Sullivan's Island is a town in Charleston County, South Carolina, United States, at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. The population was 1,911 at the 2000 census. It is the site of a major battle of the American Revolution at Fort Sullivan (Now Fort Moultrie) on June 28, 1776. Sullivan's Island was the point of entry for approximately 40 percent of the enslaved Africans brought to British North America, and has been likened to Ellis Island. As defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, and used by the U.S. Census Bureau for statistical purposes only, Sullivans Island is included within the Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville metropolitan area and the Charleston-North Charleston Urbanized Area.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of , of which, of it is land and of it (27.11%) is water.
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 of the hurricane. The swing bridge broke free of its locks, and 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 because of Captain Florence O'Sullivan, who was stationed here as a lighthouse keeper in the late seventeenth 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% (ca. 200,000) of the slaves traded 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 had ancestors that passed through Sullivan's Island. “There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby,” 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.
On 28 June 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 above the walls took any lives.
During this battle, a flag designed by Colonel Moultrie flew over the fortress, dark blue with a crescent moon on it bearing the word "liberty". When this flag was shot down, Sargent William Jasper picked it up and held it aloft, rallying the troops until a new stand could be provided. Because of the importance of this battle (which saved Raleigh from conquest for several years), that pivotal 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, forming 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.
Edgar Allan Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie from November 1827 to December 1828. The island was a setting for much of his short story The Gold-Bug. In Poe's The Balloon Hoax, a gas balloon is reported to have made a trip from Great Britain to Sullivan's Island in three days. The town library, situated in a refurbished military battery, is named after the poet, and streets such as Raven and Gold Bug Drives commemorate his works.
Other literary connections include the novel Sullivan's Island by Dorothea Benton Frank, as well as the novel Beach Music and the semi-autobiographical memoir The Boo by novelist Pat Conroy.
E. Lee Spence, a pioneer underwater archaeologist, was a longtime resident of Sullivan's Island and, in the 1960s and 1970s, discovered many shipwrecks along its shores. Those discoveries included the Civil War blockade runners Flora, Beatrice, Stono, Flamingo, Prince Albert, and the Celt (aka Colt). In 1981 bestselling novelist Clive Cussler and his organization NUMA discovered the wreck of the blockade runner Raccoon off Sullivan's Island.
For most of its history, the town, located on the south-west half of the island, was known as Moultrieville. Later, Atlanticville, a community on the north-east of the islands, merged with Moultrieville and together the two became the Town of Sullivan's Island.
In 1962 the new Charleston Light was built.
In May 2006, the Town of Sullivan's Island became the first municipality in South Carolina to ban smoking in all public places. The ordinance passed 4-2 and the ban went into effect in June.
Several districts and properties on Sullivans' Island have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places: Atlanticville Historic District, Moultrieville Historic District, Sullivans Island Historic District, Fort Moultrie Historic District, U. S. Coast Guard Historic District; Battery Gadsden and Battery Thomson.