Recent Archaeology at South Battery

If you’d like to learn more about the recent, brief archaeological dig at Charleston’s South Battery Street, you’ll have two opportunities this month to hear a recap of the project. On Saturday, March 21st, and Wednesday, March 25th, I’ll present an illustrated overview of the target of our search, what we found, and why it’s significant for understanding the history of Charleston.

The brick seawall stood five feet above ground, on top of a Bermuda stone foundation, and was faced with split palmetto logs. Drawing by Nic Butler

The brick seawall stood five feet above ground, on top of a Bermuda stone foundation, and was faced with split palmetto logs. Drawing by Nic Butler.

In case you missed the local headlines in late January 2015, the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force undertook a two-day dig on the south side of South Battery Street in White Point Garden. We sought and found physical evidence of a brick and Bermuda stone wall that was constructed in 1768-1769. That wall represented the first steps toward enclosing the expansive beach at White Point, the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula, which we all take for grated today as one of the city’s most scenic and iconic features.

Seating is limited, so come early!

Recent Archaeology at South Battery

Saturday, March 21st at 1 p.m.

Wednesday, March 25th at 6 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

Lyttelton’s Bastion in the Spotlight

Nic Butler, Ph.D.:

Leaping back to the mid-eighteenth century, the Charleston Time Machine sheds light on one our city’s forgotten wonders: Lyttelton’s Bastion.

Originally posted on Rediscovering Charleston's Colonial Fortifications:

A 1757 illustration of Lyttelton's Bastion by its designer, William De Brahm A 1757 illustration of Lyttelton’s Bastion by its designer, William De Brahm

Lyttelton’s Bastion was perhaps the most sophisticated and expensive of all the fortifications built in colonial Charleston. Completed in 1757 and named for newly-arrived Royal Governor William Henry Lyttelton, this work was designed as a “middle bastion” on White Point between Granville’s Bastion and Broughton’s Battery. Its construction employed earth, wood, brick, and tabby, and included a pair of flaking moats and floodgates to harness the tidal waters. More importantly, it featured two levels of cannon platforms to maximize the firepower of its compact, geometric shape. In the end, however, these impressive elements caused William De Brahm’s ambitious fortification designs for Charleston to be both over budget and behind schedule, and De Brahm was sacked before the bastion was completed. It was then finished, and perhaps simplified, by his successor, the young engineer Emmanuel Hess.

If you’ve never…

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Rebirth of Charleston’s Trolleys?

In late 2014 Gabe Klein, a transportation consultant hired by the City of Charleston, released his recommendations for fixing the peninsula’s traffic and transportation woes. His top suggestion is stated simply: “Bring Back the Trolley System.”

The last run of the King Street line, 10 February 1938

The last run of the King Street line, 10 February 1938

“What trolley system?” you might ask. Unless you’re over the age of 77, ignorance of this part of Charleston’s transportation history can be excused. Few in our community remember the “grand celebration” on the 10th of February 1938 when a fleet of thirteen “modern” diesel buses rolled into service and the old electric trolleys, after seventy-one years of activity, were consigned to the scrapyard.

Can the return of the trolley system fix our congestion woes? That’s not for me to decide, but I’ve been asked to assemble a brief history of the old trolleys in an effort to help the community make informed decisions about this matter. In the coming weeks, I’ll be presenting a series of trolley (or streetcar) themed talks, and I hope you’ll join me for this colorful story. As a teaser, here’s a very brief overview of the topic:

The earliest conversations about beginning a “street railway” system of mass transit in Charleston commenced in 1859, and two private companies were chartered in early 1861. The war interrupted their plans, however, and a corporate reorganization took place in 1865. Service commenced in December 1866 with horse-drawn street cars riding on miles of track in the city’s principal streets, and it was a transportation revolution in our community. The street rail system was electrified and reorganized in 1897, and the new “trolleys” continued to be very successful into the new century. The advent of the automobile on Charleston’s streets brought competition and new standards of comfort, however, and by the 1920s the public was clamoring for a more “modern” mode of mass transit. After several years of declining profitability, the operator’s decision to switch from electric trolleys to diesel buses was greeted with bittersweet enthusiasm from the riding public.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, your first opportunity will a FREE public event be next week at the Charleston Museum, sponsored by the Historic Charleston Foundation:

“The Rise and Fall of

Charleston’s Trolleys, 1859–1938″

Monday, February 23rd 2015 at 6 p.m.

