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The French Quarter

The designation, "French Quarter," is a modern one for Charleston, but its invention in 1973 was in recognition of the city's French heritage. The nomination of the "French Quarter" to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 was also designed to focus attention on the block bounded by East Bay, Cumberland and State streets and Lodge Alley, where a collection of mostly 19th century warehouses was slated for demolition for a condominium project.

Charleston's French Quarter is an amorphous area which extends in all directions from the intersection of East Bay and Queen streets and Vendue Range, where historical records show a clustering of French Protestants and French Catholics during the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the French Quarter area was already on the National Register as part of Charleston's "Old and Historic" District. Therefore, only the Lodge Alley block, containing the endangered buildings, and which was not in the "Old and Historic" District, was added to the National Register in 1973. The buildings were bought from the developer by the Save Charleston Foundation, which conducted a national campaign to raise money for that purpose. Subsequently, the building were conveyed to developers who rehabilitated them as a hotel, office, retail and condominium complex.

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed freedom of worship to the Huguenots in France, by Louis XIV in 1685, sent waves of Protestant refugees to the Netherlands, Germany, England, and America, including South Carolina. Descendants of these Huguenot immigrants included Theodore Gaillard, Samuel Porcher and Samuel Cordes, who lived on East Bay north of Lodge Alley in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. On the other side of East Bay, stretching south from Venue Range, Samuel Prioleau (of French and Italian Protestant descent), owned in the late 18th and early 19th century a complex of wharfs, stores and warehouses. His name and those of family connections, are memorialized in Prioleau, Cordes and Gendron streets.

A second wave of Frenchmen came to South Carolina in 1755 when 1,000 Acadian exiles were dumped in the colony by the British. These French Catholics were badly treated by South Carolinians of both French and English descent, who thought of them still as the enemy. Most moved on to the West Indies and Louisiana. A descendant of one Acadian family who stayed was Basile Lanneau, who in the mid-19th century occupied a building on East Bay, just north of Vendue Range. Lanneau shared the building with Robert de Leaumont, one of several hundred refugees from the bloody slave revolution on Santo Domingo. Leaumont arrived in Charleston in the 1790s.

The Santo Domingan refugees were the most numerous of the French who came to Charleston in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Some Frenchmen came during the American Revolution as volunteers on the Patriot side. During the 1790s, when pro-French fervor in Charleston was at its peak, the city harbored French privateersmen who used it as a base to prey on British and Spanish shipping. Later, in the early 19th century, the Napoleonic Wars brough French exiles to the city. Many of these French Catholics, including Etienne Poincignon and John L'Aimable Pezant, owned property in the French Quarter. Charleston's most French building is 178-180 East Bay Street, built soon after 1794 by the French merchant, Stephen Lefevre. (Stockton, DYKYC, Oct. 1, 1973.)