The settlement of Carolina was planned as a planting and trading province by the Lords Proprietor, after a 1664 settlement on the Cape Fear had failed. After a stormy voyage during which the vessels ALBERMARLE and POINT ROYAL were lost, the CAROLINA anchored off the Carolina coast early in April 1670. The settlers from the CAROLINA and from the THREE BROTHERS which joined them on May 23 via Virginia, decided to settle at this place, known as Kayawah by the local Indians. The recovery of Native American artifacts show that the area was in use/inhabited before the arrival of the Europeans. The people who lived here at the time of European arrival were the Cusabo. The Europeans called their settlement Albermarle Poynt at Kyawaw. In November of 1670, the settlement was named Charles Towne.
Threats of a Spanish invasion made the settlers quick to fortify Charles Towne with a trench and palisade wall. The threat was not without merit: Spanish spy Camunas got close enough to Charles Towne to report the presence of a wooden fort, fifty men and an infantry captain, many firearms, shot guns, and cutlasses. The “fort” that he described was actually a shingled storage building built to protect the colony’s stores against the possibility of Indian attack. This was despite the fact that Indians in the region supplied the residents of Charles Towne food and other support ensuring their survival through the first years of the settlement when crops did not produce the expected return.
The site of Old Charles Towne was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 17, 1969 (read the full nomination).
In 1670, the settlement was moved to a more advantageous location. By 1680, the original settlement of Charles Towne had been abandoned. The new settlement of Charles Town became known as Charleston, South Carolina in 1783. The new settlement became the fifth-largest city in North America within ten years of its founding, a testament to the importance of this port city. The first permanent settlement in South Carolina, Charleston and was the political, economic and cultural center of the colony from its founding in 1670 until after the American Revolution. Increased settlement in the interior of South Carolina throughout the 1700s led to the capital of the state being moved from Charleston to Columbia in 1788. Despite this, Charleston continued to thrive; through the 1840 census, it was one of the ten largest cities in the United States.
Its continued development in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was related to its port facilities and to its role as a distribution center for goods and for people. Historians estimate that nearly half of all Africans brought to America as enslaved people arrived in Charleston. The nineteenth century slave market building remains standing.
The first military actions of the Civil War began in Charleston. After Abraham Lincoln was elected President, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union. On December 27, 1860, Castle Pinckney in Charleston Harbor was surrendered by its federal garrison to the South Carolina militia. The first full battle of the Civil War took place on April 12, 1861 when South Carolina batteries began bombarding the US Army at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. After a day and a half of bombardment, the Union surrendered the fort. The Civil War had a devastating effect on the city, both physical and economic. Heritage tourism has played an important role in the city’s recovery.
Charleston began making serious attempts to attract a tourist trade by 1900. By 1939 tourism was Charleston's second largest industry. To a certain extent, the influx of tourists awakened in Charlestonians an appreciation for the city's historic built environment. When it was realized that collectors were buying and removing everything from historic ironwork to entire houses, it became obvious that protective measures were needed. A city Planning and Zoning Commission was formed in 1930 and in 1931 a zoning ordinance was ratified and a Board of Architectural Review was created. Although hampered by the Depression, the city has slowly regained economic viability as an urban center that retains a strong sense of its past.
The Charleston Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark District on October 9, 1960. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966 with boundary increases on January 30, 1970; July 16, 1978; and August 2, 1984.
Learn more about the National Register of Historic Places.
Learn more about the National Historic Landmarks program.