Charleston Museum Auditorium, 360 Meeting Street, 29403.



The Death of Slavery in Charleston

One of many Library of Congress photographs of Charleston taken during the spring of 1865.

One of many Library of Congress photographs of Charleston taken during the spring of 1865.

This week we commemorate the 150th anniversary of one of the most significant, transformative events in the history of our city: the death of slavery in Charleston.

On the morning of 18 February 1865, Federal forces entered Charleston uncontested and secured the city. The last of the Confederate soldiers had fled the previous evening, and the city was essentially a smoldering ghost town. As the new day dawned, thousands of hungry slaves awoke to the fulfillment of many generations of prayers. Union soldiers spread throughout the ruined city and quietly spread the word: “You are a slave no longer. You are as free as I am.”

Click here to download a PDF transcription of the description of the events of 18 February 1865, as published in the Charleston Courier, 20 February 1865.

President Lincoln had rhetorically freed all enslaved persons in the rebellious southern states in 1863, of course, but slavery continued in practice in Charleston through the 17th of February 1865. In the years after the Civil War (and yes, our local newspapers used that phrase in 1865), the African-American citizens of South Carolina struggled to overcome years of prejudice and inequality in order to secure their civil rights. That struggle is a fascinating part of our history, to be sure, but there is another, equally engaging part of this story that is too often overlooked. I’m talking about the microhistory of the events immediately after the 18th of February 1865. What was life like for Charleston’s “freedmen” and “freedwomen” in the first hours, days, and weeks after their emancipation from slavery?

If you were writing a story, a novel, or a screenplay about life during the first days of freedom in Charleston in the late winter of 1865, where would you look for informative details? Just like modern times, the newspapers of that era give us the most detailed glimpses of that era. In Charleston, the Courier  transformed from a Confederate newspaper to a Union newspaper in the space of just forty-eight hours. As a result of this rapid political shift, we have eye-witness reports of the events unfolding in war-torn Charleston during those radical changes of February and March of 1865. In addition, northern reporters on the ground in Charleston sent their observations to the New York Times and other papers, which triumphantly celebrated the capture of the city and the progress of the newly freed people.

Immediately after securing the city, Federal forces quickly set about establishing a practical system of municipal administration. That is to say, they established a chain of command to patrol the streets, to remove debris, to shelter the homeless, to feed the hungry, and even to educate the young. Within a matter of days after capturing Charleston, food and clothing were being distributed to the city’s freedmen and to their country brethren who began streaming in from the surrounding countryside. By the 28th of February—just ten days after entering the city—the occupying forces had established a Department of Education and announced the beginning of regular classroom instruction for the black children of Charleston. As if they had been rehearsing for this day for many years, the city’s black community celebrated in the streets, quickly organized their own relief efforts, and began in earnest the hard but glorious work of forging their own destinies.

Click here to download a PDF transcription of the “Freedmens’ Jubilee” held in Charleston on 21 March 1865, as published in the Charleston Courier, 22 March 1865.

I encourage everyone to commemorate the 150th anniversary of this important occasion, and to learn more about the drama that unfolded in our storied streets. If you’d like to hear more details about the first days of freedom in Charleston, please join me for a program titled:

“The Death of Slavery:

Freedom Comes to Charleston”

Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 6 p.m.

Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.


The Return of “Beasts of Prey”

This weekend marks the 33rd annual Southeastern Wildlife Expo in downtown Charleston, an event that draws tens of thousands of wildlife enthusiasts to our tame, urban environment. The expo celebrates the fauna of the southeast, the traditions of sport hunting, and wildlife artwork, but it’s a little light on history and context. In an effort to contribute a little background to the scene, I’m going to repeat a lecture from several months back that draws attention to a little-know aspect of our state’s natural history. The program, “Hunting ‘Beasts of Prey’ in Early South Carolina,” looks at the government-funded efforts to eradicate panthers, wolves, bears, and bobcats from the Lowcountry in the eighteenth century.

A red wolf at Charles Towne Landing state park

A red wolf at Charles Towne Landing state park

Recently I visited one of my favorite state parks, Charles Towne Landing, and spent a while admiring the new Red Wolf exhibit. It’s a beautiful space that’s well-integrated into the environment, and the animals are adorable. Three hundred years ago, however, wolves like these  were hunted to extirpation from South Carolina because the early European settlers considered them a threat. Beginning in 1696, our provincial government began offering a bounty to hunters who brought in the scalps (with two ears) of “beasts of prey,” which included wolves, “tigers,” “catts,” and bears. This incentive program was so successful that by 1750 the government voted to let the bounty expire in 1751. In the intervening decades, tens of thousands of animals were killed in our forests by settlers and professional sportsmen, the original “bounty hunters” in colonial South Carolina.

