James Hoban’s Charleston Home

[Charleston] City Gazette, 17 April 1790

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  This is the time of year when we celebrate the feast day of Ireland’s patron saint and, at least in the United States, generally revel in all things Irish.  In honor of this annual celebration, I’d like to focus the spotlight on one of Charleston’s most famous Irish residents, James Hoban, the architect of the White House who called this city home for nearly a decade, more than two centuries ago.  If you’re not familiar with Hoban’s story, I think you’ll enjoy this a lot.  If you’re already a fan of Hoban, then get ready for some new information about his life in Charleston.

To read more about James Hoban’s career and residence in Charleston,  please follow this link to my blog’s new home:  Charleston Time Machine at CCPL.org.


Charles Town’s Growing Pains

A detail from the “Crisp Map” of 1711, from the collections of the Library of Congress

The roots of Charleston were planted 348 years ago, in 1670, but the City of Charleston was incorporated 235 years ago, in 1783.  Since that time, the citizens of Charleston have witnessed the continuous activity of City Council, its ordinances, departments, and many colorful mayors.  But what can we say about the first one hundred and thirteen years of Charleston’s existence, between 1670 and 1783?  Is there a story to be told about the management or government of the town before it was incorporated?  Of course there’s a story, and the surviving records of South Carolina’s colonial government provide the means for traveling back in time to that remote era.

To read more about the gradual evolution of urban government in colonial Charleston,  please follow this link to my blog’s new home:  Charleston Time Machine at CCPL.org.


The Constitutional Convention of 1868

In the late winter of 1868, delegates from across South Carolina gathered in Charleston to frame a new, post-Civil War constitution for a state that was struggling to emerge from the long shadow of slavery.  The document created by the black-majority convention was not perfect, but it was the most democratic and equitable of the seven constitutions in the history of this state.  The men who labored for fifty-three days to frame that document were fueled by generations of prayers and fervent hopes for a society that respected the rights of all people.  Although the Constitution of 1868  was cast aside by a later generation, we can honor their legacy by remembering their achievement.

To read more about the context of the historic Constitutional Convention of 1868, please follow this link to my blog’s new home:  Charleston Time Machine at CCPL.org.



Vesey’s Lottery Fortune

 I’m feeling lucky today.  I’m going to take a chance and attempt to draw your attention to the historical intersection of three entirely separate but related topics: Denmark Vesey, lotteries, and Charleston’s iconic “High Battery” seawall.  I’m not an expert on the subject of Denmark Vesey, but I hope to contribute something to the conversation about the man and his times by offering some insight into the means by which he purchased his freedom at the turn of the nineteenth century.  To accomplish that goal, we’ll have to explore Charleston’s economic climate at the end of the eighteenth century.  Trust me—it’ll all make sense shortly. 

To read more about Vesey’s “fortunate number” that helped build the Battery, please follow this link to my blog’s new home:  Charleston Time Machine at CCPL.org


Remembering Rhettsbury

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.

To read more about the rise and fall of Rhettsbury, please follow this link to my blog’s new home:  Charleston Time Machine at CCPL.org


George Washington’s Visit to Charleston, 1791

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:

Charleston Time Machine at CCPL.org

The Story of Gadsden’s Wharf

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.

The Story of Gadsden’s Wharf

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The End of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Charleston

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

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Update for Podcast Subscribers

Greetings, fellow time-travelers!

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.

Thanks for your support and encouragement!


Charleston’s First “Ice Age”

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.”

Charleston’s First “Ice Age”

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