Charleston, South Carolina

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Charleston, South Carolina
Flag of Charleston, South Carolina
Seal of Charleston, South Carolina
Motto: Fedes Mores Juraque Curat
Nickname: The Holy City, The Palmetto City
Location of Charleston,  South Carolina
County Berkeley and Charleston Counties
Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.
 - Total
 - Water

295.5 km² (126.1 mi²)
44.3 km² (17.1 mi²) 15.00% 
 - City (2005)
 - Density
 - Metropolitan

384.7 km² (996.5 mi²)/km² 
Time zone Eastern (UTC –5)
WGS-84 (GPS)
 32.78° N 79.93° W
Official Website

For other uses, see Charleston.

Charleston is a city in the counties of Berkeley and Charleston in the U.S. state of South Carolina. The city was founded as Charlestown or Charles Towne, Carolina in 1670, and moved to its present location in 1680. Up until 1800, Charleston was the fifth largest city in North America, behind Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, and Quebec City. It adopted its present name in 1783. Also known as The Holy City, or Chucktown, Charleston brims with the culturally unique, such as the joggling board.

As of 2005, the Census Bureau estimated the population of the city proper as 110,483, a 13,8% growth over the population as of the 2000 census. The metropolitan area of Charleston and North Charleston had a population of about 600,434, 72nd largest in the country.

The city of Charleston is located roughly at the mid-point of South Carolina's coastline, at the junction of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Charleston's name is derived from Charles Town, named after King Charles II of England.

Charleston is the location of Fort Moultrie, which was instrumental in delivering a critical defeat to the British in the American Revolutionary War, and Fort Sumter, the reputed site of the "first shot" of the American Civil War.



Early history of Charleston

After Charles II of England was restored to the English throne, he granted the chartered Carolina territory to eight of his loyal friends, known as the Lords Proprietor, in 1663. It took seven years before the Lords could arrange for settlement, the first being that of Charles Town. The community was established by English settlers in 1670 across the Ashley River from the city's current location. It was soon chosen by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, one of the Lords Proprietor, to become a "great port towne," a destiny which the city fulfilled. By 1680, the settlement had grown, joined by others from England, Barbados, and Virginia, and relocated to its current peninsular location. The capital of the Carolina colony, Charleston was the center for further expansion and the southernmost point of English settlement during the late 1600s.

The settlement was often subject to attack from sea and from land. Periodic assaults from Spain and France, who still contested England's claims to the region, were combined with resistance from Native Americans as well as pirate raids. Charleston's colonists erected a fortification wall around the small settlement to aid in its defense. The only building to remain from the Walled City is the Powder Magazine, where the city's supply of gun powder was stored.

A 1680 plan for the new settlement, the Grand Modell, laid out "the model of an exact regular town," and the future for the growing community. Land surrounding the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets was set aside for a Civic Square. Over time it became known as the Four Corners of the Law, referring to the various arms of governmental and religious law presiding over the square and the growing city. St. Michael's Episcopal, Charleston's oldest and most noted church, was built on the southeast corner in 1752. The following year the Capitol of the colony was erected across the square. Because of its prominent position within the city and its elegant architecture, the building signaled to Charleston's citizens and visitors its importance within the British colonies. Provincial court met on the ground floor, the Commons House of Assembly and the Royal Governor's Council Chamber met on the second floor.

While the earliest settlers primarily came from England, colonial Charleston was also home to a mixture of ethnic and religious groups. In colonial times, Boston, Massachusetts and Charleston were sister cities, and people of means spent summers in Boston and winters in Charleston. There was a great deal of trade with Bermuda and the Caribbean, and some people came to live in Charleston from these areas. French, Scottish, Irish and Germans migrated to the developing seacoast town, representing numerous Protestant denominations, as well as Catholicism and Judaism. Sephardic Jews migrated to the city in such numbers that Charleston became one of the largest Jewish communities in North America. The Jewish Coming Street Cemetery, first established in 1762, attests to their long-standing presence in the community. The first Anglican church, St. Philip's Episcopal, was built in 1682, although later destroyed by fire and relocated to its current location. Slaves also comprised a major portion of the population, and were active in the city's religious community. Free black Charlestonians and slaves helped establish the Old Bethel United Methodist Church in 1797, and the congregation of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church stems from a religious group organized solely by African Americans, free and slave, in 1791. The first American museum opened to the public on January 12, 1773 in Charleston.

