A History of Charles Town, South Carolina

Charleston City Hall - 2016

From 1670 to 1783, the city was known as Charles Town then Charlestown. No "e" on the end. At the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the name was shortened to Charleston, which has been in use ever since.

First Charles Town at Albemarle Point in 1670 (Sketch of 1915)

Charles Town Map of 1671 - Click Here for Larger Image

Charles Town Under the Lords Proprietors' Rule (1670-1729):

The first ship to land in Charles Town was the Carolina, which landed in April of 1670. It was followed shortly by the Albemarle and the Port Royal. These three ships had left England with 150 people on board; 2 died enroute. Among the passengers on the Carolina was William Sayle, the first governor of Charles Town.

The original destination for the ships was Port Royal. The Kiawah Indians in that area convinced the settlers that Charles Towne was a better choice for farming, and the settlers observed that Charles Towne was further away from the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine.

The Carolina reached land and anchored at Sewee Bay/Bull's Island on March 17; Port Royal about March 21 and stayed 2 days; then to St. Helena; then to Kiawah, Ashley River, arriving early in April.

The five commoners of the first Executive Council, Joseph Dalton, R. Donne, Ra. Marshall, Paul Smyth, and S. West ,were elected while they were anchored at St. Helena.

The first English settlement in what is now called South Carolina was made in 1670, when William Sayle sailed up the Ashley River with three shiploads of English emigrants from Barbados. These settlers pitched their tents on its banks and built a town on Albemarle Point, which has since wholly disappeared.

Ten years after the first settlers arrived, a more favorable site for the town was desired. A point between the Cooper and Ashley rivers was chosen, and this Charles Town was re-founded in 1680, where it remains today. William Sayle was their leader and first governor from 1670 to 1671.

In 1671, Sir John Yeamans joined the colony, bringing with him about two hundred African slaves.

When the decision was reached to found a colony south of Cape Romain, the Lords Proprietors sent a blank commission to Sir John Yeamans, with the request that he would insert the name of him whom he thought most suitable for governor. Yeamans, though he still retained the title of governor of Carolina, was at this time in Barbados; moreover, because of his abandonment of the settlement at Cape Fear, he was distrusted by the Lords Proprietors.

After having given assistance to the colonists who were about setting out from Barbados for Carolina, Yeamans accompanied them as far as Bermuda, where he designated William Sayle as governor. In the documents accompanying this commission the Lords Proprietors admitted that the number of people who were expected at Port Royal would be so small that the Fundamental Constitutions could not at once be put into force.

There were as yet no Landgraves or Caciques among the colonists. For this reason, as a compromise, the Lords Proprietors, acting individually, appointed five Deputies, and an instruction was issued that, as soon as they reached Carolina, the freemen should be called together and should elect five other Deputies to be joined with those appointed by the Lords Proprietors to form the Executive Council. All officials were required to swear or subscribe fidelity to the Lords Proprietors and to the form of government by them established.

The instructions also provided that those who received grants of land within the province should, with their oath or declaration of fidelity, acknowledge their submission to the Fundamental Constitutions. This implied that the acceptance of the Fundamental Constitutions was to be a condition without which colonists would not be permitted to settle in Carolina.

It further implied that the Lords Proprietors intended to treat the Fundamental Constitutions as executive orders, and that, if this theory prevailed, they would never be submitted to an assembly of the province for its acceptance or rejection. Many of the provisions of the document related to the organization of the Executive Council and courts, to the powers and titles of officials, to the granting of land, and to the creation of a provincial nobility. These were matters over which, after the abrogation of the Concessions and Agreement, the Lords Proprietors claimed full control.

By the instructions of 1669, provision was also made for a parliament of twenty members, elected by the freeholders of the province. Its acts, when ratified by the governor and three of the five Deputies of the Lords Proprietors, should be in force as provided in the Fundamental Constitutions. According to the plan contemplated in the Fundamental Constitutions, the executive should possess the sole right of initiative.

