Charleston Time Machine

Charleston Time Machine

Dr. Nic Butler, historian at the Charleston County Public Library, explores the less familiar corners of local history with stories that invite audiences to reflect on the enduring presence of the past in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Episodes

June 7, 2024 27 mins
The earliest recorded performances of drama, dance, and opera in Charleston occurred during the late winter of 1735, when a group of thespians advertised a brief series of ticketed events at a familiar venue. Their stage was a multipurpose room within a tavern at the northeast corner of Broad and Church Streets, which South Carolina’s provincial government rented periodically for judicial proceedings. These “Court Room” events were...
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Charlestonians got their first taste of Hawaiian culture in December 1901, when a band of Pacific Islanders represented the newly-acquired territory at the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition. Local audiences were entranced by their mellifluous songs and the rhythmic gestures of scantily-clad hula dancers swaying to curious sounds produced by strumming ukeleles and guitars played in a most unconventional manner. A...
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The site known as Union Pier has been a transportation crossroads for centuries past and potentially continuing well into the future. Now slated for redevelopment, the seventy-acre industrial complex on the Cooper River waterfront includes the vestiges of historic trails used by earlier generations to facilitate access between land and water via streets, alleys, ferries, streetcars, and freight trains. On the next episode of Charle...
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Frolicking in the ocean surf is today a familiar activity along South Carolina beaches, but recreational swimming was a novelty in centuries past. “Surf bathing” first achieved local popularity on Sullivan’s Island in the early 1800s, when the proprietors of oceanfront resorts began providing amenities like “bathing machines” to encourage shy swimmers. While the dearth of appropriate swimwear rendered skinny dipping a constant comp...
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Have you ever wondered how South Carolinians paid for goods and services before the advent of the U.S. dollar? The pound sterling formed the basis of their accounts until the 1790s, but the economic realities of frontier life obliged early Carolinians to embrace monetary tools and strategies that deviated from British traditions. For more than a century, inhabitants of the Palmetto State used foreign coins, paper bills, promissory ...
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Phebe Fletcher was an intriguing woman of eighteenth-century Charleston whose unconventional lifestyle earned both derision and respect from her neighbors. Born to a respectable family of unknown origin, she was allegedly “seduced” from the bounds of traditional feminine “virtue” and obliged to associate with “vicious” persons, Black and White, to forge an independent career in a patriarchal society. She acquired a colorful reputat...
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Thomas Francis Meagher (1823–1867) was a famous Irish patriot of the mid-nineteenth century whose agitation for independence from Britain led to his exile from the Emerald Isle. After settling in New York in 1852, Meagher visited Charleston several times to deliver public lectures on history and politics. South Carolina’s Irish immigrants embraced him as a national hero during the 1850s, but denounced Meagher in 1861 when he fought...
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The Shaw Community Center at 22 Mary Street in downtown Charleston embodies an important historical legacy: It arose shortly after the Civil War as a memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and members of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment who died in battle at Morris Island. Their comrades pooled money to establish in 1868 a school for African-American children that continued until 1937, when it evolved into the present multipurpose youth hub....
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The Charleston County Public Library opened its doors to the public in 1931, but welcomed visitors unequally and conditionally until the early 1960s. Like nearly every other institution existing in the American South during that era, the Charleston Free Library, as it was then known, maintained separate facilities and unequal collections for two classes of customers identified as either Black or white. This long-standing practice c...
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The recently renovated John L. Dart Library at 1067 King Street bears the name of a pioneering figure in the history of education in Charleston. Born free during the last years of slavery, Dart benefited from the first flowering of African-American schools after the Civil War and attained advanced degrees. He returned to his home town in 1886 as a Baptist minister and devoted the rest of his life to the creation of free schools pro...
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Nearly a century before Charleston’s municipal headquarters moved to the northeast corner of Meeting and Broad Streets, residents gathered daily at this site to procure meat and other foodstuffs. The city abandoned this so-called “Beef Market” in 1789, following the construction of a new facility in Market Street, and the old market was briefly used for artillery storage. Events associated with the Haitian Revolution triggered its ...
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The first exhibition game of American-style “scientific” football in the Lowcountry of South Carolina kicked-off in December 1892, when two teams of eleven college boys scrimmaged at Charleston’s Base Ball Park on Christmas Eve. Only few local youths had by that time seen or played the novel game developed up North, but their interest was keen. Furman University brought its record to bear against the first team ever fielded by Sout...
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Charleston’s venerable newspaper, the Post and Courier, is transforming its headquarters on upper King Street into an upscale mixed-use development called Courier Square. The present twentieth-century structures will soon disappear, exposing a piece of ground with a forgotten claim to fame. A few years before the American Revolution, a Scottish gardener named John Watson developed the site as South Carolina’s first commercial nurse...
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Native American ancestry provided a measure of legal immunity to mixed-race people in antebellum South Carolina. Check out the latest episode of Charleston Time Machine to hear examples of their legal victories.
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In the late winter of 1684, representatives of eight Native American tribes in the Lowcountry of South Carolina surrendered their traditional homelands to English colonists. A series of documents ostensibly signed on a single day that February ceded Indigenous rights to millions of acres between the rivers Stono and Savannah, ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to the Appalachian Mountains. On the next episode of Charleston Time Machin...
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Petit Versailles, a forgotten residence in suburban Charleston, links the tragic stories of two women who expired prematurely during the second quarter of the eighteenth century. The modest house fronting the Cooper River was built for a child named Elizabeth Gadsden but occupied by her godfather, Francis LeBrasseur. Following their early deaths, Francis’s wife, Ann, quit the property and withdrew into a life of religious introspec...
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At the beginning of the eighteenth century, South Carolina’s colonial government raised a fortified trace of earthen walls and moats around the nucleus of urban Charleston. These defensive works constrained the town’s growth for more than twenty years, but then quietly vanished before a burst of civic expansion in the mid-1730s. Questions of when and why the earthworks were dismantled have baffled generations of historians and insp...
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Maritime traffic between Charleston and various ports in the Spanish-speaking Americas was once an important part of the local economy. Prohibited by British law for most of South Carolina’s colonial century, commerce with Cadiz, Havana, Vera Cruz, and other ports blossomed after the independence of the United States. The presence of a Spanish and later a Cuban consular office in Charleston between 1795 and 1959 provides framework ...
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In September 1973, a group of preservation activists coined the term “French Quarter” to describe a single block of urban Charleston that was slated for demolition. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places that same month to deter redevelopment, and the new name soon became part of the local lexicon. Residents and visitors have embraced and expanded the concept of Charleston’s “French Quarter” over the past ha...
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Patriots Point is a well-known landmark on the east bank of the Cooper River in the Town of Mount Pleasant, but its modern name obscures a much deeper history. Known as Hog Island before 1973, the site has been radically transformed by nature and humans over the past three centuries. Its evolution from a tiny but habitable island to an expansive, vacant marshland, to a thriving community atop a mountain of dredge spoil, illustrates...
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