Charleston Time Machine
About Charleston Time Machine
The Charleston Time Machine is an imaginary time-travel device created by historian Dr. Nic Butler. It uses stories and facts from the rich, deep, colorful history of Charleston, South Carolina, as a means to educate, inspire, amuse, and even amaze the minds of our community. By exploring the stories of our shared past, we can better understand our present world and plan more effectively for the future.
The Charleston Time Machine is piloted by Nic Butler, Ph.D., an interdisciplinary historian with an infectious enthusiasm for Charleston’s colorful past. A native of Greenville County, South Carolina, Dr. Butler attended the University of South Carolina before completing a Ph.D. in musicology at Indiana University. He has worked as archivist of the South Carolina Historical Society, as an adjunct faculty member at the College of Charleston, and as an historical consultant for the City of Charleston.
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Recent Trips in Charleston's History
Long before the rise of the present municipality, a group of capitalists coined the phrase “North Charleston” in 1912 to describe a bold development scheme on the west bank of the Cooper River. The heart of the proposed, 6,000-acre city was an upscale segregated community called Pinewood Park, nestled within a circular array of broad streets and verdant lots. Economic gloom eventually crushed the corporate scheme, but the footprint of the circular neighborhood survived and evolved into the modern community called Park Circle.
How did a maritime forest between the rivers Ashley and Cooper become the urban streetscape we call Charleston? The spark of this long transformation occurred in 1672, when South Carolina’s Surveyor General drew a plan for a town on the verdant peninsula called Oyster Point. Although John Culpeper’s “model” of the town was imperfectly inscribed on the forested landscape, the grid of streets and lots created 350 years ago framed the growth of Charleston and continue to shape the way residents and visitors experience the Palmetto City in the twenty-first century.
Charleston on the peninsula called Oyster Point became the capital of South Carolina in 1680, but plans for the port town commenced a decade earlier. The first step in its creation was an act of displacement ignored by later historians. Like the Dutch colonists who purchased Manhattan from Native Americans in 1626, English settlers around the year 1672 paid Etiwan Indians to abandon the land between the rivers Ashley and Cooper. The Charleston Time Machine explores the context and the evidence of this forgotten transaction.
Many years ago, a local family dedicated a small, wooded island near the Ashley River as a solemn refuge for their deceased relations. A mortuary vault of brick and stone sheltered numerous coffins from the passing seasons, but could not repel the intrusion of gnawing vermin and curious humans. After scores of visitors vandalized the secluded crypt, descendants gathered more than a century ago to salvage the remains and demolish the vault. This Gothic story of decay and morbid curiosity underscores the virtues of remembrance and respect in our historic community.
During a decade of naval warfare in the 1740s, a number of British warships and privateers brought scores of Spanish-speaking prisoners to Charleston. South Carolina’s provincial government confined most of these mariners within cramped facilities behind iron bars, but provided comfortable accommodations and relative freedom to the gentlemen officers. Charleston Time Machine will explore the forgotten details of the capture, incarceration, and exchange of Hispanic prisoners during the War of Jenkins’ Ear, also known as La Guerra del Asiento.
The powerful hurricane of mid-September 1752 destroyed nearly every watercraft in the vicinity of Charleston, with two dramatic exceptions. His Majesty’s warship Mermaid was driven ashore near the Wando River, while HMS Hornet nearly capsized in the harbor. Descriptions of these harrowing events, written by the officers of both ships, have gathered dust in London archives for nearly three centuries. We’ll explore their forgotten eye-witness accounts of the deadly cyclone and the herculean efforts required to get their vessels back in ship-shape.
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