Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the 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, or, as is locally expressed, "where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean".
Founded in 1670 as Charles Town, no "e" on the end 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 Town 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 120,083 (and a 2013 estimate of 127,999), current trends put Charleston as the fastest-growing municipality in South Carolina. The population of the Charleston Metropolitan area, comprising Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, was counted by the 2013 estimate at 712,220 – the third largest in the state – and the 76th-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 and 2014 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 in 1660 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 Town, 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. In the year 1718, Charleston was besieged by the pirate Edward Teach, commonly known as Blackbeard. This disrupted trade in Charleston do a time until Blackbeard and his allies abandoned the siege. As the capital of the Carolina colony, Charles Town 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.
Africans were brought to Charles Town on the Middle Passage, first as servants, then as slaves. Ethnic groups transported here included especially Wolof, Yoruba, Fulani, Igbo, Malinke, and other peoples of the Windward Coast. An estimated 40 percent of the total 400,000 Africans transported and sold as slaves into North America are estimated to have landed at Sullivan's Island, just off the port of Charles Town; it is described as a "hellish Ellis Island of sorts .... Today nothing commemorates that ugly fact but a simple bench, established by the author Toni Morrison using private funds."
By the mid-18th century Charles Town 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, in part because of the lucrative slave trade. 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. By 1708 the majority of the colony's population were slaves, and the future state would continue to be a majority of African descent until after the Great Migration of the early 20th century.
Colonial Lowcountry landowners experimented with cash crops ranging from tea to silkworms. African slaves brought knowledge of rice cultivation, which plantation owners cultivated and developed as a successful commodity crop 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 Town grew, so did the community's cultural and social opportunities, especially for the elite merchants and planters. The first theatre 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 men who wanted to share the financial cost 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. Until its transition to state ownership in 1970, this was the oldest municipally supported college in the United States.
American Revolution (1776–1783)
As the relationship between the colonists and Britain deteriorated, Charles Town 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 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 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, they failed to penetrate Fort Sullivan's unfinished, yet thick, palmetto-log walls. No local Loyalists attacked the town from the mainland side, as the British had hoped they would do. Col. Moultrie's men returned fire and inflicted heavy damage on several of the British ships. The British were forced to withdraw their forces, and the Americans renamed the defensive installation as 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-man 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 processing of this crop, making short-staple cotton profitable. It was more easily grown in the upland areas, and cotton quickly became South Carolina's major export commodity. The Piedmont was developed into cotton plantations, to which the sea islands and Lowcountry were already devoted. Slaves were also the primary labor force within the city, working as domestics, artisans, market workers and laborers.
The city also had a large class of free people of color. By 1860, there were 3,785 free people of color in Charleston, nearly 18% of the city's black population, and 8% of the total population. Free people of color were far more likely to be of mixed racial background than were slaves. Many were educated, practiced skilled crafts, and some even owned substantial property, including slaves. In 1790 they established the Brown Fellowship Society for mutual aid, initially as a burial society. It continued until 1945.
By 1820 Charleston's population had grown to 23,000, maintaining its black (and mostly slave) majority. When a massive slave revolt planned by Denmark Vesey, a free black, was revealed in May 1822, whites reacted with intense fear, as they were well aware of the violent retribution of slaves against whites during the Haitian Revolution and its many deaths. Soon after, Vesey was tried and executed, hanged in early July with five slaves. Another 28 slaves were later hanged. Later, the state legislature passed laws requiring individual legislative approval for manumission (the freeing of slaves) and regulating activities of free blacks and slaves.
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 in the nation to be constructed as a bank, was established in 1798. Branches of the First and Second Bank of the United States were also located in Charleston in 1800 and 1817.
In 1832 South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure by which a state could in effect repeal a Federal law; it was directed against the most recent tariff acts. Soon Federal soldiers were dispensed to Charleston's forts; and five United States Coast Guard Cutters were detached to Charleston Harbor "to take possession of any vessel arriving from a foreign port, and defend her against any attempt to dispossess the Customs Officers of her custody until all the requirements of law have been complied with." This federal action became known as the Charleston incident. The state's politicians worked on a compromise law in Washington, DC to gradually reduce the tariffs.
