Sullivan's Island is an American town and island in Charleston County, South Carolina, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor, with a population was 1,911 at the 2000 United States Census. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the town has a total area of , of which is land and (27.11%) is water. The Ben Sawyer Bridge connects Sullivan's Island to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. A bridge spanning Breach Inlet connects it to Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
Sullivan's Island was the point of entry for approximately 40 percent of the 400,000 enslaved Africans brought to British North America; it has been likened to a harsh Ellis Island, the 19th-century reception point for immigrants in New York City, New York. During the American Revolution, the island was the site of a major battle at Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776, since renamed Fort Moultrie in honor of the rebel commander at the battle.
On September 23, 1989, Hurricane Hugo came ashore near Sullivan's Island; few people were prepared for the destruction that followed in its wake. The eye of the hurricane passed directly over Sullivan's Island. The Ben Sawyer Bridge was a casualty, breaking free of its locks. Before the storm was over, one end of the bridge was in the water and the other was pointing skyward. Sullivan's Island police chief, Jack Lilien, was the last person to leave the island before the bridge gave way.
The island was known as O'Sullivan's Island, named for Captain Florence O'Sullivan, who was stationed here as a lighthouse keeper in the late 17th century. O'Sullivan was captain of one of the ships in the first fleet to establish English and Irish settlement at Charleston. In 1671, he became surveyor general. He appears in the earliest record of Irish immigration to the Carolinas, mentioned as being taken on "at Kingsayle (Kinsale) in Ireland".
Sullivan's Island was the disembarkation port for over 40% of the estimated 400,000 slaves transported from Africa to the Britain's North American Colonies, making it the largest slave port in North America. It is estimated that nearly half of all African Americans have ancestors who passed through Sullivan's Island.
"There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby," writer Toni Morrison said in 1989. "There's no 300-foot tower, there's no small bench by the road."On July 26, 2008, the Toni Morrison Society dedicated a small bench on Sullivan's Island to the memory of the slave trade; the memorial was privately funded.
Albert Wheeler Todd, an architect from Charleston, designed a town hall for the island.
The Atlanticville Historic District, Battery Gadsden, Battery Thomson, Fort Moultrie Quartermaster and Support Facilities Historic District, Moultrieville Historic District, Dr. John B. Patrick House, Sullivan's Island Historic District, and U.S. Coast Guard Historic District are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On June 28, 1776, an incomplete fort was held by colonial forces under Colonel William Moultrie against an onslaught by the British under General Sir Henry Clinton's army sailing with Commodore Sir Peter Parker's men-of-war. The British cannon had no effect on the sand-filled palmetto log walls of the fort; only the shots that came over the walls took any lives.
During this battle, a flag designed by Moultrie flew over the fortress; it was dark blue with a crescent moon on it bearing the word "liberty". When this flag was shot down, Sergeant William Jasper reportedly picked it up and held it aloft, rallying the troops until a new standard could be provided. Because of the importance of this pivotal battle that flag became symbolic of liberty in South Carolina, the South, and the nation as a whole.
The Battle of Sullivan's Island was commemorated by the addition of a white palmetto tree to the flag used to rally that day, the Moultrie Flag; this became the basis of the Flag of South Carolina. The victory is celebrated and June 28 is known as Carolina Day.
The history of the island has been dominated by Fort Moultrie, which, until its closure in the late 1940s, served as the base of command for the defense of the City of Charleston. After World War II, the Department of Defense concluded that such coastal defense installations were no longer needed given current technology and style of war.