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


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

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!


June 2017 Programs

If you missed last year’s exciting program about the invasion of French and Spanish forces into the Lowcountry in the autumn of 1706, then I hope you’ll join me for an encore performance of that lecture on Saturday, June 3rd at 11 a.m. at the Mt. Pleasant Regional Library.  Most of the action during that week-long struggle nearly 311 years ago took place east of the Cooper River, so I look forward to sharing this interesting story with the current residents of that long-forgotten battleground.

Mt. Pleasant is just one part of the larger Lowcountry that is gaining new residents at a rapid pace.  As we head toward the annual celebration of Carolina Day (June 28th) in the Charleston area, I am increasingly conscious of the fact that a large part of our population has never heard of Carolina Day, and has no idea was event it commemorates.   With that fact in mind I’m presenting a new program later this month titled “Carolina Day: A Primer for Charleston Newcomers.” There’s something for everyone in this program, whether you’ve just moved to the area “from off” or whether you’ve lived in the Lowcountry your entire life.  We’ll begin with the dramatic events of the 28th of June 1776, in which a small American force within an unfinished palmetto log fort defeated a well-armed squadron of the British Navy, and we’ll trace the highlights of the history of the annual commemorations of this battle from June of 1777 to the present. All of this will take place at the Main Library’s auditorium on Monday, June 19th at 6 p.m., which leaves you plenty of time to plan your patriotic festivities on the 28th of June.

As always, these events are free and open to the public, so bring a friend and come to the library!


May 2017 Programs

My computer ate last week’s podcast (seriously), but time and technology march onward and I’ll post a new podcast in a few days.  In the meantime, here’s a preview of this month’s offerings at a library near you.  In May we’ll explore the stories of historic landscapes and battlefields, 148 years of two-wheeled transportation, and a bit of philosophising about the relevance of it all for the rising generations.  And I’ll sneak in a preview of June as well.

As the school year draws to an end, eighth-graders throughout the state are learning about “modern” South Carolina and reviewing more than three hundred years of history they’ve learned since August.  History can often seem dull in the classroom, so I’m offering a different take on the same topic. On Tuesday, May 9th, I’ll be at the John’s Island Regional Library with 8th graders posing the questions, “Is South Carolina History Relevant?”  Does studying our community’s shared history serve any real practical purpose?  Of course my answer is a resounding “YES,” but I’m not offering a simple flag-waving, uncritical, patriotic endorsement.  Rather, I’m proposing that a lot of South Carolina’s history is in fact dark, painful, and divisive.  Despite the sometimes ugly truths in our shared past, however, our community becomes stronger and more resilient when we learn the lessons of the past and face the future with a united front.

May is Bike Month across the nation, and during the second week of the month we’ll see a host of activities and events across the Lowcountry.  Once again I’m proud to be partnering with Charleston Moves, our local bicycle advocacy group, to offer another program focusing on the history of bikes and cycling in the Charleston area.  This year I’ll recap the highlights from previous programs, from the first appearance of the two-wheeled velocipede in Charleston to the early 1960s, and then continue the story from the advent of the fitness craze in the late 1960s to the Lowcountry Low Line in 2017.   Please join us at the Main library on Wednesday, May 10th at 6 p.m. for “Celebrating 148 Years of Bicycling in Charleston.

In a few days we’ll see a sea of white tents sprouting up on Charleston’s most popular green space, Marion Square.  From Piccolo Spoleto to farmer’s markets to fashion shows, Marion Square hosts a wide variety of events that draw tens of thousands of people every year.  But how many people know anything about the rich and varied history of the landscape on which they’re treading?  Almost no one remembers why this space on the colonial town’s northern edge was set aside for public use, and only a handful of people know that the city of Charleston doesn’t actually own Marion Square.  That’s right—the city’s most public space is not actually a public space at all.  It’s a complicated story that encompasses a long-forgotten colonial fear of French invasion, a major battle of the American Revolution, a short-lived theater, state-funded police intimidation, pioneering baseball, parading soldiers, and civil rights demonstrations.  For the full story in brief, please join me at the Main library on Thursday, May 25th at 6 p.m. for “A Brief History of Marion Square.”

In the fall of 2016 I presented a program marking the 310th anniversary of the invasion of South Carolina by a combined force of Spanish, French, and Native American warriors.  I turned that story into a podcast earlier this year and got a lot of very positive feedback from the public.  It’s a great adventure story that everyone in the Lowcountry needs to know, especially those folks living east of the Cooper River, where most of the action took place.  If you missed the previous presentations, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to reprise that program on Saturday, June 3rd at 11 a.m., at the Mt. Pleasant Regional Library.  Come out and join us as we celebrate “Invasion 1706: France and Spain vs. South Carolina.”