This right the Lord Proprietors soon began to claim and continued to insist upon it as long as there was any prospect that it might be secured. Considerations such as these show how the Lords Proprietors might plan to secure their object solely by executive action.

But the royal charter provided that the Lords Proprietors should legislate with the assent of an Assembly. The colonists, falling back on this, insisted that the Fundamental Constitutions must be regarded as a bill, and if they were ever to go into force it must be as a statute. They did this the more promptly, because it was the only way in which they could protect themselves against the reactionary provisions of the document, and ultimately secure what had once been granted in the Concessions and Agreement. They met the Lords Proprietors substantially with the demand that the Fundamental Constitutions be abandoned, or be submitted to the parliament for its action.

This demand was formulated very early. While the colonists were at Port Royal, and before they decided to abandon that place for Albemarle Point, the elective members of the Executive Council were chosen.

William Owen, one of the defeated candidates, challenged the legality of the election, and it was held a second time without change of result. With Owen soon became associated William Scrivener, one of the Executive Council and a Deputy of Lord John Berkeley. These men were dissatisfied because Yeamans had appointed William Sayle, a Puritan, as governor, instead of retaining the office himself.

They also came to insist, as has already been stated, that all attempts to govern according to the Fundamental Constitutions, until they were accepted by the colonists, violated the provisions of the charter concerning legislation. It followed from this, as they thought, that the people of the province were still legally entitled to the benefit of the Concessions and Agreement of 1665.

In the light of the early acts of the Lords Proprietors there was indeed much to be said for this view, and, as has been indicated, it practically determined the attitude of the colonists throughout the province toward the Fundamental Constitutions.

In the summer of 1670, Governor William Sayle and the Executive Council, wishing to restrain the profanation of the Sabbath and other abuses, considered whether or not, as provided in their special instructions, an Assembly should be called. But they found that there were not sufficient freeholders in the settlement to admit of the election of twenty members.

Therefore it was resolved that the necessary orders should be issued by the Executive Council. But while the orders were being discussed and published before an Assembly of the people, Owen held an election and returned the names of those who were chosen as representatives. No notice, however, was taken of this, and the orders were duly published. The dissentients then protested against the legality of this procedure, but without immediate result.

In 1670, the streets of Charles Town settlement covered only nine acres and was surrounded by water on three sides. Charles Town at this time was in Craven County, one of the original three counties established in the entire province of Carolina by the Lords Proprietors in 1664.

Charles Town Map of 1704 - Click Here for Larger Image

A small settlement under the authority of one of the Lords Proprietors, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, was started in 1670 at Albemarle Point. Ten years later the settlement was moved a short distance to the peninsula between the immodestly named Ashley and Cooper rivers.

The community's name of Charles Town honored the king, but was changed to Charleston at the end of the Revolutionary War. By the late 1680s, the colony was beginning to enjoy prosperity, especially in the coastal areas. Its economic base depended initially on the fur trade, which fostered generally good relations between the Carolinian settlers and the local Indian tribes.

St. Michael's Episcopal Church - Charleston, SC - Built in the 1750s

Charles Town During the Royal Period (1719-1775):

1719 - South Carolina becomes a Royal Colony thanks to a popular uprising of the people.

1721 - General Sir Francis Nicholson made the first appointed Royal Governor.

1728 - Regular passenger and shipping service begins between Charles Town and New York.

1728 - Major Hurricane of 1728

1729 - (July 25) King George II buys out the Lords Proprietors, finalizing South Carolina's transformation into a Royal Colony.

1732 - (Jan 8) The South Carolina Gazette publishes its first edition.

1732 - (April 19) The first known concert in Charles Town is performed by John Salter, organist of St. Philip's Anglican Church.

1733 - (Jan. 13) James Oglethorpe and the first settlers for Georgia arrive in Charles Town harbor on the Anne. Savannah is founded soon thereafter.

1734 - (Feb 2) After the death of its first editor, the South Carolina Gazette resumes publication under Lewis Timothy, who is backed by Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.

1735 - (Feb 18) The first public presentation of an opera in the colonies is performed at Broad and Church.

