As a tribute to 350 years of history since the founding of Charleston in 1670, the staff of the Charleston City Paper has pulled together a bunch of interesting facts for a new book that will be published this month. Its title? “350 Facts About Charleston.”
As a preview, we thought you’d enjoy some of these Charleston firsts from the Holy City’s past. If you’d like to pre-order the book, which will be available in area shops in mid-September, visit CharlestonFacts.com.
Start of the Atlantic Ocean
According to old-time wags and natives who see Charleston as the epicenter of the world, the Atlantic Ocean actually starts in Charleston harbor at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers. The late U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, born in the Holy City in 1922, often was heard saying, “Every great city has a great river. London has the Thames. New York has the Hudson. Washington has the Potomac. And Charleston, Andrew, Charleston has two great rivers — the Ashley and the Cooper — and that’s where the Atlantic Ocean starts.”
The state was occupied by natives for millennia before colonization
At least 29 distinct tribes of Native Americans lived in the borders of modern-day South Carolina before the arrival of European settlers. The names of many tribes are still with us today in places like the Stono and Ashepoo rivers, Kiawah Island and Edisto Island. The native population sharply declined after the arrival of the Europeans, who brought diseases such as smallpox and conflicts over trade practices and land. Many tribes are now extinct; a few tribes, though, still exist and are active today, including the Catawba, Pee Dee and Santee tribes. Many tribes made their homes around what would become Charleston, such as the Edisto, Kiawah, Stono and Etiwan tribes.
Getting here in olden days was a nightmare for travelers
The ships that made the voyage to the Carolinas in 1669 were met with rough waters and even rougher weather. Damaged in the first trip to Barbados, ships were scattered by storms during the next outing, during which one shipwrecked and another disappeared in a hurricane. It wasn’t until the following year that the expedition’s surviving ship, the Carolina, dropped anchor at the mouth of the Ashley River, with the only known date of arrival to be “early in April,” 1670.
Carolina was a “colony of a colony”
Charleston and Barbados have a strong connection. In 1670, the Lords Proprietors invited Englishmen who had spent up to four decades successfully settling on the Caribbean island to be part of the expedition to start the Carolina colony. Settlers in the Carolinas imported the “Barbados Model” of governance, which included forced labor by indentured servants and enslaved Africans. “Carolina thus became what one historian called a ‘colony of a colony’ — a colony of Barbados,” according to Rhoda Green, honorary consul for Barbados in South Carolina. Other similarities between the two are found in similar surnames, such as Drayton, Middleton and Gibbes, and similar architecture, such as how the Charleston single house may be adapted from a type of dwelling in Barbados.
Slave trade boomed in early days of the colony
The only colony that had slavery from the beginning was South Carolina. Part of the first contingent of settlers arriving in Charleston were three enslaved Africans, “thus introducing into the permanent settlement the issue that would dominate much of the economic, social, and political life of South Carolina’s next three hundred years.” The slave trade boomed between 1720 and 1740 when an estimated 40,000 enslaved Africans came into the colony, most through Charleston.
Piracy was a problem for some early Charlestonians
Edward Teach, otherwise known as the pirate Blackbeard, appeared off the coast of Charles Town with a flotilla of four ships in 1718. At the time, it was the most powerful naval force in the hemisphere. Teach seized several Carolina ships and captured councilman Samuel Wragg, his son and other residents, demanding ransoms of money and medicine. Blackbeard blockaded Charles Town harbor for a week and eventually all ransoms were paid. The pirate then sailed north, plundering along the way until he reached Virginia, where his reputation for invincibility came to an end when authorities captured and executed him.
Pirates hanged in White Point Gardens
A stone marker at White Point Gardens near Charleston’s Battery memorializes the hanging of 49 pirates in 1718. While local historian Nic Butler says there is a “frustrating paucity of details” in historical documents, the exact location of the public hanging is hard to pinpoint
because the topography of the site has changed much in the last three centuries. The marker provides this detail:
“Near this spot in the autumn of 1718, Stede Bonnet, notorious ‘gentleman pirate,’ and twenty nine of his men, captured by Colonel William Rhett, met their just deserts (sic) after a trial and charge, famous in American history, by Chief Justice Nicholas Trott. Later nineteen of Richard Worley’s crew, captured by Governor Robert Johnson, were also found guilty and hanged. All were buried off White Point Gardens, in the marsh beyond low-water mark.”
Staff writer Skyler Baldwin contributed to this story.
Cartoon by Robert Ariail
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Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.