The earliest fortification projects in urban Charleston were motivated by the fear of invasion from our Spanish neighbors to the south.  In the autumn of 1686, a small Spanish fleet sailed northward from St. Augustine, Florida, with the hopes of driving the English out of South Carolina.  Stopping first at Edisto Island, then Carolina’s southernmost settlement, the Spanish forces invaded and destroyed most of the island’s English possessions.  Were it not for the sudden arrival of a hurricane, the Spanish would have continued northward and challenged the nascent fortifications of Charleston.

Want to learn more about this fascinating story?  Please join me for a look at the motivations behind the 1686 attack and its impact on the early history of both Edisto and South Carolina in general.

  • Thursday, 12 November 2015 at 5 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church Hall, 1589 Highway 174, Edisto Island, SC 29438. 
  • Monday, 16 November 2015 at 6 p.m., at Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401. 
Edisto Island, from the

Edisto Island, from the “Crisp Map” of 1711

In past programs we’ve discussed the histories of the most prominent features of Charleston’s early fortifications, such as Granville Bastion, Craven Bastion, and the Half-Moon Battery. Numerous details regarding these works can be found among the surviving records of South Carolina colonial General Assembly and other archival sources, so we know a good bit about their design, location, and demolition.

For the next program, however, I’m going to attempt to tell the story of the lesser-known bastions of the walled city; specifically, the bastions named Ashley, Carteret, and Colleton, as well as the enigmatic structure known as Blake’s Bastion or Blake’s Battery. These structures existed contemporaneously with the aforementioned bastions, during the early years of the eighteenth century, but relatively little is known about them. For a variety of reasons, these lesser bastions merited less attention from the denizens of early Charleston, and thus it’s now difficult for us to tell their stories. The following is a brief summary of what I’ve been able to learn by reading all of the surviving journals of our colonial government.

When credible intelligence of a Spanish plan to invade Charleston reached the South Carolina General Assembly in December 1703, the town’s fortifications consisted of an unfinished brick “fortress” at the south end of [East] Bay Street, a recently finished brick “Half-Moon Battery” at the east end of Broad Street, and a brick wall along the waterfront connecting the fortress and the battery. The assembly voted to begin immediately the construction of fortifications around the most defensible part of the town (roughly 62 acres of high land between Vanderhorst Creek to the south and Daniel’s Creek to the north), by means of a chain of bastions and redans (also called “salient angles”) connected by an earthen wall (or “entrenchment”) and surrounded by a moat. These works, which were “largely perfected” by October 1704, transformed urban Charleston into a “walled city” and endured for nearly three decades.

The corners of the trapezoid-shaped walled city were protected by diamond-shaped works called bastions, each of which was named for one of the Lords Proprietors who owned the Carolina colony. The brick “fortress” at the southeast corner was named Granville Bastion, while the new brick work at the northeast corner was named Craven Bastion. These large structures were maintained and used into the 1780s, and consequently we know a good bit about their history. The other bastions didn’t last nearly as long, and we know far less about them.

A close-up view of the map of Charles Town published in 1711 by Edward Crisp, highlighting the

A close-up view of the map of Charles Town published in 1711 by Edward Crisp, highlighting the “lesser-known” bastions.

Colleton Bastion, the southwest corner of the walled city, stood approximately on the site now occupied by the First Scots (Presbyterian) Church at the southwest corner of Tradd and Meeting Streets. It was constructed and armed in 1704, but its cannon were removed to the “curtain line” along East Bay Street sometime between November 1721 and November 1723. No descriptions of its appearance or dimensions are known to exist. Colleton Bastion was gone by the spring of 1733, when the newly formed Presbyterian congregation purchased the site and began building their first church.

Carteret Bastion formed the northwest corner of the town wall, but its precise location is a bit of a mystery. It probably stood somewhere very near the northwest corner of Meeting Street and Horlbeck Alley/Cumberland Street, but we’re not yet sure. The matter is complicated by the fact that the northward trajectory of Meeting Street was altered slightly in the years immediately after the bastion was removed. Archaeological testing in the early 1980s and early 2000s eliminated the southwest and southeast corners as possible sites of this bastion, and anecdotal evidence suggests that at least part of it may have covered the northeast corner of that intersection. Like Colleton Bastion, we know that Carteret Bastion was armed and ready by late 1704, but by December 1723 its cannon had been removed to augment the arsenal at Craven Bastion. Similarly, we know nothing about the appearance or dimensions of Carteret Bastion.

