The Half-Moon Battery is a historic structure in urban Charleston that formed part of the town’s earliest fortifications. Construction of its curving brick wall commenced in the mid-1690s, and the structure was completed and armed in 1702. Its cannon defended the Carolina capital and fired salutes to mark civic occasions until the upper part of the battery was demolished in 1768 to facilitate the construction of the present Old Exchange. Now partially visible within the dungeon of that historic building, the fabric of the Half-Moon Battery provides a valuable glimpse of the city’s colonial past.

Detail of the Half-Moon Battery from Bishop Roberts’s Ichnography of Charles-Town (1739)

Standing at the east end of Broad Street and overlooking Charleston Harbor, the Half-Moon Battery played a central role in the geography and history of South Carolina’s colonial capital. Despite its significance, generations of historians have been frustrated by the paucity of details relating to its creation. The chronology of its demolition has been known for some time, but the story of its genesis and evolution has eluded previous scholars. The summary presented in today’s program is based on a close study of the sparse references to the battery found in the extant records of the colony’s provincial government, which paid for its construction, maintenance, and destruction. We’ll discuss the social and commercial activities that took place around the Half-Moon in future programs; for the moment, we’ll focus on the rise and fall of the structure itself.

Charleston’s Half-Moon Battery is a unique structure within South Carolina, but its design reflects the traditions of European military architecture in the centuries preceding the founding the Carolina Colony in 1670. In the vocabulary of that discipline, the term “battery” describes a defensive structure that is not fully enclosed like a fort. A battery can stand alone as a detached fortification, or it can form part of a continuous line of defensive works. The term “half-moon battery,” also called a demi-lune or lunette, typically describes a semicircular structure projecting outward from a defensive line.

Numerous examples of circular and semi-circular fortifications were built across Europe during the Medieval and Renaissance Eras, but the popularity of such designs began to fade in the sixteenth century. To defend towns and cities against increasingly-powerful artillery weapons, military engineers moved away from the high walls and rounded turrets that characterized older fortifications and embraced new designs featuring lower defensive walls punctuated by angular projections. Half-moon structures continued to be built during this stylistic transition, however, as seen in the early Spanish Caribbean colonies such as Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and during the early-seventeenth century in the English colonies of Bermuda, Barbados, and others.

Rounded defensive structures became increasingly rare as the science of fortification evolved during the long European wars of the seventeenth century. By the 1690s, when Charleston’s Half-Moon Battery was built, its design would have seemed antiquated and outdated to most military engineers. Nevertheless, this Carolina structure was not an isolated anomaly. Sebastian de Vauban, the leading fortification engineer of late-seventeenth-century Europe, for example, designed a similar half-moon structure, called Fort Lupin, during the late 1680s. Standing on the river banks of Saint-Nazaire-sur-Charente, just south of La Rochelle, the semicircular shape of Fort Lupin might have been familiar to some of the French Huguenot refugees who emigrated to South Carolina during that turbulent decade.

As I mentioned in Episode No. 98, the map of Charleston drawn in 1686 by Huguenot immigrant Jean Boyd depicts a physical mass projecting from the east end of Broad Street that we might describe as having a semi-circular or half-moon shape. This feature, which Boyd did not specifically describe or identify, probably represents a combination of natural and man-made elements; that is, a naturally-occurring scarp of dry land projecting slightly from the shore line that the settlers outlined and augmented with wooden pilings driven into the mud to suit their defensive needs during the late 1670s or early 1680s. Although the demolition of this early half-moon is not recorded in any known documents, the brick semicircle erected in the 1690s occupies the same physical space as the feature depicted in Jean Boyd’s map of 1686. Rather than describing Charleston’s Half-Moon Battery of the 1690s as an example of an outdated fortification design, therefore, it might be more accurate to view its construction as the robust renovation of a pre-existing half-moon revetment built of less-durable materials at the same site more than a decade earlier. . . . 

This story continues at Charleston Time Machine.

After the South Carolina General Assembly resolved in the spring of 1696 to build a brick fortification in Charleston at the east end of Broad Street, a series of revisions enacted during the following year altered both its location and its design. The project was moved to a familiar beachfront, still visible today, and expanded into the shape of a formidable, modular structure. Although this imposing design was never completed, terse government documents, combined with drawings held in distant archives and surviving brickwork, provide sufficient clues to reimagine the forgotten Charleston fortress of 1697.

