Article by Ruth Miller (Owner of Charleston Strolls) | (843) 766-2080
Surrounded by a coastal plain of sparkling beaches, spacious marshes, and palmetto trees…Set in the center of the Carolina Lowcountry, like a single jewel on a golden chain…Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina, city of history, mystery and preservation.
How did this living museum of the American story come to be?
To understand Charleston, I invite you back to 1663. Discover King Charles II giving away Carolina, all the land from Virginia to Florida. The recipients, Eight Lords Proprietors, look upon the property as developers; the colony is theirs to settle.
Move on to April, 1670. Imagine our site. Giant alligators populate virgin forests draped in Spanish moss. Spy the ship Carolina anchored in our fine harbor. The colonists arrive. Ten years later, settlers move to the peninsula defined by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Life for Charles Towne, the oldest English city south of Virginia, begins.
Three incentives draw new immigrants: free land, the titles and estates of a landed aristocracy, and religious freedom. In this small town, cultures of England, France, Germany, Iberia, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland, and the West Indies blend.
The colonists, searching for security and wealth, discover our rich pluff mud is the perfect environment for the cultivation of rice. Carolina gold! Cultivated on high ground is indigo, the original source of blue dye for denim, and sea island cotton.
Once the means of creating fantastic wealth becomes obvious, the cry for field labor promotes the expansion of the English slave trade. By the early 1700’s, Charles Towne’s population is an African majority. The most cosmopolitan city of eighteenth-century America flourishes.
Fast forward to the Revolution. On July 4th, 1776, picture the fourth largest municipality in the colonies, the richest per capita. Revolution arouses the citizenry. Three signers of the Declaration of Independence own homes here. The Palmetto State is born in Charles Towne, the capital of South Carolina. Renamed in 1783, Charleston remains the hub of Carolina long after the Revolution.
President George Washington visits in 1791. The Exchange where he is entertained, the house where he stays, and the church where he prays, are all open to the public today.
Journey into the nineteenth century. South Carolinian John C. Calhoun gives a powerful voice to the cause of strong state government. The great colonial city of the South is now the cradle of secession. In 1860 the Ordinance of Secession is signed here; within six months Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter. War begins. Charleston, home to real-life versions of Rhett Butler, harbors blockade runners who supply the Confederacy. With the end of the Civil War, America moves into the 20th century, unequivocally, as “The United States”.
The abolition of slavery alters virtually everyone and everything here. The production of wealth withers. Reconstruction government departs and local leaders seize control of city and state. Segregation becomes the law of the land.
Left at the edge of American history, sultry, decaying, a beauty “mellowed by time”, Charleston enters the twentieth century. Still inhabited by descendants of colonial days, but overlooked by others, she is preserved. We’ve arrived in 1931. While the Depression bleeds America, Charlestonians pass the first preservation ordinance in our country. From now on, this gem of a city shall be protected, polished and put on display.
Our living museum of American history awaits your arrival. Join us on a present day adventure into the past.