Searching for Colonial Charleston’s South Wall and Moat

In the early 1700s an earthen wall and moat protected the south side of urban Charleston, but its exact location has long been a mystery. Recently, members of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force used ground penetrating radar in an attempt to locate these features in an area now used as a parking lot by First Baptist Church and School.  Join Dr. Nic Butler at the Charleston County Public Library to learn about the project and its results.

  • Tuesday, 30 August 2016 at 6 p.m., at Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401. 

Free and open to the public!






Past Lecture Descriptions:



The Urban Fortifications of Colonial Charleston,


During the first century of Charleston’s history, the urban landscape of the town 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. Join Dr. Nic Butler, for an illustrated discussion of the rise and fall of the colonial “walled city” of Charleston.

Charleston’s “Wharf Wall”:

Front Line of our Colonial Fortifications

From the late 1690s to the mid-1780s, a half-mile long brick “wharf wall” or “curtain line,” protected Charleston’s Cooper River waterfront. After being continuously repaired and partially rebuilt on several occasions during the early eighteenth century, the wall was razed to street level after the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War. Remnants of the foundation of this wall still exist along the length of East Bay Street, from the Missroon House to the U.S. Custom House, but the details of its width, height, and precise location are still being investigated. Dr. Nic Butler uses documentary evidence and recent archaeology to fashion a better understanding of the old “wharf wall.”

Granville’s Bastion, 1696–1785:

Charleston’s First Brick Fortress

Commissioned in 1696 and dismantled in 1785, Granville’s Bastion was Charleston’s 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 of Granville’s Bastion. Please join historian Nic Butler for an illustrated review of the bastion’s history, and learn how new technology can be used to render a 3D model of this once-formidable bastion.

The Half-Moon Battery:

A Brief History of a Charleston Landmark

The brick half-moon battery below Charleston’s Old Exchange is the most visible and intact vestige of the city’s colonial fortifications, but it’s also a bit of a mystery. Constructed more than 300 years ago, it hosted some of the most colorful and gruesome episodes in Charleston’s history, and hasn’t yet revealed all of its secrets. Historian Dr. Nic Butler presents the documentary evidence of its construction and seeks to understand why a sixteenth-century style fortification was built at the turn of the eighteenth century in Charleston.

A Brief History of Craven’s Bastion,


Craven’s Bastion was built in the early 1700s and formed the northeast corner of the colonial “walled city” of Charleston. During the war with Spain in the 174os, scores of Spanish prisoners were housed here in miserable conditions. During the British occupation of the city in 1780–82, Craven’s Bastion was used as a civilian jail and headquarters of the “town police.” Like the rest of Charleston’s colonial fortifications, the bastion was demolished after the American Revolution, however, and the remnants of its brick walls are now hidden under East Bay Street and the steps of the U.S. Custom House (built 1853–79). Using clues from colonial-era documents and new archaeological technology, it might it be possible to pinpoint its precise location and dimensions. Please join Dr. Nic Butler for an illustrated overview of this important Charleston landmark.

Earthen Entrenchments and Bastions

in Charleston, 1703–1734

Some of Charleston’s earliest fortifications were hastily built of earth and wood rather than brick, and conceived as temporary works. During the early years of the eighteenth century, these earthen “entrenchments,” which included a surrounding moat and a pair of drawbridges, protected the town against an expected Spanish invasion. Where were these earthen structures built, and what did they look like? Please join historian Dr. Nic Butler for an illustrated survey of this fascinating part of our city’s military history.

A Brief History of Broughton’s Battery,


On the site of Charleston’s White Point Garden, at the southernmost tip of the peninsula, a large brick fortress called Broughton’s Battery once stood guard over the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. Constructed in a brief window of peace before the War of Jenkins’ Ear and demolished shortly after the conclusion of the American Revolution, Broughton’s Battery played a major strategic  role in the evolving defenses of colonial Charleston. Join Dr. Nic Butler for an illustrated history of this forgotten colonial battery and its defenders.

Fortifying Charleston during the

War of Jenkins’ Ear, 1739–1748

After dismantling much of its fortifications during the peacetime of the early 1730s, Charleston rushed to build a new system of defensive works after Britain declared war against Spain in 1739. Dr. Nic Butler provides an illustrated narrative of these hastily-constructed works and explain how they represent an important maturing episode in Charleston’s early life as a “walled city.”

William De Brahm’s Fortification Plans

For Charleston, 1752–1757

The most elaborate and extensive plans for fortifying colonial Charleston were drafted by William De Brahm in the 1750s, during what we now call the French and Indian War, or the Seven Years’ War. De Brahm, a German engineer working for the British government, created at least three separate plans for enclosing the town in a complex system of walls and moats, each of which was hotly debated by the South Carolina legislature. Surviving copies of his plans depict massive defensive works that our colony could scarcely afford, and therein lies the root of De Brahm’s ultimate failure to complete his fortification plans for Charleston.

A Brief History of Lyttelton Bastion,


Lyttelton Bastion, named in 1757 for our recently-arrived royal governor, was initially conceived as a simple “middle bastion” between Granville’s Bastion and Broughton’s Battery. As designed and supervised by German engineer William De Brahm, however, the bastion became the most sophisticated and expensive of Charleston’s colonial fortifications. Dr. Nic Butler presents an illustrated survey of the bastion, its moats, and its role in the American Revolution.