By the mid-18th century Charleston had become a bustling trade center, and the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. By 1770 it was the fourth largest port in the colonies, after only Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, with a population of 11,000, slightly more than half of that slaves. Rice and indigo had been successfully cultivated by gentleman planters in the surrounding coastal lowcountry. Those and naval stores were exported in an extremely profitable shipping industry. It was the cultural and economic center of the South.

From the mid-18th century a large amount of immigration was taking place in the upcountry of the Carolinas, some of it coming from abroad through Charleston, but also much of it a southward movement from Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, until the upstate population was larger than the coastal population. The upstaters were not as polished in many ways, and had different interests, setting the stage for several generations of conflicts between upstate and the Charleston elite.

After the United States Declaration of Independence

As the relationship between the colonists and England deteriorated, Charleston became a focal point in the ensuing Revolution. In protest of the Tea Act of 1773, which embodied the concept of taxation without representation, Charlestonians confiscated tea and stored it in the Exchange and Custom House. Representatives from all over the colony came to the Exchange in 1774 to elect delegates to the Continental Congress, the group responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence; and South Carolina declared its independence from the crown on the steps of the Exchange. Soon, the church steeples of Charleston, especially St. Michael's, became targets for British war ships causing rebel forces to paint the steeples black to blend with the night sky. A siege on the city in 1776 was successfully defended by William Moultrie from Sullivan's Island, but by 1780 Charleston came under British control for two and a half years. After the British retreated in December 1782, the city's name was officially changed to Charleston. By 1788, Carolinians were meeting at the Capitol building for the Constitutional Ratification Convention, and while there was support for the Federal Government, division arose over the location of the new State Capital. A suspicious fire broke out in the Capitol building during the Convention, after which the delegates removed to the Exchange and decreed Columbia the new State Capital. By 1792, the Capitol had been rebuilt and became the Charleston County Courthouse. Upon its completion, the city possessed all the public buildings necessary to be transformed from a colonial capital to the center of the antebellum South. But the grandeur and number of buildings erected in the following century reflect the optimism, pride, and civic destiny that many Charlestonians felt for their community.

As Charleston grew, so did the community's cultural and social opportunities, especially for the elite merchants and planters. The first theater building in America was built in Charleston in 1736, but was later replaced by the 19th-century Planter's Hotel where wealthy planters stayed during Charleston's horse-racing season (now the Dock Street Theatre). Benevolent societies were formed by several different ethnic groups: the South Carolina Society, founded by French Huguenots in 1737; the German Friendly Society, founded in 1766; and the Hibernian Society, founded by Irish immigrants in 1801. The Charleston Library Society was established in 1748 by some wealthy Charlestonians who wished to keep up with the scientific and philosophical issues of the day. This group also helped establish the College of Charleston in 1770, the oldest college in South Carolina and the 13th oldest in the United States.

Charleston became more prosperous in the plantation-dominated economy of the post-Revolutionary years. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized this crop's production, and it quickly became South Carolina's major export. Cotton plantations relied heavily on slave labor. Slaves were also the primary labor force within the city, working as domestics, artisans, market workers or laborers. Many black Charlestonians spoke Gullah, a dialect based on African American structures which combined African, French,German,English, and Dutch words. By 1820 Charleston's population had grown to 23,000, with a black majority. When a massive slave revolt planned by Denmark Vesey, a free black, was discovered in 1822, such hysteria ensued amidst white Charlestonians and Carolinians that the activities of free blacks and slaves were severely restricted. Hundreds of blacks, free and slave, and some white supporters involved in the planned uprising were held in the Old Jail. It also was the impetus for the construction of a new State Arsenal in Charleston. Recently, research published by historian Michael P. Johnson of Johns Hopkins University has cast doubt on the veracity of the accounts detailing Vesey's aborted slave revolt.

As Charleston's government, society and industry grew, commercial institutions were established to support the community's aspirations. The Bank of South Carolina, the second oldest building constructed as a bank in the nation, was established here in 1798. Branches of the First and Second Bank of the United States were also located in Charleston in 1800 and 1817. While the First Bank was converted to City Hall by 1818, the Second Bank proved to be a vital part of the community as it was the only bank in the city equipped to handle the international transactions so crucial to the export trade. By 1840, the Market Hall and Sheds, where fresh meat and produce were brought daily, became the commercial hub of the city. The slave trade also depended on the port of Charleston, where ships could be unloaded and the slaves sold at markets.