Ashley Bastion stood due west of Granville Bastion, and may have originally been intended to form the southwest corner of a square “fortress” planned in 1696–97. Its shape is unclear in the “Crisp Map” of 1711, but in Col. John Herbert’s “Ichnography or Plann of the Fortifications of Charlestown,” drawn on 21 October 1721 (now among the records of the National Archive of the United Kingdom), Ashley Bastion is drawn as a hexagonal structure of indistinct size. Although its placement between Granville Bastion and Colleton Bastion may seem irrational, we know Ashley Bastion stood on the west side of a creek or inlet and swamp, and thus its location enhanced the security of the town’s southern side. Beyond these facts, we know little about the size, construction, or precise location of Ashley Bastion. Like the other lesser bastions, it had been stripped of its armaments (and probably demolished) by December 1723.

Blake’s Bastion, also called Blake’s Battery, was not technically a bastion. Rather, it was a “V”-shaped detached work, like a fleche, placed a short distance due south of Granville Bastion. Due to the sparse number of surviving documentary references to its existence, however, it is unclear whether Blake’s Battery was built before or after the construction of its neighboring bastion. Tactically, the purpose of this work was no doubt to defend the mouth of the small creek or inlet that ran between Granville Bastion and Ashley Bastion. Although we know nothing about its size or precise location, we know that Blake’s Battery was built at least partly of brick. In December 1712, when work commenced on the construction of “the new brick church” that became St. Philip’s Church, the South Carolina General Assembly (who funded the church) ordered Col. William Rhett to oversee the removal of “the bricks that compose the battery called Blakes Battery” to the site of the new church. After that reference, Blake’s Battery disappears from the historical record.

If you’d like to learn more about these long-forgotten fortifications, and perhaps help me puzzle through the documentary evidence, please join me for an illustrated lecture titled:

“The Lesser-Known Bastions of Early Charleston”

Wednesday, August 12th 2015 at 6 p.m.

Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401

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

The funeral for CCPL librarian Cynthia Graham Hurd has been set for the morning of Saturday, June 27th, at which time all library branches will close to allow staff to attend the services. As a consequence, the upcoming program about Sergeant William Jasper, scheduled for noon on Saturday, has been canceled.

The encore version of the William Jasper program will take place as scheduled, on Wednesday, July 8th at 6 p.m., at the library’s main branch at 68 Calhoun Street.

For more information about the services in memory of CCPL librarian Cynthia Graham Hurd, please refer to the official press release posted on the CCPL website.

Nic Butler, Ph.D.:

Carolina Day commemorates the American military victory at Sullivan’s Island on 28 June 1776, and has been celebrated in Charleston every year since 1777. At that time, the city’s colonial-era fortifications and its able militia were in readiness for the inevitable British attack. Initially the American leaders assumed the enemy would focus its attack on White Point, the southern tip of the peninsula, because we had little hope of preventing the British from sailing past Sullivan’s Island and entering our harbor. Thanks to the heroic efforts of the men of the Second South Carolina Regiment, however, the British navy was unable to pass the unfinished palmetto log fort on Sullivan’s Island that was soon named Fort Moultrie.

The two star performers of that battle on 28 June 1776 were the fort itself and an obscure sergeant named William Jasper. The partially-completed fort, built of spongy palmetto logs and sand, absorbed the British cannon shot and held firm during the long day of hot action. The sergeant won eternal fame by climbing atop the fort’s parapet wall to rescue its fallen flag and affixing it to a makeshift staff. William Jasper’s dramatic act of bravery rallied the spirits of his weary comrades and may have turned the tide of the battle. For this, his name is forever associated with South Carolina’s fight for independence.

This year Carolina Day falls on a Sunday, so the various commemorative events will take place on Saturday, June 27th. If you’re headed to Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, please join me at noon for a biographical profile of Sergeant William Jasper at the island’s Edgar Allan Poe Library branch.

Originally posted on Charleston Time Machine:

The name of Sergeant William Jasper is found in every history of South Carolina written since the American Revolution, but in reality we know little about the man behind the famous name.  He is remembered as the brave soldier who stood atop the American fortifications at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28 June 1776, and again at the Battle of Savannah in October 1779, to rally his comrades to persevere in the face of an overwhelming British artillery barrage.  Sergeant Jasper unfortunately received a mortal wound during the action at Savannah, but the legend of his heroic deeds took root and grew over successive generations.

