Charleston, South Carolina

For other uses, see Charleston (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with North Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston, South Carolina
City of Charleston

St. Michael's on Broad Street


Nickname(s): "The Holy City",[1] "City of Disasters"[1]
Motto: Ædes Mores Juraque Curat (Latin for "She Guards Her Temples, Customs, and Laws")[lower-alpha 1]

Location in South Carolina

Coordinates: 32°47′00″N 79°56′00″W / 32.78333°N 79.93333°W / 32.78333; -79.93333Coordinates: 32°47′00″N 79°56′00″W / 32.78333°N 79.93333°W / 32.78333; -79.93333
Country United States
State South Carolina
Historic colony Colony of South Carolina
Counties Charleston
Named for Charles II of England
  Mayor John Tecklenburg (D)
  City 127.5 sq mi (330.2 km2)
  Land 109.0 sq mi (282.3 km2)
  Water 18.5 sq mi (47.9 km2)  14.51%
Elevation 20 ft (6 m)
Population (2010)
  City 120,083
  Estimate (2016) 137,447
  Rank SC: 2nd; US: 199th
  Density 1,152/sq mi (444.9/km2)
  Urban 548,404 (US: 76th)
  MSA (2015) 744,526 (US: 75th)
  Demonym Charlestonian
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
  Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code(s) 29401, 29403, 29405, 29407, 29409, 29412, 29414, 29424, 29425, 29455, 29492
Area code 843 and 854
FIPS code 45-13330
GNIS feature ID 1221516[4]
The downtown Charleston waterfront on The Battery
Residential gardens such as this one at the Calhoun Mansion abound in Charleston
Waterfront Park overlooks Charleston Harbor and offers views of Fort Sumter and the Ravenel Bridge

Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina, the county seat of Charleston County,[5] and the principal city in the Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area.[6] The city lies just south of the geographical midpoint of South Carolina's coastline and is located on Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean formed by the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, or, as is locally expressed, "where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean." Charleston had an estimated population of 132,609 in 2015.[7] The population of the Charleston metropolitan area, comprising Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester Counties, was counted by the 2015 estimate at 727,689—the third-largest in the state—and the 78th-largest metropolitan statistical area in the United States.

Charleston was founded as Charles Town—honoring King Charles II of England—in 1670. Its initial location at Albemarle Point on the west bank of the Ashley River (now Charles Towne Landing) was abandoned in 1680 for its present site, which became the 5th-largest city in North America within 10 years. Despite its size, it remained unincorporated throughout the colonial period; its government was handled directly by the state legislature and by its Anglican parish wardens and vestries. It adopted its present spelling with its incorporation as a city in 1783 at the close of the Revolutionary War. Endemic bouts of yellow fever and malaria influenced the removal of the state government to Columbia in 1788, although the port remained among the 10 largest cities in the United States through the 1840 census.[8] The only major American city to have a majority-enslaved population, Antebellum Charleston was controlled by a militarized oligarchy of white planters and merchants who successfully forced the federal government to revise its 1828 and 1832 tariffs during the Nullification Crisis and launched the Civil War by seizing the Arsenal, Castle Pinckney, and Fort Sumter from their federal garrisons. The Confederates burned the town prior to its evacuation but continued demand for the area's cotton and rice, along with growing industry and a large military presence, saw it through Reconstruction.

Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, distinguished restaurants, and mannerly people, Charleston is a popular tourist destination and has received a large number of accolades, including "America's Most Friendly [City]" by Travel + Leisure in 2011 and in 2013 and 2014 by Condé Nast Traveler,[9][10] and also "the most polite and hospitable city in America" by Southern Living magazine.[11] In 2016, Charleston was ranked the "World's Best City" by Travel + Leisure .[12]


Map showing the major rivers of Charleston and the Charleston Harbor watershed

The city proper consists of six distinct areas: the Peninsula or Downtown, West Ashley, Johns Island, James Island, Daniel Island, and the Cainhoy Peninsula.


Main article: Charleston Harbor

The old city is located on Oyster Point, where, as locals say, "The Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean."[13] The entire peninsula is very low and presents a picturesque appearance from the harbor, where the buildings seem to rise from the sea.[14] The situation, however, does leave the city vulnerable to frequent floods during hurricanes, heavy rains, storm surges, and some high tides.

The old town fit into 4–5 square miles (10–13 km2) as late as the First World War[14][15] but has since greatly expanded, crossing the Ashley and encompassing James Island and some of Johns Island. The city limits also have expanded across the Cooper River, encompassing Daniel Island and the Cainhoy area. The present city has a total area of 127.5 square miles (330.2 km2), of which 109.0 square miles (282.2 km2) is land and 18.5 square miles (47.9 km2) is covered by water.[16] North Charleston blocks any expansion up the peninsula, and Mount Pleasant occupies the land directly east of the Cooper River.

Charleston Harbor runs about 7 miles (11 km) southeast to the Atlantic with an average width of about 2 miles (3.2 km), surrounded on all sides except its entrance. Sullivan's Island lies to the north of the entrance and Morris Island to itself south. The entrance itself is about 1 mile (2 km) wide; it was originally only 18 feet (5 m) deep, but began to be enlarged in the 1870s.[14] The tidal rivers (Wando, Cooper, Stono, and Ashley) are evidence of a submergent or drowned coastline. There is a submerged river delta off the mouth of the harbor and the Cooper River is deep.


Damage left from Hurricane Hugo in 1989

Charleston has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa), with mild winters, hot, humid summers, and significant rainfall all year long. Summer is the wettest season; almost half of the annual rainfall occurs from June to September in the form of thundershowers. Fall remains relatively warm through November. Winter is short and mild, and is characterized by occasional rain. Measurable snow (≥0.1 in or 0.25 cm) only occurs several times per decade at the most, with the last such event occurring December 26, 2010.[17] However, 6.0 in (15 cm) fell at the airport on December 23, 1989, the largest single-day fall on record, contributing to a single-storm and seasonal record of 8.0 in (20 cm) snowfall.[17]

The highest temperature recorded within city limits was 104 °F (40 °C) on June 2, 1985, and June 24, 1944, and the lowest was 7 °F (−14 °C) on February 14, 1899. At the airport, where official records are kept, the historical range is 105 °F (41 °C) on August 1, 1999, down to 6 °F (−14 °C) on January 21, 1985.[17] Hurricanes are a major threat to the area during the summer and early fall, with several severe hurricanes hitting the area—most notably Hurricane Hugo on September 21, 1989 (a category 4 storm). The dewpoint in June to August ranges from 67.8 to 71.4 °F (19.9 to 21.9 °C).[18]

Metropolitan Statistical Area

The Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area consists of three counties: Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester. As of the 2013 U.S. Census, the metropolitan statistical area had a total population of 712,239 people. North Charleston is the second-largest city in the Charleston–North Charleston–Summerville Metropolitan Statistical Area and ranks as the third-largest city in the state; Mount Pleasant and Summerville are the next-largest cities. These cities combined with other incorporated and unincorporated areas along with the city of Charleston form the Charleston-North Charleston Urban Area with a population of 548,404 as of 2010.[22] The metropolitan statistical area also includes a separate and much smaller urban area within Berkeley County, Moncks Corner (with a 2000 population of 9,123).

The traditional parish system persisted until the Reconstruction Era, when counties were imposed. Nevertheless, traditional parishes still exist in various capacities, mainly as public service districts. When the city of Charleston was formed, it was defined by the limits of the Parish of St. Philip and St. Michael, now also includes parts of St. James' Parish, St. George's Parish, St. Andrew's Parish, and St. John's Parish, although the last two are mostly still incorporated rural parishes.


