In an effort to provide a synoptic overview of the fortifications that surrounded colonial Charleston, South Carolina, I have constructed a time line of the most significant developments in the history of this “walled city.” This time line is a work in progress, with new details added from time to time. We encourage you to drop by on occasion to keep up to date!
Nicholas Butler, Ph.D., historian of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force
Last updated on 30 September 2014
PART I: THE PROPRIETARY ERA, 1663–1719
1663: As a reward for supporting his return to the English throne, Charles II grants the land between the English colony of Virginia and Spanish-held Florida to a group of eight noblemen, who are styled the “Lords Proprietors” of the new province of Carolina.
1670: Colonists from England and the West Indies arrive in Carolina and establish Charles Town at Albemarle Point, on the west bank of the Ashley River. This activity angers the Spanish forces at St. Augustine, who consider this part of Carolina to lie within the northern border of their colony, La Florida. During their first months in Carolina, the settlers begin building earthwork entrenchments and a wooden palisade wall to surround their small town in case of Spanish attack.
1680: The capital of the young Carolina colony is transferred to Oyster Point, a nascent town on the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, which is renamed Charles Town. Soon afterward, the colonists began building some sort of fortifications to protect the eastern part of the town, along the Cooper River, but no documentary descriptions of this work have been found.
1686: The earliest known map of Charles Town, the hand-drawn Jean Boyd map, depicts two “forts” on the town’s eastern waterfront connected by a linear “tranchée” or entrenchment. Due to the loss of the legislative records of the 1680s, it is not known when or with what materials these forts were built.
1689: French forces capture the English-held island of St. Kitts (St. Christopher), one of the Leeward Island in the Caribbean. Carolina settlers fear that French forces may attempt to attack Charleston as well. Over the next several years, however, political bickering paralyzes the South Carolina government and no new fortification are built.
1694: The South Carolina legislature passes an act appropriating money for the construction of a brick wall along Charles Town’s eastern edge (the eastern side of the present East Bay Street) “to prevent the sea’s further encroachment.”
1696: In March the South Carolina legislature passes a second act appropriating money for the construction of a brick wall along Charles Town’s eastern edge, stating that little work had been done on this project since 1694. This brick wall becomes known as the “wharf wall,” or the “curtain line upon the Bay.” Later in the year the legislature also considers plans for building a brick “fort” at the east end of Broad Street. After some deliberation and ground testing at that site, however, they decide to locate the fort a small distance further south. In December the legislature ratifies an act to appropriate money for the construction of a “fortress Battery or ffortification . . . at ye Point of Sand to ye Northward of ye Creek commonly called Collins his Creek.” This structure, located slightly north of the eastern end of modern Water Street, was named Granville’s Bastion in honor of John Granville, First Earl of Bath, who in 1697 became the fifth Palatine of the province of South Carolina.
1698: A few weeks after a strong earthquake rocks the Carolina colony, a fire burns approximately one-third of the buildings in Charles Town.
1699: French forces establish a fortified settlement at Biloxi on the Mississippi River. The English government in South Carolina correctly surmises that France intends to expand its territories in North America and to expel the English from Carolina. This move effectively doubles the threats against the nascent English colony and increases the perceived need for strong fortifications at Charleston.
1700: A severe hurricane hits Charles Town and causes extensive damage to its waterfront fortifications.
1701: The South Carolina legislature discusses the completion of the brick Half-Moon Battery, a semi-circular fortification, at the east end of Broad Street in Charles Town. The date on which this project began is not clear in the surviving records.
1702: Settlers in South Carolina receive news that political tensions between England and Spain will probably soon erupt into open warfare. The provincial legislature orders repairs to Charleston’s existing fortifications and begins debating additional defensive works. Anticipating the inevitable, S.C. Governor James Moore leads a preemptive strike on St. Augustine, the capital of Spanish Florida. After Moore and his Carolina troops burn the town, its inhabitants retreat into the Castillo de San Marcos. Lacking sufficient artillery to batter the fortress, Moore abandons the siege and retreats to Charles Town.