1736 - (Feb. 3) Organization of America's first fire insurance company.

1736 - One of the first theatres in the country, The Dock Street, opens with The Recruiting Officer.

1740 - Fire rages through the waterfront district.

1740 - (April 28) News arrives of war against Spain, and plans are made to attack St. Augustine.

1740 - Construction of the East Bay warehouse district, today known as Rainbow Row.

1742 - Charles Town's population estimated to be 6,800.

1745 - Lots laid out for Ansonborough neighborhood.

1747 - (April 18) City leaders sign a treaty with Choctaw Indians establishing trade in return for their attacking French settlements.

1748 - (Dec 28) A group of citizens form the Charles Town Library Society, a subscription library still in existance.

1751 - (June 14) City is divided into two parishes: St. Michael's south of Broad, and St. Philip's north of Broad.

1752 - (Sept) Great Hurricane of 1752 devastates the city, killing nearly a hundred citizens.

1753 - First Capitol Building is constructed. Burned down in 1788. Rebuilt in 1792 (see photo below).

1755 - Click Here to view / download a 1755 map of Charles Town, SC.

1761 - (Feb. 1) First services are held at St. Michael's Church, the oldest surviving church building in the city.

1767 - The Old Exchange Building is built on the ruins of Half-Moon Battery, the site of the former Court of Guard.

1768 - The new District Court Act established Charles Town District, with Charles Town as the district seat. The 1768 Act was repealed, and a new Act was issued in 1769, which approved the new district plan.

1770 - (July 5) A statue of William Pitt, believed the first commemorating a public figure in America, is dedicated at Meeting and Broad.

1770 - Development of Harleston Village neighborhood.

1773 - (Jan. 12) A committee of The Library Society establishes the Charlestown Museum - the oldest in the country.

Map of Charlestown During British Siege of 1780 - Click Here for Larger Image

Charlestown During the American Revolution:

1774 - (July 7) Charlestonians Henry Middleton, John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Lynch, and Christopher Gadsden are named delegates to the First Continental Congress.

1774 - (Oct 22) Henry Middleton is chosen President of the First Continental Congress.

1775 - (Jan 11) South Carolina's First Provincial Congress convenes at the Old Exchange. Henry Laurens is elected President.

1775 - (June 18) Lord William Campbell, the last Royal Governor, arrives.

1775 - (Dec 9) The first Chamber of Commerce in America is formed during a meeting at Mrs. Swallow's Tavern.

1775 - Charlestown's population estimated to be 12,000.

1776 - (Spring) Admiral Sir Peter Parker and General Sir Henry Clinton prepare a campaign to occupy Sullivan's Island as the southern base of British operations. Major General Charles Lee, the American commander of the Southern Department, arrives in Charlestown to take charge of the defense of the city.

1776 - (May) Panic sweeps the city at the first offshore sighting of a British armada carrying over 3,000 British regulars.

1776 - (June 28) First major naval battle of the Revolution. Fleet of eleven British warships and 1,500 troops under Sir Peter Parker attack Ft. Moultrie and are repulsed.

1776 - (August 5) Declaration of Independence arrives at the city. Maj. Barnard Elliot reads it under the Liberty Tree near present-day 80 Alexander Street.

1776 - William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton design the Great Seal of South Carolina; with matrices executed by Charlestown silversmith George Smithson. It would be used for the last time to seal the Ordinance of Secession in 1860.

1777 - (Feb. 13) The new state government stipulated that each male citizen shall denounce the king and pledge loyalty to the state.

1778 - (Jan 15) A major fire destroyes many buildings on Broad, Elliott, and Tradd Streets. British Loyalists are suspected of arson.

1779 - (Nov-Dec) Unable to win a decisive battle in the northern states, the British prepare a massive combined sea and land expedition against Charlestown, under the command of Vice Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot, General Sir Henry Clinton, and Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis.

1779 - (Dec) General George Washington orders 1,400 Continentals to join the forces of Major General Benjamin Lincoln defending Charlestown. These Continentals were mostly from South Carolina and North Carolina.

