Charleston History

Charleston History
Fascinating stories of our nation's past were born from the actions that occurred on these grounds throughout Charleston.  These pivotal moments in history retold through movies and books about explorers, pirates, kings, slaves, soldiers and even ghosts can be found in the history of Charleston.  Read historic highlights based on research from the Charleston County Public Library below.

1521 to 1669: The Early Days

1521 > (June 24) The first documented Spanish expedition lands on the Carolina coast, most likely near Winyah Bay.

1524 > Carolina coast receives its first French ship.

1526 > (August) The first Spanish settlement is attempted, probably at Winyah Bay. The settlement—named San Miguel de Gualdape—fails, leaving only 150 of 500 settlers able to return home.

1540 > Hernando DeSoto reportedly landed in Carolina Lowcountry, while traveling north from Florida.

1562 > Jean Ribaut makes the first French attempt at a settlement on Parris Island—which results in failure. Subsequent attempts by the French to settle in Florida end in bloodshed.

1585 > Sir Walter Raleigh heads the first British attempt at a settlement on Roanoke Island. The settlers are later rescued by Sir Francis Drake after the colony is destroyed by Native Americans.

1587 > The British build another settlement on Roanoke Island with funding by Sir Walter Raleigh. The settlement becomes known as "The Lost Colony" after all the settlers disappear over a span of three years.

1623 > Sir Robert Heath receives the first charter for Carolina Colony by King Charles I. The charter was never used.

1649 > Oliver Cromwell assumes power after King Charles I is found guilty of treason by a court of Puritans and beheaded.

1660 > Cromwell dies and the Prince of Wales, Charles II, assumes the throne. Several years later, he grants eight ex-generals—the Lords Proprietors—title to Carolina to reward them for their political support against the forces of Cromwell.

1666 > Ashley River is explored and named by Capt. Robert Sanford, who, on June 23, takes formal possession of Carolina for England and the Proprietors.

1669 > (July 21) The Lords Proprietors adopts the Fundamental Constitution of Carolina, written by John Locke, a philosopher serving as secretary to Ashley-Cooper. The document guarantees religious freedom, leading to the influx of French Huguenots, Sephardic Jews and other diverse groups.

1669 > Carolina colonists under the command of Joseph West, sail from London on three ships: the Albemarle, the Port Royal, and the Carolina. They successfully reach Barbados, but encounter a hurricane that annihilates the Albemarle and damages the Port Royal and Carolina.

1670 to 1718: Expansion

1670 > (March 15) A beleaguered Carolina reaches Seewee Bay; the ship anchors at Bull's Island.

1670 > (April) The capital city of Carolina, Charles Town, is founded across the Ashley River. In several years, it is home to a couple hundred settlers and several dozen houses.

1680-1685 > French Protestants known as French Huguenots arrive in Charleston on the Richmond. In 1685, more Huguenots follow after Louis XIV rescinds the Edict of Nantes, which had protected the rights of Huguenots in France.

1690 > With 1,200 residents, Charles Town officially moves to its current site on the peninsula. It is the fifth-largest city in North America.

1693 > "Liberty of Conscience" substantiated, reaffirming the right of locals to worship as they please.

1695 >  City walls and six bastions are believed to have been constructed, as well as the city’s oldest surviving frame building, the John Lining House.

1698 > (Oct. 8) A new law provides a cash incentive for bringing white servants into Carolina in response to the increasing importation of African slaves.

1700 >  Charles Town develops into a prosperous trade center, with plantations cropping up inland along the rivers.

1700 > (Nov. 16) Charleston creates one of the first public libraries, which remains in existence for 14 years.

1704 >  First known map of the Walled City is drawn and is known as the Crisp Map of 1704.

1706 > (Sept. 2) A joint French and Spanish attack upon Charles Town during the Queen Anne's War is repulsed when Colonial forces capture French vessel and crew.

1710 > The colony is divided into North/South Carolina.

1710 > Powder Magazine at 79 Cumberland St. and Pink House Tavern at 17 Chalmers St. built.

1712 > Rhett Mansion was built at 54 Hasell St.

1713 > (Sept. 5) Hurricane of 1713 strikes the city, causing significant damage.

1717 > Charles Town continues to expand, removing walls and other fortifications to allow for more space.

1718 > Blackbeard the Pirate arrives in Charles Town with four ships and holds a number of citizens for ransom.

1721 to 1773: Crown Colony

1721 > South Carolina becomes a royal colony, and General Sir Francis Nicholson made Governor.

1728 > Regular passenger and shipping service becomes available between Charles Town and New York.

1728 > The Hurricane of 1728 struck Charles Town, becoming the fourth such storm to occur in the city.

1729 > (July 25) South Carolina becomes a Royal Colony after King George buys out the Lords Proprietors.

1732 > (Jan. 8) The South Carolina Gazette publishes its first edition under J. Whitemarsh, becoming the state’s first successful newspaper.

1734 > (Feb. 2) The South Carolina Gazette temporarily halts publication after its first editor dies. Publishing recommences under Lewis Timothy with the support of Ben Franklin.

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

1736 > (Feb. 3) America's first fire insurance company is organized—the Friendly Society of Charleston.