The Pink House, the oldest stone building in Charleston, was built of Bermudian limestone at 17 Chalmers Street, some time between 1694 and 1712

Colonial era (1670–1786)

A c.1724 English copy of a deerskin Catawba map of the tribes between "Charlestown" (left) and "Virginie" (right) following the displacements of a century of disease and enslavement and the 1715–7 Yamasee War.

After Charles II was restored to the English throne in 1660, he granted the chartered Province of Carolina to eight of his loyal friends, known as the Lords Proprietors, on March 24, 1663. It took seven years before the group arranged for settlement expeditions. In 1670, Governor William Sayle brought over several shiploads of settlers from Bermuda, which lies due east of Charleston although closer to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. These settlers established Charles Town at Albemarle Point on the west bank of the Ashley River a few miles northwest of the present-day city center.[23] Charles Town became English-speaking America's first comprehensively-planned town with governance, settlement, and development were to follow a visionary plan known as the Grand Model prepared for the Lords Proprietors by John Locke.[24] Because the Carolina's Fundamental Constitutions was never ratified, however, Charles Town was never incorporated during the colonial period, with the British Crown disallowing the one attempt to do so in the 1720s.[25] Instead, local ordinances were passed by the provincial government, with day-to-day administration handled by the wardens and vestries of St Philip's and St Michael's Anglican parishes.[23][25]

At the time of contact, the area was inhabited by the Cusabo Indians. The settlers declared war on them in October 1671. The Charlestonians initially allied with the Westo, a slaving northern tribe that had grown powerful trading for guns with the colonists in Virginia. The Westo had made enemies of nearly every other tribe in the region, however, and the English turned on them in 1679. Destroying them by 1680, the settlers were able to use their improved relations with the Cusabo and other tribes to trade, recapture runaway slaves, and engage in slaving raids of Spanish-allied areas.[26]

The Earl of Shaftesbury, one of the Lords Proprietors, proclaimed that it would soon become a "great port towne". Instead, the initial settlement quickly dwindled away and disappeared while another village—established by the settlers on Oyster Point at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers around 1672[23]—thrived; this settlement formally replaced the original Charles Town in 1680.[27] (The original site is now commemorated as Charles Towne Landing.) Not only was this location more defensible, but it also offered access to a fine natural harbor which accommodated trade with the West Indies. The new town was the 5th-largest in North America by 1690.[28] On Carolina's southern coast, transportation between the early communities by river and sea was so convenient that Charleston was the only court needed until the late 1750s,[25] but difficulty in transport and communications with the north meant its settlers were effectively independent of Charles Town as late as the governorship of Philip Ludwell; even then, the north was controlled through an appointed deputy governor. On December 7, 1710, the Lords Proprietors decided to separate the Province of North Carolina from Charles Town's government, although they continued to own and control both regions.

A smallpox outbreak hit in 1698, followed by an earthquake in February 1699 whose ensuing fire destroyed about a third of the town. During rebuilding,[29] a yellow fever outbreak killed about 15% of the remaining inhabitants. Charles Town saw between 5 and 8 major yellow fever outbreaks over the first half of the 18th century. It developed a deserved reputation as one of the least healthy locations in British North America for whites, although mistaken observations over the period led some doctors to think that blacks had a natural immunity to the disease. In fact, both black and white locals appear to have developed a general immunity to the disease by 1750, with future outbreaks (lasting until 1871) tending to only kill new arrivals, prompting its local name "stranger's fever".[30] Malaria—locally known as "country fever" since yellow fever was largely confined to Charles Town and the coast—was endemic and, though not causing so much public panic, was also a major health problem through most of the city's history before dying out in the 1950s.[31]

Herman Moll's 1733 Town and Harbour of Charles Town in South Carolina, showing the town's defensive walls.

Charles Town was fortified according to a plan developed in 1704 under Governor Nathaniel Johnson. The early settlement was often subject to attack from sea and land. Both Spain and France contested England's claims to the region. Native Americans and pirates both raided it, though the Yamasee War of the 1710s did not quite reach it. In late May 1718, Charles Town was besieged by Edward Teach, commonly known as "Blackbeard", for nearly a week. His pirates plundered merchant ships and seized the passengers and crew of the Crowley while demanding a chest of medicine from Governor Robert Johnson. Receiving it, they released their nearly naked hostages and sailed up the coast for North Carolina.[32] The wreck of Blackbeard's flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, has since been discovered and found to include a urethral syringe (used to treat syphilis), pump clysters (used to provide enemas), a porringer (possibly for bloodletting), and a brass mortar and pestle for preparing medicine.[33]

Around 1719, the town's name began to be generally written Charlestown[23] and, excepting those fronting the Cooper River, the old walls were largely removed over the next decade. Charlestown was a center for inland colonization of South Carolina, but remained the southernmost point of English settlement on the American mainland until the Province of Georgia was established in 1732. The first settlers primarily came from England and its colonies on Barbados and Bermuda. Protestant French, Scottish, Irish, and Germans immigrated, as did hundreds of Jews, predominately Sephardi.[34] As late as 1830, Charleston continued to house the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in America.[34][35] Because of the struggles of the English Reformation and particularly because the papacy long recognized James II's son as the rightful king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, openly-practicing Roman Catholics were prohibited from settling in South Carolina throughout the colonial period. (Catholic emancipation did not proceed in earnest until after the onset of the American Revolution.)

By 1708, however, the majority of the colony's population were black Africans. They had been brought to Charlestown on the Middle Passage, first as "servants" and then as slaves. Of the estimated 400,000 Africans transported to North America for sale as slaves, 40% are thought to have landed at Sullivan's Island off Charlestown, a "hellish Ellis Island of sorts". With no official monument marking this role, the writer Toni Morrison organized a privately-funded commemorative bench.[36] The Bakongo, Mbundu, Wolof, Mende, and Malinke peoples formed the largest groups.[37] Free people of color also arrived from the West Indies, where wealthy whites took black consorts and color lines were (especially early on) looser among the working class.[38] South Carolina continued to have a black majority until after the Great Migration of the early 20th century.

Rainbow Row's 13 houses along East Bay Street formed the commercial center of the town from the colonial period through the early 20th century.

At the foundation of the town, the principal items of commerce were pine timber and pitch for ships and tobacco, but the early economy developed around the deerskin trade, using alliances with the Cherokee and Creek peoples to secure the raw material used for Europeans' buckskin pants, gloves, and bookbindings. Records show an average annual export of 54,000 skins for the years from 1699 to 1715. During the height of the trade from 1739 to 1761, 5,239,350 lb (2,376,530 kg) of deerskin were exported through Charlestown, representing between 0.5–1.25 million deer. To a lesser extent, beaver pelts were also exported. At the same time, the Indians were used to enslave one another. From 1680 to 1720, approximately 40,000 native men, women, and children were sold through the port, principally to the West Indies but also to Boston and other cities in British North America.[39] The Lowcountry planters did not keep these slaves themselves, considering them too prone to escape or revolt, and instead used the proceeds of their sale to purchase black African slaves for their own plantations.[40] The slaveraiding—and the European firearms it introduced—helped destabilize Spanish Florida and French Louisiana in the 1700s during the War of the Spanish Succession[40] but also provoked the Yamasee War of the 1710s that nearly destroyed the colony, after which the practice was largely abandoned.[39]

