|British settlers arrived
in Charleston in April of 1670. This group consisted of approximately three quarters
indentured servants and one quarter free men and property owners. In September
of that same year, the first black slaves identified by name arrived in
Charleston from Bermuda. It is thought that there may have been one black
slave on the ship which delivered this first batch of masters and indentures.
Charleston, and the colony of Carolina was the only English settlement
in North American to be peopled with slaves from almost the very beginning.
Two years after settlement, the population of Charles Town had reached
396 men, women, and children.
Immigration continued, particularly from the West Indies. The lifestyle of Barbados especially influenced the culture and lifestyle of Charleston. Barbadians such as the Allston, Gibbes, Moore, and Middleton families were partly responsible for giving Charleston a reputation for boisterous leisure time, excess of food and drink, and ostentatious furnishing. They also brought an appreciation for sport-hunting, and the heavy meal at midday.
Charleston was planned with an eye to avoiding the "irregularities" of European cities. Thus, streets were to be wide and on a regular grid. Buildings were regulated by the Proprietors, to insure that hovels would not stand side-by-side with fine structures. By 1680 there were around 1000 residents, just fewer than 100 wooden structures. "Charles Town" had become Charleston.
Charleston had already gained the reputation for religious tolerance, which helped to attract new immigrants including Quakers, Baptists, and Presbyterians from England, Ireland and Scotland. When the Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685, Charleston received fleeing Huguenots.
As a port city, Charleston had her share of sailors, and her share of trouble from these sailors. Various motions were enacted to protect the morality of the town, particularly from indulgent drinking. The non-sailing population of the town was also in need of these anti-drunkenness laws.
St. Philip's was the first church in Charleston, built in 1683. The Huguenot "French Church" was built in 1686, and a Presbyterian and Congregationalist meeting house was also built in that decade. Quakers, having met in private homes for 10 years, built a meeting house in the 1690s. Roman Catholics were not included in Charleston's religious tolerance in this period, less because of the religious doctrine, and more because of the continued threat of Spanish invasion.
Until the 1690s, money was to be made mostly in the business of pirating or "freebooting." However, in the few years before 1700, rice began to bring in profit in export trade. This is the crop which was to make early Charleston very rich.
West African immigrants were arriving as slaves at an increasing rate. They were not as susceptible to the tropical fevers which plagued the port city, and they knew more about rice agriculture than their masters. The first slave law was enacted in 1696 when the slave numbers had grown enough to create uneasiness in the white population. A second slave law, a curfew, was passed in 1701.
Charleston suffered her first great smallpox epidemic in 1698. A few months later, in February, 1699, there was an earthquake which caused a massive fire, destroying a third of the town. While rebuilding, the town was hit with a Yellow Fever epidemic, during which there was a hurricane which flooded a good part of town. Fire, hurricanes, and disease would continue to be a problem for Charleston in the years to come.
Charleston's first school was created in 1710. It was no great success, receiving little government or popular support. Another hurricane destroyed good portions of Charleston in 1713. In 1715, the Yemassee, Creek, Choctaw, and Catawba tribes rose against the white settlers surrounding Charleston. The war having raged for several months, the Assembly enlisted and armed slaves to fight the Indians. Fearing a slave uprising as much as, if not more than, the Yemassee threat, citizens asked the council to disarm the slaves. The war was ended when the Cherokees attacked the Creeks.
The new St. Philip's Church was finished in 1723. It had something of an impressive edifice and exemplified the wealth of the Anglican citizenry. This same group erected residences in the Barbadian style: tiled roofs, and the high ceilings, and large windows designed to capture the cooling sea breezes.
During the 1720s, the black population rose dramatically thanks to the increased need for rice laborers on surrounding plantations and to the need for skilled workers in town. 10,000 West African slaves were brought into the Charleston area. When the ration reached two black persons for every one white, the first slave conspiracies were rumored and discovered. A special town watch force was begun, to patrol the streets of town after dark--a slave patrol.
In the 1730s the restriction on export of rice only to Great Britain was lifted, and area planters increased their purchase of land and slaves to sell rice to the world. The first public printer arrived in 1731 and was putting out a newspaper by the following year. During the yellow fever epidemic that year, seven percent of the town died.
By 1740 Charleston had over 6000 people and was wooing the immigration of Europeans to offset the considerable African-American majority. Unskilled white laborers were dismayed to find a preference for hiring slaves instead of them, and several laws were enacted to protect the prospects of these new immigrants. Despite such acts, the white poor remained poor and benevolent organizations began to be organized to assist the poor. The St. Andrew's Society was established among the Scots population in 1729. The English founded the St. George's Society in 1733. The South Carolina Society was transformed from a social organization to a benevolent one by its Huguenot members by 1735. Churches undertook a great deal of the charitable work in the city. St. Philip's taxed its congregation to fill the needs of destitute and elderly and to reimburse foster mothers. As needs grew, the vestry of St. Philip's and the city Assembly established a workhouse and hospital for the poor. The structure also became a house of corrections for the disorderly poor due to lack of space in the town jail.
Charleston's first theatrical season took place in 1735 in one of the taverns. Success was so pronounced that plans were soon made for a permanent playhouse. This theater was, and continues to be, known as the Dock Street Theater.
In 1739, during a Yellow Fever, Smallpox, and Whooping Cough epidemic, the Stono Rebellion was staged by a group of slaves, about 20 miles outside of town. A new slave Act was passed in 1740, limiting free movement about the city, prohibiting the sale of alcohol and the teaching of reading and writing, and the limiting the granting of freedom to a power of the Assembly.
