Charleston History
A Historical Time-line

Discover Charleston History, rich with old world culture and architecture. This Holy City is one of the oldest cities in America and envelops southern traditions and its historical significances while sharing them with its visitors.

To follow is a simple time-line of Charleston’s most prominent historical events that has led it to the great city it is today.

Early Days of Charleston History

King Charles II of England granted the territory known as Carolina to eight trustworthy friends known as the Lords Proprietors.

Settlers leave from London in three ships; the Albemarle, Port Royal and Carolina.

Charles Town (or Charlestown, named for the King of England) was founded on the west side of the peninsular river and announced as the capitol of Carolina. This original settlement is honored today as a National Historic Site known as Charles Town Landing. Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper chose the location and deemed the town’s purpose to be that of a successful and great port. Charleston history begins to unfold.

Charles Town was moved to Oyster Point on the peninsula after other settlers from England, Barbados and Virginia made their way to the area, increasing the population.

Charles Town had to continuously fight oncoming attacks from both land and sea. Opposition from Spain and France, as well as from Native Americans and even pirates forced the city to barricade itself for protection. Today, the only standing buildings from this walled city is the Powder Magazine (still open to the public) that housed the gun powder and ammunition for the city and the Pink House which was a tavern and gathering place, both were built in 1710.

Grand Modell laid out plans to create a “regular town” and centered it on the land of Meeting and Broad Streets. This was to be their Civic Square, later to be known as it is today as the Four Corners of Law (God’s Law – St. Michael’s Episcopal Church build in 1752, State Law - County Court House, originally the State House built in 1752, City Law - Old City hall, originally a bank built in 1801, Federal Law - the Federal Court House built in 1886).

St. Philip's Episcopal (the first Anglican church) was built. It was eventually destroyed by fire and relocated to its current location on Church Street.

Charles Town had established itself as a bustling trading center, boasting the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. It became the fourth largest port behind Boston, New York and Philadelphia. Population size was up to 11,000, more than half of which were slaves. Descendants came from Bermuda, the Caribbean, Scotland, France, Ireland and Germany contributing to today’s prominence of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant denominations. Slaves also contributed to Charles Town’s religious make up with the construction of the Old Bethel United Methodist Church in 1797, and the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in 1791.

Nearby wealthy plantations harvested rice and indigo. Combining these profitable fares with the naval shipping industry, Charles town became the cultural and financial epicenter of the South which played a huge role in Charleston history.

The first American theatre opened, but was converted to the Planters Hotel in the 19th century, later to revert back to what is now known as Dock Street Theater.

The South Carolina Society was founded by the French Huguenots.

A warehouse district was established along East Bay Street. It later came to be known as Rainbow Row when it was renovated and painted Caribbean colors in the 1900’s.

The Charleston Library Society was established by wealthy Charlestonians who later contributed to the founding of the College of Charleston.

The German Friendly Society was established.

The Old Exchange Building was built.

A prominent highlight of Charleston history: The College of Charleston was established. It is the oldest college in South Carolina and the 13th oldest in the United States.

The Old Exchange Building was completed and is currently one of the oldest buildings in the country. It’s been famously known for holding signers of the Declaration of Independence in its dungeons, hosting events for George Washington, the US Constitution ratification and the stolen tea from trade ships. It has also been used as a US Post office and the first Confederate Post Office. Today it is a museum, open to the public.

The first American museum opened to the public on January 12. The Charleston Museum Society is the oldest museum in America.

Revolutionary War/
Declaration of Independence in Charleston History

Declaration of Independence is read and signed, partly as a result of the efforts of elected Charles Town delegates in 1774 to succeed from the British crown.

Church’s became targets for British war ships so the steeples were painted black to camouflage with the night sky. Charles Town survived a British siege thanks to the command of William Moultrie at Sullivan’s Island.

The British had control over Charles Town for two and a half years.

After a British retreat, the city officially changes its name to Charleston.

A separation from Federal Government by Carolinians brought about the moving of the State Capitol to Columbia which was declared the new State Capitol.

The State Capitol previously housed in Charleston had been rebuilt to become the Charleston County Courthouse

Cotton became the face of South Carolina plantation crops, heavily labored by slaves. Most trade work was performed by slaves in Charleston, many of whom, along with other black Charlestonians, spoke Gullah (a combination of African, Portuguese and English words).

The Hibernian Society was founded by Irish immigrants.

The discovery of a massive slave revolt, master-minded by Denmark Vesey led to higher restrictions for free blacks, slaves and their white supporters. Hundreds of them were held in the Old City Jail. By this time the Charleston population was majority black.

Another prominent highlight of Charleston history: The Medical College of South Carolina (MUSC) was established.

