History of Charleston
A brief history of Charleston and her cultural roots reveal a tradition of diversity. Charleston exists as a mixed tribute to her early English, Irish, French, Spanish, German, Swiss, Santo Domingan, African, American Indian and Caribbean connections.
The early settlers were English and Irish. Adventurers sailed up what would become Charleston Harbor, past piles of bleached oyster shells at the tip of the peninsula, and then headed up the Ashley River to a high bank they called Albemarle Point. They named their settlement Charles Towne for King Charles II. A decade later, the lure of the pretty shellfish remnants and the safety element of a prominent vantage point drew the Charles Towne colonists back to the peninsula to build a new and permanent settlement between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. British plans for the development of the colony were called the Grand Modell and were sent over to guide development of 600 prime acres into a proper town.
The Spanish and the French were early threats, but Charles Towne withstood their advances and became the capital of the Province of Carolina. An aristocratic society evolved, and slipped easily into its Golden Age in the 18th century. Rice was king and Charleston was the busiest seaport south of Philadelphia.
The Revolutionary and Civil Wars resulted in Charleston’s occupation by two enemy forces. Many Charlestonians were forced to suffer, with rumpled dignity the humiliation during these enemy occupations. Colonists resisted bombardment and rose to provide the patriots’ first victory in their war for independence. Then once again, as Confederates, the citizenry rallied to overtake Fort Sumter, only to fall at the end and hear the drumbeat of Sherman’s army as it destroyed so much of the wealth that had been built.
Certainly all was not bleak as the century unfolded. Between the periods of tribulation, the city was renamed Charleston and experienced an incredible building boom. Also, the wagon trade on upper King Street was an important outgrowth of the cotton and tobacco industries, and preempted the retail stores that make up our present day shopping district.
Throughout the history of Charleston, fire, earthquake, hurricane, yellow fever epidemic and even the boll weevil have threatened the City’s health and economic stability. But nothing crippled her spirit. There was a silver lining in that cloud of financial hard times. Those buildings, which our ancestors could not afford to replace in the name of progress at the turn of this century escaped the fate of structures in more affluent communities.
Today, Charleston’s collection of historically significant architecture attracts tourists from around the world. For more information about the historic buildings that give this city its unique character, visit the Historic Charleston Foundation.
For a more complete History of Charleston, check out the Charleston Community Page from the National Park Service.