1703: South Carolina learns that England has declared war on Spain (“Queen Anne’s War” or the “War of Spanish Succession”), and rumors surface that the Spanish at St. Augustine are preparing to attack Charles Town. At the urging of newly appointed governor Sir Nathaniel Johnson, the S.C. legislature passes an act for repairing the existing fortifications and building new works to surround the town. This law specifies that “the severall forts, halfe moons, platforms, batterys and flankers, built . . . on the front wall [i.e., East Bay Street], shall have gabions fixed upon them, and shall also be well piled, [for] their preservation against the sea,” while the fortifications to be built along modern Water, Meeting, and Cumberland Streets “shall be [made] by intrenchments, flankers and parapets, sally ports, a gate, drawbridge and blind necessary for the same.” This plan created an enceinte or ring of fortification that included four corner bastions linked by a curtain walls and punctuated by eight redans and one ravelin, surrounding sixty-two acres of high land.
1704: Near the end of the year, Governor Nathaniel Johnson report to the Lords Proprietors in England that the earthwork entrenchments around Charles Town are “in a great measure perfected,” while the works along the waterfront have been “retarded for the want of bricks.”
1706: Governor Nathaniel Johnson and Lieutenant Colonel William Rhett lead the successful defense of Charles Town against a combined force of Spanish, French, and Native American combatants who sailed into Charleston harbor from St. Augustine.
1707: The South Carolina legislature passes an act “for Repairing and Expeditious Finishing the Fortifications” in Charles Town, which have suffered breaches and other damages. Parts of the brick wall along the waterfront are apparently still incomplete.
1708: In order prevent enemy warships from sailing into Charles Town harbor uncontested, the S.C. legislature passes an act to build a fortification, later called Fort Johnson, at “Windmill Point” on James Island.
1712: The South Carolina legislature passes an act to build a powder magazine “within Twenty yards of the Redoubt [redan] on the North part of Charles Town.” This powder magazine still stands on the south side of modern Cumberland Street in downtown Charleston.
1713: Mid-way through the year the citizens of Charles Town learn that Britain has signed the Treaty of Utrecht, ending Queen Anne’s War (the War of the Spanish Succession). A few months later, a severe hurricane causes severe damages to the fortifications surrounding the town. Governor Charles Craven urges the legislature to appropriate sufficient funds for making the necessary repairs.
1714: In September another powerful hurricane strikes Charles Town and causes extensive damages to the town’s fortifications. In December the South Carolina legislature passes an additional act “for preventing the Sea’s further Encroachment on the Wharfe of Charles Town, and for repairing the Bastions, Half Moon and Redoubts on the same.” According to this act, the waterfront fortifications have proved “not sufficient to secure Charles Town, especially the front thereof, against the violent storms and hurricanes, that for these two years last past hath been upon us, to the undermining and ruining great parts of the fortifications and front wall before Charles Town.”
1715–1717: The Yemassee War draws the attention of the South Carolina legislature away from the threat of invasion by European forces toward internal conflict with the Native American population. The high cost of this war, added to the large expenses incurred in fortifying Charles Town, cause the legislature to grow impatient with the frugal government of the Lords Proprietors. The assembly draws up an address to King George of Britain, pleading that without his intervention the “miserable situation” of South Carolina will fail and Britain’s southernmost colony will be lost to the French and Spanish.
1719: The South Carolina legislature passes an act “for the more speedy putting the bastions of the Fortification of Charles Town in a posture of defence” by repairing the existing fortifications. In a bloodless revolution at the end of this year, the legislature denounces the rule of the Lords Proprietors and petitions King George I to purchase the Carolina colony from the Proprietors. Among the colonists’ chief complaints is the Proprietors’ unwillingness to provide sufficient funds for the construction of proper defensive fortifications.
PART II: THE INTERREGNUM ERA, 1720–1729
1721: Newly appointed Governor Francis Nicholson arrives in Charles Town in May and orders the South Carolina legislature to attend to the maintenance of the fortifications. In October, John Herbert draws a plan of the town’s defensive walls, enclosing sixty-two acres, for colonial officials back in London. This important document is now housed at the National Archive of the United Kingdom under the title “The Ichnography or Plann of the Fortification of Charlestown and the Streets, with the names of the Bastions, quantity of acres of Land, number of Gunns and weight of their shott.”