Granville Bastion, in short, is one of the best-remembered features and most intact remnants of the myriad fortifications that were built across Charleston’s urban landscape during the city’s first century. Copious information survives to illuminate the later years of this bastion’s history, but I have to admit that I’ve been struggling for years to interpret the documentary evidence relating to the initial stages of its construction in the late 1690s. The fortifications of early Charleston were built by the provincial government, and the extant government records from the turn of the eighteenth century contain only very sparse and somewhat confusing descriptions of that work. After reviewing the evidence countless times, I’ve reached a conclusion that I think will surprise many people: Granville Bastion began as the southeastern corner of a four-bastioned fort that was never completed. 

Granville Bastion highlighted on the "Crisp Map" of 1711

Granville Bastion highlighted on the “Crisp Map” of 1711

Today’s program is about the beginning of Charleston’s first permanent fortification project, a brick structure commenced in 1697 and later called Granville Bastion. A bastion, for those not familiar with the term, is a diamond-shaped structure that projects outward from the corner of a larger, polygonal fortification. Anyone acquainted with the early maps of urban Charleston, especially the so-called “Crisp Map” of 1711 and the two maps published by Bishop Roberts in 1739 (the “Ichnography of Charles Town” and “An Exact Prospect of Charles Town”) will recognize Granville Bastion as the southeastern corner of a line of fortifications that surrounded approximately sixty-two acres of the early town. Readers of early South Carolina history will recognize Granville Bastion as the site of the colony’s first gunpowder magazine and the official site for the ceremonial proclamation of successive royal governors and successive declarations of war. Fans of historic preservation will recall that the substantial brick remnants of Granville Bastion support the foundations of the Missroon House at 40 East Bay Street, the headquarters of the Historic Charleston Foundation. 

Those of us who are familiar with the urban landscape of colonial-era Charleston tend to take for granted the system of bastions, entrenchments, and redans that formed a trapezoid of fortifications around sixty-two acres of the town in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. Many people regard this defensive phenomenon as the result of a unified construction campaign, as if the plan to surround the town commenced with the settlement of Charleston. In reality, however, the town’s earliest fortifications grew slowly and organically, without a grand master plan. When work commenced in 1697 to build the first permanent fortifications in Charleston, the brick structure that became known as Granville Bastion was not intended as the southeastern corner of a large, fortified trapezoid surrounding a major portion of the town, but rather as the southeastern corner of a much smaller, two-acre fort. Like similar enclosed forts built at New Amsterdam (later New York), St. Augustine, and Nassau, among other places, this unnamed four-bastioned fort was designed to stand adjacent to, but separate from, the civic heart of urban Charleston.

The documentary evidence supporting this conclusion is couched within the larger story of England’s nine-year war with France known in Europe as the War of the Grand Alliance and in America as King William’s War (1689–1697). Charles Town (renamed Charleston in 1783), the capital and sole port of the southern part of the Carolina Colony, was the southernmost English outpost on the mainland of North America. The early settlers had fortified the town in the 1680s with some rudimentary fortifications built of earth and wood along the Cooper River waterfront. Back in England during the early 1690s, the Lords Proprietors who owned the Carolina Colony implored the provincial government in Charleston to construct more permanent fortifications, but factional divisions within the local Assembly stunted progress towards that objective. Furthermore, the English colonists here felt less anxious about the threat of a French attack. Carolina was then at peace with her Spanish neighbors in Florida, and the nearest French outpost was a thousand miles away in the Caribbean. . . .  

This story continues at the Charleston Time Machine.

Charleston was a small, defenseless settlement when King William III declared war on France in 1689, and the inhabitants feared for their safety. The earliest surviving legislative discussion of fortifying the nascent port town commenced in the autumn of 1695 and continued into the following spring, motivated by the ongoing French war and a persistent fear of marauding pirates. The legislature’s 1696 plan to build a permanent waterfront fortress, flanked by militiamen “arrayd for battle,” was later substantially revised, but it forms a significant chapter in the physical evolution of South Carolina’s colonial capital.

Before we launch into the story of planning Charleston’s first permanent fortifications in the mid-1690s, let’s review the state of defenses in early Charleston. South Carolina’s provincial government was responsible for erecting and maintaining all of the defensive works built in and around the colonial capital between the 1680s and the 1780s, using tax revenue collected from the inhabitants. I’ve spent the past fifteen years pouring over the surviving government records from this era and collecting information in an effort to construct a narrative of this century-long story. The urban fortifications built in the 1680s and 1690s literally formed the foundations of later works, but the paucity of extant documents from those years makes it very difficult to understand the early landscape. In order to make sense of the surviving scraps of information, therefore, I believe it’s very important to understand the larger context in which they were created, and the continuity of the story over a longer trajectory of history.

