History of Charleston
The history of Charleston, South Carolina, is one of the longest and most diverse of any community in the United States, spanning hundreds of years of physical settlement beginning in 1663 through modern times. Charleston was the leading city in the South from the colonial era down to the Civil War. It grew wealthy through the export of rice and later sea island cotton. The war and the ruin of Charleston’s hinterland, lost the city its regional dominance. Starting in World War II, it became a major naval base. In recent decades, tourism and service industries have led the economy to a new level of prosperity.
King Charles II granted the chartered Carolina territory to eight of his loyal friends, known as Lord Proprietors, the first being that of “Charles Town,” the original name for the city. The community was established in 1670 by English colonists from Bermuda, on the west bank of the Ashley River a few miles northwest of the present city.
By 1680, the settlement had grown, joined by settlers from England, Barbados and Virginia; and it was moved to the current peninsular location. A major establishment of African slavery in the North American colonies occurred with the founding of Charleston Town, South Carolina, beginning in 1670.
By 1750, Charleston had become a bustling trade center at the hub of the Atlantic trade for the southern colonies, and the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia, with a population of 11,000, slightly more than half of that of slaves. The city officially changed its name to Charleston in 1783, thus removing any reference to King Charles.
By 1820, Charleston’s population had grown to 23,000, with a black majority. One year after the start of the Civil War, on December 11, 1861, a massive fire burned 164 acres of Charleston. This fire was responsible for much of the destruction visible in Charleston at the end of the war. Toward the end of the Civil War, in 1865, Union troops moved into the city, and took control of many sites, such as the United States Arsenal which the Confederate army had seized at the outbreak of the war.
After the defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city’s reconstruction. On August 31, 1886, Charleston was nearly destroyed by an earthquake. It damaged 2,000 buildings in Charleston and caused $6 million worth of damage or 25% of the total value of all of the buildings in the city.
The last 30 years of the 20th century saw major new investment in the city, with a number of municipal improvements and a commitment of historic preservation. Charleston is now a major tourist destination and is becoming a prime location for information technology jobs and corporations.
Next time you’re walking around Charleston, SC, take a tour with the Historic Walking Tour app!