Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the southeastern State of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, and the principal city in the Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area. The city lies just south of the geographical midpoint of South Carolina's coastline and is located on Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers.
Founded in 1670 as Charles Towne in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its present name in 1783. It moved to its present location on Oyster Point in 1680 from a location on the west bank of the Ashley River known as Albemarle Point. By 1690, Charles Towne was the fifth largest city in North America, and it remained among the ten largest cities in the United States through the 1840 census. With a 2010 census population of 120,080 (and a 2012 estimate of 125,583), current trends put Charleston as the fastest-growing municipality in South Carolina. The Charleston Metropolitan area, comprising Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester counties, population was counted by the 2012 estimate at 697,439 – the second largest in the state – and the 78th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States.
Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people, Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including "America's Most Friendly [City]" by [[Wikipedia:Travel + Leisure|Travel + Leisure]] in 2011 and in 2013 by Condé Nast Traveler, and also "the most polite and hospitable city in America" by Southern Living magazine.
Colonial era (1670–1786)
After Charles II of England (1630–1685) was restored to the English throne following Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, he granted the chartered Province of Carolina to eight of his loyal friends, known as the Lords Proprietors, on March 24, 1663. It took seven years before the group arranged for settlement expeditions. The first of these founded Charles Towne, in 1670. The community was established by several shiploads of settlers from Bermuda (which lies due East of South Carolina, although at 1,030 kilometres (640 mi) it is closest to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina), under the leadership of governor William Sayle, on the west bank of the Ashley River, a few miles northwest of the present day city center. It was soon predicted by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, one of the Lords Proprietors, to become a "great port towne," a destiny the city quickly fulfilled. In 1680 the settlement was moved east of the Ashley River to the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Not only was this location more defensible, but it offered access to a fine natural harbor. As the capital of the Carolina colony, Charles Towne was a center for inland expansion, but remained the southernmost point of English settlement on the American mainland until the Georgia colony was established in 1732.
By the mid-18th century Charles Towne had become a bustling trade center, the hub of the Atlantic trade for the southern colonies. Charles Towne was also the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. By 1770, it was the fourth largest port in the colonies, after Boston, New York, and Philadelphia; with a population of 11,000—slightly more than half of them slaves.
Colonial lowcountry landowners experimented with cash crops ranging from tea to silk. African slaves brought knowledge of rice cultivation, which plantation owners made into a successful business by 1700. With the help of African slaves from the Caribbean, Eliza Lucas, daughter of plantation owner George Lucas, learned how to raise and use indigo in the Lowcountry in 1747. Supported with subsidies from Britain, indigo was a leading export by 1750. Those and naval stores were exported in an extremely profitable shipping industry.
As Charles Towne grew, so did the community's cultural and social opportunities, especially for the elite merchants and planters. The first theater building in America was built in 1736 on the site of today's Dock Street Theatre. Benevolent societies were formed by different ethnic groups, from French Huguenots to free people of color to Germans to Jews. The Charles Towne Library Society was established in 1748 by well-born young white men who wanted to keep up with the scientific and philosophical issues of the day. This group also helped establish the College of Charles Towne in 1770, the oldest college in South Carolina and, until its transition to state ownership in 1970, the oldest municipally supported college in the United States.
American Revolution (1776–1785)
As the relationship between the colonists and Britain deteriorated, Charles Towne became a focal point in the ensuing American Revolution. It was twice the target of British attacks. At every stage the British strategy assumed the existence of a large base of Loyalist supporters who would rally to the king's forces given some military support.
In late March 1776, South Carolina President and Commander in Chief, John Rutledge, learned that a large British naval force was moving toward Charles Town. To defend the city, he ordered the construction of Fort Sullivan (now Ft. Moultrie), on Sullivan's Island overlooking the main shipping channel into Charleston Harrbor. He placed Col. William Moultrie in charge of the construction and subsequently made him the fort's commanding officer.
On June 28, 1776 General Sir Henry Clinton along with 2,000 men and a naval squadron tried to seize Charles Towne, hoping for a simultaneous Loyalist uprising in South Carolina. When the fleet fired cannonballs, the explosives failed to penetrate Fort Sullivan's unfinished, yet thick, palmetto log walls. Additionally, no local Loyalists attacked the town from behind, as the British had hoped. Col. Moultries' men were able to return fire and inflicted heavy damage on several of the British ships. The British were forced to withdraw their forces, and the fort was renamed Fort Moultrie in honor of its commander.
Clinton returned in 1780 with 14,000 soldiers. American General Benjamin Lincoln was trapped and surrendered his entire 5,400 men force after a long fight, and the Siege of Charles Towne was the greatest American defeat of the war. Several Americans who escaped the carnage joined up with other militias, including those of Francis Marion, the 'Swampfox', and Andrew Pickens. The British retained control of the city until December 1782. After the British left, the city's name was officially changed to Charleston in 1783.
When the city was freed from the British, General Nathanael Greene presented its leaders with the Moultrie Flag, describing it as the first "American" flag flown in the South.