1722: In November Governor Francis Nicholson reminds the South Carolina legislature that the fortifications of Charles Town require further repairs and maintenance, especially since recent storms have caused damages. Reflecting on the importance of the town’s defences, Nicholson tells them “I think every body ought to own [i.e., acknowledge], that the fortifying [of] this Place was a great work in all respects, but time (the devourer of all things) hath much damnifed the same, and what shall be done in these affairs I leave it wholly to the Assembly.”
1723: Governor Francis Nicholson continues to pressure the legislature to maintain Charleston’s fortifications, and a legislative committee ordered to investigate the matter admits that the works “are greatly decayed, and must inevitably fall, unless due care be taken to repair the same.” Owing to a scarcity of public funds, however, they ultimately agree to appropriate funds for the repair of the damaged brickwork on the town’s waterfront curtain line, but not for the entrenchments on the “back” side of town.
1724: The South Carolina legislature continues to drag its feet on the repairs to Charleston’s brick fortifications along the waterfront. Meanwhile, Governor Francis Nicholson orders “that no person in this Province at their utmost Peril do presume to Wheel Cart or by any other means or ways Carry away any Earth or Lands from any of the Banks which were late the Fortifications Round Charles Town, or from any Street or Publick Lott or place in the Said Town for any use or Purpose Whatsoever.”
1725: The South Carolina legislature passes another act “for preventing the Sea’s further encroachment upon the Wharfe or street commonly called the Bay, in Charlestown, and for the expeditious repairing and finishing the Front Wall thereof.” The preamble to this law states that several hurricanes in the past few years have “undermined and broken down more of the said Wharfe and Wall than is now standing.” It also acknowledges that recent efforts to repair the front wall have been impeded “by reason of the different Interests of the persons claiming Lotts on the said Wharfe or Bay and those who Claim the Lotts or Flatts from High to Low water mark fronting to the said Lotts on the Bay.”
PART III: THE ROYAL ERA, 1730–1775
1736–37: Under the direction of chief engineer Gabriel Bernard (d. 1737), the uncle of Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, work commences on a triple row of cedar piles and palisades around the southern and southwestern edge of the peninsula and a large gun battery at White Point. Following the death of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Broughton in November 1737, the battery is named Broughton’s Battery. Following Bernard’s death in July 1737, Col. Othniel Beale begins to act as the unofficial chief engineer of Charleston’s fortifications.
1738: The South Carolina legislature passes an act to build three new bastions linked by a curtain line on the southwest side of the peninsula, along what is now South Battery Street between King Street and Council Streets. Later evidence demonstrates that these bastions were built of earth, wood, and brick.
1739: After several years of tension, Britain declares war on Spain (the “War of Jenkins’ Ear”).
1740: Troops from South Carolina join forces with Gen. James Oglethorpe and his troops from the infant colony of Georgia to launch a large-scale attack on St. Augustine, the capital of Spanish Florida. The disastrous outcome of the plan puts South Carolina deeply in debt and leads to a legislative investigation.
1742: When a large force of Spanish soldiers invade St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, in late June, the government of South Carolina sends ships and troops to help reinforce the soldiers and militia in Georgia. The Spanish retreat only a few weeks later, but everyone in South Carolina fears that the enemy will return with a larger force to invade Port Royal or Charleston. The South Carolina legislature formally commissions Col. Othniel Beale to be chief engineer of Charleston’s fortifications. Beale quickly drafts a plan for further defensive works around the southern tip of the peninsula, from Broughton’s Battery to Conseiller’s Creek, and along the town’s northeastern line, from Craven’s Bastion to Rhett’s Point (near the modern intersection of Market and Meeting Streets). Two of the new gun batteries on the southwestern tip of the peninsula, facing the Ashley River, are named Counseiller’s Bastion (after property owner Benjamin De la Conseiller) and Tipper’s Fort or Bastion (after property owner John Tipper).