An excerpt of South Carolina's "wharf wall" act of March 1696 (Act No. 131), from the engrossed manuscript held at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

An excerpt of South Carolina’s “wharf wall” act of March 1696 (Act No. 131), from the engrossed manuscript held at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

The removal of South Carolina’s colonial capital, Charles Town (now Charleston), from Albemarle Point to Oyster Point in 1680 was undoubtedly accompanied by some discussion of defensive fortifications. The original settlers at Albemarle Point had constructed some temporary fortifications shortly after their arrival in 1670, and the government ostensibly planned to do the same at the capital’s new location. As Maurice Mathews described in a letter written in May 1680, the settlers at new Charles Town intended “to make fortifications when wee have brought our great guns from the old town whereby wee shall be able to deale with the greatest force of ane enemy that can on a sudden come upon us from [the] sea.”[1]

In the ensuing weeks, months, and years, however, there are precious few surviving documents to inform us what sort of fortifications—if any—were actually built, and when and where the cannon were mounted. In fact, the surviving evidence seems to indicate that the people of Charles Town in the 1680s continued to pursue various private interests while ignoring their collective defense. Houses were built, trade networks were established, and plantations carved out of the native wilderness. News of a Spanish force supposedly marching toward Charles Town in August 1682 inspired the Grand Council of South Carolina to order the immediate removal of twenty cannon from the “place where the town was first designed to be made” to the new town.[2] When that intelligence proved false, however, the inhabitants of Charles Town returned to their private interests and, for the remainder of the decade, ignored their defensive needs. The false alarm of 1682 apparently spurred the local government to transport eleven cannon (not twenty) from Albemarle Point to the new town site on Oyster Point, but those iron tubes apparently languished in the sand for more than a decade.

Shortly after his arrival in Charles Town in the spring of 1686, the Huguenot immigrant Jean Boyd wrote a detailed letter to his family back in England about his new home. The surviving copy of Boyd’s letter includes a small, hand-drawn map of the town—the earliest known illustration of urban Charleston in its infancy. As described in an earlier essay (see Episode No. 98), Boyd’s map, ostensibly dated 1686, depicts a connected series of rudimentary fortifications along the town’s first wharf now known as East Bay Street. Nothing is known about the chronology or the nature of these fortifications, however, owing to the loss of South Carolina’s legislative records from this era. 

The Spanish invasion of the southern coast of South Carolina in the autumn of 1686 caused a panic in Charleston, but the political paralysis that accompanied Governor James Colleton’s administration prevented the community from making any real defensive preparations in 1687. Then the flight of King James II from England in late 1688 and the ascension of King William III in early 1689 triggered a new war between England and France, called King William’s War in North America. Among the English colonies, most of the action in that nine-year conflict was confined to areas adjacent to French settlements; that is, from New York to Massachusetts and parts of the Caribbean. South Carolinians of that era were certainly wary of a French invasion, but the threat of a direct assault remained low. Governor James Colleton’s reckless decision to proclaim martial law in South Carolina in February 1690 inflamed local anxieties, however, and ultimately led to his downfall.[3]

Although there was no standing parliament or legislature in South Carolina in the spring of 1690, the citizens of Charleston apparently rallied to create some sort of emergency defenses along the Cooper River waterfront. Our only knowledge of this activity stems from one sentence within a letter written in late April 1690. John Stewart, a Scotsman residing in Charleston, described to a friend back in Edinburgh the latest news from the West Indies and the state of affairs in the Carolina capital: “We expect every day to be atackt by the French corsairs and we ar about to fortifye the whole front of the town like Mr. Smith’s pallisaded breistwork [breastwork] adjoyning to his wharfe.”[4] The extent and nature of such defensive works ostensibly erected along the “front of the town” in 1690 are completely unknown, as they are not mentioned in any other known documents. It is possible, however, that they were continued and improved during the brief administration of colonial South Carolina’s most notorious governor.

This story continues at the Charleston Time Machine.

 


[1] Samuel G. Stoney, ed., “A Contemporary view of Carolina in 1680,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 55 (July 1954): 153–54. The original source of this item is a “Coppie of a Letter from Charles Towne in Carolina,” located at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections, Laing Collection, La. II, 718/1. Throughout this essay, I have reproduced the original spellings and misspellings found in the primary sources here cited.

[2] Letter from Thomas Newe to his father, dated 23 August 1682, in Alexander S. Salley Jr., ed., Narratives of Early Carolina 1650–1708 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), 185–86.

