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.