programs


A 1780 illustration of Broughton's Battery at the southernmost tip of the Charleston peninsula

A 1780 illustration of Broughton’s Battery at the southernmost tip of the Charleston peninsula

Nearly a year an a half ago, in April 2013, I presented a lecture on Broughton’s Battery, a formidable brick fortification that stood at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers from 1736 to 1784. At that time I proposed that this little-known work, which was designed by Swiss engineer Gabriel Bernard, was one of the largest and most significant fortifications constructed in colonial Charleston. It was designed to mount up to forty cannon, although South Carolina’s artillery-starved colonial militia could scarcely afford to mount more than 25 or 30 guns at the site. Unfortunately for us, there is scant extant information about the battery’s design and precise location. Since April 2013, however, I’ve gathered a lot more information about the history of the real estate immediately surrounding the battery, which will help us determine its location more exactly. I’ve also acquired a couple of new, informative images. The image displayed here, for example, is a very small detail from a hand-drawn 1780 map of Charleston’s defenses, the original of which is in the National Archives of the United Kingdom. In short, we know a lot more about Broughton’s Battery in July 2014 than we did a year and a half ago. Want to hear all the latest news? Please join me Wednesday, July 23d for:

“A Brief History of

Broughton’s Battery, 1736–1784″

Time: Wednesday, July 23th 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.

Detail from John Muller's 1757 fortification treatise, The Attac and Defense of Fortified Places

Detail from a profile of an earthen entrenchment and ditch, from John Muller’s 1757 fortification treatise, The Attac and Defense of Fortified Places

Earthen walls and moats (or ditches) go hand-in-hand in the history of military architecture, and the same was true in colonial Charleston. At this month’s Walled City lecture, I’ll discuss the evidence—both documentary and physical—of the first system of earthen walls and the associated moat that protected the north, west, and south sides of Charleston from late 1703 to ca. 1734. Very little information about these walls survives, but we can attempt to fill in the blanks in our knowledge by taking lessons from the fortification textbooks of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Such textbooks, including those published by John Muller in the 1740s and 1750s, provide instructions for laying out all sorts of fortifications, and provide very useful formulas and tables for calculating the height, breadth, and slope of walls, as well as the depth and breath of moats. Armed with this knowledge of eighteenth-century “best practices” in fortification construction, we can attempt to postulate the scale, and predict the location, of Charleston’s early earthen walls and the first moat that surrounded the town.

If you’re envisioning towering, forbidding walls, you’ll be disappointed to learn that our walls were probably in the range of seven to ten feet high, and perhaps only twice that size in breath. There is a tendency in Charleston to exaggerate the size of these walls when describing them to visitors, but the truth is we desperately need additional evidence in order to make more accurate estimates. Even a small scrap of physical evidence would be amazingly useful, but unfortunately the town’s early walls were reduced to a mere stain in the ground nearly three hundred years ago. Perhaps future archaeology will provide much-needed clues, but in the meantime we’ll have to make the most of the available data and use our historically-informed imaginations. If you’d like to learn more about the evidence of Charleston’s first moat and its early earthen walls, please join me for the next Walled City lecture titled:

“The Earthen Walls Surrounding

Charleston, 1703–ca. 1734″

Time: Wednesday, June 25th 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.

 

 

Determining the location and the scope of the remnants of Craven’s Bastion is not as easy as studying those of Granville’s Bastion. Significant portions of the latter bastion remain standing under the Missroon Building at 40 East Bay Street, while the foundations of the former are obscured by large-scale nineteenth century construction. In short, it’s very difficult to pinpoint the precise location of Craven’s Bastion, and, without engaging in some very destructive excavation, it may be impossible to determine if any of its brick foundations remain below the modern street scape. Nevertheless, the historical record provides some valuable clues that offer hope for determining the approximate location of this once-formidable fortification.

Craven’s Bastion was conceived in late 1703, but its construction dragged on for several years because of the general demand for bricks for the various fortification projects then underway in Charleston. It formed the northeast corner of the “walled city” of early Charleston, one half a mile north of Granville’s Bastion, and stood until the summer of 1789. As the last vestige of the city’s colonial fortifications to be demolished, Craven’s Bastion was surveyed and platted on several occasions because it formed an obstruction in the city’s post-colonial efforts to widen and straighten the northward extension of East Bay Street. The existence of several plats illustrating the growth of that street around—and then over—the vestiges of the bastion allows us to determine, with a moderate degree of confidence, the approximate location and size of this lost defensive work.