The area's unsuitability for the tobacco exported from Virginia and North Carolina prompted the Lowcountry planters to experiment with other cash crops ranging from tea to mulberries. They had discovered South Carolina's suitability for Asian rice cultivation by 1700 but early attempts using free or indentured farmers were unsuccessful. African rice, separately domesticated in Mali, had spread across western Africa. The profitability of growing rice for export to England led the planters to pay premiums for slaves from the "Rice Coast" who knew its cultivation; their descendants make up the Gullah of the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.[41] Slaves imported from the Caribbean showed the planter George Lucas's daughter Eliza how to raise and use indigo for dyeing in 1747. Within three years, British subsidies and high demand had already made it a leading export.[42]

Throughout this period, the slaves were sold aboard the arriving ships or at ad hoc gatherings in town's taverns.[43] Runaways and minor rebellions prompted the 1739 Security Act requiring all white men to carry weapons at all times (even to church on Sundays), but before it had fully taken effect the Cato or Stono Rebellion broke out. The white community had recently been decimated by a malaria outbreak and the rebels killed over forty whites before being stopped by the colonial militia. The planters attributed the violence to recently imported Africans and agreed to a 10-year moratorium on slave importation through Charlestown, relying on the communities they already possessed. The 1740 Negro Act also tightened controls, requiring one white for every ten blacks on any plantation and banning slaves from assembling together, growing their own food, earning money, or learning to read. Drums were banned owing to Africans' use of them for signaling, although slaves continued to be permitted string and other instruments.[44] When the moratorium expired and Charlestown reopened to the slave trade in 1750, the memory of the Stono Rebellion meant that slaves from the Congo and Angola were avoided.

A large tornado in 1761 temporarily emptied the Ashley River and sank five warships lying offshore.[45]

By the mid-18th century, Charlestown was the hub of the Atlantic trade of England's southern colonies. Even with the decade-long moratorium, its customs processed around 40% of the African slaves brought to North America between 1700 and 1775.[43] The plantations and the economy based on them made it the wealthiest city in British North America[46] and the largest south of Philadelphia. Its 11,000 inhabitants—half slaves—made it the 4th-largest port after Boston, New York, and Philadelphia in 1770. The money also paid for cultural and social development. Charlestown saw America's first theater building in 1736 at the site of today's Dock Street Theater. St Michael's was erected in 1753.[27] Benevolent societies were formed by the Huguenots, free people of color,[lower-alpha 2] Germans, and Jews. The Library Society was established in 1748 by well-born young men who wanted to share the financial cost to keep up with the scientific and philosophical issues of the day. This group also helped establish the town's college in 1770, the first in the colony. Until its transition to state ownership in 1970, it remained the oldest municipally-supported college in the United States.

American Revolution (1776–1783)

Charlestown and environs in 1780

To protest the 1773 Tea Act, Charlestonians confiscated British tea and held it in the Exchange and Provost. Delegates for the Continental Congress were elected in 1774 and South Carolina declared its independence from Britain on the steps of the Exchange. British warships began to target Charlestown's church steeples, prompting the rebels to paint them black to blend with the night sky.

As part of the Southern theater of the American Revolution, the British attacked the town in force three times,[27] generally assuming that the settlement had a large base of Loyalists who would rally to their cause once given some military support.[47] The loyalty of the white southerners had largely been forfeited, however, by British legal cases (such as the 1772 Somerset case) and military tactics (such as Dunmore's Proclamation in 1775) that threatened the emancipation of the planter's slaves; the same practices, however, did win the allegiance of thousands of Black Loyalists.

The Battle of Sullivan's Island saw the 9 ships and 2000 soldiers under Admiral Peter Parker and General Henry Clinton fail to capture a partially-constructed palmetto palisade from the few hundred men composing Col. William Moultrie's militia regiment over the course of a day's fighting on June 28, 1776. Moultrie had been forced to ignore the order to retreat from his general Charles Lee under commands from his president John Rutledge. In the end, the spongy palmetto-and-sand defenses completely neutralized the British naval bombardment and gave the Royal Navy its first defeat in a century. The Liberty Flag used by Moultrie's men formed the basis of the later South Carolina flag and the victory's anniversary continues to be commemorated as Carolina Day.

Following the capture of Savannah in the closing days of 1778, forces under Brig. Gen. Augustine Prévost contested control of Augusta with the army under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. In April 1779, Prévost instead sent 2500 men towards South Carolina, forcing Moultrie's militia to fall back towards Charlestown. His men didn't see resistance until they reached within 10 miles (16 km) of the city and begun to invest it,[48] but an intercepted message alerted Prévost that Lincoln had been informed of the assault and was returning from Augusta. Prévost began an orderly withdrawal and the major engagement of the affair was his rearguard's successful defense of the crossing at Stono Creek on June 20. The expedition's major effect was the antagonism its indiscriminate raiding provoked from ally and enemy alike. The same year, the French frigate Amazone captured the post ship Ariel off Charlestown on September 11.

Making the capture of Charlestown their chief priority, the British sent Gen. Clinton south from New England in October 1779. Gen. Lincoln was aware of the attack and set about fortifying the city, but an outbreak of smallpox over the winter was used by local slaveholders to excuse themselves from sending men to assist the effort.[49] After reinforcement, Gen. Clinton approached the town via James Island and began his siege on April 1, 1780, with about 14,000 troops and 90 ships. Bombardment began on March 11. De Laumoy advised Gen. Lincoln's surrender, as the rebels had only about 5500 men and inadequate fortifications to repel the forces against them. As the British cut his supply lines and lines of retreat through skirmishes at Monck's Corner and Lenud's Ferry, Lincoln held out until May 12, when his surrender became the greatest American defeat of the war. Gen. Clinton left Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis in Charleston with around 3000 troops to consolidate British control and then move north against Virginia. These troops were responsible for Cornwallis's decisive victory at Camden on August 16.

The British continued to hold Charlestown for over a year following their defeat at Yorktown in 1781, although they alienated local elites by refusing to restore full civil government. General Nathanael Greene had entered the state after Cornwallis's pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse and kept the area under a kind of siege. General Alexander Leslie, commanding Charlestown, requested a truce in March 1782 to purchase food for his garrison and the town's inhabitants. Greene refused and formed a brigade under Mordecai Gist to oppose British forays. One such foray in August led to a British victory at the Combahee River, but Charlestown was finally evacuated in December 1782. Gen. Greene presented the leaders of the town with the Moultrie Flag.

From the summer of 1782, French planters fleeing the Haitian Revolution began arriving in the port with their slaves.[50] The major outbreak of yellow fever that occurred in Philadelphia the next year probably spread there from an epidemic these refugees brought to Charleston, although it was not publicly reported at the time. Over the 19th century, the health officials and newspapers of the town came under repeated criticism from Northerners, fellow Southerners, and one another for covering up epidemics as long as possible in order to keep up the city's maritime traffic.[51] The distrust and mortal risk meant that between July and October each year communication nearly shut down between the city and the surrounding countryside, which was less susceptible to yellow fever.[52]

Antebellum era (1783–1861)

Former German Fire Co. Engine House and Old Slave Mart Museum, 8 & 6 Chalmers St., respectively

The spelling Charleston was adopted in 1783[27][53] as part of the city's formal incorporation.[23]

Although Columbia replaced it as the state capital in 1788, Charleston became even more prosperous as Eli Whitney's 1793 invention of the cotton gin sped the processing of the crop over 50 times. The development made short-staple cotton profitable and opened the upland Piedmont region to slave-based cotton plantations, previously restricted to the sea islands and Lowcountry. Britain's Industrial Revolution—initially built upon its textile industry—took up the extra production ravenously and it was swiftly Charleston's major export commodity. The Bank of South Carolina, the second-oldest building in the nation to be constructed as a bank, was established in 1798. Branches of the First and Second Bank of the United States were also located in Charleston in 1800 and 1817.