In the first half of the 19th century, South Carolinians became more devoted to the idea that state's rights were superior to the Federal government's authority. Buildings such as the Marine Hospital ignited controversy over the degree in which the Federal government should be involved in South Carolina's government, society, and commerce. During this period over 90 percent of Federal funding was generated from import duties, collected by custom houses such as the one in Charleston. In 1832 South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure in which a state could in effect repeal a Federal law, directed against the most recent tariff acts. Soon Federal soldiers were dispensed to Charleston's forts and began to collect tariffs by force. A compromise was reached by which the tariffs would be gradually reduced, but the underlying argument over state's rights would continue to escalate in the coming decades. Charleston remained one of the busiest port cities in the country, and the construction of a new, larger United States Custom House began in 1849, but its construction was interrupted by the events of the Civil War.

Prior to the 1860 election, the National Democratic Convention convened in Charleston. Hibernian Hall served as the headquarters for the delegates supporting Stephen A. Douglas, who it was hoped would bridge the gap between the northern and southern delegates on the issue of extending slavery to the territories. The convention disintegrated when delegates were unable to summon a two-thirds majority for any candidate. This divisiveness resulted in a split in the Democratic party, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate.

The American Civil War

The ruins of Mills House and nearby buildings, Charleston A shell-damaged carriage and the remains of a brick chimney in the foreground. 1865.
The ruins of Mills House and nearby buildings, Charleston A shell-damaged carriage and the remains of a brick chimney in the foreground. 1865.
Ruins seen from the Circular Church, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865.
Ruins seen from the Circular Church, Charleston, South Carolina, 1865.

On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina legislature was the first state to vote for secession from the Union. They asserted that one of the causes was the election to the presidency of a man "whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery."

On January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets fired the first shots of the American Civil War when they opened fire on a Union ship entering Charleston's harbor. On April 12, 1861, shore batteries under the command of General Pierre G. T. Beauregard opened fire on the Union-held Fort Sumter in the harbor. After a 34-hour bombardment, Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Cadets from the Citadel, South Carolina's liberal arts military college, continued to aid the Confederate army by helping drill recruits, manufacture ammunition, protect arms depots, and guard Union prisoners. The city under siege took control of Fort Sumter, became the center for blockade running, and was the site of the first submarine warfare in 1863. 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 eventual and destructive defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city's reconstruction. The war had shattered the prosperity of the antebellum city. Freed slaves were faced with poverty and discrimination. Industries slowly brought the city and its inhabitants back to a renewed vitality and growth in population. As the city's commerce improved, Charlestonians also worked to restore their community institutions. In 1867 Charleston's first free secondary school for blacks was established, the Avery Institute. General William T. Sherman lent his support to the conversion of the United States Arsenal into the Porter Military Academy, an educational facility for former soldiers and boys left orphaned or destitute by the war. Porter Military Academy later joined with Gaud School and is now a well-known K-12 prep school, [Porter-Gaud School]. The William Enston Home, a planned community for the city's aged and infirm, was built in 1889. An elaborate public building, the United States Post Office and Courthouse, was completed in 1896 and signaled renewed life in the heart of the city.

A 125 mile-an-hour hurricane hit Charleston August 25, 1885, destroying or damaging 90 percent of the homes and causing an estimated $2 million in damages.

In 1886 Charleston was nearly destroyed by a 7.5 earthquake that was felt as far away as Boston and Bermuda. It damaged 2,000 buildings and caused $6 million worth of damage, while in the whole city the buildings were only valued at approximately $24 million.

However, though there have been many fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, several wars, and urban renewal in the 20th century, many of Charleston's historic buildings remain intact

Charlestonian dialect

Charleston's unique (though vanishing) dialect has long been noted in the South and elsewhere, for the singular attributes it possesses. Alone among the various regional Southern dialects, Charlestonian speakers inglide long mid vowels and one hears elements often associated with speech in Canada, such as the raising for /ay/ and /aw/. Some attribute these unique features of Charleston's speech to its early settlement by French Huguenots and Sephardic Jews, both of which played influential parts in Charleston's development and history.

