Nic Butler


For the first century of its existence, the urban landscape of Charleston was dominated by an evolving ring of fortifications designed to protect the city against potential invasion by Spanish, French, and later British forces.  Our provincial legislature repeatedly devoted large sums of tax revenue for the construction and repair of walls, moats, bastions, and related works, resulting in what was undoubtedly the largest public works program in colonial South Carolina.  Despite the impressive scale of this work, however, Charleston’s modern streetscape reveals scarcely any physical trace of those early fortifications.  If the city once bristled with cannon, walls, moats, and drawbridges, how and when were such features scoured from the historical landscape?

Many of the details concerning the demilitarization of urban Charleston can be found in the public records created in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolutionary War.  Although incomplete, these records provide sufficient information to construct a robust outline of the decisions, issues, and events that took place between 1783 and 1789 and resulted in a dramatic alteration of Charleston’s urban landscape.  During this brief period, both state and city governments worked in tandem to survey, dismantle, and sell the accumulated urban fortifications.  The evidence of this cautious transition from defensive stronghold to peaceful commercial port provides two principal lessons for modern historians to consider.  On the local scale, the demolition of Charleston’s urban fortifications produced some of the most valuable documentary evidence of their dimensions, composition, and location.  On the national scale, this story presents a local example of the larger American struggle to chart a new civic course in the tumultuous environment of the Age of Revolution.

This story continues at the Charleston Time Machine.

This map of Charleston, surveyed in 1788 and published in 1790, was made shortly after the demilitarization of the city. Craven Bastion, located at the foot of the creek that would soon become Market Street, is the sole remaining fortification depicted on this map.

Missed a Walled City program in 2013? Have no fear–I’m going to repeat the entire series in 2014! Each month I’ll present a different lecture on a specific feature of Charleston’s colonial fortifications, fresh with updated conclusions and new digital bells and whistles. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a one-page description of the twelve-part series. Feel free to download and share this flyer. Remember to check this blog site each month to learn the date and time of each program–there may be a few scheduling changes down the road.

Our first 2014 program, on Wednesday, January 22nd, will provide an overview of the first century of Charleston’s fortifications, when the town’s urban landscape was dominated by defensive walls, moats, drawbridges, and cannons. These features dictated the growth of the town, but the story of their evolution and expansion between the 1680s and the 1780s isn’t yet found in any history books. Please join us for this free event!

“The Urban Fortifications of Colonial Charleston, 1680–1789”

Time: Wednesday, January 22nd 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.

2014 Fortification Lectures (PDF file)

2014 Fortification Lectures (PDF file)

Granvill's Bastion in 1739

Granville’s Bastion as it appeared in 1739

Commissioned in 1696 and dismantled in 1785, Granville’s Bastion was Charleston’s first brick “fortress” and the principal defensive work along the Cooper River waterfront. Here twelve cannon guarded the southeast corner of the town, overlooking a small beach where royal governors and visiting dignitaries were received with pomp and ceremony. Only its foundations remain today, under the present Missroon House, but the surviving materials provide sufficient clues to facilitate a conjectural reconstruction. Please join historian Nic Butler on November 28th for an illustrated review of the history of Granville’s Bastion, and learn how new technology can be used to render a 3D model of this once-formidable structure.

Granville’s Bastion: Charleston’s First Brick Fortress

Place: Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom

Time: Wednesday, November 28th 2012, at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Dr. Nic Butler 843-805-6968 or at butlern[at]ccpl.org.

Dr. Nic Butler digging at South Adger\'s Wharf in January 2008 At noon this Friday, May 9th 2008, Dr. Nic Butler will be the featured guest on Walter Edgar’s Journal, a weekly radio program broadcast on South Carolina ETV Radio. Dr. Butler is Special Collections Manager at the Charleston County Public Library and historian for the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force. The topic of Friday’s conversation, recorded on February 18th, is the recent archaeology at South Adger’s Wharf and Charleston’s colonial fortifications in general. We’ll hear some insight into the formation of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force and the planning and research that preceded the dig, as well as a summary of our findings and some discussion of the prospects for future archaeology of Charleston’s colonial walls. In short, it will be an inspiring conversation about one of the most unique and exciting aspects of this city’s history.

If you miss Friday’s broadcast, don’t panic! After a delay of about a week you’ll be able to download the free podcast version of the program from Dr. Edgar’s web page or from iTunes. Enjoy!

In the past few days the archaeological excavation at South Adger’s Wharf has attracted the attention of many Charlestonians, tourists, and journalists. If you would like to meet some members of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force and hear the archaeologists talk about their work at the dig, you’re invited to join us for a public program at the Charleston County Public Library on Wednesday, January 30th, at 7:00 p.m.

On that evening, Dr. Nic Butler, Special Collections manager at the library, will host a program titled “New Archaeology in Charleston: The South Adger’s Wharf Dig.” Besides hearing first-person reports from the participants, you’ll learn about the history of the site, see more photographs from the excavation, and even see some of the artifacts uncovered at the dig.

If you’re interested in learning more about this program, you can contact Dr. Nic Butler at at (843) 805-6968 or butlern[at]ccpl.org. You can also link directly to a description of the January 30th program on our “Upcoming Events” page. 

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