As always, these programs are free and open to the public!


Charleston Slavery to African Freedom: Two Amazing True Stories

Boston King and John Kizell may not be familiar names in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, but these two men lived heroic lives that deserve to be remembered.  Both King and Kizell escaped slavery in the Charleston area during the American Revolution and, through a dramatic series of twists and turns, managed to blaze a trail back to a life in their ancestral homes on the west coast of Africa.

Thousands of other enslaved African-Americans and their descendants followed a similar path, but very few of these people wrote down the story of their journeys.  Boston King and John Kizell both left behind a paper trail, however, and from their life stories we can re-imagine the symphony of stories of those people who made the transatlantic crossing back to Africa.

If you missed my recent presentation on this topic, here’s a link to a video of me speaking to an audience at the John’s Island Regional Library on 11 April 2017:

And if you’d like to learn more about this fascinating topic, click this link for a list of suggestions for further reading: King_&_Kizell_bibliography


April 2017 Programs

Podcast production is taking a lot of my time right now, so this month I’m curtailing my “live” presentations a bit. This won’t be a permanent slow-down, but rather an attempt to get caught up with the Time Machine’s rapidly expanding itinerary.

Back in October 2016 I scheduled an event at the Edisto Island library branch, but Hurricane Matthew blew that plan off the calendar.  This month I’m going to honor that plan by returning to Edisto Island on Thursday, April 6th to present an illustrated lecture about “The Life and Times of Thomas Grimball (1744–1783).”  The Grimball family has been part of Edisto history since about 1682, but most folks have never heard of of TG III, as I like to call him.  He died at the conclusion of the American Revolution, having been a prisoner of war for too long, but the legacy of his musical patronage lives on in the spirit of jazz.  How?  Well, it’s a long story.  If you can’t join us at the Edisto library on Thursday the 6th, please join me for an encore presentation at the Main Library on Thursday, April 13th.

Also this month, by popular demand I’m repeating a recent program dedicated to the biographies of Boston King and John Kizell, two men who were enslaved in the Charleston area but escaped slavery in late 1782 by evacuating South Carolina with the British Army.  Both men lived for several years in Nova Scotia before each found his own path back to Africa in the 1790s.  Individually, King and Kizell worked to create a new home for themselves and for thousands of other ex-American slaves who sought to return to their motherland.  Curious?  Please join us at the John’s Island regional library for “From Charleston Slavery to African Freedom: Two Amazing True Stories” on Tuesday, April 11th at 10:15 a.m.

March 2017 Programs

time_machine_march_2017I’ve got two new, wildly different live programs coming up this month you won’t want to miss.  Be prepared to tap your feet with delight, and then shake your fist in disgust.  History is like that—some stories make you feel glad and proud, while others stories push back the fog that obscures some painful truths.

In the first program, we’ll look back at the roots of the dance known as “the Charleston,” and retrace the trajectory of a home-grown rhythm from the streets of Charleston to a world-wide phenomenon.  Yes, our community is the native land of that wonderful, infectious dance, but it’s more than just a series of steps, kicks, and turns.  The “Charleston” is an assemblage of African rhythms and American steps, put into motion by the mass migration of thousands of African Americans from the Lowcountry to “the North” in search of better lives in the early twentieth century.

Tracing the Roots of the “Charleston” Dance

  • Tuesday, 14 March at 10: 15 a.m., John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455
  • Thursday, 16 March at 6 p.m., Main library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401


Later in the month, we’ll turn to the sobering facts story of the limited rights and opportunities afforded to women in early South Carolina.  I’m not talking about the pioneering work of suffragettes in the early twentieth century, or temperance activists in the mid-nineteenth century.  Rather, I’m talking about the legal framework of English Common Law that defined the limits of a woman’s life, from cradle to grave, from the arrival of the first settlers in South Carolina in the 1670s to the end of the eighteenth century.  We’ll hear about real women whose struggles personify the legal limits placed on women in our early days, and try to connect the dots between colonial-era oppression to South Carolina’s enduring legacy of domestic violence.

Women’s Rights in Early South Carolina

  • Tuesday March 28th at 6 p.m., Main library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401


As always, these programs are free and open to the public!