1743: At the beginning of the year, the long-awaited Armory is completed near the southwest corner of Meeting and Broad Streets. This building serves as the central repository for the town’s small arms, artillery and other “warlike stores” into the early nineteenth century. Also in 1743 workers under the supervision of Othniel Beale construct a breastwork consisting of a double row of cedar palisades, earth, and ballast stones, from Granville’s Bastion to Broughton’s Battery (where modern East Battery Street stands today). In order to maximize the defense of this line with cannon, a salient angle or redan is also built at its midpoint. At the same time, Lt. Gov. William Bull advises the legislature to consider creating new defensive line to enclose the northern and western parts of the town. The legislature debates this proposal for nearly two years (see 1745 below).
1744: France allies itself with Spain in the War with Britain, expanding the War of Austrian Succession (King George’s War). Over the next several years, French and Spanish privateer ships are continually attacking the British ships sailing in and out of Charles Town harbor and all along the Carolina coastline.
1745: The South Carolina legislature orders the construction of a new earth and timber wall with several gun batteries and a moat to protect the town’s northern edge (modern Beaufain and Hasell Streets). This wall began at the head of Daniel’s Creek, at what is now the intersection of Market and Meeting Streets, and continued westward along the present course of Market Street. Midway between present Archdale and Mazyck (Logan) Streets, the wall turned to the southwest until the intersection of modern Magazine and Franklin Streets, where it turned to the south and continued along what is now Franklin Street until it reached Broad Street. This new wall was fronted by a moat approximately thirty-six feet wide. A new town gate, complete with a ravelin and drawbridge, was erected of brick, earth, and timber at the modern intersection of Market and King Streets. At the same time, the legislature orders a ditch or moat, twelve feet in width, to be dug on the east side of the brick wall on the east side of East Bay Street.
1748: Britain signs the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle with Spain and France, ending King George’s War (the War of Austrian Succession). Following this development, the public officials in Charles Town briefly relax their concerns about the town’s urban fortifications.
1750: Feeling secure in an era of peace, the South Carolina legislature orders the dismantling of the ravelin and drawbridge in front of the town gate (located at the modern intersection of Market and King Streets). In place of these features, they order a causeway and brick arched bridge to be built through the moat in front of the town gate. The earthwork wall protecting the town’s northern boundary, erected in 1745, is allowed to remain.
1752–1755: A major hurricane in September 1752 causes significant damage to the town’s fortifications, especially those on the east side of the peninsula. Over then next several years the various walls, bastions, and batteries are either repaired or rebuilt. After several years of rising tensions, Britain declares war on France in 1755, initiating what was known as the “Seven Years’ War” in Europe or the “French and Indian War” in the North American colonies.
1755–1757: Governor James Glen hires German-born engineer William Gerard De Brahm to design and execute a large-scale plan for the fortification of Charleston. Due to the outrageous cost of his plan and political conflicts with the Commissioners of the Fortifications and the Commons House of Assembly, only a fraction of De Brahm’s design is completed. De Brahm’s principal accomplishments during this period include the reconstruction of Broughton’s Battery and the creation of a new “Middle Bastion,” named Lyttelton’s Battery in honor of newly appointed governor William Henry Lyttelton, on the site of the redan built in 1743 midway between Granville’s Bastion and Broughton’s Battery.
1757–1759: The Commissioners of the Fortifications oversee the construction of a large earth and tabby “Horn Work” beyond the northern edge of Charleston, just north of the modern intersection of King and Calhoun Streets. A small fragment of the Horn Work, which mounted eighteen cannon along its northern side, is still present in Marion Square to this day. Because the Horn Work straddled “the Broad Path” (modern King Street), it included a gate and drawbridge that formed the new town entrance over a dry ditch or moat approximately thirty feet wide.
1763: On 10 February the “Treaty of Paris” between Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal formally ends the conflict known as the “Seven Years War” (or the “French and Indian War” in North America). As part of their concessions , Spain ceded the colony of Florida and its capital, St. Augustine, to Britain. This change effectively removed the long-standing threat that this Spanish garrison posed to the safety to Charleston. Official news of this treaty reaches Charleston in mid-May.
