One of Charleston’s least-remembered eighteenth-century neighborhoods was a suburban plantation known as “The Point,” then “Rhett’s Point” or “Rhettsbury,” and later, “Trott’s Point.” This tract, which encompassed approximately thirty-five acres between King Street and the Cooper River, was assembled in the 1690s by Jonathan Amory, expanded in 1714 by William Rhett, and subdivided in 1773 by the husbands of Rhett’s great-granddaughters. Most people today think of this property as comprising the southernmost part of the neighborhood called Ansonborough, but it has a history and identity of its own that deserves to be remembered.
President George Washington came to Charleston in 1791 with three objectives in mind: to increase support for the new Federal government, to view the area’s Revolutionary battle sites, and to indulge the thousands of admirers who wished see the hero of the War of Independence in the flesh.
To read more about Washington’s busy celebratory week in Charleston, please follow this link to my blog’s new home:
I’d like to invite you to join me for a trip down to Gadsden’s Wharf. Perhaps you’ve heard about this site in the news recently. There’s a movement afoot in our community to raise millions of dollars for a new museum soon to be built at a place called Gadsden’s Wharf. The new International African American Museum (IAAM) will be an important addition to the city’s physical and cultural landscape, providing an opportunity for Charleston to interpret and narrate our community’s historical role in the local, national, and international trafficking of enslaved Africans.
January 2018 marks the 210th anniversary of a major milestone in the history of the United States, and the history of Charleston in particular. On the first day of January, 1808, a new Federal law made it illegal to import captive people from Africa into the United States. This date marks the end—the permanent, legal closure—of the trans-Atlantic slave trade into our country. The practice of slavery continued to be legal in much of the U.S. until 1865, of course, and enslaved people continued to be bought and sold within the Southern states, but in January 1808 the legal flow of new Africans into this country stopped forever.
This change was a major step forward in our nation’s long and troubled history with slavery, but it also has particular relevance to Charleston. Why? Because the federal law to close the trans-Atlantic slave trade on January 1st, 1808, was enacted because the state of South Carolina—and South Carolina alone—was gorging itself on the African trade. Our state, and the port city of Charleston in particular, was struggling with an addiction to slavery, and the United States Congress intervened to cut off our supply. In order to understand the significance of the 1808 closure, let’s turn back to the beginning of the Carolina colony and briefly review the rise and fall of the business of transporting African captives into the port of Charleston.
The End of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Charleston
The weekly podcast version of the Charleston Time Machine has moved to a new server, and so the URL for the RSS feed has changed. If the technology cooperates, you shouldn’t notice any change.
If you are subscribed to the podcast through iTunes, however, there is a small chance that your subscription might not migrate successfully. If your iTunes account doesn’t automatically grab the upcoming podcast on Friday afternoon, January 26th, 2018, please visit the Charleston Time Machine on iTunes and simply click “subscribe” to renew your service. And please accept my apologies in advance for the inconvenience!
The Charleston Time Machine blog and podcast are migrating to a new home under the new-and-improved website of the Charleston County Public Library. This change will make my life a bit easier and ensure the long-term continuation of this venture.
During this cool season of the year, many Charlestonians (myself included) begin to dream of warm summer days and the joys of wearing fewer layers of cumbersome clothing. Come June, however, most of us will be pining for a chilly breeze and an iced beverage to beat the heat. Firewood has helped humanity survive the winter months for thousands of years, but the notion of cooling the summer months is a much more recent phenomenon. In twenty-first century Charleston, it’s easy to take things like refrigeration and air conditioning for granted, but have you ever wondered how and when such technological changes came to the Lowcountry of South Carolina? The short answer is this: the unnatural notion of perpetuating winter into summer began with the idea of preserving ice in hot climates. Let’s turn our time machines back to the 1790s and explore an era that I like to call Charleston’s first “ice age.”
The Lowcountry of South Carolina has recently witnessed many days of record cold temperatures, and we even had a serious dusting of snow that lasted for several days. On icy, gloomy winter days such as these, you’ll find most folks huddled indoors just trying to stay warm. What could be more inviting and comforting on a cold winter’s night than a warm fireplace, filled with a blazing and crackling pile of firewood? Just the mental image of such a scene is enough to lower one’s blood pressure and relax the mind. Even though most of us can now heat our homes with the simple push of a button or the turn of a knob, the very idea of a wood-burning fireplace conjures up nostalgic feelings of well-being and security. In the age of the Internet and our increasingly virtual lives, the popularity of high-definition videos of crackling fireplaces testifies to the enduring primal appeal of this cozy scene.
The first day of January marks the beginning of a new calendar year in Charleston, as it does in most other places in the world, but this holiday did not exist in the early days of our community, or anywhere in the colonies that became the United States of America. For the first 81 years of life here in the English colony of South Carolina, we officially celebrated the start of the new year on March 25th. More than just a curious old tradition, this is a very important fact that should be familiar to anyone interested in the history of Charleston, or anyone studying the history of their own family. In early America, the concept of dating the new year from January 1st was quite literally a foreign concept. The adoption of this new “new year” practice in 1752 was part of a remarkable cultural shift that had lasting repercussions in Charleston and the United States in general.
Most everyone in these United States recognizes the first day of January as New Year’s Day, but that’s not the only holiday being celebrated in our community on this date. Since 1866, the people of Charleston have celebrated the first of January as Emancipation Day—a holiday that includes a parade, orations, religious services, and feasting. If you’re not familiar with this event, it’s well worth your time to learn a bit more. It’s one of Charleston’s oldest public celebrations, and one that everyone should acknowledge and applaud. In fact, I believe Charleston’s annual celebration of Emancipation Day is a unique phenomenon that deserves national recognition.
In our last episode, we talked about the events of the American Revolution leading up to this evacuation, in an effort to understand the context of this big event and its significance. Let’s pick up the story in early December 1782, when the end of the long war was quite literally in sight. Most of the American army in South Carolina, consisting of several hundred men under the leadership of General Nathanael Greene, was camped on a number of plantations on the west side of the Ashley River. When intelligence suggested that the British forces in urban Charleston were nearing the end of their preparations for departure, General Greene gave the order for the American advance guard to cross the river and investigate.