1736 >  One of the first theatres in the country, The Dock Street, opens with The “Recruiting Officer”. Although it started out as being "little more than a barn," the Dock Street maintained a serious appreciate for the arts and advertised regular performances throughout the next year.

1739 > (Sept 9), About 40 blacks and 21 whites are killed during a slave revolt along the Stono River, located about 20 miles south of Charleston. At Stono's bridge, they took guns and powder from Hutcheson's store and killed the two storekeepers they found there.

1740 > Fire strikes the waterfront district, wreaking havoc on a large part of the trading area.

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

1740 > Construction begins on the East Bay warehouse district, today known as Rainbow Row. Rainbow Row is located north of Tradd St. and south of Elliot St. on East Bay Street and is referred to as such because of the pastel colors used to paint all of the houses there.

1742 > The population of Charles Town reaches about 7,000.

1745 > Planning is made for the Ansonborough neighborhood, which became the first suburb of the original walled city.

1748 > (Dec. 28) The Charles Town Library Society is established by seventeen young gentlemen of various trades and professions who wanted to avail themselves of the latest publications from Great Britain. It is the South's oldest cultural institution and the third oldest library in the United States.

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

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

1767 > Construction is completed on the Old Exchange Building, which rested on the ruins of Half-Moon Battery.

1770 > (July 5) William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, is honored with a statue—becoming one of the first public figures in the country to receive such commemoration.

1770 > Development gets underway for Harleston Village neighborhood.

1773 > (Jan. 12) A committee of The Library Society establishes the Charleston Museum, which is the oldest in the country. The Charleston Museum, which is located in the Downtown Historic District, was the first museum ever built in the western hemisphere.

1774-1782: Revolution and Siege

1774 >  Charlestonians Henry Middleton, John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Lynch, and Christopher Gadsden are named delegates to the First Continental Congress. Henry Middleton is later selected as president of the Continental Congress.

1775 >  (Jan. 11) Carolina's First Provincial Congress gathers at the Old Exchange.

1775 > (June 18) Charles Town sees the arrival of the last Royal Governor, Lord William Campbell.

1775 > (Dec. 9) The first Chamber of Commerce in America is formed during a meeting at Mrs. Swallow's Tavern, which was also known as Shepherd's Tavern, the City Tavern and the Corner Tavern.

1775 > Charles Town's population is an estimated 12,000.

1776 > A campaign to use Sullivan's Island as the southern base of British operations is crafted by Admiral Sir Peter Parker and General Sir Henry Clinton. Consequently, Major General Charles Lee, the American commander of the Southern Department, arrives in Charles Town to manage the city’s defense.

1776 > A British armada with more than 3,000 British regulars arrive offshore, creating panic among Charlestonians.

1776 > (June 28) The first major naval battle of the American Revolution unfolds when 11 British warships and 1,500 troops attack Ft. Moultrie.

1776 > (Aug. 5) A Declaration of Independence is read by Maj. Barnard Elliot beneath the Liberty Tree near what is now 80 Alexander St.

1776 > William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton design the Great Seal of South Carolina, which would ultimately be used to seal the Ordinance of Secession in 1860.

1777 > (Feb. 13) The newly-created state government requires all male citizens to denounce the King and pledge their loyalty to the state.

1779 > (Nov.-Dec.) Commanded by Vice Admiral Arbuthnot, General Sir Henry Clinton, and Lord Cornwallis, the British launch an attack against Charles Town. General Washington sends more than 1,000 Continentals to help defend the city.

1780 > (March) British warships penetrate the forts guarding the harbor entrance and the British Army initiates a 40-day siege to the city.
1780 > (May 12) Ultimately, General Benjamin Lincoln surrenders Charles Town to the British who occupy the city for more than two years.

1780 > (Aug. 27) Persecution by the British intensifies, as prominent citizens are targeted and arrested for promoting resistance. To gain their release, they must agree to sign an Oath of Loyalty to the Crown.

1780 > (Sept 3) Henry Laurens is captured by the British on his way to the Netherlands and is imprisoned in the Tower of London. Laurens was a merchant and rice planter, who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, the third President of the Second Continental Congress, the Vice-President of South Carolina, and a diplomat.

1781 > (Aug. 4) Revolutionary leader Col. Isaac Hayne is hanged by the British just outside Charles Town.

1781 > (Nov.-Dec.) American forces retake most of South Carolina, pushing within 15 miles of Charles Town. When the victory reaches London, Britain resolves to end the war.

1781 > (Dec. 31) The Americans release Cornwallis in a prisoner exchange for statesman Henry Laurens.

1782 > (Dec. 14) The defeated British Army leaves Charles Town, bringing the occupation to a close.

1783-1843: Transition to “Charleston”

1783 > (Aug. 13) The city incorporates and officially adopts the name “Charleston.”

1785 > (March 19) The Charleston Assembly charters the College of Charleston, making it the oldest college or university in South Carolina, the 13th oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, and the oldest municipal college in the country..

1786 > Columbia becomes the capital of South Carolina, in place of Charleston.

1786 > The city develops Radcliffeborough neighborhood.

