A single tier fort built in 1798 primarily of logs and sand, Fort Pinckney was named after Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution who ran for president several times and served as ambassador to Spain during the XYZ Affair (1798), when he famously proclaimed, "Not a sixpence" which has been transformed into the iconic "Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute." Part of the first system of American seacoast defenses, this hurriedly constructed, sand and log fort did not hold up well to the elements and in 1804 a hurricane demolished what was left of the first Fort Pinckney.
The second system of American seacoast defenses was much more standardized and permanent than the first system. Because of its location at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, Shutes Folly Island was selected as the site for one of the new fortifications, Castle Pinckney. Castle Pinckney was one of three second system forts to use the "castle" design with guns placed in casemates, or enclosed gun rooms, and arranged in multiple tiers. The fort would mount 30-cannon, arranged in two tiers within a circular fort with two elliptical bastions along the landward side. Along the gorge wall, were barracks to accommodate two hundred officers and enlisted men. On the left side of the fort was a powder magazine which could hold two hundred barrels of black powder.There were only three of these "castle" forts built; the other two are in New York-Castle Clinton and Castle Williams, which are both administered by the National Park Service and accessible to visitors. The "castle" style with walled gunrooms arranged in tiers would become the model for seacoast fortifications through most of the 19th century, and was the basis for the design of the forts of the third system of American seacoast defenses.