When Queen Anne of England declared war on France and Spain in 1702, the people of South Carolina were overwhelmed with anxiety about the security of Charleston, the colonial capital. Fortifications built along the town’s eastern waterfront provided some protection against potential invaders, but the rest of the community was undefended. After a Carolina military expedition failed to capture Spanish St. Augustine, the provincial government adopted an emergency plan in late 1703 to build an entrenchment around Charleston—an earthen wall and moat to encompass the capital’s urban core. 

“Entrenchment” is a term used in military architecture to describe a pair of linear defensive components often used to protect a specific area like a town. First, workers excavate a perimeter trench or ditch or moat to slow or deter attackers on foot or on horseback. Second, workers pile the excavated earth next to the ditch to form a defensive berm. The resulting berm or “entrenchment” serves as a protective barrier to shield defenders and repulse attackers who might approach or traverse the ditch. Due to the nature of the materials involved, entrenchments are relatively inexpensive and simple to create, but they are inherently impermanent works. They are best suited for temporary occasions, like sieges, in which an attacker arrives at the perimeter of a town or castle and rapidly constructs a line of entrenchment to defend its approach. To render such earthworks more permanent, builders can add rigid materials like bundles of sticks (fascines), boards, bricks, or stones to hold the earth in place. These materials provide reinforcement, or “revetment,” that can extend the lifespan of an entrenchment indefinitely if properly maintained. 

Inset from the “Crisp Map” of 1711

The earthen entrenchments constructed within urban Charleston during the early years of eighteenth century endured on the landscape for a single generation, but they have long formed one of the most iconic and misunderstood features in the narrative of local history. The so-called “Crisp Map” of South Carolina, published in London in 1711, depicts Charleston as what we might describe as a “walled city,” outlined by a trapezoid-shaped network of walls, moats, bastions, redans, and drawbridges. This illustration has been reproduced in countless books and articles over the past three centuries, accompanied by vague descriptions of the town’s early defenses. Absent among this literature, however, is any detailed discussion of when, why, and how Charleston’s earthen walls were created. Today’s program focuses solely on the historical context that triggered the decision to enclose the town behind a defensive wall and moat. In future programs, we’ll continue this narrative by examining the methods of constructing the entrenchments, the ongoing efforts to repair them, and the eventual decision to remove them from the urban landscape.

Shortly after moving the capital of South Carolina to the peninsula known as Oyster Point in 1680, the provincial legislature authorized the construction of some rudimentary fortifications made of earth and wood along the Cooper River waterfront of “new” Charles Towne (now Charleston). Work commenced in 1694 to build a brick “wharf wall” along the east side of modern East Bay Street, measuring nearly one half of a mile in length. The storm surge associated with a strong hurricane in the autumn of 1700 ruined much of the initial brickwork, but the project quickly rebounded and continued. By the summer of 1702, South Carolina’s provincial government mounted two dozen cannon at three emplacements along the unfinished brick “wharf wall”: an unfinished brick “fort” (later called Granville Bastion) at the southern end of the Bay, a small battery of unknown materials at the east end of Tradd Street; and a completed brick Half Moon Battery at the east end of Broad Street. Beyond these works along Charleston’s eastern waterfront, the south, west, and northern parts of the town remained unguarded.

In August 1702, news arrived in Charleston that King William II of England had died in March, and his successor, Queen Anne, had declared war on France and Spain in May. Historians refer to this international conflict as Queen Anne’s War, or the War of Spanish Succession, which was destined to last for eleven years. Although most of the fighting took place in Europe, the conflict extended across the Atlantic to include the various colonies in the Americas. For the first time since the settlement of the South Carolina in 1670, a state of formal warfare now existed between the English government in Charleston and the Spanish government at St. Augustine, Florida. The Floridians had recently completed an impressive stone fortress, the Castillo de San Marcos, to defend their capital, while the waterfront defenses of Charleston remained relatively weak and unfinished. After learning of the new declaration of war, South Carolina’s provincial government was compelled to consider methods of improving the fortifications around its capital as quickly and cheaply as possible.

This story continues at Charleston Time Machine. . . .