1780 - (Feb 10) British troops under Sir Henry Clinton land on Seabrook Island, and make preparations to lay seige to the city. South Carolina Gazette editor Peter Timothy takes a spyglass up the steeple of St. Michael's Church and reports seeing smoke from hundreds of British campfires in the distance.

1780 - (March) British warships sweep past the forts guarding the harbor entrance to anchor within broadside range of the city. British Army crosses the Ashley River and establishes a line of breastworks 1,800 yards north of Charlestown's defensive line, completing their encirclement of the civilian population.

1780 - (March 29) British siege of Charlestown begins; lasts 40 days.

1780 - (May 12) After a bitter struggle, Major General Benjamin Lincoln surrenders Charlestown to the British, their greatest prize of the Revolutionary War. A two-and-a-half year British occupation begins.

1780 - (August 27) British troops arrest prominent citizens for encouraging resistance and imprison them in the dungeon of the Old Exchange. Many are sent to St. Augustine. Only those signing an oath of loyalty to the Crown are released.

1780 - (Sept 3) Henry Laurens is captured by the British on his way to the Netherlands and is imprisoned in the Tower of London.

1781 - (Aug 4) Colonel Isaac Hayne, a Revolutionary leader of the South Carolina Militia, is hanged by the British just beyond the city limits of Charlestown.

1781 - (Nov-Dec) American forces under Major General Nathanael Greene retake most of South Carolina and advance to within fifteen miles of Charlestown.

1781 - (Dec) When news reaches London of Washington's defeat of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, VA, the British Parliament resolves to bring the war to an end.

1781 - (Dec 31) Henry Laurens is released from the Tower of London in a prisoner exhange for the release of Lord Cornwallis by the Americans.

1782 - (Dec 14) Defeated British Army marches out of city, ending the occupation.

Map of Charleston in 1849 - Click Here for Larger Image

Antebellum Charleston (1783 - 1860):

1783 - (August 13) This date marks the incorporation of the city, and the official adoption of the name Charleston.

Charleston Intendants & Mayors - 1783 to 2016

1785 - (March 19) SC General Assembly grants charter for the College of Charleston.

1786 - The South Carolina state capital is moved from Charleston to Columbia.

1786 - Development of Radcliffeborough neighborhood

1787 - (May) A Constitutional Draft for the Convention in Philadelphia is prepared by Charles Pinckney.

1787 - (Sept 17) South Carolina delegates Pierce Butler, Charles Pinckney, John Rutledge, and Charles C. Pinckney sign the U.S. Constitution.

1790 - Click Here to view / download a 1790 map of Charleston, SC.

1791 - (May 2) President George Washington arrives in Charleston for a week's visit. His itinerary includes lodging at the Daniel Heyward House (87 Church St.), a reception at the Old Exchange, and a social evening at McCrady's Longroom (153 East Bay).

1792 - First State House is reconstructed. Originally built in 1753, it burned down in 1788, and was rebuilt.

Old State House - Now a Court House

1799 - (Dec 21) The Charleston Water Works, the city's first public utility, is established to bring water from Goose Creek.

1800 - South Carolina abolished all "overarching Districts" and created the new county of Charleston District, with Charleston the county seat. SC chose the term "district" to indicate "election district" in lieu of "county" that most other states adopted.

1804 - (Sept 7) Large Hurricane of 1804.

1818 - Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, arrives in Charleston to begin a printing business.

1820 - Charleston's population estimated to be 23,300.

1822 - (May) The slave uprising of Denmark Vesey is revealed to authorities.

1822 - (July 2) Denmark Vesey and five associates are hanged.

1824 - A group of members of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim form the Reform Society of Israelites, making Beth Elohim the recognized birthplace of Reform Judaism in the United States.

1824 - Founding of the Medical College of South Carolina, the first medical school in the South (today named the Medical University of South Carolina - MUSC).

1828-29 - A young Army recruit named Edgar Allan Poe is stationed at Ft. Moultrie on Sullivans Island for a year. Later sets his first published story, The Gold Bug, on Sullivan's Island, incorporating coastal Carolina pirate lore.