“Beasts of prey” have been exceedingly rare in the Lowcountry since the mid-eighteenth century, but perhaps not completely absent. In December 1783, for example, a “large wolf” was killed at the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets in the heart of downtown Charleston, after it had been ravaging the Beef Market (now the site of our City Hall). The more recent growth of local bear and bobcat populations, as well as the re-introduction of wolves, are examples of modern conservation efforts that seek a balance between protected natural habitats and human expansion.

If you’d like to learn more about this wild topic, please join me for an illustrated program titled:

“Hunting Beasts of Prey in Early South Carolina”

Saturday, February 14th at 1 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

South Battery sea wall: Day 1

Nic Butler, Ph.D.:

Apologies for redundancy, but I want to make sure everyone knows about the exciting Charleston projects described in my other blog dedicated to the study of Charleston’s colonial-era fortifications!

Originally posted on Rediscovering Charleston's Colonial Fortifications:

The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston. The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston.

This morning the Walled City Task Force began a brief exploratory dig at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets, and we found some interesting materials. Did we find physical evidence to confirm the existence of the 1769 sea wall built of Bermuda stone and brick? Well, maybe. It’s a long story, and it’s going to take us a while to sort out the evidence and draw conclusions.

Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets. Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets.

If you recall the earlier posting about this topic, we’re seeking to identify the line of bricks and stones that is visible along much of the northern edge of White Point Garden (see the photo below). This line doesn’t seem to be related to either the boundary of the park or the…

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Charleston’s First Battery Sea Wall

Originally posted on Rediscovering Charleston's Colonial Fortifications:

Everyone is familiar with Charleston’s famous Battery, the stone and concrete sea wall and promenade that wraps around White Point at the southern tip of the peninsula. In fact, the Battery is our city’s most popular tourist destination, drawing several million visitors every year. Few people know, however, that this picturesque landmark was not the first wall the protect White Point from the daily inundation of the tides. Beginning in the spring of 1768 and concluding the autumn of 1769, the General Assembly of South Carolina funded the construction of a half-mile long wall around this same location, using Bermuda stone, bricks, and palmetto logs. Although it has been almost entirely forgotten, significant portions of this late-colonial-era wall may still exist under White Point Garden. In the coming weeks, the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force will endeavor to raise awareness of the this forgotten wall by way of blog posts, public programs, and even a brief archaeological dig.

The sea…

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Signs of the (old) Times

Once upon a time, in the early years of the city of Charleston, most people could not read or write. Without the ability to read signs, how did people know where to find food, shoes, clothing, hats, beverages, a place to sleep, or any other necessity of life?

The solution in Charleston, as in Europe and in other early American communities, was to use images or icons to identify businesses. A hat maker, for example, painted a hat on a sign board outside his store, while a cobbler might hang a large wooden shoe above his door. Some “trade signs,” as they were commonly called, used more abstract images that did not necessarily reflect the goods sold within the shop. Examples of such fanciful signs in Charleston included the sign of the Griffin, the Indian Queen, the Star, and the Blue Hand.

While trolling through Charleston’s early newspapers, I’ve found references to well over one hundred different trade signs. The earliest known reference, in fact, concerns our first newspaper, the South Carolina Gazette, which commenced publication in January 1732 “at the Sign of the Table Clock on the Bay.” Throughout the newspapers of our colonial era, one can find scores of references to commercial signs, ranging from the banal (like the “Sign of the Boot”), to the abstract (like the “Sign of the Rising Sun”) to the curious (like the “Sign of the Man in the Compasses”). Of these many references, however, I’ve found only two images of trade signs in our early newspapers: silversmith Thomas You advertised his wares in 1765 “at the sign of the golden cup,” while jeweler and goldsmith Jonathan Sarrazin conducted business at “the sign of the silver tea kettle and lamp.”