In one of several Great Fires, the 1740 fire burned out a good portion of Charleston's merchant district. This fire, in part, led to the continued fears and rumors of slave arsonry which would persist well into the nineteenth century.
In the 1740s immigration was renewed with large imports of German indentured servants. The small existing Sephardic Jewish population was enhanced by immigrants from London and Amsterdam. This group would become lead the movement to indigo as a cash crop. The Beth Elohim Synagogue was organized. St. Philip's parish had grown to a such a size that the Assembly split it in 1751. The new parish was St. Michael's, whose church was completed 1761.
a rush to beat the impending import duties, slaves were imported at an
increased rate in the 1760s. The relationship between the merchant class
and the planter class, based on their mutual interaction with slaves and
the products they made, were cemented with "alliance marriages" between
members of each class. Incomes for this group were in the 3000 pound sterling
range, while the income for a physician was something like 400 pounds.
Approaching the Revolutionary War, education in Charleston was somewhat slim. The sons of the elite were educated abroad. The daughters of this same class were taught music and dancing. The very poor were charitably educated in the Free School, and the rest of the city's population was left to its own accord. A bill was introduced to establish a college, for, unlike the other leading Colonial cities of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, Charleston had no institution of higher education. The bill failed.
Scottish merchants founded the South Carolina Golf Club on September 29, 1786. In 1791, after the new state constitution permitted the practice of religion without discrimination, St. Mary's Catholic Church and the Beth Elohim Congregation were incorporated. By the end of the century, Charleston had the largest Jewish community in the new nation.
A majority of Charleston's summer residents were Episcopalians. Summer residents were planters' families. Likewise, the majority of the merchants and professionals was Episcopalian. For the plantations in the area, Charleston was the social capital. Planting families generally stayed in town during the social season, extending from January to March. The season included balls, races, cultural events, and festivities of all kind. It was during this time that marriages took place. This same population would return to town in May, to stay until fall, avoiding the heat and "sickly season."
In 1819, the New England Society of Charleston was organized among Northern mill owners who bought cotton in Charleston. The Carolina Academy of Fine Arts was organized in 1821 by Samuel Morse and local art patrons.
Between 1820 and 1850, successful white merchants, professionals, and planters sent their sons to Cristopher Coates' private boarding school. Their daughters were polished at one of the "female academies," the best being the French School for Young Ladies, or with private lessons in dancing and music. Elite sons went to the South Carolina College in Columbia for their higher education, while the College of Charleston stumbled along. By 1841, the St. Cecilia Society, having evolved into a social organization, was holding its balls in Hibernian Hall. Even at this time, St. Cecilia's was considered highly exclusive. The Citadel, the South Carolina Military Academy, was chartered by the state legislature in 1842.
The grandness of the private parties held during Charleston's social season can be illustrated by a ball given by Mrs. Charles Alston in 1851. For 200 guests there were "18 dozen plates, 14 dozen knives, 28 dozen spoons, 6 dozen champagne glasses· 4 turkeys, 4 hams, 50 partridges, 12 pheasants, 22 ducks, 10 quarts of oysters, 4 pyramids of crystallized fruit and coconut, and 'immense quantities' of bonbons, cakes, creams, and jellies."
The early years of the Civil War did little to stop the festive social season, and in many ways increased the number of parties. Officers were entertained at Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, and Fort Pemberton, and were received at weddings, dinner parties, and such in town. These officers were considered fine entertainment for the young women of the aristocracy and upper merchant class. Some of the slightly older ladies of the city were scandalized by the vulgarity of the wartime social scene. By 1862, the war had affected very little the availability of items such as champagne and fine party foods, and expensive clothing. This was the case for Charleston's elite. The less fortunate classes found it increasingly difficult to procure everyday items such as shoes, thanks to the blockade. When federal troops took James Island, June 2, 1862, Charleston panicked. Along with many inhabitants, the bells of St. Michael's Church were evacuated to Columbia.
A Confederate deserter was executed by firing squad at Washington Race Course in May of 1863. The black Union soldier was a particular affront to Charleston natives. It was understood that no Negro prisoners were to be taken and the African-American regiments suffered particularly heavy casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Bennett occupied the city of Charleston in February of 1865, and quickly made a show of his 21st United States Colored Regiment, his other black troops, and local African-Americans, whom he engaged to put out the many fires burning in the city. The looting of unoccupied elite residences by white officers and black troops, although forbidden by Union commanders, lives into the 20th century in tales of the loss of family heirlooms.
The bells of St. Michael's survived an 1865 fire in Columbia, where they were sent for safe-keeping. They were sent to England for recasting, and finally replaced in St. Michael's in 1866. By 1867, Charleston's elite was again enjoying the city's ample social life: balls, teas, debutante parties, weddings, and holiday events. 1868 was the occasion of a great St. Patrick's Day celebration at Hibernian Hall. The Jockey Club returned to racing at Washington Race Course. Segregated baseball leagues were created in 1867. African-American Charlestonians reveled in Emancipation and Independence Day festivities. In 1867, the U.S. Congress granted the vote to black males.
Social organization of white Charlestonians was based on class (money) and family. The elite's clubs included the St. Cecilia Society, the Charleston Club, the Huguenot Society, and the Carolina Yacht Club. White citizens below the aristocracy could choose from among the Emerald Social Club, the Annex Club, and the Harmony Social Club. In addition to church organizations, African-Americans had fraternal orders such as the Masons, and social clubs such as the Mystic. Charleston's prominent white elite included the families of: DeSaussure, Grimball, Heyward, Huger, Laurens, Manigault, Pringle, Ravenal, Rutledge, and Vanderhorst.