1830 - (Dec 25) The first steam locomotive in America to pull passengers in regular service, The Best Friend, begins its route between Charleston and Hamburgh, SC, the longest railroad in the United States at 136 miles, when completed in 1833. First chartered in 1827 as the Charleston & Hamburgh Railroad, it was acquired in 1837 by the Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston Railroad, which was then merged into the South Carolina Railroad in 1844.

1831 - (Oct 16) John James Audubon arrives in Charleston to work on his book, "Birds of America."

1838 - (Jan 30) Osceola, Chief of the Seminoles, dies during imprisonment at Ft. Moultrie.

1838 - Terrible fire destroys much of Ansonborough.

1843 - (March 20) The Citadel opens for its first class of cadets.

1851 - Renowned scientist Dr. Louis Agassiz comes to Charleston to teach at the Medical College of SC and establishes a seaside laboratory on Sullivan's Island to study the flora and fauna of the Atlantic Ocean.

1855 - The South Carolina Historical Society was founded in Charleston.

Map of Charleston in 1877 - Click Here for Larger Image

Charleston, South Carolina and the War of Northern Aggression (1860-1865) and Reconstruction:

1860 - Charleston's population estimated to be 40,500.

1860 - (Nov 7) Abraham Lincoln's election prompts the resignation of federal officials in the city.

View of Charleston, SC - Early December of 1860

1860 - (Dec 20) Ordinance of Secession ratified by "a Convention of the People of the State of South Carolina" in Institute Hall in Charleston, proclaiming South Carolina "an independent commonwealth."

1861 - (April 12) Confederate forces open fire upon Ft. Sumter, the first shots of the American Civil War.

1861 - (Dec 19) Union forces sink the "Stone Fleet" in the harbor channel to begin their blockade of Charleston.

1862 - (June 16) Confederates repulse a Union attack during the Battle of Seccessionville on James Island.

1862 - (June 21) Battle of Simmons Bluff.

View of Charleston Opposite James Island, SC - July 1862

1863 - Click Here to view / download a map of Christ Church Parish within Charleston, SC.

1863 - (Jan 31) The blockading Federal fleet is attacked by the Confederate ironclads Palmetto and Chicora.

1863 - (April 7) Union sends fleet of nine ironclad Monitor warships to attack Ft. Sumter. Attack is repulsed.

1863 - (July 18) The Union assault upon Battery Wagner on Morris Island is lead by the 54th Massachusetts, an all black unit. This is the battle portrayed in the 1989 film "Glory!"

1863 - (August 22) The 587-day Federal bombardment of downtown Charleston begins with the explosion of a shell on Pinckney Street.

1864 - Click Here to view / download an 1864 map of Charleston, SC.

1864 - The Confederate submarine CSS H. L. Hunley rams the USS Housatonic; the first submarine to sink a vessel in war. The CSS Hunley does not survive the attack and is not refound until 1995. It is salvaged in 2000 and is currently still in conservation in a facility in North Charleston (as of 2015).

View of Charleston, SC - February 22, 1865

1865 - (Feb 23) General William Tecumseh Sherman's troops reach Middleton Place Plantation, leaving it in ruins. Charlestonians fear imminent invasion, but Sherman's forces turn toward Columbia. Their subsequent burning of Columbia destroys many records and valuables which Charlestonians had sent there for "safekeeping."

1865 - (April 14) Federal photographers under the supervision of Mathew Brady arrive to record the flag-raising ceremony at Ft. Sumter, marking the anniversary of Major Anderson's surrender to Confederate forces. They then move through the city, documenting damage from bombardment and fire.

1868 - South Carolina is forced to stop using the term "district" and required by the Federals to use "county." Charleston County was named to replace Charleston District, with Charleston continuing as the county seat. This was a name change only with respect to boundaries, but the new county system totally changed the dynamics of the local political scene throughout South Carolina.