Two important works which shed light on Charleston's early dialect are "Charleston Provincialisms" and "The Huguenot Element in Charleston's Provincialisms," both written by Sylvester Primer. Further scholarship is needed on the influence of Sephardic Jews to the speech patterns of Charleston.

The Old Exchange

The Old Exchange and Customs House in downtown Charleston was finished in 1771. It was to be The Royal Exchange & Customs House. It is the third most important Colonial building in the nation. The other two are Faneuil Hall in Boston and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. This building has had many historic events happen in its walls. It has a dungeon which has held signers of the Declaration of Independence and many other South Carolina Patriots. It has also housed events for George Washington in 1791, The U.S. Constitution ratification in 1788, and tea stolen from trade ships just prior the revolution and then was sold for the revolutionary cause by Charlestown patriots. This building has also been a office, the first Confederate post office, and used by the U.S. Coast Guard. After being saved by the state D.A.R., the Old Exchange exists as a public museum and is a major tourist destination which gives tours daily and hosts other grand events.

It was succeeded in its official capacity by the Greek revival style US Customs House on East Bay Street between North and South Market Streets.

Modern-day Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina's oldest city
Charleston, South Carolina's oldest city

Charlestonians today fondly refer to their city as The Holy City, and describe it as the site where the "Ashley and Cooper Rivers merge into Charleston Harbor and then forms the Atlantic Ocean."

America's most-published etiquette expert, Marjabelle Young Stewart, has recognized the city ever since 1995 as the "best-mannered" city in the U.S, a claim lent credence by the fact that it has the only Livability Court in the country.

Rainbow Row
Rainbow Row

Charleston is a tourist mecca, with streets lined with grand live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Along the waterfront are many beautiful and historic pastel-colored homes. It's also a busy port, though the majority of the larger container ships are now docking at the Wando Terminal in Mount Pleasant. The Wando River and the Cooper River meet at the Southern point of Daniel Island. The new Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge across the Cooper River opened on July 16, 2005. It is the largest cable-stayed bridge in the Americas, (External link: [1]). It replaces The Silas N. Pearman Bridge built in 1966 and The Grace Memorial Bridge built in 1929. These were the largest Continuous-Truss Type Bridges in the World. Demolition of these two bridges began in August, immediately following the opening of the Ravenel Bridge, and will be completed by the summer of 2006.

Charleston annually hosts Spoleto Festival USA[2], as well as the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition[3], the Family Circle Tennis Cup[4], and the Cooper River Bridge Run[5]. Nature lovers may visit the South Carolina Aquarium, the Audubon Swamp Garden, or Cypress Gardens[6]. History buffs can visit the Old Exchange Building, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, Patriot's Point (home to the USS Yorktown), or any of the several beautiful former plantations such as Boone Hall Plantation, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place.

Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989, damaging three-quarters of the homes in Charleston's historic district. The hurricane caused over $2.8 billion in damage.

In 1993, the world's first squadron of amazing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft was established at Charleston Air Force base.

In 2004, SPAWAR (US Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command) became the largest employer in the Charleston metropolitan area. Until 2004, the Medical University of South Carolina was the largest employer.

Charleston is served by Charleston International Airport. Charleston's port is also the second-largest container port in the nation.

For more information see Robert Rosen's A Short History of Charleston.

Interstates and major highways in Charleston

The interchange at the foot of the Cooper River Bridge and I-26, one of many in the Charleston Metropolitan area.
The interchange at the foot of the Cooper River Bridge and I-26, one of many in the Charleston Metropolitan area.
  • Interstate 26 is the VIA Freeway in the Charleston-North Charleston Metropolitan Area; it ends at The Septima Clark Expressway downtown Charleston.
  • Interstate 526, or the Mark Clark Expressway, forms a half-circle around the city. It may soon make a complete circle and become Interstate 426
  • U.S. Highway 17 is the Septima Clark Expressway Downtown and becomes Savannah Highway after it crosses the Ashley River. This highway runs through the middle of the city.
  • U.S. Highway 52 is Market Street and its spur is Morisson Drive, which becomes East Bay Street after leaving the Eastside.
  • U.S. Highway 78 is Rivers Avenue in North Charleston, which then becomes King Street in downtown Charleston.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 295.5 km² (114.1 mi²). 251.2 km² (97.0 mi²) of it is land and 44.3 km² (17.1 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 15.00% water. The old city is on a peninsula at the point where, as Charlestonians say "The Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean." The entire peninsula is very low, some of it fillmaterial, and it frequently floods during heavy rains or unusually high tides. The city has expanded across the Ashley River from the peninsula, but North Charleston blocks any expansion up the peninsula, and Mount Pleasant occupies the land across the Cooper River.

