On April 19, 1775, the “shot heard round the world” officially began the American Revolutionary War in Massachusetts. It would take another seven months before the War for American Independence reached South Carolina. But long before these events took place, Charleston had grown as a center of revolutionary spirit.
The Charleston Tea Party, Christopher Gadsden’s infamous flag, revolt against the Stamp Act and Tea Act, and the occupation of Charleston during the war are all explained at eight historical sites throughout the city. A visit to each of these will slowly define the scope of the Revolutionary War across South Carolina and the effects it had on Charleston.
Take a weekend getaway to Charleston. Stay at a swanky downtown hotel. Spend your day visiting historic sites, and your evenings sampling the fantastic local food. And when you leave, you’ll understand why British General Charles Campbell once wrote that Charleston was “the fountainhead from which all violence flows in this area.”
The Charleston Museum
The best place to begin the discovery of the Revolutionary War in Charleston is The Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in the country. The museum has a vast collection of artifacts and information from Charleston’s creation in 1680 through modern times.
The second floor of the museum is a chronological exploration of Charleston’s history. One segment, in particular, focuses on the Revolutionary War with artifacts on display and descriptions of local battles.
Admission to the museum is just $5 for children, $10 for youth, and $12 for adults. It will take about an hour to wander through the museum, longer if you want to take in the entire collection on display. Be sure to visit the gift shop on the ground level for books on the Revolutionary War.
The Charleston Museum 360 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC | 843-722-2996 | www.charlestonmuseum.org/
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is one of the most historical and downright awesome buildings to tour in Charleston. Completed in 1771, the Old Exchange Building was the first customs house in the city. But during the Revolutionary War, it would become something else entirely.
When the British occupied Charleston in 1780, they converted the basement level of the building into a provost or dungeon. Patriots captured when Charleston fell were chained in the basement, including three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. While many prisoners were sent to St. Augustine, and others banished to British-controlled Philadelphia, the most infamous prisoners were kept close by in the provost.
Take a thirty-minute guided tour of the Provost Dungeon, then head to the top floor to see the grand ballroom where George Washington was entertained in 1791. In the Isaac Haynes Room, you’ll find information on several other Revolutionary War battles throughout South Carolina, such as the Battle of Kings Mountain and Battle of Huck’s Defeat.
Did You Know? Men and women alike were imprisoned by the British in the dark, damp dungeon at the Old Exchange. Among the prisoners were three sisters: Catherine, Mary, and Lutricia Sarrazin. They were charged with being spies for the Patriots in Charleston, sending information about British forces occupying Charleston. In fact, they were spies!
Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon 122 East Bay Street, Charleston, SC | 843-727-2165 | www.oldexchange.org/
The Powder Magazine
Built in 1712, The Powder Magazine is the oldest remaining public building in South Carolina. With 36” thick walls topped with several tons of sand in the ceiling, the building was used to store gunpowder for the city’s defenses.
A small museum explores the history of the building, the Walled City of Charles Town, and action during the Revolutionary War. Guided tours are offered throughout the week.
Did You Know? City officials in Charleston must have long ago heard the phrase, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Fearful of what might happen if the city were ever to fall to the enemy, a large portion of black powder was moved to Fort Dorchester about twenty miles up the Ashley River. Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site preserves the remains of the fort and a church bell tower where the town once stood.
The Powder Magazine 79 Cumberland Street, Charleston, SC | 843-722-9350 | www.oldexchange.org/
In 1772, Daniel Heyward built a three-story double brick house on the site of a previous home. His son, Thomas, grew up in that house. Thomas Heyward was one of four Charlestonians to sign the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, Heyward used the house as his residence while defending the city. When the British conquered Charleston in 1780, he was arrested and sent to prison in St. Augustine, leaving his wife and sister-in-law to live in the house.
Today, visitors can take guided tours of the Heyward-Washington Housethat is owned and operated by The Charleston Museum. Tours cover the history of the home, Thomas Heyward, and the visit of George Washington to Charleston in 1791.
Did You Know? Four people from Charleston were sent to Philadelphia and signed the Declaration of Independence. Those four were Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, and Thomas Lynch Jr.
