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
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.
In early September 1739, dozens of enslaved men residing near the Stono River launched a violent campaign to gain their freedom. The events of that bloody uprising, commonly called the Stono Rebellion, form a pivotal and well-known episode in the history of South Carolina, but our understanding of its geography is imperfect. On the next episode of Charleston Time Machine, we’ll review the documentary clues relating to the path of the rebellion and propose a new interpretation of its point of origin.
The waterways of coastal South Carolina once teemed with a large variety of wooden sailing vessels, all of which required frequent maintenance to keep their hulls in ship shape. The work of careening, or rotating a vessel to expose its lower hull, was difficult and dangerous, but so routine that few records of this work survive. In this episode of the Charleston Time Machine, we’ll explore the techniques, locations, and laborers involved in one of the Lowcountry’s least-remembered maritime traditions.
Ice was a summer luxury in antebellum Charleston, brought southward in huge blocks by ships from New England. The invention of ice-making machines after the Civil War transformed the industry, but a sour economy and consumer skepticism delayed local adoption of the new technology. Cheaper “artificial ice” finally debuted in the Palmetto City in 1888, while deliveries of imported “natural ice” slowly declined. The rise of mechanized ice production at the turn of the twentieth century transformed food and beverage habits across the Lowcountry, and established an appetite for a cooler, modern lifestyle.
Along a shady stretch of Highway 162 in Hollywood, South Carolina, stands a humble marker for Clementia Village. Local lore describes the site as the location of forgotten “ghost town,” but a search for its history reveals a different story. Formerly a part of a large rice plantation, the land bubbled with a font of spring water after the earthquake of 1886. The property owner marketed the wholesome, restorative powers of the mineral-rich water during the early years of the twentieth century, but the site devolved under a cloud during the turbulent Jazz Age.
Like most American colonists during the turbulent spring of 1775, the people of South Carolina were anxious about British military preparations to suppress the first sparks of the Revolution. When two Irishmen in Charleston expressed views that offended their pro-American neighbors in June, an elite secret committee ordered the pair to be stripped, covered in tar and feathers, paraded through the town, and exiled. Historians have identified the two victims as loyalists to the British Crown, but the extant evidence suggests a more nuanced interpretation: Religious discrimination, inflamed by political paranoia, fueled this episode of vigilante injustice.
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