The tidal rivers (Wando, Cooper, Stono, and Ashley) are evidence of a Submergent or drowned coastline, ie. the original rivers had a lower base line, but either the ocean rose or the land sank, changing the landform. There is a submerged river delta off the mouth of the harbor, and the rivers are deep, affording a good port site. The rising of the ocean may be due to melting of glacial ice and the end of the ice age.


There are 101,024 people in the city, organized into 40,791 households and 22,149 families. The population density is 384.7/km² (996.5/mi²). There are 44,563 housing units at an average density of 177.4/km² (459.5/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 63.08% White, 34.00% Black or African American, 1.24% Asian, 0.15% Native American, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 0.54% from other races, and 0.94% from two or more races. 1.51% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 40,791 households out of which 23.2% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.0% are married couples living together, 15.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 45.7% are non-families. 33.7% of all households are made up of individuals and 10.1% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.23 and the average family size is 2.92.

In the city the population is spread out with 20.0% under the age of 18, 17.2% from 18 to 24, 28.8% from 25 to 44, 20.5% from 45 to 64, and 13.5% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 33 years. For every 100 females there are 89.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 87.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $35,295, and the median income for a family is $48,705. Males have a median income of $32,585 versus $26,688 for females. The per-capita income for the city is $22,414. 19.1% of the population and 13.3% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 24.3% of those under the age of 18 and 13.9% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

Public Schools

Charleston County School District

Berkeley County School District

Elementary School

Middle School

High School

Private Schools

Colleges and universities



  • Henry B. Fishburne, Jr.
  • Deborah Morinelli
  • James Lewis, Jr.
  • Jimmy S. Gallant, III
  • Wendell G. Gilliard
  • Louis L. Waring
  • Yvonne D. Evans
  • Paul Tinkler
  • Larry D. Shirley
  • Anne Frances Bleecker
  • G. Robert George
  • Fire Chief: Russel Thomas
  • Police Chief: previously Reuben Greenberg — (He resigned August 12, 2005 for unspecified health reasons at the recommendation of his personal doctor, Dr. Allen Rashford. Chief Greenberg had come under fire recently because of actions related to his temper.) Lt. Colonel Edward Hethington is Interim Chief. Greenberg, who served as Charleston's Chief of Police for twenty-three years, has occasionally made national news, if nothing else than for the most basic facts of his background and their uncommon combination in one person (Texan, African American, and Orthodox Jewish), which has caused consternation in 60 Minutes correspondents (who devoted a segment to him) and Zulus (a Zulu guard is said to have barred him from entering a South African synagogue, insisting that "this place is just for Jewish people, sir" [7]) alike. Greenberg is generally credited with creating a polite police force that kept police brutality well in check even as it developed a visible presence in community policing and a significant reductions in crime rates, which in turn is sometimes credited as an influence on the measures pursued by New York City under Rudolph Guiliani's administration.

Sister city (twin city)

Squares in Downtown Charleston

Parks in Downtown Charleston

Local malls

  • Citadel Mall
  • Northwoods Mall (Northwoods Mall is actually within the city limits of North Charleston, South Carolina).

Television stations

Transportation systems

Metropolitan area stadiums

Metropolitan area sports

Fiction about Charleston

Rafael Sabatini's novel, "The Carolinian", takes place mostly in Charles Town between the years 1775-9.

TV and Movies

The Great Santini - The Legend of Begger Vance - Cold Mountain - Die Hard With a Vengence - Don't Tell Her It's Me - Ace Ventura When Nature Calls - An Occasional Hell - Chasers - Consenting Adults - Deciever - For the Boys - Kitty Kitty - Leo - Little Senegal - Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow - Major League III - Mary Janes Last Dance - My Man Done Me Wrong - O - Other Voices, Other Rooms - Paradise - Rich In Love - The Break - The Corn Dog Man - The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys - The In Crowd - The Jackal - White Squall - TV Miniseries of the triology of North and South, Love and War, Heaven and Hell.

Notable Charlestonians

See also

External links

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