The Horn Work:

Charleston’s Tabby Fortress,


What’s the story behind that slab of tabby standing in Marion Square? It was once part of the “Horn Work” fortification that served as the town gate and the centerpiece of Charleston’s defenses during the British siege of 1780. Using a robust array of historic images and descriptions, Dr. Nic Butler presents an illustrated history of the Horn Work from its construction in 1757 through its demolition in 1784.

Charleston’s First Battery Seawall,


A few years before the outbreak of the American Revolution, the South Carolina legislature funded a large-scale project to erect a half-mile long brick wall around the fortifications at White Point. Designed to keep out the waters of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, this massive work set the stage for the current stone “battery” seawall that was built in the early 1800s. Although it was superseded, the first wall may not be gone. Join CCPL’s historian, Dr. Nic Butler, for an illustrated review of the wall’s history and the clues to its present location.

Charleston’s Fortifications of the

American Revolution,


After neglecting the town’s urban fortifications for a decade after the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Charlestonians rushed to repair, improve, and expand the fortifications around the peninsula as we drifted towards a war with Britain in 1775. Thanks to survival of numerous maps and eye-witness descriptions, there is an abundance of information about the size, materials, and locations of the various defensive works that ultimately succumbed to a powerful British siege. Using historic documents, images, and recent archaeology, Dr. Nic Butler provides a colorful overview of the awe-inspiring defenses of Revolutionary Charleston.

The Demilitarization of

Urban Charleston,


For more than a century, urban Charleston was one of the most heavily fortified British-American settlements in the New World, but the 1783 Treaty of Paris ushered in a new age of peace and prosperity for peninsular city. In a relatively brief span of five years after the American Revolution, South Carolina’s civil and military authorities authorized the demolition and removal of all of the accumulated defensive works that had protected the community since the 1680s. The surviving documentary record of this process provides significant information about the size, location, and construction of many of the old colonial fortifications, and helps us understand how Charleston’s expanding built environment after the Revolutionary War absorbed and obscured the forgotten military works.



Miscellaneous Past Programs:

“Digging the ‘Tradd Street Redan'”

By popular demand, Dr. Nic Butler will repeat the illustrated review of the June 2009 archaeology of the Tradd Street Redan at the Karpeles Museum (part of the lecture series of the Charleston Historical Society). The public is cordially invited to this free event. Join us to see images from the recent dig, and to hear anecdotes, theories, and conclusions based on the new discoveries.

Time: Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Archaeology Review, June 2009

Join members of the Walled City Task Force for an illustrated review of the new archaeology of the Tradd Street Redan. See images (and perhaps artifacts) from the recent dig, and hear anecdotes, theories, and conclusions from the archaeologists.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009


Program Flyer (PDF file)



Fort Johnson, 1708–2008: Charleston’s First Line of Defense

Built on James Island in 1708 to guard the entrance to Charleston’s harbor, Fort Johnson was rebuilt several times over the years and served a variety of purposes. Its walls have long since disappeared, however, and its history has mostly faded from memory. To mark the 300th anniversary of its construction, Dr. Nic Butler, historian of the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force, will present an overview of the fort’s history, and archaeologist Carl Steen will discuss his recent ground breaking investigations at this important historical site.

fort_johnson_flyerThursday, 11 December 2008 6:30 p.m. Charleston County Public Library Auditorium 68 Calhoun Street separator1



The Horn Work: Charleston’s Tabby Fortress, 1759-1784

tabby_remnant_in_marion_square.jpgThe slab of tabby (oyster shell cement) standing like a monument in Charleston’s Marion Square is a mystery to many people, but it was once part of a massive “Horn Work” fortification that served as the city gate and the centerpiece of Charleston’s defenses during the British siege of 1780. Using historic images and descriptions, Dr. Nic Butler will present an illustrated history of the Horn Work from its construction in 1759, its demolition in 1784, and its survival into the twenty-first century. This program will also include a review of the 1998 archaeological exploration of Marion Square that discovered the outlines of the Horn Work and its surrounding moat. horn_work_flyer.jpgMonday, 28 April 2008 6:00 p.m. Charleston County Public Library Auditorium 68 Calhoun Street separator1



New Archaeology in Charleston: The South Adger’s Wharf Dig

Wednesday, 30 January 2008 7:00 p.m. Charleston County Public Library Auditorium 68 Calhoun Street What’s all the fuss at South Adger’s Wharf? What were they looking for, and what did they find? To learn the answers to these questions, please join us at the Charleston County Public Library on Wednesday January 30th, when the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force, hosted by Dr. Nic Butler, will present an illustrated overview of the recent archaeological dig at South Adger’s Wharf in downtown Charleston. Learn about the history of the site, see photographs and artifacts from the excavation, and hear about the results of the work from the archaeologists. s_adgers_wharf.jpg saw_archaeology.jpg saw_dig_site.jpg

2 Responses to “Upcoming Events”

  1. Laura Kasman Says:

    We just found out about your group today and we’re really sorry we missed the SAW. Is there any chance you will repeat your presentation at another time?

  2. Nic Butler Says:

    Laura, There’s a chance we’ll have another program on the archaeology at South Adger’s Wharf when the final report is published, perhaps at the end of 2008. In the meantime, however, I am working to produce an illustrated overview of that dig as a digital slide show with narration to be placed online. In other words, a visual podcast version of the program that you can download to your own computer. Keep watching this site for news about its release!

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