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Today’s archaeology at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets focused on one specific feature that is visible at the surface of the ground: the point at which the composition of the sea wall under investigation transitions from brick to stone. We dug on both sides of the wall in search of clues that might help us determine the vintage of the materials and the sequence of construction. Based on what we’ve seen over these two days, it appears that most of our target, the 1769 sea wall, was rebuilt during multiple repair episodes in the first half of the 19th century, and the original construction materials (brick and Bermuda stone) were deconstructed and recycled as fill behind the rebuilt wall.

In response to Robert Behre’s article in today’s edition of the Post and Courier, a number of local residents and tourists stopped by the dig site to peer into the past and ask questions. As always, it was a pleasure to share our discoveries, theories, and enthusiasm for urban archaeology.

The point at which the brick  wall transitions into a stone wall.

The point at which the brick wall transitions into a stone wall.

We commenced digging approximately 40 feet east of King Street, on the south side (water side) of the sea wall. As we learned yesterday, there is a large concrete utility chase in this area running parallel to our wall, so we knew we would only be able to excavate to a depth of two or three feet. Approximately two feet below the surface, we encountered the concrete chase and began to clean the wall for a better view. As you can see in the photo,  some masons in the past took a certain amount of care to fit and mortar irregularly shaped stones into the jagged edge of the brick work. Both of these elements, however, appear to represent nineteenth century repairs. The appearance and size of the bricks, combined with the color and composition of the mortar, suggest that these materials replaced the eighteenth-century bricks and mortar that originally composed the wall. As mentioned in yesterday’s posting, we also know that repairs to this wall were done with stone after 1811. But which came first—the brick repairs seen here, or the stone repairs? That’s a question that will require further digging through the surviving newspapers and other documentary records.

A view of the south side of the wall at the brick-stone interface.

A view of the south side of the wall at the brick-stone interface.

A view of the north side of the wall adjacent to the brick-stone interface.

A view of the north side of the wall adjacent to the brick-stone interface.

 

Unable to dig deeper on the south side of the wall, we turned our attention to its north side to see if there might be other clues to help decipher the brick-stone intersection. Behind (north 0f) the wall we found the same mix of fill materials as yesterday; that is, ballast stone, eighteenth-century brick bats, and a large quantity of fragmented Bermuda stone. We remain in awe of the prevalence of Bermuda stone concentrated in this small area. Whether or not the wall we’re investigating represents work completed in 1769 or extensive repairs in the 1830s, the profusion of otherwise-rare Bermuda stone at this location confirms that we’re in the right place and, at the very least, seeing the city’s attempts to maintain a very useful piece of colonial waterfront infrastructure. Like yesterday’s work, today’s study of the back fill area yielded a number of ceramic fragments that continue to indicate that this site was heavily disturbed during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Looking east at the backfill behind the sea wall (at right), showing the loose and consolidated sections of rubble materials.

Looking east at the back fill behind the sea wall (at right), showing the loose and consolidated sections of rubble materials.

In today’s case, however, we observed a difference in the nature of the fill behind the wall. Careful hand-troweling through the rubble revealed that a reasonably discrete portion of the fill was slathered in mortar, as if in an attempt to create a unified body. The extent and purpose of this mortar-bound fill is unclear, but we have a theory. The consolidated section in question is perpendicular to the wall, and perhaps was intended to act as a buttress or “counterfort” to stabilize the wall against the opposing force of the tides.

Speaking of the tides, today’s downward digging once again found water just a few feet below the surface, and it’s hard to forget that the Ashley River is just a stone’s throw away from our site. And so, hemmed in by modern utilities, streetscapes, and seeping tidal waters, we closed up our units and now begin the work of analyzing the data.

The Mayor’s Walled City Task Force extends its collective thanks to the City of Charleston (especially the Stormwater Services and Parks Departments), Clemson University, the Charleston Museum, the College of Charleston, the Charleston County Public Library, the Post and Courier, and every one who visited the site, for helping to make this brief but very productive collaborative venture a success. Our goal is to pursue and to share knowledge in an effort to increase public understanding and appreciation of Charleston’s history, and I think we’re right on target.