Throughout the Antebellum Period, Charleston continued to be the only major American city with a majority slave population.[54][lower-alpha 3] The city's commitment to slavery was the primary focus of writers and visitors: a merchant from Liverpool noted in 1834 that "almost all the working population are Negroes, all the servants, the carmen & porters, all the people who see at the stalls in Market, and most of the Journeymen in trades".[55] American traders had been prohibited from equipping the Atlantic slave trade in 1794 and all importation of slaves was banned in 1808, but American ships long refused to permit British inspection and smuggling remained common. The 19th century saw the city's first dedicated slave markets, mostly near Chalmers & State Streets.[43] Slave-ownership was the primary marker of class and even the town's freedmen and other people of color typically kept slaves if they had the wealth to do so.[56] Visitors commonly remarked on the sheer number of blacks in Charleston and their seeming freedom of movement,[57] though in fact—mindful of the Stono Rebellion and the violent slave revolution that established Haiti—the whites closely regulated the behavior of both slaves and free people of color. Wages and hiring practices were fixed, identifying badges were sometimes required, and even work songs were sometimes censored.[58] Punishment was handled out of sight by the city's Work House, whose fees netting the municipal government thousands a year.[59] In 1820, a state law mandated that each individual act of freeing a slave henceforth legislative approval, effectively halting the practice.[60]

The effects of slavery were pronounced on white society as well. The high cost of 19th-century slaves and their high rate of return combined to institute an oligarchic society controlled by about ninety interrelated families, where 4% of the free population controlled half of the wealth and the lower half of the free population — unable to compete with owned or rented slaves — held no wealth at all.[54] The white middle class was minimal: Charlestonians generally disparaged hard work as the lot of slaves.[61] All the slaveholders taken together made up 82% of the city's wealth and almost all non-slaveholders were poor.[54] Olmsted considered their civic elections "entirely contests of money and personal influence" and the oligarchs dominated civic planning:[62] the lack of public parks and amenities was noted, as was the abundance of private gardens in the wealthy's walled estates.[14]

In the 1810s, the town's churches intensified their discrimination against their black parishioners, culminating in Bethel Methodist's 1817 construction of a hearse house over its black burial ground. 4,376 black Methodists joined Morris Brown in establishing Hampstead Church, the African Methodist Episcopal church now known as Mother Emanuel.[64][65] State and city laws prohibited black literacy, limited black worship to daylight hours, and required that a majority of any church's parishioners be white. In June 1818, 140 black church members were arrested and eight of its leaders given fines and ten lashes; police raided the church again in 1820 and leaned on it in 1821.[65] In 1822, members of the church led by Denmark Vesey, a lay preacher[65] and carpenter who had bought his freedom after winning a lottery, planned a uprising and escape to Haiti—initially for Bastille Day—that failed when one slave revealed the plot to his master.[lower-alpha 4] Over the next month, the city's intendant (mayor) James Hamilton Jr. organized a militia for regular patrols, initiated a secret and extrajudicial tribunal to investigate, and hanged 35 and exiled 35[65] or 37 slaves to Spanish Cuba for their involvement.[66] In a sign of Charleston's antipathy to abolitionists, a white co-conspirator pled for leniency from the court on the grounds that his involvement had been motivated only by greed and not by any sympathy with the slaves' cause.[67] Governor Thomas Bennett Jr. had pressed for more compassionate and Christian treatment of slaves but his own had been found involved Vesey's planned uprising. Hamilton was able to successfully campaign for more restrictions on both free and enslaved blacks: South Carolina required free black sailors to be imprisoned while their ships were in Charleston Harbor though international treaties eventually required the United States to quash the practice; free blacks were banned from returning to the state if they left for any reason;[68] slaves were given a 9:15 pm curfew; the city razed Hampstead Church to the ground[66][68] and erected a new arsenal which later formed the Citadel's first campus. The AME congregation built a new church but the city banned it and all black worship services in 1834, following Nat Turner's 1831 rebellion in Virginia.[69] The estimated 10% of slaves who came to America as Muslims[70] never had a separate mosque, although they were sometimes permitted beef rations in place of pork.[71]

In 1832, South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification, a procedure by which a state could, in effect, repeal a federal law; it was directed against the most recent tariff acts. Soon, federal soldiers were dispensed to Charleston's forts, and five United States Coast Guard cutters were detached to Charleston Harbor "to take possession of any vessel arriving from a foreign port, and defend her against any attempt to dispossess the Customs Officers of her custody until all the requirements of law have been complied with." This federal action became known as the Charleston incident. The state's politicians worked on a compromise law in Washington to gradually reduce the tariffs.[72]

On 27 April 1838, a massive fire broke out around 9:00 in the evening. It raged until noon the next day, damaging over 1,000 buildings, a loss estimated at $3 million at the time. In efforts to put the fire out, all the water in the city pumps was used up. The fire ruined businesses, several churches, a new theater, and the entire market except for the fish section. Most famously, Charleston's Trinity Church was burned. Another important building that fell victim was the new hotel that had been recently built. Many houses were burnt to the ground. The damaged buildings amounted to about one-fourth of all the businesses in the main part of the city. The fire rendered penniless many who were wealthy. Several prominent store owners died attempting to save their establishments. When the many homes and business were rebuilt or repaired, a great cultural awakening occurred. In many ways, the fire helped put Charleston on the map as a great cultural and architectural center. Previous to the fire, only a few homes were styled as Greek Revival; many residents decided to construct new buildings in that style after the conflagration. This tradition continued and made Charleston one of the foremost places to view Greek Revival architecture. The Gothic Revival also made a significant appearance in the construction of many churches after the fire that exhibited picturesque forms and reminders of devout European religion.[73]

By 1840, the Market Hall and Sheds, where fresh meat and produce were brought daily, became a hub of commercial activity. The slave trade also depended on the port of Charleston, where ships could be unloaded and the slaves bought and sold. The legal importation of African slaves had ended in 1808, although smuggling was significant. However, the domestic trade was booming. More than one million slaves were transported from the Upper South to the Deep South in the antebellum years, as cotton plantations were widely developed through what became known as the Black Belt. Many slaves were transported in the coastwise slave trade, with slave ships stopping at ports such as Charleston.

Civil War (1861–1865)

Two 10" Columbiads guarding the Battery in 1863.
The ruins of Charleston in 1865, following major fires in 1861 and at the evacuation of the Confederates.
The 1932 monument in the Battery honoring the Confederate defenders of Fort Sumter.

On December 20, 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, the South Carolina General Assembly voted to secede from the Union. On December 27, Castle Pinckney was surrendered by its garrison to the state militia and, on January 9, 1861, Citadel cadets opened fire on the USS Star of the West as it entered Charleston Harbor. On April 12, 1861, shore batteries under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on the US Army-held Fort Sumter in the harbor, the first full battle of the American Civil War.[27] After a 34-hour bombardment, Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. On December 11, 1861, an enormous fire burned over 500 acres (200 ha) of the city.