Antebellum era (1785–1861)
Although the city lost the status of state capital to Columbia, Charleston became even more prosperous in the plantation-dominated economy of the post-Revolutionary years. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized the production of this crop, and it quickly became South Carolina's major export commodity. Cotton plantations relied heavily on slave labor, and slaves were also the primary labor force within the city, working as domestics, artisans, market workers and laborers. By 1820 Charleston's population had grown to 23,000, with a black majority. When a massive slave revolt planned by Denmark Vesey, a free black, erupted in 1822, hysteria ensued amidst white Charlestonians and Carolinians who feared that the activities of slaves in the Haitian Revolution might be copied. Soon after, Vesey was hanged along with 34 other slaves. Later, the activities of free blacks and slaves were severely restricted.
As Charleston's government, society, and industry grew, commercial institutions were established to support the community's aspirations. The Bank of South Carolina, the second oldest building constructed as a bank in the nation, was established in 1798. Branches of the First and Second Bank of the United States were also located in Charleston in 1800 and 1817. By 1840, the Market Hall and Sheds, where fresh meat and produce were brought daily, became the commercial hub of the city. The slave trade also depended on the port of Charleston, where ships could be unloaded and the slaves sold at markets.
In the first half of the 19th century, South Carolinians became devoted to the idea that state's rights were superior to the Federal government's authority. In 1832 South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure in which a state could in effect repeal a Federal law, directed against the most recent tariff acts. Soon Federal soldiers were dispensed to Charleston's forts and began to collect tariffs by force. A compromise was reached that would gradually reduce the tariffs, but the underlying argument over state's rights escalated in the coming decades.
Civil War (1861–1865)
On December 20, 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, the South Carolina General Assembly voted to secede from the Union. On January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets opened fire on the Union ship Star of the West entering Charleston's harbor. On April 12, 1861, shore batteries under the command of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in the harbor. After a 34-hour bombardment, Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort, thus starting the war.
Union forces repeatedly bombarded the city, causing vast damage, and kept up a blockade that shut down most commercial traffic, although some blockade runners got through. In a failed effort to break the blockade on February 17, 1864, an early submarine, the H.L. Hunley made a night attack on the .
In 1865, Union troops moved into the city and took control of many sites, including the United States Arsenal, which the Confederate Army had seized at the outbreak of the war. The War Department also confiscated the grounds and buildings of the Citadel Military Academy, and used them as a federal garrison for over seventeen years. The facilities were finally returned to the state and reopened as a military college in 1882 under the direction of Lawrence E. Marichak.
Postbellum era (1865–1945)
After the defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city's reconstruction. The war had shattered the prosperity of the antebellum city. Freed slaves were faced with poverty and discrimination. Industries slowly brought the city and its inhabitants back to a renewed vitality and growth in population. As the city's commerce improved, Charlestonians also worked to restore their community institutions. In 1865 The Avery Normal Institute was established by the American Missionary Association as a private school for Charleston's African American population. General William T. Sherman lent his support to the conversion of the United States Arsenal into the Porter Military Academy, an educational facility for former soldiers and boys left orphaned or destitute by the war. Porter Military Academy later joined with Gaud School and is now a prep school, Porter-Gaud School. The William Enston Home, a planned community for the city's aged and infirm, was built in 1889. An elaborate public building, the United States Post Office and Courthouse, was completed in 1896 and signaled renewed life in the heart of the city.
On August 31, 1886, Charleston was nearly destroyed by an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale. It was felt as far away as Boston, Massachusetts to the north, Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the northwest, as far west as New Orleans, Louisiana, as far south as Cuba, and as far east as Bermuda. It damaged 2,000 buildings in Charleston and caused $6 million worth of damage ($133 million in 2006 US$), at a time when all the city's buildings were valued at approximately $24 million ($531 million in 2006 US$).
Contemporary era (1944–present)
Charleston languished economically for several decades in the 20th century, though the large military presence in the region helped to shore up the city's economy. The Charleston Hospital Strike of 1969 was one of the last major events of the civil rights movement and brought Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and other prominent figures to march with the local leader, Mary Moultrie. Its story is told in Tom Dent's book "Southern Journey." Joseph P. Riley, Jr. was elected mayor in the 1970s, and helped advance several cultural aspects of the city. Riley has been the major proponent of reviving Charleston's economic and cultural heritage. The last thirty years of the 20th century saw major new reinvestment in the city, with a number of municipal improvements and a commitment to historic preservation. These commitments were not slowed down by Hurricane Hugo and continue to this day. The eye of Hurricane Hugo came ashore at Charleston Harbor in 1989, and though the worst damage was in nearby McClellanville, three-quarters of the homes in Charleston's historic district sustained damage of varying degree. The hurricane caused over $2.8 billion in damage. The city was able to rebound fairly quickly after the hurricane and has grown in population, reaching an estimated 124,593 residents in 2009.