The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston.

The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston.

This morning the Walled City Task Force began a brief exploratory dig at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets, and we found some interesting materials. Did we find physical evidence to confirm the existence of the 1769 sea wall built of Bermuda stone and brick? Well, maybe. It’s a long story, and it’s going to take us a while to sort out the evidence and draw conclusions.

Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets.

Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets.

If you recall the earlier posting about this topic, we’re seeking to identify the line of bricks and stones that is visible along much of the northern edge of White Point Garden (see the photo below). This line doesn’t seem to be related to either the boundary of the park or the curb of South Battery Street, and so we suspect it is a vestige of a wall constructed in the summer of 1769 as a sea wall to protect the extensive and expensive fortifications that once stood at White Point. There is no documentary evidence to suggest that this wall was ever dismantled, and thus it would have stood as a visible, useful barrier for the neighborhood until a new wall was built around the western extension of White Point Garden ca. 1850.

Most of the early records of the City of Charleston were lost or destroyed during the chaos of the spring of 1865, however, so there is a big blind spot in our historical understanding of this site.  We know from newspaper advertisements that there was some sort of repair or refashioning of this 1769 sea wall during the early years of the nineteenth century, but the extent of that work is unclear. In October of 1811, for example, the city advertised that it needed large “building stone” for construction of the East Battery sea wall (still standing today), and also “building stone of a smaller size from fifty to two hundred weight for South-Bay-street.” In October 1812, and again as late as April 1831, the city advertised its desire to contract with someone to repair “the stone wall on South Bay.” Based on what we found today, it appears that much (but perhaps not all) of the 1769 brick sea wall was rebuilt with granite stones in the early 1800s.

The first hole revealed a bonanza of rubble fill material, including large fragments of Bermuda stone.

The first hole revealed a bonanza of rubble fill material, including large fragments of Bermuda stone.

Using a small backhoe and shovels, we dug (and later re-filled) three holes today. The first hole was on the north side (the land side) of the wall in question, approximately 100 feet east of King Street. Just a few inches below the surface, we encountered a bonanza of ballast stone, brick bats, and large chunks of Bermuda stone. The wall appears to be constructed solely of stones, and back-filled with dense rubble containing almost no artifacts. That description doesn’t match what we’re looking for, but the presence of the Bermuda stone fragments was a pleasant surprise. Charleston’s senior archaeologist, Martha Zierden of the Charleston Museum, says its very unusual to find such a concentration of Bermuda stone, even fragments of it, in Charleston. If this section of the 1769 wall was rebuilt with quarried stone ca. 1811, it would make sense that workers would excavate the surviving Bermuda stone and brick and recycle it as fill material.

The second hole, on the south side of the wall, showing nineteenth-century stone repairs and a late 20th century utility obstruction.

The second hole, on the south side of the wall, showing nineteenth-century stone repairs and a late 20th century utility obstruction.

The second hole was dug on the south side (the water side) of the wall, approximately fifteen feet west of the first hole. Here we found the relatively clean face of a granite stone wall with a slight batter or slope from top to bottom. The soil in front of the wall was completely sterile and new, because sometime in the late twentieth century the power utility company built an extensive concrete chase that runs nearly the width of the park, parallel to the wall we’re investigating. After digging down approximately three feet, that utility line prevented us from exploring this side of the wall any further. As you can see in my photograph, it appears that this section of the 1769 sea wall was also rebuilt with stone in 1811.

Martha Zierden places a photographic scale on the brick wall exposed in our third hole of the day.

Martha Zierden places a photographic scale on the brick wall exposed in our third hole of the day.

The third and final hole of the day was located just a few feet east of the corner of King and South Battery, next to the clearly exposed line of brick. After just a few seconds of breaking the surface on the north side (land side) of the wall, we began seeing fragments of ceramics and glass. Martha Zierden dated them to the first half of the nineteenth-century. We were able to remove enough fill to expose fifteen courses of brick before water began to seep into the hole (remember the Ashley River is just a stone’s throw away). Although we were pleased to finally see some intact, old brickwork, the appearance of the brick was not quite what we were expecting. We found many fragments of colonial-era brick in the fill behind the wall, but as you can see in the photo below, the bond or pattern of the layout of the brick is more reminiscent of post-colonial-era work.