Union control of the sea permitted the repeated bombardment of the city, causing vast damage.[74] Although Admiral Du Pont's naval assault on the town's forts in April 1863 failed,[27] the Union navy's blockade shut down most commercial traffic. Over the course of the war, some blockade runners got through but not a single one made it into or out of the Charleston Harbor between August 1863 and March 1864.[74] The early submarine H.L. Hunley made a night attack on the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864, but the effort failed.[75]

General Gillmore's land assault in July 1864 was unsuccessful[27] but the fall of Columbia and advance of General William T. Sherman's army through the state prompted the Confederates to evacuate the town on February 17, 1865, burning the public buildings, cotton warehouses, and other sources of supply before their departure.[27] Union troops moved into the city within the month.[27] The War Department recovered what federal property remained and also confiscated the campus of the Citadel Military Academy and used it as a federal garrison for the next 17 years. The facilities were finally returned to the state and reopened as a military college in 1882 under the direction of Lawrence E. Marichak.

Reconstruction (1865–1945)

After the defeat of the Confederacy, federal forces remained in Charleston during Reconstruction. The war had shattered the city's prosperity, but the African-American population surged (from 17,000 in 1860 to over 27,000 in 1880) as freedmen moved from the countryside to the major city.[76] Blacks quickly left the Southern Baptist Church and resumed open meetings of the African Methodist Episcopal and AME Zion churches. They purchased dogs, guns, liquor, and better clothes—all previously banned—and ceased yielding the sidewalks to whites.[76] Despite the efforts of the state legislature to halt manumissions, Charleston had already had a large class of free people of color as well. At the onset of the war, the city had 3,785 free people of color, many of mixed race, making up about 18% of the city's black population and 8% of its total population. Many were educated and practiced skilled crafts;[38] they quickly became leaders of South Carolina's Republican Party and its legislators. Men who had been free people of color before the war comprised 26% of those elected to state and federal office in South Carolina from 1868 to 1876.[77][78]

By the late 1870s, industry was bringing the city and its inhabitants back to a renewed vitality; new jobs attracted new residents.[27] As the city's commerce improved, residents worked to restore or create community institutions. In 1865, the Avery Normal Institute was established by the American Missionary Association as the first free secondary school for Charleston's African American population. Gen. Sherman lent his support to the conversion of the United States Arsenal into the Porter Military Academy, an educational facility for former soldiers and boys left orphaned or destitute by the war. Porter Military Academy later joined with Gaud School and is now a university-preparatory school, Porter-Gaud School.

In 1875, blacks made up 57% of the city's and 73% of the county's population.[79] With leadership by members of the antebellum free black community, historian Melinda Meeks Hennessy described the community as "unique" in being able to defend themselves without provoking "massive white retaliation", as occurred in numerous other areas during Reconstruction.[79] In the 1876 election cycle, two major riots between black Republicans and white Democrats occurred in the city, in September and the day after the election in November, as well as a violent incident in Cainhoy at an October joint discussion meeting.[79]

Violent incidents occurred throughout the Piedmont of the state as white insurgents struggled to maintain white supremacy in the face of social changes after the war and granting of citizenship to freedmen by federal constitutional amendments. After former Confederates were allowed to vote again, election campaigns from 1872 on were marked by violent intimidation of blacks and Republicans by white Democratic paramilitary groups, known as the Red Shirts. Violent incidents took place in Charleston on King Street in September 6 and in nearby Cainhoy on October 15, both in association with political meetings before the 1876 election. The Cainhoy incident was the only one statewide in which more whites were killed than blacks.[80] The Red Shirts were instrumental in suppressing the black Republican vote in some areas in 1876 and narrowly electing Wade Hampton as governor, and taking back control of the state legislature. Another riot occurred in Charleston the day after the election, when a prominent Republican leader was mistakenly reported killed.[79]

On August 31, 1886, Charleston was nearly destroyed by an earthquake. The shock was estimated to have a moment magnitude of 7.0 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme). It was felt as far away as Boston to the north, Chicago and Milwaukee to the northwest, as far west as New Orleans, as far south as Cuba, and as far east as Bermuda. It damaged 2,000 buildings in Charleston and caused $6 million worth of damage ($133 million in 2006 dollars), at a time when all the city's buildings were valued around $24 million ($531 million in 2006 dollars).

Investment in the city continued. The William Enston Home, a planned community for the city's aged and infirm, was built in 1889. An elaborate public building, the United States Post Office and Courthouse, was completed by the federal government in 1896 in the heart of the city. The Democrat-dominated state legislature passed a new constitution in 1895 that disfranchised blacks, effectively excluding them entirely from the political process, a second-class status that was maintained for more than six decades in a state that was majority black until about 1930.

Charleston's tourism boom began in earnest following the publication of Albert Simons and Samuel Lapham's Architecture of Charleston[81] in the 1920s.[82]

Contemporary era (1945–present)

A Charleston street

Charleston languished economically for several decades in the 20th century, though the large federal military presence in the region helped to shore up the city's economy.

The Charleston Hospital Strike of 1969, in which mostly black workers protested discrimination and low wages, was one of the last major events of the civil rights movement. It attracted Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, and other prominent figures to march with the local leader, Mary Moultrie. Its story is recounted in Tom Dent's book Southern Journey (1996).

Joseph P. Riley, Jr., was elected mayor in the 1970s, and helped advance several cultural aspects of the city. Riley worked to revive Charleston's economic and cultural heritage. The last 30 years of the 20th century had major new investments in the city, with a number of municipal improvements and a commitment to historic preservation to restore the city's unique fabric. There was an effort to preserve working-class housing of African Americans on the historic peninsula, but the neighborhood has gentrified, with rising prices and rents. From 1980 to 2010, the peninsula's population has shifted from two-thirds black to two-thirds white; in 2010 residents numbered 20,668 whites to 10,455 blacks.[83] Many African Americans have moved to the less-expensive suburbs in these decades.[83]

The city's commitments to investment were not slowed down by Hurricane Hugo and continue to this day. The eye of Hurricane Hugo came ashore at Charleston Harbor in 1989, and though the worst damage was in nearby McClellanville, three-quarters of the homes in Charleston's historic district sustained damage of varying degrees. The hurricane caused over $2.8 billion in damage. The city was able to rebound fairly quickly after the hurricane and has grown in population, reaching an estimated 124,593 residents in 2009.[84]

On June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and sat in on part of a Bible study before shooting and killing nine people.[85] Senior pastor Clementa Pinckney, who also served as a state senator, was among those killed during the attack. The deceased also included congregation members Susie Jackson, 87; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Ethel Lance, 70; Myra Thompson, 59; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Tywanza Sanders, 26.[86] The attack garnered national attention, and sparked a debate on historical racism, Confederate symbolism in Southern states, and gun violence, in part based on Roof's online postings. On July 10, 2015, the Confederate battle flag was removed from the South Carolina State House. A memorial service on the campus of the College of Charleston was attended by President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden, and Speaker of the House John Boehner.

On the weekend of October 3–5, 2015, a massive low pressure front settled over Charleston. Simultaneously, Hurricane Joaquin was passing off shore. This combination of low pressure and tropical moisture caused extensive rain, tidal flows and flooding in the Greater Charleston Area. Scientists reported that the tide in Charleston Harbor was higher than during Hurricane Hugo (1989). Damage was significant. Local tourism suffered, but only for the weekend.


