South Carolina history
South Carolina holds a firm place in American history. Englishmen created one of their first settlements in the new world in the state, and the first shots of the Civil War were later fired here.
With more than 1,300 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, South Carolina museums and historic sites document the state’s rich, varied history from its Colonial and American Revolution significance to Native American history and its decisive role in the Civil War.
But the state’s history began long before that. For thousands of years before Europeans arrived, our state was occupied by at least 29 tribes of Native Americans. That population greatly declined after European settlers arrived, from disease and conflict. A few tribes survived and have living descendants, including the Catawba, Cherokee, Pee Dee, Chicora, Edisto, Santee and Chicora-Waccamaw.
The first known European attempt at a settlement was a group of Spaniards in 1526, close to Winyah Bay, near Georgetown. A few decades later, a group of French Huguenots attempted a settlement near Beaufort. Neither effort lasted long.
The state’s first permanent settlement began in 1670, when Englishmen landed near Charleston along the Ashley River. The site is now preserved as Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, which includes an interactive museum, an authentic crop garden, an indigenous animal park and a replica 17th-century sailing vessel.
Today Charleston is a modern city, but it has kept its old-world charm. You can walk the English gardens of perfectly preserved colonial plantation homes or take a carriage ride along cobblestone streets. Walk through the historic district and you’ll see many houses built before the Civil War. Many now are bed-and-breakfast inns, allowing you to sleep in the midst of history.
Take a walk along the Battery and you’ll see magnificent houses and old mansions that face the sea, most of which were built by wealthy plantation owners who grew rice and cotton. Just outside the city you’ll find huge plantation homes that are restored and open for tours. The homes have beautifully maintained gardens and you can see what life was like in the 18th century.
America’s two major wars were both fought in South Carolina and there are many battlefields and historic areas to see. The Revolutionary War was waged across the state, with major battles in Camden, Cowpens, Kings Mountain and Brattonsville. Charleston, of course, also has many Revolutionary War sites.
The American Civil War began in South Carolina, when cadets from The Citadel fired shots at Fort Sumter, which was occupied by northern forces. The war took a brutal toll on the state and it took decades to recover both economically and socially.
In the 20th century, the invention of the cotton gin created economic growth, when cotton mills were built all across the Upstate. Work that previously had to be done by hand was now being done by machines and computers. In the latter part of the 20th century, large national and international companies settled in South Carolina because of its mild climate, natural resources and strong workforce.
South Carolina has many museums that showcase different parts of the state’s history. In Charleston, visit the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in combat. Pulled from the Atlantic 136 years after she sank, taking a crew of eight with her, the boat now rests in a 90,000-gallon tank. See www.hunley.org.
Also in Charleston, see naval history from a different century by visiting Patriots Point. There you can tour the USS Yorktown, which was used in World War II and beyond. You also can tour the USS Clamagore, Medal of Honour Museum, the Cold War Submarine Memorial and the only Vietnam Support Base Camp in the US. See www.patriotspoint.org
The SC State Museum in Columbia is located in the world’s first totally electric textile mill. The museum has four large floors dedicated to art, history, natural history and science/technology. It also has several rotating exhibits. See www.museum.state.sc.us
From the War for Independence and the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, South Carolina has been at the centre of both conflict and resolution throughout America’s history. The food, music and culture of South Carolina embrace the blending of many heritages in large cities and small villages alike. The distinctive architecture throughout the state reflects the pride and history of European, African and Caribbean influences.
Visit South Carolina to see all of this and more.