Charleston’s Victory Day, Part 1

The 14th of December is an important date in the calendar of Charleston history that deserves to be remembered and celebrated.  On this day in 1782, the last of the British forces that had occupied this city for more than two-and-a-half years made their final mass exodus from our shores.  After seven years of warfare and many months of preparation, the remnants of Britain’s southern army, including thousands of soldiers, loyalist civilians, and enslaved Africans, departed peacefully in a massive navy flotilla, and American soldiers and civilians immediately reoccupied the deserted town.  This dramatic event marked the end of the war for Charleston, for the state of South Carolina, and, one could argue, for the United States in general.  The American Revolution didn’t begin in Charleston, but the evacuation of Charleston on 14 December 1782 marked the end of our War of Independence. It was, in many ways, our Victory Day.

Charleston’s Victory Day, Part 1


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The Story of Susan’s Library

The Charleston County Public Library system has officially existed for just about eighty-seven years, but this week we’re celebrating the 90th anniversary of our oldest branch.  In the autumn of 1927, Susan Dart Butler opened a free library in a building known as Dart Hall in downtown Charleston, and the present Dart Library is hosting a celebratory event this Saturday to commemorate ninety years of service to the community.  In honor of this milestone, I’d like to share with you a brief history of the Dart library, as told by its founder.  But first, a bit of background about Susan Dart Butler and her family here in Charleston.

The Story of Susan’s Library


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Barbados and the Roots of Carolina, Part 2

Let’s continue our conversation about the connections between South Carolina and the Caribbean Island of Barbados with a bit of review to refresh your memory.

Barbados and the Roots of Carolina, Part 2


At the turn of the seventeenth century, England was very keen to get involved in the European real estate bonanza in the New World.  By that time, Spain and Portugal had already claimed nearly the entire continent of South America, the southern parts of North America, and most of the islands known as the West Indies, or Caribbean Islands.  Then, in a burst of colonial activity between 1607 and 1640, English settlers established colonies in Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Bermuda, Barbados, and a few other tiny islands in the Caribbean Sea.  This creative burst was followed by a relatively brief lull, however, in which England’s colonial aspirations ground to a halt.  Between 1642 and 1659, the English nation was too preoccupied with domestic turmoil to think about initiating any new colonial ventures.  This was the era of the English Civil War, followed by the Commonwealth, and then the Protectorate.  With the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, however, a renewed spirit of optimism compelled many English investors to look back to the New World for new opportunities for profit and expansion.

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Thanksgiving in Early Charleston

It’s Thanksgiving season again, and for most people that means a day of rest, relaxation, and feasting with close friends and family.  As a historian working in an old city, I have learned that Thanksgiving also includes at least ten people asking me the same question:  “When was the first Thanksgiving in Charleston?”  I don’t mind the question at all, but the answer is generally more complex than most people care to hear.  If you don’t mind a quick stroll through the historical record of early South Carolina, however, I’m happy to offer an answer to this annual holiday question. Continue reading

Barbados and the Roots of Carolina, Part 1

If you pick up any book about the origins of South Carolina in the late 1600s, you’ll be sure to find references to the island of Barbados and the great influence it exerted on our early history.  Nearly 350 years later, in November 2017, a number of Lowcountry residents are collaborating with officials in Barbados to commemorate the cultural ties that continue to bind our two communities together.  The Barbados and Carolina Legacy Foundation, founded by Bajan native Rhoda Green, is leading a coterie of Carolinians to Bimshire (as some natives call the island) this month to celebrate our shared past.  I’ll be traveling along with the Charleston delegation, and I look forward to sharing the fruits of my journey when I return.

Barbados and the Roots of Carolina, Part 1


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Captain Anson and the Spanish Entourage

Admiral George Anson (1697-1762), 1st Baron Anson

Admiral George Anson (1697-1762)

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a descendant of Captain George Anson, the former local celebrity whose name is permanently affixed to Charleston’s first suburb, Ansonborough.  Charles Anson, a great-nephew of the famous captain, has had quite a distinguished career of his own, principally in the service of Her Majesty’s diplomatic corps around the world.  During a recent literary sojourn to Charleston, however, Charles was eager to learn more about the Carolina exploits of his forebearer, Capt. Anson, and I was happy to share with him a few facts and stories.  Captain George Anson was in Charleston, both on and off shore, during a colorful period of eleven years between 1724 and 1735, and there are many interesting anecdotes about his exploits here.  For the purposes of brevity, however, and in honor of Charles Anson’s diplomatic service, I’d like to focus on a single, little-known incident that took place in the early days of Capt. Anson’s long naval career.  To establish the proper historical the context of this 1725 story, let’s begin with a quick journey back to the 1660s.

