Friday, January 03, 2020 Charleston County Library

Each week we take a trip through time in the Charleston Time Machine, traveling from point to point through history to examine the lesser known stories and the tales behind major events that helped shape Charleston. 

This week we'll take a look at the 10 most popular episodes of the Charleston Time Machine, a list that involves defending our port city, slavery, America's first president -- and pirates! 

If you're new to the Charleston Time Machine, consider this an introduction to the wide variety of content you can expect week to week as more of Charleston's stories are told.



10. The Earliest Fortifications at Oyster Point

By the middle of the eighteenth century, Charleston was one of the most heavily fortified communities in North America. The town’s urban defenses didn’t appear all at once, however. They accumulated over multiple decades and successive eras of warfare with our Spanish and French neighbors. The government campaign to fortify Charleston commenced early in the town’s history, but precisely how early is a bit fuzzy. In this episode we’ll focus on the present town’s first few years and ask—how prepared were Charlestonians of the 1680s to defend their little town? The answer just might surprise you.

9. The Charleston Riot of 1919

In May, we marked the centenary of one of the biggest public disturbances in Charleston’s history—the so-called “race riot” of 1919. Late on the night of Saturday, May 10th, young white sailors fueled by racial hatred roamed the heart of the city, smashing property and spilling blood as they went. It was an ominous beginning to what became known across the United States as the “Red Summer.”

8. The End of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

January 2018 marked 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.

7. The Story Behind Ropemakers Lane

Ropemaker’s Lane is a narrow alley in urban Charleston with a name that evokes images of an antique industry wrought by men twisting and spinning long fibers into useful objects. While that scenario is accurate, it represents just one facet of the long and colorful history of this quaint locale. To gain a fuller picture of the lane’s development over the past two-and-a-half centuries, lets reach back to early days of the town and meet the people who created the lane and crafted the ropes that inspired the present name.

6. George Washington in Charleston, 1791

President's Day as a Federal holiday has officially existed since 1885, but it actually has much deeper roots. During the era of South Carolina’s colonial attachment to Great Britain, we routinely celebrated the King’s Birthday every year with military displays, feasting, and fireworks. That regal holiday disappeared during and after the American Revolution, of course, but in the mid-1780s it was quickly replaced by celebrations of the birthday of General George Washington, who became our first Federal president in 1789. That tradition was cemented, at least in the lowcountry of South Carolina, in the spring of 1791, when our nation’s first executive visited this area.

5. Story of Gadsden's Wharf

Gadsden’s Wharf played a very significant role in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to North America, and represents the ideal location for a museum dedicated to telling the story of the victims and survivors of the “Middle Passage” from Africa to the United States. So let’s take a brief trip back to the early days of Charleston, and I’ll walk you through the evidence.

4. Indigo in the Fabric of Early South Carolina

Indigo—both as a plant and a dye—forms an important chapter in the early history of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Although its memory flourishes today in conversations and artistic expressions, lingering misconceptions have distorted our general understanding about the real story of local indigo. In an effort to help “grow” this colorful conversation, I’ve crafted a series of common questions and factual responses that address some of the most important points of indigo history that every Charlestonian should know.

3. The Tail of Washington's Horse

Have you seen the tail of the horse in the portrait of George Washington that hangs in Charleston’s City Hall? Have you heard the tale of how that painting came to be, and why the horse’s rear-end is so prominently displayed? Is this depiction an insult, or an inside joke? The popular version of this local story doesn’t offer the most accurate rendering of the facts, so let’s use the Time Machine travel back to the early 1790s and explore the documentary evidence behind this artistic mystery that I call “the tail of Washington’s horse.” 

2. Pirate Executions of 1718

The mass execution of 49 pirates in Charleston in 1718 is described in historical documents with a frustrating paucity of details. Despite the drama and trauma associated with this event, an air of mystery still hangs over the town regarding the precise location of the pirates’ last stand. In today’s episode, we’ll look closely at the local historical evidence and examine the larger legal framework that dictated the demise of so many pirate brethren.

1. The Story of Carolina Day

Today we’re going to travel back in Lowcountry history to explore the genesis and legacy of a public holiday called “Carolina Day.” Celebrated on the 28th of June every year since 1777, Carolina Day commemorates an important battle that took place on Sullivan’s Island in 1776, an action that could rightfully be called the first significant American military victory in the early days of our war for independence from Great Britain. If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a palmetto tree on the South Carolina state flag, or why we’re known as the Palmetto State, then you need to hear this story.