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
Ship traffic flowing in and out of Charleston Harbor has played a vital role in the local economy for more than 350 years. For most of that time, however, a network of shifting sandbars at the mouth of the harbor complicated the passage of all large vessels. Early maritime trade blossomed with the aid of skilled pilots and navigational buoys and beacons, but natural silting threatened to choke commercial traffic in the late nineteenth century. Thanks to the construction of an artificial channel through two massive stone jetties, South Carolina’s principal port continues to flourish.
In 1724, the Royal Navy sent Captain George Anson with HMS Scarborough to protect the rice-producing colony of South Carolina. British sailors assigned to the Carolina Station received a gallon of strong beer each day, but supplies in the port of Charles Town were limited. Captain Anson served his king and likely made a small profit by operating a brewery in an orange grove on his Cooper River property, now called Ansonborough. We'll explore the logistics, ingredients, and labor involved in colonial-era brewing and distill the archival evidence into a new, historically-informed brew.
In Part 2, we conclude the story as we follow Oqui Adair, the Chinese gardener, southward from Washington D.C. to the land of Sea-Island Cotton and slavery in the Palmetto State. During the second half of his colorful life, another Civil War forced Oqui to flee far from the fertile coast, but he found asylum, love, and family in the capital of South Carolina.
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.
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