Charleston is known for its unique culture, which blends traditional Southern U.S., English, French, and West African elements. The downtown peninsula has gained a reputation for its art, music, local cuisine, and fashion. Spoleto Festival USA, held annually in late spring, has become one of the world's major performing arts festivals. It was founded in 1977 by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, who sought to establish a counterpart to the Festival dei Due Mondi (the Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy.

Charleston's oldest community theater group, the Footlight Players, has provided theatrical productions since 1931. A variety of performing arts venues includes the historic Dock Street Theatre. The annual Charleston Fashion Week held each spring in Marion Square brings in designers, journalists, and clients from across the nation. Charleston is known for its local seafood, which plays a key role in the city's renowned cuisine, comprising staple dishes such as gumbo, she-crab soup, fried oysters, Lowcountry boil, deviled crab cakes, red rice, and shrimp and grits. Rice is the staple in many dishes, reflecting the rice culture of the Low Country. The cuisine in Charleston is also strongly influenced by British and French elements.


Given Charleston's high concentration of African Americans who spoke the Gullah language, a creole language that developed on the Sea Islands and in the Low Country, the local speech patterns were also influenced by this community. Today, Gullah is still spoken by many African American residents. However, rapid development, especially on the surrounding Sea Islands, has attracted residents from outside the area and led to a decline in its prominence.

The traditional Charleston accent has long been noted in the state and throughout the South. It is typically heard in wealthy white families who trace their families back generations in the city. It has ingliding or monophthongal long mid-vowels, raises ay and aw in certain environments, and is nonrhotic. Sylvester Primer of the College of Charleston wrote about aspects of the local dialect in his late 19th-century works: "Charleston Provincialisms" (1887) [87] and "The Huguenot Element in Charleston's Provincialisms", published in a German journal. He believed the accent was based on the English as it was spoken by the earliest settlers, therefore derived from Elizabethan England and preserved with modifications by Charleston speakers. The rapidly disappearing "Charleston accent" is still noted in the local pronunciation of the city's name. Some elderly (and usually upper-class) Charleston natives ignore the 'r' and elongate the first vowel, pronouncing the name as "Chah-l-ston".


Charleston is known as "The Holy City",[88] perhaps because churches are prominent on the low-rise cityscape[89] or because South Carolina was among the few original colonies to tolerate all Christian Protestant denominations (though not Roman Catholicism).[90] The Anglican church was dominant in the colonial era, and the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul is today the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. Many French Huguenot refugees settled in Charleston in the early 18th century.[91] The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the Southern United States and houses the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland.[92]

South Carolina has long allowed Jews to practice their faith without restriction. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749 by Sephardic Jews from London, is the fourth-oldest Jewish congregation in the continental United States and was an important site for the development of Reform Judaism.[93] Brith Sholom Beth Israel is the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the South, founded by Ashkenazi German and a Central European Jew, by the name Sam Berlin, in the mid-19th century.[94]

The city's oldest Roman Catholic parish, Saint Mary of the Annunciation Roman Catholic Church, is the mother church of Roman Catholicism in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. In 1820, Charleston was established as the see city of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which at the time comprised the Carolinas and Georgia and presently encompasses the state of South Carolina.

Annual cultural events and fairs

Charleston annually hosts Spoleto Festival USA founded by Gian Carlo Menotti, a 17-day art festival featuring over 100 performances by individual artists in a variety of disciplines. The Spoleto Festival is internationally recognized as America's premier performing arts festival.[95] The annual Piccolo Spoleto festival takes place at the same time and features local performers and artists, with hundreds of performances throughout the city. Other festivals and events include Historic Charleston Foundation's Festival of Houses and Gardens and Charleston Antiques Show,[96] the Taste of Charleston, The Lowcountry Oyster Festival, the Cooper River Bridge Run, The Charleston Marathon,[97] Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE),[98] Charleston Food and Wine Festival, Charleston Fashion Week, the MOJA Arts Festival, and the Holiday Festival of Lights (at James Island County Park), and the Charleston International Film Festival.[99]


Main article: Music in Charleston

As it has on every aspect of Charleston culture, the Gullah community has had a tremendous influence on music in Charleston, especially when it comes to the early development of jazz music. In turn, the music of Charleston has had an influence on that of the rest of the country. The geechee dances that accompanied the music of the dock workers in Charleston followed a rhythm that inspired Eubie Blake's "Charleston Rag" and later James P. Johnson's "The Charleston", as well as the dance craze that defined a nation in the 1920s. "Ballin' the Jack", which was a popular dance in the years before "The Charleston", was written by native Charlestonian Chris Smith.[100]

The Jenkins Orphanage was established in 1891 by the Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins in Charleston. The orphanage accepted donations of musical instruments and Rev. Jenkins hired local Charleston musicians and Avery Institute Graduates to tutor the boys in music. As a result, Charleston musicians became proficient on a variety of instruments and were able to read music expertly.[101] These traits set Jenkins musicians apart and helped land some of them positions in big bands with Duke Ellington and Count Basie. William "Cat" Anderson, Jabbo Smith, and Freddie Green are but a few of the alumni from the Jenkins Orphanage band who became professional musicians in some of the best bands of the day. Orphanages around the country began to develop brass bands in the wake of the Jenkins Orphanage Band's success. At the Colored Waif's Home Brass Band in New Orleans, for example, a young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong first began to draw attention.[102]

As many as five bands were on tour during the 1920s. The Jenkins Orphanage Band played in the inaugural parades of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft and toured the USA and Europe.[103] The band also played on Broadway for the play "Porgy" by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, a stage version of their novel of the same title. The story was based in Charleston and featured the Gullah community. The Heywards insisted on hiring the real Jenkins Orphanage Band to portray themselves on stage.[102] Only a few years later, DuBose Heyward collaborated with George and Ira Gershwin to turn his novel into the now famous opera, Porgy and Bess (so named so as to distinguish it from the play). George Gershwin and Heyward spent the summer of 1934 at Folly Beach outside of Charleston writing this "folk opera", as Gershwin called it. Porgy and Bess is considered the Great American Opera and is widely performed.[104]

To this day, Charleston is home to many musicians in all genres. A unique showcase of Charleston's musical heritage is presented weekly. "The Sound of Charleston....from gospel to Gershwin", is staged at the historic Circular Congregational Church.[105]

Live theatre

Charleston has a vibrant theater scene and is home to America's first theater. In 2010, Charleston was listed as one of the country's top 10 cities for theater, and one of the top two in the South.[106] Most of the theaters are part of the League of Charleston Theatres, better known as Theatre Charleston.[107] Some of the city's theaters include:

Museums, historical sites, and other attractions

The Legend of the Pineapple

Pineapples can be seen almost everywhere in Charleston, but some question how this fruit became so iconic. Pineapples started to become popular when Charleston was more of a shipping port in the Colonial days. When Captains would come home from their voyages they would bring many exotic souvenirs with them, one of them being a pineapple. The captain would take the pineapple and put it outside his house on the fence; this would let all of his friends know he had come home safely. The pineapple became the symbol for hospitality because the pineapple placed on the fence outside of the captain's house would basically be an invitation to his friends and neighbors to join him for dinner and hear about his voyages.[111]

The Gibbes Art Gallery includes local art, including many works from the early 20th-century Charleston Renaissance.
The Calhoun Mansion at 16 Meeting Street was built in 1876 by George Williams, but derives its name from a later occupant, his grandson-in-law Patrick Calhoun.
Rainbow Row, Charleston

Charleston has many historic buildings, art and historical museums, and other attractions, including:


MUSC Health Stadium, home of the Charleston Battery

Charleston is home to a number of professional, minor league, and amateur sports teams:

Other notable sports venues in Charleston include Johnson Hagood Stadium (home of The Citadel Bulldogs football team) and Toronto Dominion Bank Arena at the College of Charleston, which seats 5,700 people who view the school's basketball and volleyball teams.