The brickwork of uncertain vintage, exposed in the day's third hole.

The brickwork of uncertain vintage, exposed in the day’s third hole.

Could it be that this section of the 1769 brick sea wall was also rebuilt ca. 1811, but with brick rather than stone? The determining factor in this question might be the presence or absence of Bermuda stone at the base of the brick work. Since the bottom course of bricks was actually below the water level, we couldn’t see what was there. A tactile investigation (that is, reaching into the mud) found only coarse silt and vague fragments, which might actually represent the remnants of degraded Bermuda stone (which is soft when under water and hardens only when exposed to dry air). In short, we’re not sure of the date of this construction.

Looking west toward the intersection of King and South Battery Streets.

Looking west toward the intersection of King and South Battery Streets.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day of archaeology, despite the high temperature of only 48. We’ll return to the scene tomorrow and try to find further evidence to help us understand the construction history of this mysterious wall. Thursday should be a warmer day, so please drop by and have a look if you’re in the neighborhood. Remember, also, that there will be a public program in late March including recap the history of the 1768-1769 sea wall and a summary of the findings from this dig.

 

A small fragment of Bermuda stone excavated today.

A small fragment of Bermuda stone excavated today.

Oh–and of course I have to include a photo of a Bermuda stone fragment recovered from this morning first dig. This material would have been sawed into a rectangular block originally, but as you can see now it’s quite degraded.

 

Everyone is familiar with Charleston’s famous Battery, the stone and concrete sea wall and promenade that wraps around White Point at the southern tip of the peninsula. In fact, the Battery is our city’s most popular tourist destination, drawing several million visitors every year. Few people know, however, that this picturesque landmark was not the first wall the protect White Point from the daily inundation of the tides. Beginning in the spring of 1768 and concluding the autumn of 1769, the General Assembly of South Carolina funded the construction of a half-mile long wall around this same location, using Bermuda stone, bricks, and palmetto logs. Although it has been almost entirely forgotten, significant portions of this late-colonial-era wall may still exist under White Point Garden. In the coming weeks, the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force will endeavor to raise awareness of the this forgotten wall by way of blog posts, public programs, and even a brief archaeological dig.

The sea wall in question, which didn’t really have a proper name, commenced in 1768 at Granville’s Bastion (now under the Missroon House at 40 East Bay Street) and extended southward past Lyttelton Bastion, turned westwardly around Broughton’s Battery, and ended at Lamboll’s Bridge (a large wharf just west of the south end of King Street). Its primary purpose was to protect the above-mentioned fortifications from the “violence of the seas,” and it replaced the earthen ramparts constructed (at great expense) for that purpose in the late 1750s under engineer William De Brahm. According to the design specifications, which survive in the manuscript “Journal of the Commissioners of Fortifications, 1755-1770″ at SCDAH, the brick wall stood at least five feet above ground on a foundation of Bermuda stones. Split palmetto logs were affixed to the outer face of the wall as a sacrificial buffer against tidal forces. The contract for the brickwork was won by the firm of Timothy Crosby and Anthony Toomer, while Hercules Hall was the lowest bidder for the carpentry contract.

The red line indicates the path of the 1768-1769 sea wall around Charleston's White Point

The red line indicates the path of the 1768-1769 sea wall around Charleston’s White Point

As discussed in previous postings on this blog, the various colonial-era fortifications situated around White Point were dismantled shortly after the American Revolution, and the waterfront property on which they had stood was subdivided and sold at auction. When the City of Charleston began planning the southward extension of East Bay Street in 1785, the proposed route extended from Granville’s Bastion toward the former site of Broughton’s Battery, but passing in front (eastward) of the “old” brick sea wall. In the course of the private development along this site, in conjunction with the city’s creation of what is now called “East Battery Street,” the northeastern half of the our late-colonial sea wall was probably obliterated. In contrast to this loss, however, the southwestern half of the old wall appears on several post-Revolutionary plats of White Point and South Battery, and, despite private development in this area in the late 1700s, significant portions of this wall may survive under the grass of White Point Garden, the seven-acre park developed between the late 1830s and the early 1850s.