Map of Charleston in 1885 - Click Here for Larger Image

Charleston - 1870 to Present - The Modern Era Begins:

Click Here to learn about the "Street Railways" that operated in Charleston from 1865 to 1938.

1886 - (August 31) The lowcountry is struck by an estimated 7.5 earthquake, resulting in 83 deaths and $6 million in damage.

1891 - Click Here to view / download an 1891 map of Charleston, SC.

1898 - Click Here to view /download an 1898 map of Charleston, SC. Adobe PDF file. Fairly large file.

1900 - Charleston's population estimated to be 55,807.

1901-1902 - The South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition, a forerunner of the World's Fair, attracts 700,000 people from around the nation to Hampton Park. Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file describing the use of street railways to help orchestrate this exposition.

1916 - Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the "City of Charleston Year Book 1916."

1920 - Click Here to view / download a 1920 map of Charleston, SC.

1920 - Susan Pringle Frost and others form the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings, later to be renamed the Preservation Society of Charleston, marking the formal beginning of organized historic preservation.

1925 - Author Dubose Heyward writes tragic novel "Porgy," set in Cabbage Row across from his house on Church Street (changed to Catfish Row in the book).

1925 - A new dance craze begins in Charleston's pubs and dance halls and spreads across the nation; soon to be named "the Charleston."

1931 - Click Here to view / download a 1931 map of Charleston, SC.

1931 - The city of Charleston adopts a Planning and Zoning Ordinance establishing the "Old and Historic District," protecting some 400 residential properties in a 23-block area south of Broad Street.

1934 - Composer George Gershwin arrives in Charleston to research and write Porgy and Bess, the first American opera, including its famous song "Summertime."

1935 - Founding of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

1936 - Click Here to view / download a 1936 map of Charleston, SC.

1947 - The Historic Charleston Foundation is established to oversee a revolving fund with which to purchase threatened historic properties, restore them, and sell them with protective covenants.

1951 - Charleston Judge J. Watis Waring dissents from a Federal District Court decision upholding the "separate but equal" doctrine in Briggs v. Elliott.

1954 - (May) The U.S. Supreme Court accepts Judge Waring's dissent in Briggs v. Elliott as the basis for their unanimous opinion overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka.

1957 - Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti comes to Charleston at the instigation of Countess Alicia Paolozzi who owns a home in the city, and begins negotiations to make Charleston the American site of Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds, later called the Spoleto Festival.

1963 - (September) Charleston's Rivers High School becomes the first racially-integrated high school in South Carolina.

1966 - Following the destruction of the landmark Charleston Hotel, the Historic District is tripled in size to include Ansonborough, Harleston Village, and other areas between Broad and Calhoun streets.

1977 - (May) The first Spoleto Festival USA is held, and Charleston is designated the permanent American home for this "Festival of Two Worlds."

1982 - (May) The construction of Charleston Place, a hotel-shopping-convention center, sets off a building and rehabilitation boom in the downtown business district.

1989 - (September 21) Hurricane Hugo, a powerful category four hurricane with winds of 131-155 mph slams into the city with a 12-17 foot wall of water rolling over Ft. Sumter around midnight. The barrier islands are inundated as an estimated 80% of homes on Sullivan's Island and Folly Island are badly damaged or destroyed . Many homes in the Historic District sustain 10 to 24 inches of flooding. While about three quarters of the 3,500 significant structures suffer some damage, only twenty-five historically important buildings are severely damaged. Total losses are estimated at $2.8 billion.

1995 - (May) Author Clive Cussler announces that his team of divers has discovered the wreck of the Confederate Submarine CSS H. L. Hunley in the waters off Sullivan's Island.

2013 - Click Here to view / download a 2013 map of Charleston, SC. Adobe PDF file - 46 pages. Fairly large.

Much of this timeline comes from the Charleston Public Library - Click Here to visit their website for additional information. Link is current as of August 2005, December 2015, June 2019, and July 2023.

Charleston Town Plat 1801 - From SC State Archives

Charleston was granted a U.S. Post Office on February 16, 1795, and its first Postmaster was Mr. Thomas Hall. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.

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