Creative works

Many creative works have been set in Charleston. In addition, Charleston is a popular filming location for movies and television, both in its own right and as a stand-in for Southern and/or historic settings.


Film and television

For a full list of appearances of Charleston in film and television, see here.



Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 2015132,609[120]10.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[121]
2015 Estimate[7]

In 2010, the racial makeup of Charleston was 70.2% White, 25.4% African American, 1.6% Asian, and 1.5% of two or more races; in addition, 2.9% of the population was Hispanic or Latino, of any race.[122]

Notable people


Charleston City Hall is open to tourists for free historical tours.

Charleston has a strong mayor-council government, with the mayor acting as the chief administrator and the executive officer of the municipality. The mayor also presides over city council meetings and has a vote, the same as other council members. The current mayor, since 2016, is John Tecklenburg The council has 12 members who are elected from one of 12 districts.

In 2006, Charleston's residents voted against Amendment 1, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in South Carolina. Statewide, the measure passed by 78% to 22%, but the voters of Charleston rejected it by 3,563 (52%) to 3,353 votes (48%).[124]

Fire department

Fire Department station houses for Engines 2 and 3 of the Charleston Fire Department

The City of Charleston Fire Department consists over 300 full-time firefighters. These firefighters operate out of 20 companies located throughout the city: 16 engine companies, two tower companies, and one ladder company. Training, Fire Marshall, Operations, and Administration are the divisions of the department.[125] The department operates on a 24/48 schedule and had a Class 1 ISO rating until late 2008, when ISO officially lowered it to Class 3.[126] Russell (Rusty) Thomas served as Fire Chief until June 2008, and was succeeded by Chief Thomas Carr in November 2008.

Police department

The City of Charleston Police Department, with a total of 458 sworn officers, 117 civilians, and 27 reserve police officers, is South Carolina's largest police department.[127] Their procedures on cracking down on drug use and gang violence in the city are used as models to other cities to do the same. According to the final 2005 FBI Crime Reports, Charleston crime level is worse than the national average in almost every major category.[128] Greg Mullen, the former Deputy Chief of the Virginia Beach, Virginia Police Department, serves as the current Chief of the Charleston Police Department. The former Charleston police chief was Reuben Greenberg, who resigned August 12, 2005. Greenberg was credited with creating a polite police force that kept police brutality well in check, even as it developed a visible presence in community policing and a significant reduction in crime rates.[129]

EMS and medical centers

Emergency medical services (EMS) for the city are provided by Charleston County Emergency Medical Services (CCEMS) & Berkeley County Emergency Medical Services (BCEMS). The city is served by the EMS and 911 services of both Charleston and Berkeley counties since the city is part of both counties.

Charleston is the primary medical center for the eastern portion of the state. The city has several major hospitals located in the downtown area: Medical University of South Carolina Medical Center (MUSC), Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center,[130] and Roper Hospital.[131] MUSC is the state's first school of medicine, the largest medical university in the state, and the sixth-oldest continually operating school of medicine in the United States. The downtown medical district is experiencing rapid growth of biotechnology and medical research industries coupled with substantial expansions of all the major hospitals. Additionally, more expansions are planned or underway at another major hospital located in the West Ashley portion of the city: Bon Secours-St Francis Xavier Hospital.[132] The Trident Regional Medical Center[133] located in the City of North Charleston and East Cooper Regional Medical Center[134] located in Mount Pleasant also serve the needs of residents of the city of Charleston.

Coast Guard Station Charleston

Coast Guard Station Charleston responds to search and rescue emergencies, conducts maritime law enforcement activities, and Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) missions. Personnel from Station Charleston are highly trained professionals, composed of federal law enforcement officers, boat crewmen, and coxswains who are capable of completing a wide range of missions.


Charleston Police Department police transporter

The following table shows Charleston's crime rate for six crimes that Morgan Quitno uses to calculate the ranking of "America's most dangerous cities", in comparison to the national average. The statistics shown are not for the actual number of crimes committed, but for the number of crimes committed per 100,000 people.[135]

Crime Charleston, SC (2011) National Average
Murder 11.0 4.9
Rape 30.0 24.7
Robbery 162.0 133.4
Assault 195.0 160.5
Burglary 527.0 433.8
Theft 2,957.0 2,434.1
Auto thefts 270.0 222.3
Arson 6.0 4.9

Since 1999, the overall crime rate of Charleston has begun to decline. The total crime index rate for Charleston in 1999 was 597.1 crimes committed per 100,000 people, while in 2011, the total crime index rate was 236.4 per 100,000. (The United States average is 320.9 per 100,000.)


Charleston is a major tourist destination, with a considerable number of luxury hotels, hotel chains, inns, and bed and breakfasts, and a large number of award-winning restaurants and quality shopping. The city has two shipping terminals, owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority, which are part of the fourth-largest container seaport on the East Coast and the thirteenth largest container seaport in North America.[136]

Charleston is becoming a prime location for information technology jobs and corporations, and has experienced the highest growth in this sector between 2011 and 2012 due in large part to the Charleston Digital Corridor.

In 2013, the Milken Institute ranked the Charleston region the ninth-best performing economy in the US due in large part to the growing IT sector. Notable companies include Blackbaud, SPARC, BoomTown, CSS, and Benefitfocus.

Higher education is also an important sector in the local economy, with institutions such as the Medical University of South Carolina, College of Charleston, The Citadel, and Charleston School of Law. In addition, Charleston Southern University is located in nearby North Charleston. Charleston is also an important art destination, named a top-25 arts destination by AmericanStyle magazine.[137]

Charleston also has some of the higher home prices in the country with an average home price of $420,000.[138] This increase has resulted in lower income people moving to suburbs to find housing.[83]



The City of Charleston is served by the Charleston International Airport. It is located in the City of North Charleston and is about 12 miles (20 km) northwest of downtown Charleston. It is the busiest passenger airport in South Carolina (IATA: CHS, ICAO: KCHS). The airport shares runways with the adjacent Charleston Air Force Base. Charleston Executive Airport is a smaller airport located in the John's Island section of the city of Charleston and is used by noncommercial aircraft. Both airports are owned and operated by the Charleston County Aviation Authority.


Charleston is served by two daily Amtrak trains: The Palmetto and Silver Meteor at the Amtrak station located at 4565 Gaynor Avenue in the City of North Charleston located around 7.5 miles from downtown Charleston .

Interstates and highways

Near the exit from I-26 onto Meeting Street in Charleston, South Carolina, the intersection of Meeting Street and Line Street is visible in photo.

Interstate 26 begins in downtown Charleston, with exits to the Septima Clark Expressway, the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge and Meeting Street. Heading northwest, it connects the city to North Charleston, the Charleston International Airport, Interstate 95, and Columbia. The Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge and Septima Clark Expressway are part of U.S. Highway 17, which travels east-west through the cities of Charleston and Mount Pleasant. The Mark Clark Expressway, or Interstate 526, is the bypass around the city and begins and ends at U.S. Highway 17. U.S. Highway 52 is Meeting Street and its spur is East Bay Street, which becomes Morrison Drive after leaving the east side. This highway merges with King Street in the city's Neck area (industrial district). U.S. Highway 78 is King Street in the downtown area, eventually merging with Meeting Street.