A 1789 plat of Craven's Bastion superimposed on a recent satellite image of the U.S. Custom House on East Bay Street, showing the approximate size and location of the bastion.

A 1789 plat of Craven’s Bastion superimposed on a recent satellite image of the U.S. Custom House on East Bay Street, showing the approximate size and location of the bastion.

Most of Craven’s Bastion is now under the expansive granite steps leading from East Bay Street to the west facade of the United States Custom House (built 1859–79). That site, once a mud flat washed by the tides, was filled with hundreds of wooden piles during the construction of the Custom House. Thus it is likely that the majority of the remnants of Craven’s Bastion were obliterated during the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The foundations of the westernmost part of the bastion, including its entry gate and a two-story brick residence, however, might still survive. Those portions probably lie under the broad concrete sidewalk on the east side of East Bay Street, and probably extend into the street itself. As the image to your right illustrates, a person pausing on the sidewalk to read the bronze bastion marker mounted on the south pillar of the Custom House steps is potentially standing a few feet from the gateway into the old bastion. Permission for an exploratory excavation of this site might be impossible to obtain, but the use of ground-penetrating radar technology might reveal the outline of the bastion under the sidewalk.

If you’d like to learn more about the colorful history of Craven’s Bastion, please join me for a presentation next week titled:

“A Brief History of Craven’s Bastion, 1703–1789″

Time: Wednesday, May 28th 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.

 

1739 view of the Half-Moon Battery by Bishop Roberts

1739 view of the Half-Moon Battery by Bishop Roberts

Charleston’s Half Moon Battery, located under the Old Exchange Building, is the only remnant of our early colonial fortifications that is currently accessible by the public. Constructed more than three centuries ago, this brick battery served as the center point of the nascent town’s waterfront defenses until it was razed to street level in 1768 for the construction of what was then called the “New Exchange.” Its existence was subsequently forgotten for many generations, but since being rediscovered in 1965 it has been open for public viewing.

The surviving records of South Carolina’s colonial legislature contain very scanty evidence of the design and construction of the Half Moon Battery, and even less information about the “Watch House” that was erected along the western edge of the battery. After a “nice scrutiny” of the evidence (to quote a phrase from those records), however, I have concluded that the brick, Half Moon Battery was constructed in 1701–2, and the one-story “stone” Watch House was erected sometime between 1698 and 1703. Readers familiar with the Bishop Roberts’ 1739 “Exact Prospect of Charles-Town” will note that the latter structure appears in that publication as a two-story building called the “Council Chamber above & Guard House below.” The same aforementioned colonial legislative records also reveal that the early “Watch House” was enlarged into a two-story government structure in 1727, and acquired its new name by the spring of 1731.

What else do the surviving records of South Carolina’s early government reveal about the construction of the Half Moon Battery? Unfortunately, not very much. After pouring over the extant documentary evidence, and a limited amount of archaeological evidence from the 1960s, however, I’ve been working on a three-dimensional model of the battery that will hopefully give us a better idea of its construction and appearance. It’s all a work in progress, but I’ll be offering my latest thoughts and conclusions in the next “Walled City” program this Wednesday:

 

“The Half Moon Battery, 1701–1768: A Charleston Landmark”

Time: Wednesday, April 23d 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.

Looking north along the east face of Granville's Bastion

Looking north along the east face of Granville’s Bastion

Last week I had an opportunity to visit Granville’s Bastion, under the Missroon House (headquarters of the Historic Charleston Foundation) at 40 East Bay Street, with Walled City Task Force co-chair, Katherine Pemberton. With the aid of a couple of shop lights, a tape measure, and a compass, we were able to take a number of photos and measurements that will aid our future efforts to document and re-imagine the former appearance of this late-seventeenth-century structure. As you can see in the photo here, a significant portion of the bastion’s once-mighty walls remain intact under the Missroon House, even after the bastion was razed to street level in 1785. In fact, nearly the entire length of its east face, measuring approximately ninety feet from south to north, still stands approximately four feet above the sand. Using plats and descriptions dating from the 1690s to the 1990s, in conjunction with these physical remains, there is still much to learn about the design and construction of this historic structure.

Want to learn more about Granville’s Bastion, the brick “fortress” that guarded the southeast corner of colonial Charleston? Please join me for a free program at the Charleston County Public Library titled:

“Granville’s Bastion, 1696–1785: Charleston’s First Brick Fortress.”

Time: Wednesday, March 26th 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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