South Carolina announced an ordinance of nullification, making aware their refute with the Federal Government. Since Charleston was one of the busiest ports in the county, the Federal Government soon occupied the city to take tariffs by force. A struggle that lasted for decades. Eventually an agreement lessened tariff demands, but the issues would never go away for years to come.

The city center shifted to the Market Hall and Sheds where fresh meat and produce were bartered, now known as the Old City Market where local vendors still offer their wares. The near location of docking ships also offered the ease of slave trade.

Construction began on the United States Customs house, but would soon be interrupted by activities of the Civil War.

American Civil War in Charleston History

December 20 - South Carolina was the first state to vote for succession from the Union due to the fact that the man elected to office, Abraham Lincoln, displayed a platform that was “hostile to slavery.”

January 9 – The first shots of the Civil War were made by Citadel Cadets in Charleston Harbor at Union Ships.

April 12 – A pivitol point in Charleston history occued when a bombardment on Union-held Fort Sumter, lasting 34 hours, was instigated by General Pierre G. T. Beauregard of the Confederate Army. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort.

The first submarine warfare took place.

CSS H.L. Hunley sinks the Housatonic bringing all its crew members to their underwater grave.

Union troops move into Charleston ultimately defeating and taking control of the ruined city. While reconstruction of Charleston took place, Federal arms maintained their positioning within the city.

The Avery Institute was established as Charleston's first free secondary school for blacks. The Porter Military Academy was created for former soldiers and orphaned boys and later united with the Gaud School and became what is still a prominent school of the area, Porter-Gaud School.

A massive 125 mile-per-hour hurricane leveled the city and 90 percent of its homes.

The Great Earthquake at an estimated 7.5 magnitude, damaged 2000 buildings and could be felt from Bermuda to Boston.

The William Enston Home was constructed for Charleston’s elderly and disabled.

The United States Post Office and Courthouse opened its doors signifying a new beginning for the rebounding city.

20th Century Charleston History

The beginning of organized historic preservation took hold and is now known as the Preservation Society of Charleston.

Porgy was written by Dubose Heyward , a novel in Cabbage Row, aka Catfish Row.

A dance called "The Charleston" becomes a craze.

A private-owned Charleston Airport was commissioned that officially opened in 1929.

The Grace Memorial Bridge was built to connect Charleston to Mt. Pleasant. It was the largest continuous-truss type bridge in the world.

George Gershwin wrote America’s first opera, "Porgy and Bess."

Rivers High was the first high school in South Carolina to become integrated.

The Silas N. Pearman Bridge was built connecting Charleston to Mt. Pleasant due to the increased transportation demand between these two land masses. The Grace Memorial Bridge remained open.

Spoleto Festival USA took place for the first time and announced Charleston as its permanent American home.

Hurricane Hugo, a category 4 storm devastates Charleston.

Wreck of CSS H.L. Hunley submarine discovered under 3 feet of silt off Sullivan's Island by Clive Cussler's team of divers.

Wreck of CSS H.L. Hunley recovered from Sullivan's Island and transported to a laboratory in North Charleston.

Modern Day Charleston History

Charleston is a Lowcountry city also known as the Holy City or Chucktown to some locals. It is a tourist haven of the South, educating and thrilling its visitors with historical pride and great architectural presence.

Attractions and tours are abundant and often showcase the lifestyles and times of old Charleston for the preservation of Charleston history. Luxury hotels, great dining, shopping and art also play an important role in today’s city.

Charleston is still a working port and is considered the second largest container port in the US.

Major National and International events that call Charleston ‘home’ are:
Spoleto Festival USA
Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
Family Circle Tennis Cup
Cooper River Bridge Run

Professional sports teams housed in Charleston are:
Charleston Battery - Soccer
Charleston RiverDogs - Baseball
South Carolina Stingrays - Ice Hockey

SPAWAR took over as the largest employer in the greater Charleston area in 2004. The institution formerly holding that position was MUSC. However, the city is growing fast in information technology jobs and corporations with companies such as Blackbaud, Modulant, CSS and Benefitfocus.

July 16, 2005 the new Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge opened, connecting Charleston to Mt. Pleasant and replacing the two older bridges which were demolished. It is the largest cable-stayed bridge in the North America.

Accolades and Awards

Charleston has been hailed as the “best-mannered” city by top American etiquette expert, Marjabelle Young Stewart since 1995.

The city has been chosen for sixteen straight years as a Top 10 US Travel Destinations by Conde Nast Traveler.

Charleston is listed as the number 4 Top Destination by Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2009.

Southern Living Magazines 2009 Readers Choice Awards has chosen Charleston as their Favorite Southern City.

Thank you for visiting Charleston History: A Historical Time-Line. For more, in-depth information on Charleston history, visit our Charleston Museums page.

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