In the coming weeks there will be several opportunities to learn more about this long-forgotten sea wall, so stay tuned to this blog for updates. For the moment, however, I encourage you to mark your calendar for an upcoming free public lecture, titled:

“Charleston’s First Battery Sea Wall, 1768-1769″

Tuesday, January 27th at 6 p.m.

Charleston Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

 

In the one hundred years between the settlement of Charles Town on Oyster Point in 1680 and the American surrender of Charleston to the British Army in 1780, South Carolina’s provincial legislature directed massive amounts of money, resources, and labor toward the erection of defensive fortifications for the protection of the colony’s capital and main port. During that long era, South Carolinians carefully watched the movements of our Spanish and French neighbors in St. Augustine, Havana, Biloxi, Mobile, and New Orleans, ever mindful of the treat of foreign invasion. The Treaty of Paris in 1763, signed by Britain, France, and Spain, marked the beginning of an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity in the American colonies. For the first time in our colonial history, South Carolinians no longer worried about the threat of foreign invasion, and the commerce of our ports expanded rapidly.

The rift between the colonists and Britain in 1775 brought a sudden end to what had been a very prosperous decade, however, and induced South Carolinians to make rapid preparations for an imminent engagement with a new enemy. After refurbishing and expanding our fortifications, Charleston was eventually overwhelmed by the might of the British Army and capitulated on 12 May 1780. Between that time and the British evacuation of Charleston on 14 December 1782, the occupying forces maintained and even expanded some of the town’s urban fortifications as a precaution against an American counterattack. But the dawning of the year 1783 brought a fresh outlook to South Carolina. All of our enemies had retreated, and, for the first time since the founding of the colony, South Carolina’s sovereignty stood unchallenged on the world stage. At that moment our legislators, military leaders, and private citizens asked themselves, what should become of the long-standing urban fortifications crowding our principal port and capital town?

1784 newspaper notice for sale of fortifications in Charleston

1784 newspaper notice for sale of fortifications in Charleston

In retrospect, we look back at the year 1783 as the official beginning of the happy sovereignty of the United States of America, but at that time not everyone was so sanguine about our future. Following legislative debates and petitions from the merchant community, South Carolina’s General Assembly voted in March 1783 to preserve, maintain, and even expand Charleston’s urban fortifications. In the meantime, peace negotiations were proceeding in Paris between American and British diplomats, and the news of their progress was amply reported in our local newspapers.  When the City of Charleston was finally incorporated on 13 August 1783, local conversations began about who had jurisdiction over the urban defenses, and how long they might remain. Finally, at the end of its spring session in late March 1784, the South Carolina legislature voted to divest the state’s interest in Charleston’s urban fortifications. The state appointed three commissioners to manage the process of surveying, subdividing, and selling “the public lands whereon the forts and fortifications were erected, and low-water lots in Charleston,” as well as a few other non-military sites. Commencing in April 1784 and continuing to August 1789, these commissioners superintended the relatively rapid removal of the urban fortifications that had preoccupied South Carolina’s public treasury for more than a century.

The significance of this process of fortification removal, or demilitarization, for the City of Charleston cannot be overstated. The Charleston that has garnered so much devotion and praise from its denizens and tourists alike is the product of generations of civilian activity, a marriage of private enterprise and public appropriations. But the present landscape of Charleston—its infrastructure and its built environment—was shaped in part by the dominating presence of our early fortifications and by their removal in the 1780s. Understanding the physical evolution of Charleston thus requires an understanding of the physical growth of the now-absent fortifications. Fortunately for us, the five-year process of dismantling the fortifications generated a paper trail that provides important information about the location, dimensions, materials, and construction of the old works. Such information, combined with documentary evidence from colonial-era records, helps us understand how and where the fortifications were built, but it doesn’t answer all the lingering questions. The absence of many crucial documents has been a constant source of frustration in our efforts to research this topic. It is somewhat comforting, though, to see that in the 1780s some of the best legal minds in South Carolina were as confused about the legal title to some lands fortified in the colonial era as I am today.

