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Charleston and the Lowcountry

Charlestown as it was known then was founded in 1671 on the bank of the Ashley River. The settlement was named after King Charles II, who, when he came to the throne, was in bad need of financial backers.

Six members of the nobility enabled him to become king and gave him money for the treasury coffers. In return Charles gave them the right to acquire land in the so-called Carolina colony. They formed themselves into the Lords Proprietors, and set about forming a governmental system for the settlement. It just so happens that in the Hampshire County Archives there is an original and a copy of a document, signed in 1674 by all of the Lord Proprietors to enable the colony to be properly supplied.

From that fragile start Charleston grew to be first of all the capital of South Carolina – the colony being divided into two halves – until Columbia was built and much to the chagrin of the Charleston Lowcountrymen took on the role as seat of government. Some members of the Charleston elite, who by the way thought themselves as the  “aristocracy”, and had come over from the island of Barbados,  had considerable influence on the great events of the nation from the Revolution – people such as my ancestors, William Henry Drayton, John and Edward Rutledge – the latter marrying into the Grimke family, John Faucheraud Grimke and his abolitionist daughters, to be name but a few.

Charleston was the epicentre of activity in the South during the American War of Independence or as the Americans term it, the Revolutionary War. The British set up their headquarters at Drayton Hall and from there attacked the city. They eventually occupied Charleston for about a year. John Paul Grimke,as an aged resident, complained to the British Commandant that he had to billet Hessian officers in his home. He received a stinging reply, in which he was told that the authorities looked with disfavour on the correspondence he was maintaining with his son who was with George Washington at Valley Forge. The British eventually were forced to leave and move north.

Later during the events leading up to the Civil War Charleston was again at the epicentre. The Democrats convened in December 1860 at the Hibernian Hall to pass a motion of secession from the Union. Other Southern States followed suit. Then in 1861 the first shot in the Civil War was fired from Charleston on to Fort Sumter, a fortified island occupied by Federal troops. The War was a catastrophe for Charleston, as can be seen by the photos taken by a Yankee cameraman.

It took a long time before Charleston ever grew to be the city it is today with the help of Northern money – which for a long time rankled in many “Confederate” minds !!

As for the Lowcountry, it is merely that area closest to the sea from South Carolina down through Georgia and Florida. It is composed of marshland and tidal waters – a breeding ground for deadly diseases such as malaria, which the early settlers had to content with. It was also an ideal place to grow rice. African slaves were brought over to work in the rice plantations, because they were adept in producing this crop from their homelands along the shoreline of West Africa.

The following article details the connection between Charleston and the Isle of Wight, just off the south coast of England, which was used as a staging post for the rice trade into the rest of Europe up to the American Revolution.

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