1764–1767: As the South Carolina legislature gains confidence in the reality of peace with France and Spain, it relaxes its concerns about protecting the town from enemy attack. In 1764 the legislature orders the moat in front of the eastern curtain line to be filled in with earth. In 1766 the earthwork wall erected in 1745 along the town’s old northern line was pushed into the moat in front of it. The Horn Work straddling the new town gate a little farther north is left standing, but it is essentially abandoned.
1768: Early this year the old Watch House and Half-Moon Battery, both located at the east end of Broad Street, are razed to make room for the construction of a new Exchange Building. The substantial brick foundation of the Half-Moon Battery, built ca. 1700–1701, is still visible today in the basement of the Exchange, which was completed in 1771.
PART IV: THE REVOLUTIONARY ERA, 1775–1782
1775–1778: The newly formed South Carolina Provincial Assembly orders the fortifications around Charleston to be repaired and strengthened. A tall breastwork made of palmetto logs and sand, similar to that used to build Fort Sullivan (now Fort Moultrie) is erected around the eastern and southern parts of the peninsula, and the colonial-era fortifications are improved.
1779–1780: As Charleston prepares for a siege by the British Army and Navy, the rear or southern side of the large Horn Work is enclosed to create a sort of citadel. In front of this work is also built a new wall made of earth and timber and a defensive ditch, both stretching between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Despite these efforts, the two-month siege ends with the surrender of Charleston on 12 May 1780.
PART V: THE POST-REVOLUTIONARY ERA, 1783–1790s
1783: On August 13th the South Carolina General Assembly ratifies an act to incorporate the City of Charleston. This act officially replaces the older spellings “Charles Town” and “Charlestown” with the modern spelling “Charleston.” Furthermore, it transfers ownership to the new City Council of some of the land on which the colonial fortification were built, including the Horn Work on the north side of city, the brick curtain line along the eastern waterfront, and the land on the west side of King Street occupied by an earthen curtain line between 1745 and 1765.
1784: The City Council of Charleston orders the demolition of the urban fortifications under its jurisdiction. At the same time, after a year of debate, the South Carolina legislature passes a law ordering the removal of the remaining state-owned fortifications standing in Charleston. Although it took several years to complete the work, these orders effectively end Charleston’s century-long existence as a walled city.
1787: After numerous petitions from Charleston’s maritime merchants, the South Carolina Legislature finally repeals an ancient law prohibiting the erection of any buildings within fifty feet of the east side of the curtain wall on the east side of East Bay Street. In the years after this change, the low, slightly built warehouses on Charleston’s wharves projecting into the Cooper River were gradually replaced with larger, more substantial stores, residences, and even streets.
Part VI: REDISCOVERING CHARLESTON’S COLONIAL FORTIFICATIONS
1853–1859: During the construction of the new U.S. Custom House in Charleston, workers encounter, and presumably demolish, the brick foundations of Craven’s Bastion. The Custom House was finally completed in 1879, and the large paved courtyard leading to its west portico now covers the site of the colonial bastion.
1911: While digging a trench on the east side of East Bay Street in order to install part of Charleston’s “modern” sewer system, city workers encounter part of the colonial curtain line near the east end of Cumberland Street. A newspaper article from that time describes the find as “a solid wall of masonry, put together with old-time shell lime and red bricks, so hard as to require each brick to be picked out separately.”
1925: The architectural firm of Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham are hired to enlarge the old Missroon House at 40 East Bay Street. While excavating the earth on the north, east, and south sides of the house in order to lay an expanded foundation, they encounter the large, intact brickwork of the lower levels of Granville’s Bastion. They publish a description of their findings (see the Selected Bibliography), and photograph the remains of the colonial walls.