"The Sign of the Golden Cup," South Carolina Gazette, 6-13 April 1765

“The Sign of the Golden Cup,” South Carolina Gazette, 6-13 April 1765

"The Sign of the Tea Kettle and Lamp, South Carolina Gazette, 14 July 1766

“The Sign of the Tea Kettle and Lamp,” South Carolina Gazette, 14 July 1766

As the population became more literate, the use of trade signs declined. By the 1820s, for example, one finds only a few reference to pictorial trade signs in the Charleston newspapers, such as the sign of the Drum, the Heart, and “the Happy Discovery” (?!). While illustrated signs may have been in decline, three-dimensional tin objects became a popular advertising trend in mid-nineteenth-century America. A perusal of the Charleston newspapers of this era will provide humorous local examples of this trend, including oversize tin bibles, boots, tea kettles, and even “mammoth padlocks.”

Bissell & Co., "Mammoth Padlock," Charleston Courier, 20 December 1866

Bissell & Co., “Mammoth Padlock,” Charleston Courier, 20 December 1866

The practice of using images, or “trade marks,” to identify businesses did not disappear after the nineteenth century, however. In fact, thanks to the global sweep of the Internet and digital media, graphic pictographs or icons are as much a part of commerce and advertising as they were three hundred years ago. Just take a look around the fringes of your web browser, or glance at the colorful images on your cell phone. We are surrounded by these vestiges of an illiterate age, and they continue to shape the visual character of our community.

If you’d like to hear more details about this topic, including the full list of known local trade signs, please join me for a fun, illustrated program titled

Trade Signs of Old Charleston.”

Wednesday, January 21st at 6 p.m.


Saturday, January 24th at 1 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St., 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

Do You Have a Story to Tell?

Do you have a compelling story to share, but don’t know what to do or how to get started? Be part of a groundbreaking, three-day workshop featuring the internationally renowned Center for Digital Storytelling, and learn how to use today’s technology to preserve your personal stories and those of others.

Hosted by Charleston County Public Library from January 22-24, 2015, at the Main Library in downtown Charleston, this free workshop will teach attendees about script writing, image preparation, voice-over recording and story editing.

Due to limited space, participants will be selected through a contest. To enter, individuals or pairs must submit a video or written essay explaining why they want to participate in the workshop, why they want to share their story and how they think the workshop will help them preserve and share stories in the future.

Entries can be either:
A written essay, maximum 500 words, or a video, maximum two minutes, uploaded to YouTube or copied and sent on a DVD. Videos uploaded to YouTube should be tagged “CCPL Contest–I Want To Tell You,” with your name and the title of your entry.

Entries must be postmarked by December 31, 2014 JANUARY 9TH 2015.

Video links and essays can be emailed to, or
Entries can be mailed to Kimberly Bowlin, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401.

All entries MUST include signed copies of the official Entry and Release Form, which is available on the library’s website:

An external panel of judges will select a maximum of 10 individuals or pairs to attend the training. Winners will be announced by January 12 2015. Entrants must agree to attend the full, three-day workshop, if selected.

The final workshop product with the participants’ stories will be featured during a special premiere prior to the 2015 Charleston Tells Storytelling Festival, and their videos will be screened during the Festival set for March 13-14, 2015. Participants also will receive tickets to the Festival along with a copy of their final story, either electronically or on DVD.

Since 1998, the Center for Digital Storytelling has worked with nearly 1,000 organizations around the world and trained more than 15,000 people on how to use today’s technology to produce and preserve their personal stories. The Center discovered that people with little or no experience in multimedia can produce powerful personal stories with the modern technology they already have—like a smart phone or tablet.

This workshop is the kickoff of a 10-month project by CCPL to promote storytelling and encourage area residents to preserve stories for future generations. Additional events and activities will be announced soon.

Presented by CCPL and the Charleston Tells Storytelling Festival, the workshop is made possible by funding by a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services administered by the South Carolina State Library.

Tearing Down Charleston’s Walls

Originally posted on Rediscovering Charleston's Colonial Fortifications:

In the one hundred years between the settlement of Charles Town on Oyster Point in 1680 and the American surrender of Charleston to the British Army in 1780, South Carolina’s provincial colonial legislature directed massive amounts of money, resources, and labor toward the erection of defensive fortifications for the protection of the colony’s capital and main port. During that long era, South Carolinians carefully watched the movements of our Spanish and French neighbors in St. Augustine, Havana, Biloxi, Mobile, and New Orleans, ever mindful of the treat of foreign invasion. The Treaty of Paris in 1763, signed by Britain, France, and Spain, marked the beginning of an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity in the American colonies. For the first time in our colonial history, South Carolinians no longer worried about the threat of foreign invasion, and the commerce of our ports expanded rapidly.

The rift between the colonists…

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