Detail from J. B. White's 1826 painting of the Battle of Fort Moultrie (collections of the U.S. Senate) Sgt. Jasper appears in this detail from J. B. White’s 1826 painting of The Battle of Fort Moultrie (collections of the U.S. Senate)

In the course of time, some narratives of William Jasper’s military exploits have included questions about his origins and background.  A sampling of the published…

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Nic Butler, Ph.D.:

Here’s a conundrum I’ve been struggling to decipher for several years: how can we reconcile the fact that water once flowed from the Cooper River, across East Bay Street, into Dock Street (now Queen Street), with the fact that there was supposedly a solid brick “wharf wall” along the eastern line of East Bay Street? After a lot of head scratching and research, I think I’ve found the answer. Prior to the early 1740s, South Carolina’s colonial legislature made a special exception in the law empowering the brick “wharf wall,” which allowed a “breach” in the wall to exist at the east end of Dock Street, to permit the flow of water. This authorized exception is first mentioned in a 1714 law authorizing improvements to the wharf wall, and it seems to have continued until the “water course” in Dock Street (renamed Queen Street in 1734) was finally obliterated in the the 1740s.

Originally posted on Charleston Time Machine:

It’s Spoleto season in Charleston, and each day of the festival the Dock Street Theatre is crammed to the rafters with amateurs of chamber music and opera.  This “historic” venue opened in November 1937 on the site of the site of a much smaller 1736 theater that was briefly known by the same name.  Visitors will be excused for expressing some confusion when they are directed to find the Dock Street Theatre at the southwest corner of Church and Queen Streets.  The inevitable question, “What happened to Dock Street?” is routinely met with the curt answer, “the watery street was filled and renamed Queen Street a long time ago.”  The details are obscure, and you won’t find very much at all about this topic in any book about the history of Charleston.  Behind this seemingly arcane matter, however, is a much larger and much more interesting story that tells us much about the early development of…

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Johnson’s Ravelin, also known as Johnson’s Cover’d Half Moon, was a man-made triangular island (of sorts) that guarded the only land entrance into Charleston for approximately thirty years.  Designed in December 1703 and dismantled in the early 1730s, this important defensive work was once a major landmark of our city’s built environment.  Today, however, it’s completely unfamiliar to most of the residents and tourists who pass over its remnants at the modern intersection of Broad and Meeting Streets.

The history of Johnson’s Ravelin begins in December 1703, when Governor Nathaniel Johnson called an emergency session of the South Carolina General Assembly in Charleston.  Credible intelligence had just been received, the governor informed the legislators, that Spanish forces were massing at Havana and St. Augustine for an invasion of South Carolina, and immediate action was required to prepare an adequate defense of the colony.  After discussions and debates, the legislature voted to fund a new system of fortifications to surround the highest, driest land in the capital, Charles Town, with a new system of fortifications.  Two French Huguenot refugees were summoned to design the enceinte and to lay out the walls and moats that would encircle the town for the next three decades.

One of the most impressive features of the 62-acre trapezoid enceinte of Charleston was the ravelin, a detached work designed to guard the only landward entrance to the town.  This feature was not a local invention, of course, but rather a standard component of European-style fortifications that was described and illustrated in every military textbook of the late seventeenth century.  French engineers under Louis XIV were among the best and most prolific practitioners of fortification construction during that era, and so it is telling that the English government of early South Carolina turned to French civilian immigrants for advice in this moment of military crisis.  The English borrowed the French term ravelin, but occasionally they used an English equivalent phrase “covered half-moon,” so-called because this feature allows musketeers (that’s the correct term) to “cover” or defend a semicircular sweep of land in front of the town gate.

By October 1704, Governor Johnson reported to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina that the new works around Charleston were “nearly perfected.”  The earliest known illustration of the enceinte of Charleston appears in map published in London in 1711, the so-called “Crisp Map.”  The two images below are details from that map.  The first shows an extreme close-up of the ravelin with features labled “H,” “I,” and “K” (remember that the letters “I” and “J” were interchangeable at this time), while the second image shows the accompanying explanation of those three features.