Major highways

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge across the Cooper River opened on July 16, 2005, and was the second-longest cable-stayed bridge in the Americas at the time of its construction. The bridge links Mount Pleasant with downtown Charleston, and has eight lanes plus a 12-foot lane shared by pedestrians and bicycles. It replaced the Grace Memorial Bridge (built in 1929) and the Silas N. Pearman Bridge (built in 1966). They were considered two of the more dangerous bridges in America and were demolished after the Ravenel Bridge opened.

The new Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, constructed in 2005 and named for former U.S. Representative Arthur Ravenel, Jr., who pushed the project to fruition, was at the time of its construction the second longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.

Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority

The city is also served by a bus system, operated by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA). Most of the urban area is served by regional fixed route buses, which are equipped with bike racks as part of the system's Rack and Ride program. CARTA offers connectivity to historic downtown attractions and accommodations with the Downtown Area Shuttle trolley buses, and it offers curbside pickup for disabled passengers with its Tel-A-Ride buses.

Rural parts of the city and metropolitan area are served by a different bus system, operated by Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Rural Transportation Management Association. The system is also commonly called the TriCounty Link.[139]


Columbus Street Terminal viewed from the southwest

The Port of Charleston, owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority, is one of the largest ports in the U.S. The Port of Charleston consists of five terminals, and a sixth terminal was to open in 2018. Despite occasional labor disputes, the port is ranked number one in customer satisfaction across North America by supply chain executives.[140] Port activity at the two terminals located in the city of Charleston is one of the city's leading sources of revenue, behind tourism.

Today, the Port of Charleston boasts the deepest water in the southeast region and regularly handles ships too big to transit through the Panama Canal. A next-generation harbor-deepening project[141] is currently underway to take the Port of Charleston's entrance channel to 54 feet and harbor channel to 52 feet at mean low tide. With an average high tide of 6 feet, the depth clearances will become 60 feet and 58 feet, respectively.

Union Pier, in the city of Charleston, is a cruise ship passenger terminal which hosts numerous cruise departures annually. In May 2010, the Carnival Fantasy was permanently stationed in Charleston, offering weekly cruises to the Bahamas and Key West, eventually to include Bermuda. With the addition of the weekly Carnival Fantasy sailings, Union Terminal hosted 67 embarkations and ports of call in 2010.



With the closure of the Naval Base and the Charleston Naval Shipyard in 1996, Detyens, Inc. signed a long term lease. With three dry docks, one floating dock, and six piers, Detyens Shipyard, Inc. is the largest commercial facility on the East Coast. Projects include military, commercial, and cruise ships.

Nearby cities and towns

Other outlying areas


Schools, colleges, and universities

Because most of the city of Charleston is located in Charleston County, it is served by the Charleston County School District. Part of the city, however, is served by the Berkeley County School District in northern portions of the city, such as the Cainhoy Industrial District, Cainhoy Historical District and Daniel Island.

Charleston is also served by a large number of independent schools, including Porter-Gaud School (K-12), Charleston Collegiate School (K-12), Ashley Hall (Pre K-12), Charleston Day School (1–8), First Baptist Church School (K-12), Palmetto Christian Academy (K-12), Coastal Christian Preparatory School[143] (K-12), Mason Preparatory School[144] (K-8), and Addlestone Hebrew Academy (K-8).

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston Office of Education also operates out of the city and oversees several K-8 parochial schools, such as Blessed Sacrament School, Christ Our King School, Charleston Catholic School, Nativity School, and Divine Redeemer School, all of which are "feeder" schools into Bishop England High School, a diocesan high school within the city. Bishop England, Porter-Gaud School, and Ashley Hall are the city's oldest and most prominent private schools, and are a significant part of Charleston history, dating back some 150 years.

Public institutions of higher education in Charleston include the College of Charleston (the nation's 13th-oldest university), The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, and the Medical University of South Carolina. The city is also home to private universities, including the Charleston School of Law. Charleston is also home to the Roper Hospital School of Practical Nursing, and the city has a downtown satellite campus for the region's technical school, Trident Technical College. Charleston is also the location for the only college in the country that offers bachelor's degrees in the building arts, The American College of the Building Arts.[145] The Art Institute of Charleston, located downtown on North Market Street, opened in 2007.

Armed Forces

Charleston, North Charleston, Goose Creek, and Hanahan are home to branches of the United States military. During the Cold War, the Naval Base (1902–1996) became the third largest U.S. homeport, serving over 80 ships and submarines. In addition, the combined facilities of the Naval Base and Weapons Station created the largest U.S. submarine port. The Charleston Naval Shipyard repaired frigates, destroyers, cruisers, submarine tenders, and submarines. Also during this period, the shipyard conducted refueling of nuclear submarines.

The Weapons Station was the Atlantic Fleet's loadout base for all nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Two SSBN "Boomer" squadrons and a submarine tender were homeported at the Weapons Station, while one SSN attack squadron, Submarine Squadron 4, and a submarine tender were homeported at the Naval Base. At the 1996 closure of the station's Polaris Missile Facility Atlantic (POMFLANT), over 2,500 nuclear warheads and their UGM-27 Polaris, UGM-73 Poseidon, and UGM-96 Trident I delivery missiles (SLBM) were stored and maintained, guarded by a U.S. Marine Corps security force company.

In 2010, the Air Force base (3,877 acres) and Naval Weapons Station (>17,000 acres) merged to form Joint Base Charleston. Today, Joint Base Charleston, supporting 53 military commands and federal agencies, provides service to over 79,000 airmen, sailors, soldiers, marines, guardsmen, Department of Defense civilians, dependents, and retirees.

U.S. Coast Guard



Broadcast television

Charleston is the nation's 98th-largest Designated market area (DMA), with 312,770 households and 0.27% of the U.S. TV population.[146] These stations are licensed in Charleston and have significant operations or viewers in the city:[147]

Radio stations

Sister cities

Charleston has one official sister city, Spoleto, Umbria, Italy.[148] The relationship between the two cities began when Pulitzer Prize-winning Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti selected Charleston as the city to host the American version of Spoleto's annual Festival of Two Worlds. "Looking for a city that would provide the charm of Spoleto, as well as its wealth of theaters, churches, and other performance spaces, they selected Charleston, South Carolina, as the ideal location. The historic city provided a perfect fit: intimate enough that the Festival would captivate the entire city, yet cosmopolitan enough to provide an enthusiastic audience and robust infrastructure."[95]

Charleston is also twinned with Speightstown, St. Peter, Barbados.[149] The original parts of Charlestown were based on the plans of Barbados's capital city Bridgetown.[150] Many indigo, tobacco, and cotton planters relocated their slaves and plantation operations from Speightstown to Charleston after the sugarcane industry came to dominate agricultural production in Barbados.[151]

See also


  1. The female figure is sometimes glossed as Athena,[2] although the official explanation is that she is a personification of Charleston itself.[3] Similarly, although aedes properly refers to temples and originally referred to the churches depicted on the seal, the official gloss is that it intends the city's "buildings".
  2. The Brown Fellowship Society, initially a burial society, operated from 1790 to 1945.
  3. Savannah, Georgia, and Richmond, Virginia, came closest, reaching 40% at times.[54]
  4. A monument to Vesey as a freedom fighter was long opposed by Charleston's white community but was finally begun in 2010 after a compromise placed it in Hampton Park, out of the historic district and far from the original proposed site in Marion Square.[60]



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