By 1840, the Market Hall and Sheds, where fresh meat and produce were brought daily, became a hub of commercial activity. The slave trade also depended on the port of Charleston, where ships could be unloaded and the slaves bought and sold. Although the international African slave trade had ended in 1808, the domestic trade was booming. More than one million slaves were transported from the Upper South to the Deep South in the antebellum years as cotton plantations were widely developed through what became known as the Black Belt. Many slaves were transported in the coastwise slave trade, with slave ships stopping at ports such as Charleston.
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.
On December 11 of 1861, an enormous fire burned over 500 acres of the city. 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, but a large community of free people of color had been well-established in the city before the war and became the leaders of the postwar Republican Party and its legislators. Men who had been free people of color before the war comprised 26% of those elected to state and federal office in South Carolina from 1868 to 1876.
In Charleston, the African-American population increased as freedmen moved from rural areas to the major city: from 17,000 in 1860 to over 27,000 in 1880. Historian Eric Foner noted that blacks were glad to be relieved of the many regulations of slavery and to operate outside of white surveillance. Among other changes, most blacks quickly left the Southern Baptist Church, setting up their own black Baptist congregations or joining new AME and AME Zion churches, both independent black denominations first established in the North. Freedmen "acquired dogs, guns, and liquor (all barred to them under slavery), and refused to yield the sidewalks to whites."
Industries slowly brought the city and its inhabitants back to a renewed vitality and jobs attracted new residents. As the city's commerce improved, residents worked to restore or create community institutions. In 1865 the Avery Normal Institute was established by the American Missionary Association as the first free secondary 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.
In 1875 blacks made up 57% of the city's population, and 73% of Charleston County. With leadership by leaders from the antebellum free black community, historian Melinda Meeks Hennessy described the community as "unique" in being able to defend themselves without provoking "massive white retaliation," as occurred in numerous other areas during Reconstruction. In the 1876 election cycle, two major riots between black Republicans and white Democrats occurred in the city, in September and the day after the election in November, as well as a violent incident in Cainhoy at an October joint discussion meeting.
There were violent incidents throughout the Piedmont of the state as white insurgents struggled to maintain white supremacy in the face of social changes after the war and granting of citizenship to freedmen by federal constitutional amendments. After former Confederates were allowed to vote again, election campaigns from 1872 on were marked by violent intimidation of blacks and Republicans by white Democratic paramilitary groups, known as the Red Shirts. Violent incidents took place in Charleston on King Street in September 6 and in nearby Cainhoy on October 15, both in association with political meetings before the 1876 election. The Cainhoy incident was the only one statewide in which more whites were killed than blacks. The Red Shirts were instrumental in suppressing the black Republican vote in some areas in 1876 and narrowly electing Wade Hampton as governor, and taking back control of the state legislature. Another riot occurred in Charleston the day after the election, when a prominent Republican leader was mistakenly reported killed.
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 ($531 million in 2006 US$).
Investment in the city continued. 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 by the federal government in 1896 in the heart of the city. But the Democrat-dominated state legislature passed a new constitution in 1895 that disfranchised blacks, effectively excluding them entirely from the political process, a second-class status that was maintained for more than six decades in a state that was majority black until about 1930.
Contemporary era (1944–present)
Charleston languished economically for several decades in the 20th century, though the large federal military presence in the region helped to shore up the city's economy.
The Charleston Hospital Strike of 1969, in which mostly black workers protested discrimination and low wages, was one of the last major events of the civil rights movement. It attracted Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young and other prominent figures to march with the local leader, Mary Moultrie. Its story is recounted in Tom Dent's book Southern Journey (1996).
Joseph P. Riley, Jr. was elected mayor in the 1970s, and helped advance several cultural aspects of the city. Riley worked to revive 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 to restore the unique fabric of the city.
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.