The story of the removal of Charleston’s urban defenses forms the final installment of our 2014 lecture series on Charleston’s colonial fortifications. Please join me for a program titled

“The Demilitarization of Urban Charleston, 1784–1789″

Wednesday, December 17th at 6 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St., 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

Pedestrians strolling past the swanky restaurants on Charleston’s upper King Street and promenading through the Farmers’ Market in Marion Square probably have no idea they’re treading through the heavily-fortified siege lines that once defined one of the most important battles of the American Revolution. A relatively new historical marker on the east side of King Street in the square commemorates the protracted British siege of Charleston in the spring of 1780, but it’s a minuscule reminder of a much larger scene that requires a lot of imagination to visualize. So, where were the siege lines of that historic battle, and what sorts of fortifications did the opposing forces erect? Two hundred and thirty-four years after the siege, the answers to these questions have been obscured by generations of development, but recent investigations are beginning to make the scene a bit clearer.

First, it is important to state that anyone interested in this topic should begin by reading Carl Borick’s book, A Gallant Defense: The Siege of Charleston, 1780 (University of South Carolina Press, 2003). This book provides excellent descriptions and analysis of the battle, based entirely on primary source material, and guides the reader through the many months of turmoil and bloodshed leading to the American surrender of Charleston on 12 May 1780. Mr. Borick’s book does not include a detailed analysis of the fortifications, however, because such an investigation would have derailed his book from its larger theme.

Working towards my own book on the urban fortifications of early Charleston, however, I’ve spent a lot of time gathering fragmentary details about these fortifications from surviving archival resources and the accounts of various eye witnesses to the siege. In addition, I’ve acquired copies of several manuscript maps of the era 1775–1783 that provide visual clues that help elucidate the documentary evidence. There are still more historical documents and maps out there, but locating them and obtaining copies often takes time. Nevertheless, a variety of manuscript maps from archives such as the British Library, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, the Clements Library at the University of Michigan, the Huntington Library in California, Dartmouth University Library, the Library of Congress, the South Carolina Historical Society, and of course the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, depict various parts of the suburban battlefield that is now part of urban Charleston.

Taken together, these maps illustrate, with a reasonable degree of uniformity, the many layers of fortifications employed by both sides. The American defensive lines stretched across the peninsula from the Ashley to the Cooper River, standing in ranks of graduated height from an artificial canal between John and Ann Streets to the mighty Horn Work with its back against the town limit (Boundary Street, now Calhoun Street). After sailing up the rivers and disembarking on the northern “neck” of the peninsula, the British army crept southward and encamped beyond the range of the American guns. At the beginning of April 1780, they began digging a series of siege trenches or “parallels” that zig-zagged southward from Columbus Street to the Americans’ artificial canal between John and Ann Streets. By the time British and Hessian troops drained the canal and penetrated the American defensive lines, just south of the modern intersection of King and John Streets, the end of the siege was a foregone conclusion.

Col. de Cambray's "Plan de la ville de Charlestown" at the Library of Congress

Col. de Cambray’s “Plan de la ville de Charlestown” at the Library of Congress

Most of the aforementioned maps are covered by copyrights held by their respective institutions, and a sense of scholastic respect prevents me from posting them on this website. I will, however, direct readers to a very interesting French map held by the Library of Congress that is available online and downloadable. The manuscript map in question is not signed or dated, but it appears to be the work of Colonel Louis Antoine Jean Baptiste de Cambray-Digny (1751–1822), a French engineer who served in the American army in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, and Georgia before being captured by the British in Charleston in 1780. Col. de Cambray, as he was known to the South Carolina legislature in Charleston, superintended the American fortifications during the siege, and the map held at the Library of Congress includes his two-paragraph caption (in French, naturellement) that gives a wonderful description of the siege and the American fortifications. A later copy of this map (with a much abbreviated caption) was published by George W. Williams in the South Carolina Historical Magazine in April 1975 (see my bibliography), but the map at the Library of Congress includes valuable, unpublished information about the fortifications. I encourage you to click on the image of the map above and read Col. de Cambray’s caption. If you need a bit of help, here’s my translation:

­Plan of the town of Charlestown of its retrenchments and of the siege made by the English in 1780.

