History of Charleston, South Carolina: Discovering Charleston's History

Charleston might be famous for many things like its culture, architecture and picturesque beaches but what it is most famous for, is its incredible history. The city’s historical charm attracts history buffs from all over the world. From the city’s antebellum relics to museums, this town in South Carolina is undoubtedly a must-visit! To know more about the complex and fascinating history of Charleston, read on!

History of Charleston: A Brief Overview

Charleston is one of the earliest cities in North America, in which the African presence began. They played an important role in creating the wealth that the Colonial era saw. With their skills and craftsmanship, the slaves accelerated the different industries. However, the exploitations led to huge revolts and gave way to its rich history. So the complex past, associated with the rich and wealthy class, pre-civil war culture and heritage, a legacy of uprisings against slavery and of course the civil war and movement associated with civil rights is worth knowing. 

The story behind the name ‘Charleston’: from Charles Town to Charleston

Charleston's city is said to have been a gift to King Charles II of England's loyal followers in the early seventeenth century. King Charles II’s pious followers had a vision of ‘Charles Town’, a royal port town named after the King and just within a few days, colonists and slaves from all across Europe started flocking to this town. However, Charles Town was under a lot of disturbances and was frequently attacked. Pirates laid siege to the city, and a lot of other uprisings followed. As the situation started getting better, by 1750, Charles Town became a trading hub for southern colonies and very soon became the fourth largest colony. By the end of this, it was renamed as Charlestown and then finally got reincorporated as Charleston in 1782.

Early Years in Charleston:

Early years in Charleston were quite difficult. There were widespread diseases, violence and slave trade. However, by the time of the revolution, it became a commerce hub in the American colonies despite facing all these hardships. From the early eighteenth century until the Civil War, the Lowcountry region rulers were all the world's richest people. This was possible owing to slavery, which accelerated the empire of rice and cotton.

The History of Charleston can thus be split up into Six Distinct Eras:


1. The Early Proprietary Era (1670–1695)

Charleston’s population was quite small in its early years of existence but grew significantly in the next few years.  The town was devoid of basic infrastructure except for a few streets and a few buildings. The government could not do much about it due to the lack of proper amenities. Individuals sorted out their problems, and there was no government intervention during this time. 

2. The Mature Proprietary Era (1696–1721)

By the end of the seventeenth century, John Archdale, the newly appointed governor, was permitted to introduce a charter for incorporating Charles Town. He played a brief but significant role in the development of the present-day Charlestown implementing legislative strategies. In the early eighteenth century, several statutes were ratified, which appointed temporary board members to supervise the execution of laws and regulations relating to the citizens. 

3. The Era of Charles City and Port (1722–1723)

After years of general decline, the citizens staged a bloodless political overthrow in 1719, against the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. They wanted a temporary government for themselves and appealed to King George I. Following this, Francis Nicholson was made the Governor and took control. After a lot of wrangling, the city became known as ‘Charles City and Port’. However, later in 1723, it was again renamed to ‘Charles Town.’

4. The Royal Era (1730–1774)

King George II purchased the land under South Carolina from the Lords Proprietors in 1729. Following this, the ‘Royal’ government took over the city. The city prospered soon after, as it became a hub for trade and commerce. Immigrants started coming in great numbers as well. In this era, there were some upheavals regarding the legislation associated, but it all got resolved by the end of the era.

5.The Era of the American Revolution (1775–1782)

After the delegates were elected for the congress in 1774, South Carolina was declared independent and free from Britain. In the early years from 1775, slavery was one of the main driving forces behind the city’s participation in the Revolutionary war. The Britishers had attacked the town thrice, as they anticipated that the Loyalists would give in with some military support. However, this battle continued for a long time until March 1782, when General Alexander Leslie requested a truce to purchase food for his garrison and town residents. Finally, in December 1782, Charleston was evacuated.

6. The Antebellum Era (1783-1861)

This era is mainly about the sudden economic boom experienced by society’s top strata, just after the American Revolution. The expansion of different industries led to this boom which funded the extraordinary architecture of this city. But this also led to an increased importance of slavery, leading to stringent restrictions. This followed for years, which agitated blacks’ particular class, leading to America's famous Civil War.

Charleston and the American Civil War

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865, and Charleston played a pivotal role in this war. Slavery came in early in this town, and the problem began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. The violent shots marked the beginning of the Civil War, in which the first state to quit from the Union was South Carolina. Right after that, a military force was strictly maintained in Charleston, which is believed to have contributed to the economic growth and reconstruction of the city thereafter. Throughout the war, military and artillery support was provided by the Charleston military academy. The city faced severe damages throughout the war, and much of the city was burnt down by the Union soldiers. The remaining parts of the city were damaged by an earthquake in 1865. 

Present Day Charleston

Despite facing a lot of ups and downs, the city of Charleston still bears its old charm. This city survived invasions, wars, hurricanes and a major earthquake, but still stands strong. The numerous historical sites hold immense significance even today, with some of them being taken over by some organizations for maintenance purposes, but the authenticity remains. Some of the sites look exactly how it looked back in the days.

