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.
Sign up for the Charleston Time Machine newsletter!
Recent Trips in Charleston's History
In Hong Kong in the autumn of 1854, a young man boarded a U.S. naval vessel and embarked on an American adventure. Arriving in New York, he worked briefly in Washington D.C. before moving to South Carolina to create a formal plantation garden on Edisto Island. Displaced by the American Civil War, he found asylum at the State Hospital and raised a family in Columbia. On the next edition of Charleston Time Machine, we’ll follow the story of Oqui Adair, master gardener and South Carolina’s earliest-known resident of Chinese ancestry.
Robert Smalls became an American icon when he absconded from Charleston with the steamboat Planter in May 1862 to free his family and friends from the bonds of slavery. To better understand the details of his escape, inquiring minds want to identify the location of Smalls' residence within the city. Later biographies don’t mention an address, but Smalls dropped a few hints in his lifetime. We’ll sift the documentary record of Smalls' life in the Palmetto City and examine the clues that might point to a specific site.
Fearing a Spanish attack on the capital of South Carolina in 1704, English and French colonists directed enslaved Africans to excavate many tons of earth to create a moat and earthen wall around Charleston. This continuous line of entrenchment, stretching nearly a mile in length, included numerous cannon placed within bastions and redans, while a single gateway with drawbridges controlled access into and out of the town. The defensive works of 1704 transformed Charleston into an “enceinte” or enclosed settlement of just sixty two acres that restricted the community’s growth for decades.
From the earliest days of the Carolina Colony to the Civil War, many White men in the Charleston area carried various types of swords as both emblems of status and implements of self-defense. Fashion and function dictated the types of equipment used in different eras, and fencing lessons formed part of the education of many young gentlemen. On the next episode of Charleston Time Machine, we’ll explore the motivations for carrying different type of blades, the identities of the fencing masters, and the connections between music, choreography, and fashionable violence.
The forgotten story of Eliza Pinckney (ca. 1785–1839) was an open secret during her lifetime. Born into bondage on a plantation near the Ashepoo River, she was perhaps distantly related to a famous South Carolinian with the same name. Her owner, Thomas Pinckney (1760–1815), moved her to Charleston at the dawn of a new century and endowed her with property, jewelry, servants, and children. Documents relating to Eliza’s remarkable journey from rural slavery to urban freedom reveal signs of a turbulent and conditional relationship that shaped the trajectory of her family’s existence.
Irish Catholics were not free exercise their faith in South Carolina until after the American Revolution, but a few pre-war documents reveal the presence of an “Irish Church” just outside urban Charleston. Clues to this forgotten institution and its visitors connect the “church” to the more-famous “Liberty Tree,” and help illuminate the history of religious discrimination in colonial South Carolina.
Don't know how to get a podcast? Let us help!
Think of a podcast as a radio show that you can get on the internet and listen to, pause, restart, and skip through anytime you want. You have a couple options: You can listen to a podcast through a website like CCPL's, which is called streaming; or you can download the podcast, which means it is saved to your phone, tablet, or computer so you can listen to it anytime -- even without an internet connection.
To stream the Charleston Time Machine: Visit the Time Machine page and either choose an episode from the player above or choose which story you want to know more about. In each story we embed a player of that episode so you can listen as you read.
To download: Use an app and it will be delivered each week to your phone, tablet, or computer. You'll get a fresh Time Machine podcast every Friday afternoon! We offer downloads through services you may have heard of before: Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Soundcloud, Stitcher, and Tune In. Just click on the icon above of the service you want to use and click the subscribe button. It's that easy!