Captain Anson and the Spanish Entourage


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A Brief History of the High and Low Battery Seawalls, Part 2

Today’s program is Part 2 of a brief history of one of Charleston’s most iconic landmarks, generally called “the Battery.”  Last week we discussed a series of building campaigns between the 1720s and the 1850s in which our local government gradually transformed the southernmost point of the Charleston peninsula, called White Point, from a sandy beach into scenic high ground.  The so-called “High Battery,” that granite seawall protecting East Battery Street, looks today pretty much like it did by the end of the 1850s, after generations of building and rebuilding.  Then, just a few years before South Carolina seceded from the Union, Charleston’s city leaders began planning a massive new project, to continue the seawall further westward, to extend White Point Garden, and to build a scenic promenade around the west side of the peninsula.  That ambitious antebellum plan was derailed by a series of misfortunes, but it laid the groundwork for a dream that was finally realized in the 1920s by the completion of the so-called “Low Battery” and Murray Boulevard, and in the 1960s with the construction of Lockwood Drive.  Today’s focus on the history of Charleston’s Low Battery begins in the autumn of 1856, when the first notions of extending the seawall westward first appeared on the city’s horizon.

A Brief History of the High and Low Battery Seawalls, Part 2


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A Brief History of the High and Low Battery Seawalls, Part 1

In Charleston parlance, “the Battery” is the common name for what is actually a pair of man-made seawalls that define the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula.  The so-called “High Battery” measures just over 1,400 feet long and was built in the early nineteenth century to facilitate the creation of what we now call East Battery Street and White Point Garden.  The so-called “Low Battery” is an adjacent seawall measuring nearly 5,000 feet in length that was built in the early twentieth century to facilitate the creation of what we now call Murray Boulevard.  Collectively, these batteries afford panoramic vistas of Charleston harbor and the adjacent islands, but they’re also susceptible to being overflowed by crashing waves during strong storms and hurricanes.  Furthermore, it’s become clear over the past several decades that these centuries-old walls are in need of some significant repairs.  To address these issues, the City of Charleston is in the midst of a multi-year effort to stabilize, strengthen, and perhaps even enlarge these seawalls a bit.  Also under consideration are various plans to improve the landscaping and perhaps to alter the flow of automobile traffic.  To help our community understand the challenges posed by such multi-million-dollar projects, I think it’s important to look back at the many generations of labor that led to the creation of the present “High” and “Low” battery seawalls.  Our brief journey begins nearly 300 years ago, when the entire area in question was just a bit of underwater, imaginary real estate.

A Brief History of the High and Low Battery Seawalls, Part 1

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ShakeOut 2017

It’s time for our annual ShakeOut.!  No, I’m not talking about some retro-themed dance contest, I’m talking about the Great Southeast ShakeOut of 2017, which is sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to promote earthquake awareness in seismically-active areas–like Charleston.  With this broadcast, the Charleston County Public Library is joining millions of other people around the world who are taking a moment to reflect on the potential danger that lurks in the earth just below our feet.

ShakeOut 2017


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Philadelphia Alley

Philadelphia Alley is not the shortest or narrowest thoroughfare in the city of Charleston, but it is sufficiently small to escape the attention of many residents and tourists.  For those who have stumbled into its entrances on Queen and Cumberland Streets in the past, they have discovered a picturesque yet historically mute piece of Charleston.  The facts behind the creation and early existence of Philadelphia Alley have been forgotten by the living, only to be replaced by rumors and fabrication.  Its proximity to the city’s historic Market District, opened in 1807, has exposed the alley to a steady stream of inebriates for over two hundred years.  The decline of Charleston in the decades after the Civil War was especially hard on small corners of the city like this, which suffered generations of neglect and abuse.  In recent years, local tour guides have delighted visitors with largely fictional tales of fatal duels and ghosts in this ancient alley.  But what facts can we find about the real history of Philadelphia Alley, and how can that history help us preserve its character for the future?

A Short History of Philadelphia Alley


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