Explore the Fascinating History of Charleston - Must Visit Places

To get an essence of the rich history of Charleston, here is a quick check-list of all the historical places you can visit in the city: 

1. Charles Towne Landing

This historical site will give you an essence of how it all began in the city of Charleston. Located just a short drive from Downtown, Charles Towne Landing is the first permanent European settlement in the Carolinas. It makes for a fun exploration site off-peninsula for people of all age groups and will surely teleport you to the past.
What to do: Spot rare animal species, hike through beautiful trails and learn about its past history through self-guided tours.
Do not miss: You must visit the natural animal habitat at Charles Towne Landing for sure. You can even adopt and sponsor indigenous species
Location: 1500 Old Towne Rd, Charleston, SC 29407, United States

2. The Charleston Museum

Often referred to as the oldest museum in America; The Charleston Museum was founded back in 1773. Located across the street from the Charleston Visitor Center, its exhibits tell the story of the Native Americans, who were the first ones to inhibit the country. History buffs can check out the rare collections and young visitors can enjoy KidStory, an interactive space designed.
Highlights of the museum: Early clothing styles, a skeleton of a prehistoric crocodile, the Loeblein Gallery of Charleston Silver.
Location: 360 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403, United States
Timings: Monday-Saturday: 9:00AM-5:00PM, Sunday: 12:00PM-5:00PM Entry fees: Adult: $10 Children (3yrs -12 years): $5

3. Fort Sumter National Monument

This historical site holds great importance in America's history as it houses the first shots of the civil war, which took place at 4:30 AM on the 12th of April, 1861. Fort Sumter can be easily spotted, across the harbour from the Battery and Waterfront Park and is accessible only via water. Ferries run shuttle trips back and forth.
Expert tip: During your short ferry ride to Fort Sumter, keep an eye out for the many dolphins that call the Charleston harbor home
Location: South Carolina 29412, United States
Entry Fees: Adults: (12 years and above) $19.50; Senior citizen (62 years and above) : $17 Military $17 Children(4-11 years) $12; Infants (0-3years): Free

4. Old Slave Mart Museum

The Old Slave Mart Museum is a vestige of the domestic slave-trading system that prevailed in Charleston city. This Museum contains all the information you need to know about the city’s role in the slave trade after the international slave-trading system ban. Slave auctions that took place at this mart ended in 1863 after which it was acquired by Charleston city in 1988.
Displays: African slavery experiences and remains, haunting tales of african slavery
Entry fees:Adult: $7; Senior Citizen (60 years and above) $5 Children (5-17 years): $5 Infants(4 and under):Free
Timings: Monday-Saturday: 9:00AM-5:00PM
Location:6 Chalmers St, Charleston, SC 29401, United States

5. Charleston City Market

This market is the nation’s oldest public markets and is on the to-do list of everyone who visits this city. It was built back in 1841 and stood out because of its greek revival style and architecture. Currently, it houses more than 300 entrepreneurs. This market is open to the public throughout the year except for Christmas day. It is a great place to spend time and shop for souvenirs for family and friends.
Things to do: Visit the museum of confederacy, visit the historic charleston foundation, shop at the various variety of stores selling items ranging from artwork, jewelry, paintings, clothing, spices etc.
Location: 188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401, United States
Timings: Sunday-Thursday: 9:00AM-6:00PM, Friday-Saturday: 9:30AM-10:30PM

6. McLeod Plantation

Founded in 1851, this plantation bears the history of America’s most significant times. McLeod Plantation marks an important historical significance site and is preserved to protect its cultural and historical past. At this plantation, you can enjoy the beauty of McLeod Oak, which is more than 600 years old, a riverside pavilion and an oak alley.
Location:325 Country Club Dr, Charleston, SC 29412, United States

7. Nathaniel Russell House Museum

This museum is a national historic landmark, which took over 5 years to get built with graceful interiors and elaborate and intricate artworks. This lavish architectural marvel speaks for the wealth of Charleston’s elite in the early days.
Location: 51 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401, United States

8. Edmondston Alston House Museum

Out of the many house museums in Charleston, the Edmondston Alston House is the only one that comes with the Charleston harbour’s amazing view. This house museum comes with a great history as Gen. PT Beauregard watched Fort Sumter’s bombardment, after which the Civil War began. You can enjoy a half an hour guided tour of the magnificent public rooms focusing on elaborate designs and massive art collection and furniture.
Timings: Tuesday to Saturday: 11:30AM to 4:00PM. For special in-dept guided tours you can call 843-722-7171
Location:  21 E Battery, Charleston, SC 29401, United States
To visit all these places as a part of a packaged tour, you can purchase a Tour Pass of Charleston. For more information, please visit www.tourpass.com

With more than 300 years of rich history, Charleston is one of the most well-preserved historic cities in all of America. Every nook and corner of this city speaks of its rich past, which often compels historians to call it a ‘living museum’.So to discover more about this historical city and satisfy your inner history buff, make sure you visit this city and experience its everlasting charm!

This post was published by Asmita Sarkar

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