The night of the first of April they opened their trenches. The 10th they summoned the town [to surrender]. The 13th the 1st parallel and its batteries were finished, and began to cannonade. The 18th the 2nd parallel was finished. The 24th the besiegers mad­e a sortie to the extreme right of the 3rd parallel. The 8th of May they summoned the town to surrender. The 3rd parallel and its batteries were completed and commenced a demolishing fire [“á battre en brêche”]. The 11th they made a sap very close to the salient angle of the advance battery on the left, ­and made a passage through the advance moat from which the water had been previously drained. The 13th [sic, the 12th] the town capitulated.

The retrenchments [i.e., defensive lines] of Charlestown consisted of detached redans and curtains, the parapets 7 feet high, 16 feet thick; the moat was 12 feet deep and 26 wide. It was double palisaded, there were three rows of wells [“puits,” or trous-de-loup] beyond and some strong abatis; the contested ground [“le front attaquée,” i.e., the space between the two armies] was covered by a moat full of water 30 feet wide. The retrenchments were made in haste in less than 4 weeks in 1779, and saved the town from invasion by the English under Gen. Prevost. When the English disembarked on Johns Island there were only 200 men in garrison in the town; there was not a single cannon mounted, the abatis had been burned during the winter and had not yet been remade. When the English began their entrenchments, the garrison was about 1200 men, the militia and the sailors did nothing during the whole siege the defense was always directed by Continental troops which extended from one river to the other. During the siege the English shot 10,000 bombs 16,000 bullets and 150 carcasses. The defenders were reduced to live on nothing but rice and molasses for 4 days before the town capitulated. The garrison amounted at that time numbered 1900 [illegible] including sick, injured, servants etc. The English had at the time of the reduction 13,000 men, perfectly enveloping the town by sea and by land, and could [illegble] with success to land in the town which the defenders had guarded so vigorously.

The published diaries and memoirs of several other participants in the 1780 siege of Charleston, including those of Henry Clinton, Banastre Tarleton, Johann Hinrichs, Johann Ewald, and William Moultrie, provide additional details that help us imagine the scene. Walking around the environs of Charleston’s King Street and Marion Square, however, the modern built environment makes it difficult to visualize the battlefield of 1780. I’m in the process of attempting to overlay historic maps onto recent satellite images of Charleston, and this endeavor can prove to be very illuminating. If you’d like to see those overlays and learn more about the siege of 1780, please join me for a program titled:

“Charleston’s Fortifications of the

American Revolution, 1775–1783″

Wednesday, November 19th 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

Second Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St., 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

In October 2013 Charleston’s Post and Courier ran a front-page story about my research on the “Horn Work,” a large tabby fortification that once straddled King Street and served as the gateway into the town.  As a result of that press coverage, we had a very large turnout for my 2013 “Horn Work” presentation at CCPL. In case you missed that event, we’re offering two ways to catch up on your knowledge of Charleston’s largest fortification. First, you can watch last year’s presentation at your leisure via the following YouTube link:

Second, I’m presenting an updated version of this lecture at CCPL on Wednesday, October 22nd at 6 p.m. What’s new for 2014? I’ve been tinkering with my three-dimensional model of the Horn Work in an effort to render its size and materials more accurately. I’ve also gathered some new information from the British Library about Lt. Col. Henry Bouquet‘s role in convincing the South Carolina General Assembly to fund the construction of this important fortification project. Bouquet arrived in Charleston in mid-June 1757 as commander of the first battalion of the newly-formed 60th Regiment of Foot, better known as the “Royal Americans.” Bouquet’s surviving correspondence also reveals that in August 1757 he sent an illustrated plan of Charleston’s new fortifications to his superior officer, John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudoun. Many of the earl’s papers from the era of the “French and Indian War” survive in scattered archives, so I’ve begun a search for this forgotten 1757 treasure.

