Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the southeastern American state of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County, and principal city in the Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area (as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and used by the U.S. Census Bureau for statistical purposes only). The city lies just south of the geographical midpoint of the South Carolina Atlantic Ocean coastline and is located on Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic 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 124,632), current trends put Charleston as the fastest-growing municipality in South Carolina. The city's metropolitan area population was counted by the 2010 census at 664,607 – the second largest in the state – and the 75th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States.
Known for rich history, well-preserved architecture, a celebrated restaurant community and mannerly people, in October 2012 the Charleston area was named both "Top U.S. City" and "Top Destination in the World" by Condé Nast Travelers "2012 Readers' Choice Awards," the second consecutive year the historic coastal destination has received the No. 1 U.S. City ranking. In 2011, Charleston was named "#1 U.S. City" by Conde Nast Traveler's "Readers' Choice Awards" and "#2 Best City in the U.S. and Canada" by Travel + Leisure's "World's Best Awards". Also in 2011, Bon Appetit magazine named Husk, located on Queen Street in Charleston, "Best New Restaurant in America." America's most-published etiquette expert, Marjabelle Young Stewart, recognized Charleston in 1995 as the "best-mannered" city in the U.S, a claim lent credibility to by the fact that the city has the first established Livability Court in the country. In 2011, Travel and Leisure named Charleston "America's Sexiest City" as well as "America's Most Friendly." Subsequently, Southern Living magazine named Charleston "the most polite and hospitable city in America." In 2012, Travel and Leisure voted Charleston as the second best-dressed city in America, only behind New York City.
Colonial era (1670–1776)
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 could arrange for settlement expeditions. The first of these founded Charles Towne, in 1670. The community was established under the leadership of William Sayle on the west bank of the Ashley River, a few miles northwest of the present day city center. It was soon designated by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, one of the Lords Proprietors, to become a "great port towne," a destiny the city came quickly to fulfill. By 1680, the settlement had grown, having been enlarged by additional immigrants from England, Barbados, and the Province of Virginia. It was at this time that the town center was relocated to its current peninsular location. As the capital of the Carolina colony, Charles Towne was a center for further expansion, but remained the southernmost point of English settlement on the American mainland during the late 17th century.
While the earliest settlers primarily came from England, colonial Charles Towne was also home to a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. French, Scottish, Irish, and Germans migrated to the developing seacoast town, representing numerous Protestant denominations, as well as Roman Catholicism and Judaism. Sephardic Jews migrated to the city in such numbers that by the beginning of the 19th century, the city was home to the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in North America—a status it would hold until about 1830. Africans were brought to Charles Towne on the Middle Passage, first as servants, then as slaves, especially Wolof, Yoruba, Fulani, Igbo, Malinke, and other peoples of the Windward Coast. The port of Charles Towne was the main dropping-off point for Africans captured and transported to the American English colonies for sale as slaves.
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—with slightly more than half of that slaves.
Colonial low-country 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 low-country 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 there in 1736. Benevolent societies were formed by several different ethnic groups. The Charles Towne Library Society was established in 1748 by some wealthy residents who wished 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 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 Charleston. To help defend the city, he ordered the construction of Fort Sullivan (now Ft. Moultrie), on Sullivan's Island in the harbor. He placed Col. William Moultrie in charge of the construction and subsequently made him the fort's commanding officer.
On June 28, 1776 General 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 5400 men force after a long fight, and the Siege of Charles Towne was the greatest American defeat of the war. Several Americans escaped the carnage, and 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 Nathaniel Green 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 would lose 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 this crop's production, and it quickly became South Carolina's major export. Cotton plantations relied heavily on slave labor. Slaves were also the primary labor force within the city, working as domestics, artisans, market workers or 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, was discovered in 1822, such hysteria ensued amidst white Charlestonians and Carolinians that 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 here 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 more 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 the 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 this as a federal garrison for over seventeen years. It was 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 Homes, a planned community for the city's aged and infirm, was built in 1889. J. Taylor Pearson, a freed slave, designed the Homes, and passed peacefully in them after years as the maintenance manager post-reconstruction. 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 (2006 USD)), while in the whole city the buildings were only valued at approximately $24 million($531 million(2006 USD).
Contemporary era (1945–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 as 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.