1787 > (May) Charles Pinckney who was well known for his beliefs about the rights of man, prepares a Constitutional Draft for the Convention in Philadelphia.

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

1791 > (May 2) Charleston hosts President George Washington for a weeklong visit.

1799 > (Dec. 21) The city creates its first public utility, the Charleston Water Works.

1804 > (Sept. 7) Hurricane of 1804 pounds Charleston.

1818 > Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, opens a printing business in Charleston.

1820 > Charleston's population exceeds 23,000.

1824 > Beth Elohim becomes the recognized birthplace of Reform Judaism in the United States when members of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim form the Reform Society of Israelites.

1824 > The South receives its first medical school, which was founded as the Medical College of South Carolina and is currently known as the Medical Univerity of S. C.

1828-29 > Edgar Allan Poe, while stationed in the Army at Ft. Moultrie, chooses Sullivan Island as the setting for his first published story, The Gold Bug.

1830 > (Dec. 25) The Best Friend begins running a route between Charleston and Hamburg SC., serving as America’s first steam locomotive to carry passengers in regular service.

1831 > (Oct. 16) John James Audubon, the country’s dominant wildlife artist, arrives in Charleston to work on his Birds of America. His Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size prints, set the standard for 20th and 21st century bird artists that would follow him.
1838 > (Jan. 30) Osceola, Chief of the Seminoles, dies while in prison at Ft. Moultrie.

1838 > The Ansonborough neighborhood is destroyed by a devastating fire.

1843 > (March 20) The Citadel Military College of South Carolina opens for its first class of cadets.

1860-1865: Fort Sumter Falls

1860—With an estimated 40,500 residents, the city of Charleston continues to enhance its presence in the South.

1860 > (Nov. 7) The election of Abraham Lincoln brings about the resignation of federal officials in Charleston.

1860 > (Dec. 20) Charleston passes the Ordinance of Secession in Institute Hall in Charleston, announcing South Carolina as “an independent commonwealth."

1861 > (April 12) Confederate troops fire on Fort. Sumter, marking the beginning of the Civil War.
1861 > (Dec. 19) Union forces sink the Stone Fleet, a group of warships laden with granite, in the harbor channel to initiate their blockade of Charleston.

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

1863 > (Jan. 31) The Confederate ironclads, known as Palmetto State and Chicora, attack the blockading Federal fleet.

1863 > (April 7) The Union sends a fleet of nine ironclad Monitor warships to attack Ft. Sumter, which repels the attack.

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

1863 > (Aug. 22) An exploding shell on Pinckney Street begins the 587-day Federal bombardment of downtown Charleston.

1864 > The Confederate submarine CSS H. L. Hunley smashes into the Housatonic, becoming the first submarine to sink a vessel in war.

1865 > (Feb. 23) Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's march through Middleton Place Plantation, leaving it in ruins and forcing the evacuation of Fort Sumter.

1886 to the Present: Modern Era

1886 > (Aug. 31) Major earthquake devastates the Lowcountry. The earthquake, which measures 7.5 on the Richter scale, causes more than 80 deaths and $6 million in damage.

1900 > The population of Charleston reaches 55,807.

1901 > The South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition draws more than half a million people from around the country to Hampton Park.

1920 > Susan Pringle Frost helps form the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings, marking the formal beginning of organized historic preservation.

1925 > Author Dubose Heyward pens the novel “Porgy”, which was set in Cabbage Row across from his house on Church Street (changed to Catfish Row in the book).

1925 > The Charleston dance craze hits Charleston and quickly spreads to the rest of the country. It is based on a West African rhythm was popularized in U.S. mainstream dance music by a 1923 tune called The Charleston, which was written by composer/pianist James P. Johnson.

1934 > Composer George Gershwin visits Charleston to research and write “Porgy and Bess”, the first American opera.

1935 > Charleston sees the creation of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra.

1947 > The Historic Charleston Foundation is established.

1951-1954 > In a historic moment, Charleston Judge J. Watis Waring dissents from a Federal District Court decision upholding the "separate but equal" doctrine in Briggs v. Elliott. Three years later, 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 arrives in the city and negotiates to make Charleston the American site of Menotti's Festival of Two Worlds, which was ultimately called the Spoleto Festival.

1963 > (Sept.) Rivers High School of Charleston becomes the first racially-integrated high school in the state of South Carolina.

1966 > The Historic District expands to include Ansonborough, Harleston Village, and other areas between Broad and Calhoun streets.

1972 > First Scottish Games Highland Gathering are held at Middleton Gardens.
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) A building and rehabilitation boom gets underway in the downtown business district with the construction of Charleston Place, a major hotel-shopping-convention center.

1989 > (Sept. 21) Hurricane Hugo pounds the Charleston area, damaging 80 percent of the on Sullivan's Island and Folly Island and many homes in the Historic District. The category-4 storm story caused nearly $2.8 billion worth of damage.

1991 > The Visitor's Reception and Transportation Center opens.

1995 > (May) Author Clive Cussler announces that his divers have located the wreck of the Confederate Submarine H. L. Hunley in the waters off Sullivan's Island.