Archival sources at the British Library also provide “new” information about Lieutenant Emanuel Hess, the young Swiss engineer who accompanied the “Royal Americans” to South Carolina in 1757. Within a period of less than six months, Lieutenant Hess designed a series of new fortifications for Charleston, James Island, and Beaufort. After supervising the initial stages of these construction projects, Lt. Hess and the rest of the Royal Americans sailed from Charleston to Philadelphia in the late spring of 1758. Lt. Col. Bouquet then marched his troops towards the French at Fort Duquesne, but Lt. Hess fell ill and was left behind in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There he died of tuberculosis and was buried on 22 February 1759.

If you’d like to learn more about Lieutenant’s Hess’s “Horn Work” in Charleston, and the other fortifications he designed for South Carolina, please join me for a program titled:

“The Horn Work: Charleston’s Tabby Fortress, 1757–1784″

Time: Wednesday, October 22nd 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

Place: Second Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St., 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

William De Brahm’s tenure in South Carolina was as dramatic as it was brief. Within a period of five years between 1752 and 1757 he drafted several different audaciously sophisticated plans for fortifying urban Charleston, charmed the doubting General Assembly, and ultimately roused the contempt of most of his supporters. Along the way he left a paper trail that provides fascinating insight into the most intensive period of fortification construction in pre-Revolutionary Charleston.

The German-born De Brahm initially came to British North America to work as a surveyor for the colony of Georgia, but South Carolina’s governor, James Glen, lured him to move to Charleston with promises of a lucrative contract to design and build fortifications for the port town. Although Governor Glen’s scheme was initially rebuked by the South Carolina legislature, the outbreak of fresh hostilities Between Britain and France—what we now call the French and Indian War—convinced our politicians of the urgent need to repair and expand Charleston’s aging fortifications.

De Brahm's ca. 1755 plan included a fortified canal connecting the Ashley and Cooper Rivers

De Brahm’s ca. 1755 plan for a fortified canal connecting the Ashley and Cooper Rivers

De Brahm’s designs for fortifying Charleston survive among archival collections at the National Archive of the United Kingdom and at the British Library. A total of six drawings survive, illustrating De Brahm’s proposed defensive works for urban Charleston, Fort Johnson on James Island, and a “Fortified Canal across the Neck from Ashley to Cooper River.” From these documents we see not only De Brahm’s considerable skill as a draftsman, but also the depth of his training and understanding of the science of military architecture.

Encouraged by Governor Glen and finally approved by the General Assembly, De Brahm commenced work in 1755 to transform the peninsula of Charleston into the most sophisticated military enceinte in British North America. If he had completed this project, Charleston would have become an island, separated from “the neck” of the peninsula by a fortified canal flanked by two small forts. But De Brahm’s work dragged on at a snail’s pace while the war with France move increasingly northward. By 1757 it was clear that the Canadian frontier was the epicenter of the war, and the perceived need for coastal defenses in South Carolina diminished. De Brahm’s elaborate new works for Charleston were already behind schedule and over budget, and in 1757 he learned that his services were no longer needed in South Carolina.

Fortunately for us, De Brahm left a robust paper trail of his activities in South Carolina. Many (but not all) of the drawings he made in Charleston survive in British archives, and in 1773 De Brahm presented an illustrated summary of his work in South Carolina and elsewhere to his ultimate employer, King George III. From these records, combined with accounts and descriptions in the surviving legislative records of colonial South Carolina, we can learn much about the ambitious efforts to expand Charleston’s fortifications in the 1750s. This era forms one of the most fascinating and well-documented chapters in the fortification history of urban Charleston, and the projects set in motion by De Brahm had long-lasting ramifications for the growth of the city’s built environment.

If you’d like to learn more more about this topic, please join me next week for an illustrated program titled:

“William De Brahm’s Fortification Plans

for Charleston, 1752–1757″

Time: Wednesday, September 24th 2014 at 6:00 p.m.

Place: Second Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St., 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

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