As you can see, the ravelin or “cover’d Half Moon” named for Governor Johnson included not one, but two drawbridges leading to the town gate.  Persons traveling to Charleston from the country came southward down the “broad path” (King Street) to the site of the modern intersection of King and Queen Streets, then turned to the southeast and approached the ravelin.  The first drawbridge “in ye Half Moon” (letter K) stretched along a northwest-southeast trajectory, perpendicular to the ravelin’s outer moat.  Having crossed over that bridge onto the ravelin proper (letter I), one then turned approximately 45 degrees to face due east and then crossed over a second drawbridge “in ye Line” (letter H) and passed through (or under) the gateway into the intersection of Meeting and Broad Streets.

These drawbridges, or at least the outer one, were still present and being repaired in the late 1720s, despite an often-cited but inaccurate notation found on a 1739 map of Charleston stating that the town’s early fortifications were removed in 1717.  In reality, the ravelin and its associated features were dismantled in the early 1730s, though the exact date is lost among some missing legislative records of that era.  It was during the early 1730s that the physical limits of the town began to expand rapidly, as a truce reigned between Britain and Spain and South Carolina—now finally a “Royal” colony—settled into a brief era of peace and prosperity.

The obsolete ravelin was soon forgotten, but remnants of its moat continued to linger for many years. Shortly after the 1743 completion of the provincial armory, near the southwest corner of Broad and Meeting Streets, the keepers of the public arms complained that the building’s proximity to an adjacent “pond” was causing the weapons to rust and decay. There was no natural “pond” at this site, however; the water was simply a vestige of the old moat. A similar problem was found a decade later at the northwest corner of Broad and Meeting Streets, where the South Carolina government planned to build its state house (now the Charleston County Historic Courthouse). The commissioners appointed to construct the state house objected to that site, noting in the spring of 1752 that “the ground is so loose and full of quick-sands, as to render it insufficient to support the weight intended to be laid upon it.” That site had once been high, dry ground, but the former moat surrounding the ravelin had compromised the integrity of the soil.

In the image below, I’ve taken a 1995 HABS photograph of the intersection of Broad and Meeting Streets and drawn heavy red lines to indicate the approximate location of the moat surrounding Johnson’s Ravelin.  The placement of these lines is not entirely hypothetical; rather, they are based on eighteenth-century documentary descriptions and archaeological evidence from the late 1990s.

While the old State House / Charleston County Courthouse was undergoing massive renovations in 1999, workers found the buried remains of several large cedar posts that once supported the outer drawbridge (marked “K” in the Crisp Map above). In addition, archaeologists studying the courtyard immediately north of the courthouse found evidence of the moat on the east and northwest edges of their excavations. By combining these physical clues with local documentary evidence and illustrations taken from published fortification textbooks, we can begin to reconstruct the appearance of Johnson’s Ravelin in the early eighteenth century. It’s a work in progress, but if you’d like to learn more about this topic, please join me for a lecture titled:

“Johnson’s Ravelin: Charleston’s First Town Gate”

Wednesday, May 27th 2015 at 6 p.m.

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

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

Nic Butler, Ph.D.:

The walls of early Charleston were not just designed to discourage potential invaders. They were also meant to protect the population, as a “place of refuge,” in times of alarm. During the Yamasee War of 1715–1717, the fortifications of urban Charleston served exactly this role, sheltering many hundreds of refugees fleeing the frontier violence in Granville and Colleton Counties. First-hand accounts of that era confirm that settlers fled to the colonial capital, where a strong gate at Johnson’s Ravelin was the only land entrance into the town.

Please join me for a free program about the Yamasee War on May 20th, and stay tuned for more details about the upcoming program on Johnson’s Ravelin on May 27th!

Originally posted on Charleston Time Machine:

In the spring of 1715, the Yamasee Indians and allied tribes in the lowcountry of South Carolina rose up against their European neighbors and began a campaign of terror and destruction.  After two years of bloody warfare that claimed hundreds of lives, Colleton County had been completely depopulated, the colony’s treasury was empty, and South Carolina was on the brink of collapse.  Three hundred years later, it’s time for a reappraisal of this pivotal, yet largely forgotten chapter in our state’s history.

The Yamasee (spelled variously) were/are a tribe of indigenous people who once lived in the vicinity of northern Florida and the original southern boundary of South Carolina (now Georgia).  Although originally allied with the Spanish, the Yamasee broke ties with Florida, pledged friendship with the English, and moved northward into lower South Carolina in the 1680s.  As late as 1713, the English government of South Carolina counted the Yamasee as being among their best allies among…

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