1940: The Historical Commission of the City of Charleston places bronze tablets at four sites commemorating the four corner bastions of the early “walled city.” These tablets can be seen at the Missroon House, 40 East Bay Street (site of Granville Bastion), the entrance gate of the Nathaniel Russell House, 51 Meeting Street (Colleton Bastion), the northwest corner of Meeting Street and Horlbeck Alley (Carteret Bastion), and at the steps in front of the plaza leading to the U.S. Custom House, 200 East Bay Street (Craven Bastion).
1965: Renovations of the basement of the Exchange Building at the east end of Broad Street uncover the intact brickwork of the colonial Half-Moon Battery. The upper walls of this battery were demolished in 1768 during the construction of the present Exchange, but the below-ground portion of the semi-circular brick seawall is now clearly visible. This site is the only public place where Charleston’s colonial seawall can be viewed.
2005: In May, workers from Charleston Public Works digging up a section of the sidewalk in front of the Missroon House (40 East Bay Street, headquarters of the Historic Charleston Foundation) uncover a substantial brick wall. HCF preservationist Katherine Saunders identifies the brickwork as remnants of Charleston’s colonial fortifications–the north wall of Granville’s Bastion and a portion of the “wharf wall” or “curtain line” that once stood on the East Bay Street. After media coverage of the discovery garnered significant public interest, Katherine Saunders and former HCF board president Peter Magee lobbied for the creation of a municipal task force to promote further research on the city’s colonial fortifications. In August, Charleston’s Mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., appoints a number of local citizens to serve on the “Mayor’s Walled City Task Force.”
2008: The Mayor’s Walled City Task Force initiates an archaeological dig at South Adger’s Wharf to find the remains of the colonial redan that once stood at the east end of Tradd Street (see the blog). During this ten-day dig in January, about twenty-four feet of the redan’s north flank are exposed, studied, measured, mapped, photographed, and reburied.
2009: The Mayor’s Walled City Task Force, in conjunction with a College of Charleston Field School in Archaeology, conducts a four-week excavation of the remnants of the south flank of the colonial redan that once stood at the east end of Tradd Street. During the month of June, students uncover the tip of the redan and about twenty feet of the south wall, which is studied, measured, mapped, and photographed from its top, about 2.5 feet below modern ground level, to its foundation 8.5 feet further down in the mud (see the blog).
2010: The Task Force had two opportunities to view part of the colonial brick work along East Bay Street. First, in February, Martha Zierden led a small group of volunteers in a brief excavation under the late-twentieth century wooden floor in the southwest corner of the Exchange Building. The team located the surviving junction of the “wharf wall” or “curtain line,” which once stood on the east side of East Bay Street, with the southwest end of the Half-Moon Battery. Both of these brick features torn down to street level in 1768 when construction of the “New Exchange” (now called the “Old Exchange”) commenced, but their foundations remain intact under the present building. Second, a routine drain repair in the center of East Bay Street briefly revealed a portion of the southern wall of Granville’s Bastion, directly in front of the Missroon House (headquarters of the Historic Charleston Foundation). Time did not permit the collection of measurements or GIS data, but Task Force members took several good photographs (see blog).
2012: In March and April, Task Force members Peter Magee, Martha Zierden, and Katherine Saunders Pemberton joined Dr. Carter Hudgins and several of his students from the Clemson University Graduate Program in Historical Preservation, as well as archaeologists Sarah Stroud and Carter C. Hudgins from Drayton Hall, for a brief excavation in the driveway of a private residence on East Bay Street. The excavation confirmed the existence of the remains of a substantial brick wall, approximately 2.2 feet wide, approximately 1.5 feet below the modern surface level, running diagonally through the property. Because of structures built over this site in the second half of the eighteenth-century, the exact length of this wall is difficult to determine. It is clear, however, that this wall represents the remains of the brick curtain line that ran northwest from Granville’s Bastion to a bridge over a small creek and then to Ashley’s Bastion.
2013: On the 23 January, the Walled City Task Force collaborated with Charleston Water System in a one-day search for physical evidence of the colonial-era “curtain line” or “wharf wall” on the east side of East Bay Street. After opening a small east-west trench between the east side of the street and the adjacent sidewalk, the brick “wharf wall,” running along the north-south axis, was found between the sidewalk and the street curb. See the blog post for details.