[3] M. Eugene Sirmans, Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663–1763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966), 47–48.

[4] Mabel L. Webber, ed., “Letters from John Stewart to William Dunlop,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 32 (January 1931): 32.

Over a period of nearly a year and a half in the late 1750s, the people of Charleston watched scores of laborers transform tons of oyster shells into a towering concrete barrier designed to protect the town’s northern boundary from invading enemies. Its construction was deemed vitally important in 1757, but the changing tide of world events convinced local authorities to abandon the tabby Horn Work before it was even finished. This turbulent genesis forms a long-forgotten prelude to the gallant defense of South Carolina’s capital during the American Revolution. 

Let’s begin with a brief review of last’s week’s program. In mid-June 1757, during the early stages of the Seven Years’ War with France, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Bouquet came to Charleston with five companies of the British 60th Regiment of Foot (the “Royal Americans”). New defensive fortifications were then underway at White Point, at the town’s southern tip, but Bouquet convinced the South Carolina provincial government to construct a new fortified gate to defend the back or north side of the capital town. Lieutenant Emanuel Hess, an engineer with the 60th Regiment, drew a plan for a horn work composed principally of oyster shell concrete (tabby), with a narrow gate straddling the Broad Path (King Street) leading into Charleston. Governor William Henry Lyttelton approved Hess’s plan in late August, and planning commenced. In mid-October, Lt. Col. Bouquet and Lt. Col. Archibald Montgomery of the newly-arrived 62nd Regiment offered for some of their men to labor on the Horn Work. In early November, the South Carolina Commissioners of Fortifications acquired a rectangular tract of fifteen acres necessary for the new town gate, located just beyond the northern boundary of urban Charleston, and selected three of their own board members to personally superintend the project. The commissioners then directed one hundred soldiers, equipped with a sufficient number of wheelbarrows and spades, to begin digging the foundations of the Horn Work on the morning of Monday, November 14th. 

Beginning Construction

A detail from James Cook's 1773 map of South Carolina, showing urban Charleston.

A detail from James Cook’s 1773 map of South Carolina, showing urban Charleston.

During the initial weeks of labor in late 1757, the superintendents and soldiers apparently cleared the site of trees and obstructions, laid out the lines of the Horn Work on the ground, and then began to dig trenches for its foundations. The surviving records of this work do not mention the presence of Lieutenant Hess, but he likely attended and directed the effort in some capacity. As this preliminary work neared a conclusion in late December, the Commissioners of Fortifications hired Thomas Gordon, a well-known local bricklayer, to “conduct” the tabby work both in Charleston as well as at the new powder magazine in Dorchester, twenty miles away. To facilitate his dual management duties, the commissioners agreed to pay Gordon the large sum of £125 (South Carolina currency) per month on condition that he agreed “to furnish one man in Charles Town & another in Dorchester in his absence & himself to go from one to the other as he shall find it necessary.”

To direct the enslaved laborers who would soon join the hired soldiers, the commissioners employed John Holmes to act as “overseer” or foreman of the work “on the North Line.” In addition, Holmes brought his son and another “white lad” to the site to act as his assistants, brought his own “Negro carpenter,” and included his own “boat & Negroes” in the bargain. For the duration of the Horn Work construction, from late December 1757 to the end of March 1759, Thomas Gordon periodically supervised the tabby work while John Holmes managed the daily labor force, the delivery of materials, and the job site in general.

This story continues at the Charleston Time Machine.

 

The tabby Horn Work that once guarded the northern approach to Charleston formed the citadel of American resistance during the British siege of 1780, but the story of its construction commenced decades before the Revolution. It arose from prolonged conversations about the best manner of defending the backside of South Carolina’s colonial capital, and was intended to supersede earlier, less remarkable works. Prompted by the outbreak of a new war with France in 1756, local officials and royal engineers bit the bullet and ordered the construction of several new fortifications that would transform the Lowcountry landscape.

Last week I provided an overview of a neglected fortification called the Horn Work that once straddled King Street along the northern edge of colonial Charleston. Having already described the highlights of that structure’s general design, materials, and dimensions, I’d like to segue into a more detailed investigation of its construction in the late 1750s. That era marked the final phase of a long series of fortification projects in urban Charleston that stretched back to the 1670s. Time doesn’t permit a full recital of the several construction campaigns leading up to the 1750s, but a brief synopsis of some of that material will help set the stage, so to speak, for the rise of the Horn Work and help us appreciate its role in our community’s long history. 

This story continues at the Charleston Time Machine.