Heyward-Washington House 87 Church Street, Charleston, SC | 843-722-2996 | www.charlestonmuseum.org/historic-houses/heyward-washington-house/
In June 1776, a British force under the command of Commodore Sir Peter Parker and General Lord Cornwallis attempted an early invasion of Charleston. While Cornwallis landed on nearby Isle of Palms, Parker sailed his fleet to a position near a simple fort on Sullivan’s Island.
Colonel William Moultrie had been tasked with building a fort on Sullivan’s Island to protect from possible invasion. The only readily available building materials on the island were palmetto trees. When Parker opened fire on Fort Sullivan, the cannonballs would either bounce off the spongy palmetto logs or, at the very least, be absorbed. This led to a significant Patriot victory early in the Revolutionary War.
Nothing remains of the original palmetto log fort on Sullivan’s Island. In 1798, a new masonry fort was completed on the same site and named Fort Moultrie in honor of Colonel William Moultrie. Visitors to the national historical park can explore this history in a museum at the Visitor Center before exploring the fort itself.
Did You Know? Moultrie’s victory at the makeshift palmetto log for was instrumental in protecting Charleston early in the Revolutionary War. Today, the state flag of South Carolina features a palm tree in honor of that key historical event.
Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter National Historical Park 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island, SC | 843-883-3123 | www.nps.gov/fosu
Established in 1705, Middleton Place was the plantation home of the Middleton family. In 1742, Arthur Middleton was born in the plantation home and grew up outside Charleston. In 1776, Arthur succeeded his father as a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he became one of four Charlestonians to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Visitors to Middleton Place can take a guided tour of the plantation house, explore the oldest landscaped gardens in the country, and learn about the history of the Middletons through centuries of influence.
Middleton Place 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC | 843-556-6020 | www.middletonplace.org/
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Drayton Hall is the only surviving original plantation on the Ashley River and considered to be one of the greatest examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in the country. Built by John Drayton, in 1742, William Henry Drayton was born in the house. After receiving a proper English education, Drayton served as a Royal privy councilor in Charleston until he was unceremoniously replaced by an Englishman. This drove Drayton to support independence, and when South Carolina created its own government in 1775, he was appointed as the first chief justice.
Visitors to Drayton Hall can take a self-guided walk through the gorgeous grounds surrounding the plantation house, a guided tour of the house, and browse through books and locally made arts and crafts at the Visitor Center.
Drayton Hall 3380 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC | 843-769-2600 | www.draytonhall.org/
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site
In 1778, at the age of 21, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney joined the local militia to defend Charleston during the Revolutionary War. When the British captured the city in 1780, Pinckney was imprisoned and eventually banished to Philadelphia. In 1784, Pinckney was one of four delegates from South Carolina to attend the Constitutional Convention, where he wrote an early draft of the Constitution.
Not much remains of the 715-acre Snee Farm, where Pinckney spent a good deal of his childhood. Today, the few acres that remain are preserved as the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. A late 1800s farmhouse serves as the visitor center and museum where visitors can learn of the Pinckney family and the “Forgotten Founder” of the United States.
Charles Pinckney National Historic Site 1254 Long Point Road, Mount Pleasant, SC | 843-881-5516 | www.nps.gov/chpi
Where to Stay
Hotels in downtown Charleston are pricey. Sometimes it’s worth the expenditure because of the location and amenities. I have always recommended Belmond Charleston Place, HarbourView Inn, and Embassy Suites because it’s a pink castle (seriously).
Just fifteen minutes from downtown, Mt. Pleasant hotels are within easy striking distance and will save considerable money. I recommend the Best Western, Hotel Indigo, and Holiday Inn Express. Each of these is located along Highway 17 near the end of the Ravenel Bridge.
In North Charleston, you’ll find lots of great hotels around the Tanger Outlet shopping center. North Charleston still has a pretty good size military population with a naval training center and Air Force base at the airport, so there are plenty of rooms. The Aloft, Quality Inn, and Hilton Garden are great places to stay.