History of Charleston

The city of Charleston in South Carolina, USA has a long and diverse history. It can be divided into five periods known as the Colonial period, American Revolution, Antebellum period, Civil War era and Reconstruction years. Take your time and check what Liberty Moves, moving professionals from Charleston, SC have prepared for you.

Colonial period (1663–1779)

During the year of 1663, King Charles II granted the Carolina territory to eight of his friends who were together known as the Lords Proprietors. But, it was only in 1670 when they arrange their first settlement in Carolina, known as Charles Town, and today called Charleston. During this year, English colonists from Barbados established a community in Charles Town under William Sayle who was the Governor of South Carolina. This community was formed west of the Ashley River and became the “great port town.” Other settlers joined the community, and it expanded and moved to the current peninsular location by 1681.

Charlestown was often the subject of attack from sea or land. For example, in 1718, the town was besieged for almost a week by Edward Teach, a pirate also known as “Blackbeard.” The city became a bustling trade center by 1750, and it was the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. A significant number of the population were slaves who cultivated cotton, rice, and indigo in Charleston’s rich natural surroundings. These cultivations were exported and a profitable shipping industry raised.

American Revolution (1776–1783)

The deterioration of the relationship between England and the colonist lead to the American Revolution wherein Charles Town became the focal point. In 1774, South Carolina declared independence from the crown on the steps of the Exchange. Not long after independence, the churches of Charleston became the targets for warships from Britain.

General Henry Clinton, together with 2000 of his men and a naval fleet, wanted to seize Charleston on 28 June 1776. However, the naval force was defeated by the Continental Army. Attacks in South Carolina continued with areas like Savannah taken captured during 1778, and the post ship Ariel off Charlestown was captured on 11 September 1779. In 1780 Henry Clinton returned with 14 000 soldiers and trapped Benjamin Lincoln who was forced to surrender his 5400 soldiers. That was one of the greatest American defeats in war, known as the Siege of Charleston.

The British rule was inconsistent and had many arbitrary policies which lead them to be undermined. Furthermore, there were disputes between military and civilian officials. The British officials were unwilling to restore a full civil government which made South Carolinians lose faith in the Royal administration of Charlestown. In the later 1782, the British got defeated at Yorktown, and after that, they departed.

Antebellum (1783–1861)

After the British and Loyalist leaders left Charlestown, the name of the city was changed to Charleston in 1783. By 1792, Charleston possessed all the public buildings which allowed the city to be transformed into the center of the antebellum South.

Plantations were dominating the economy which made Charleston more prosperous. The invention of the cotton gin turned into South Carolina’s primary export production in 1793. At the time, the laborers of the cotton plantations mostly consisted out of slaves. The Charleston marketplace was found in 1807 and became a hub for the African American community where slaves and free people of color were working at the stalls.

In 1822, a massive slave revolt happened, and it was planned by Denmark Vesey who was a free black. When the white Charlestonians and Carolinians found out about the planned rebellion, these activities were restricted, and hundreds of slaves, free blacks, and white supporters were held in the Old Jail.

The Charleston government, society, and industries continue to grow, and new institutions were established. The Market Hall and Sheds became the commercial hub of the city, and even though slaves were traded in varies parts of the state, slave trades were never made in the Market Hall area.

Image courtesy of Brian Stansberry on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Civil War (1861–1865)

The state of South Carolina was the first to withdraw its membership for the Union, on 24th December 1860. The first fire was then opened on 9th January 1861 towards the Union ship, the Star of the West, upon entering Charleston’s harbor, and this was the beginning of the American Civil War. The outbreak of the war got seized by the Confederate army in 1865 when the Union troops came and took control over many sites like the United States Arsenal for example.

Even though the war caused a lot of damage to areas in South Carolina, it was the outbreak of a fire in 1861 that caused most of the destruction in Charleston which was visible at the end of the war.

Postbellum/Reconstruction (1865–1945)

During the reconstruction of Charleston, Federal forces were present in the city. The antebellum city was faced with a lot of damage due to the war, and free slaves lived in poverty and discrimination. The commerce in the town improved through new industries which helped the growth of population.

A secondary school for blacks was established in 1867, and the United States Arsenal was turned into the Porter Military Academy for former soldiers and orphaned boys. In 1889, a planned community for the infirmed and aged was built, and it was called the William Enston Homes. By 1896, the United States Post Office and Courthouse were completed, and that brought new hope for the people of Charleston.

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