South Carolina’s State Parks tell the story of our state from its colonial beginnings in 1670 to the natural areas set aside for preservation and recreation today. Parts of the park system played roles in each significant era since those first settlers arrived, and it's possible to trace the state's history through them. Let’s start our tour where the colonists started, Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site.
The small point of land in the marshes west of what is now the Ashley River where Charles Towne was founded wasn’t the initial desired target of the 120 settlers who came from England and Barbados to establish the Carolina Colony in 1670.
The colony had been deeded to eight Lords Proprietors by the king of England and included the land between 29 degrees north latitude (roughly around St. Augustine, Fla.) to 36 degrees (Kitty Hawk, NC), extending the breadth of the continent – a designation that obviously did not hold as the description “west as far as the Continent extends” became better understood.
The site was selected after conferring with the Kiawah Indians. It was chosen because it could be easily defended against potentially hostile native people and wildlife and from Spanish or other foreign ships by sea.
The original settlers were here to create a trading post from which to ship to England all the riches of the Carolina Colony.
Founded in 1670, Charles Towne paved the way for the plantation system – much like that seen in Barbados – that would define the American South. The connection between the Carolina colony and Barbados was strong enough that centuries later Bridgeport – the capital of the island nation – and Charleston became sister cities.
“Charles Towne was really a colony of a colony,” Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site manager Rob Powell says. “Charles Towne was, in many respects, an extension of the Barbados colony in the early years.”
The original town location didn’t last very long, however, and was moved across the river to present-day Charleston in 1680, where, the popular boast says, the Ashley and Cooper rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.
Those two rivers got their name from Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury and one of the eight Lords Proprietors. Cooper took a more extensive role in founding the colony, thus the naming honors. It is his letters and writings, the Shaftesbury Papers, that help tell the story of the colony’s rocky start.
The property passed through many different families over the centuries and generations until Ferdinanda Izlar Legare Backer Waring bought out her relatives and took possession of the property, then known as Old Town Plantation, in the 1930s. She and her husband lived there for a number of years. Waring decided to sell her property to the state. The sale came with the condition that she would be able to live out her life there.
So when Charles Towne Landing was opened in 1970 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the colony’s founding, Waring still lived in her home, which today is known as the Legare-Waring House and is available for weddings. Her daughter, Nancy Stevenson, was the first woman to be elected South Carolina’s lieutenant governor.
Nearly 20 years after the park opened, Hurricane Hugo caused so much damage that it required significant renovations. Those began in earnest in the early 21st century.
Today, you can enjoy a modern park that tells the story of the very beginning of South Carolina. Interpretive rangers in 17th century dress describe life for those first settlers and display heirloom crops that would have sustained the colony. Archaeological investigations at the site show sugar cane was grown here, and historic documents, such as the Shaftesbury Papers, provide evidence of other crops that the settlers tried to grow in their new Carolina home.
An interactive museum includes 12 rooms of multimedia exhibits and a self-guided history trail comes with the latest audio technology to bring your visit to life.
Moored in a creek off the Ashley River is the Adventure – a full-scale 17th century replica sailing ship that lets you see a typical cargo vessel of the day. Park manager Powell says the ship is sailed away for maintenance once a year and seeing it pass by today’s modern mega-ships is a startling reminder of just how much transportation has changed in the past 350 years.
The park’s animal forest is a 22-acre natural habitat zoo that lets you see some of the native species that were so troubling or rewarding for the settlers, who had never seen bison, puma or alligators before arriving in the new world. Also on the park grounds are an African-American cemetery and a Native American Ceremonial Center.
Early records indicate that enslaved Africans were among the first settlers at Charles Towne, most arriving from Barbados where they worked in the plantation system there.