrants coming
from those areas. Some French, Scottish, Irish and Germans transplanted
to Charleston bringing different religions including Protestant, Catholic
and Judaism to Charleston. Free Black Charlestonians and Black Slaves
teamed to build the “Old Bethel United Methodist Church”
Charleston grew into a bustling seaport trade center and became the wealthiest
and largest city south of Philadelphia and by 1770 it was the fourth largest
port in the colonies behind Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Its population
was about 11,000 with more than half being slaves. Rice and indigo became
the primary cultivation by wealthy plantation owners and exporting made
Charleston the cultural and economic center of the south.
During this period of immigration to the low-country of Charleston, migration
to the “upcountry” of Carolina was also taking place.
Much of it came from abroad through Charleston but many new immigrants
came southward from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Ultimately the
upstate population became larger than the coastal low country surrounding
Charleston. With differing backgrounds, cultures and interests several
generations of conflicts took place between the “less-polished”
up-states and the Charleston elite.
The Declaration of Independence
The relationship between the colonies and England began to deteriorate.
In protest of the Tea Act of 1773 by England (taxation without representation),
Charleston confiscated and stored tea in Charleston’s “Exchange
and Custom House”. Representatives from the colonies gathered
at the Exchange in 1774 to elect delegates to the Continental Congress,
the group responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence from
Post Revolutionary Period
The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made cotton Charleston’s
and South Carolina’s major export and further fueled the prosperity
of a plantation-dominated economy. The cotton plantations relied on slave
labor and slaves became the primary labor force in the city as domestics
and market workers. By 1820, Charleston’s population had swelled
to 23,000 with a black majority.
A free black (non-slave) Denmark Vesey instigated the planning of a slave
revolt which was uncovered in 1822 before the revolt could be implemented.
With ensuing hysteria, white Charlestonians restricted the activities
of all blacks. Hundreds of blacks and even some white supporters of the
planned uprising were held in the “Old Jail”. Denmark
Vessey was eventually hung.
During the first half of the 1800s, South Carolinians became adamant
about state’s rights versus Federal government authority. Over 90%
of Federal funding was derived from import duties of which a significant
amount was generated by the port city of Charleston. In 1832 South Carolina
nullified Federal tariff acts. This prompted the movement of Federal soldiers
to Charleston’s forts such as “Fort
Sumter” and began to collect tariffs by force. A compromise
was eventually reached resulting in gradually reduced tariff duties.
In the meantime there was political disagreement over the use of and
the extension of slavery into other territories. Prior to the presidential
election in 1860, the National Democratic Convention convened in Charleston.
“Hiberian Hall” served as headquarters of those delegates
supporting Stephen A. Douglas for president. The delegates hoped that
Douglas could bridge the gap between northern and southern democrats on
the slavery issue. The convention disintegrated when delegates failed
to summon a two-thirds majority for any candidate. The split in the Democratic
Party led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate.
The American Civil War Period
On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina legislature was the first southern
state to vote for secession from the Federal Union primarily because Abraham
Lincoln’s purposes were deemed “hostile to continued slavery”.
On January 9, 1861, Cadets from the Citadel, South Carolina’s liberal
arts military college fired the first shots of the Civil War on a Union
ship entering Charleston Harbor. On April 12, 1961, South Carolina Confederate
forces fired on the Union held Fort Sumter in the harbor. After 34-hours
of continuous bombardment, Union forces surrendered Fort Sumter.
In 1865, reinforced Union troops attacked Charleston and seized control
of the city. After the eventual defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces
remained in Charleston during its reconstruction from war which had shattered
the prosperity of Charleston. Slaves were freed, economy improved and
Charleston enjoyed renewed vitality and commitment to reconstruction,
preservation and dedication to restoring community and society institutions.
Today’s Charleston South Carolina
Charleston has a modern side, but the magnet for tourism is the rich history
of Charleston with its preserved architecture and landmarks that will
live-on for both residents and visitors to enjoy.
Today, all Charlestonians…black and white fondly refer to Charleston
as “The Holy City” where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers
merge to form Charleston Harbor in the Atlantic Ocean.
Links of Historic Significance
Places in Charleston
Charleston South Carolina
Society of Charleston
Our visitors often use misspellings and abbreviations for Charleston,
South Carolina including Charlston, Carlina, SC, So Carolina, So Car. Users
also use Low Country or Lowcountry to describe Charleston.
Those words are included for user convenience.