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 designed to educate, entertain, and inspire audiences to reflect on the enduring presence of the past in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Episodes

May 20, 2022 24 min
In Hong Kong in the autumn of 1854, a young man boarded a U.S. naval vessel and embarked on an American adventure. Arriving in New York, he worked briefly in Washington D.C. before moving to South Carolina to create a formal plantation garden on Edisto Island. Displaced by the American Civil War, he found asylum at the State Hospital and raised a family in Columbia. We’ll follow the story of Oqui Adair, master gardener and South C...
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Robert Smalls became an American icon when he absconded from Charleston with the steamboat Planter in May 1862 to free his family and friends from the bonds of slavery. To better understand the details of his escape, inquiring minds want to identify the location of Smalls’ residence within the city. Later biographies don’t mention an address, but Smalls dropped a few hints in his lifetime. We’ll sift the documentary record of Small...
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Fearing a Spanish attack on the capital of South Carolina in 1704, English and French colonists directed enslaved Africans to excavate many tons of earth to create a moat and earthen wall around Charleston. This continuous line of entrenchment, stretching nearly a mile in length, included numerous cannon placed within bastions and redans, while a single gateway with drawbridges controlled access into and out of the town. The defens...
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From the earliest days of the Carolina Colony to the Civil War, many White men in the Charleston area carried various types of swords as both emblems of status and implements of self-defense. Fashion and function dictated the types of equipment used in different eras, and fencing lessons formed part of the education of many young gentlemen. On the next episode of Charleston Time Machine, we’ll explore the motivations for carrying d...
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The forgotten story of Eliza Pinckney (ca. 1785–1839) was an open secret during her lifetime. Born into bondage on a plantation near the Ashepoo River, she was perhaps distantly related to a famous South Carolinian with the same name. Her owner, Thomas Pinckney (1760–1815), moved her to Charleston at the dawn of a new century and endowed her with property, jewelry, servants, and children. Documents relating to Eliza’s remarkable jo...
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Irish immigrants who adhered to the Catholic faith were not free exercise their religion in South Carolina until several years after the American Revolution. In the years preceding the War of Independence, however, a handful of documents point to the existence of an “Irish Church” in Mr. Mazyck’s Pasture, just outside the boundaries of urban Charleston. In the next episode of Charleston Time Machine, we’ll explore clues pointing to...
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Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born into slavery in Mississippi but gained freedom and education in Philadelphia. Her fine voice launched a musical career in the 1850s that took her across America, Britain, and to an audience with Queen Victoria. The “Black Swan” was a pioneering celebrity, and Charleston audiences eager to hear her voice packed several local concerts here in the winter of 1873.
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Enslaved men in early South Carolina routinely shaved and coiffed their White owners. As the population of “free persons of color” swelled after the American Revolution, Black barbers in Charleston opened segregated shops catering to White customers. Desegregation altered that tradition in the twentieth century, but modern Black barber shops continue a tangled thread of shared history from our colonial past.
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For more than a century, free people of African descent in the Palmetto State were required to pay a special "poll" or "head" tax every year to maintain their freedom. The amount of the tax and the range of exemptions changed over the years, and its application spread outward from Charleston as the state's population expanded in the nineteenth century. Read more: https://www.ccpl.org/charleston-time-machine/so...
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To commemorate its fifth anniversary, Dr. Nic pauses the Time Machine for a brief review and progress report. Tune-in for an informal, behind-the-scenes chat about the path and process of the first 222 episodes and hear news about the future of CCPL's local-history podcast.
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In December 1766, a man reported the theft of his wallet while passing through a crowd of enslaved people listening to a “banjer” playing on the waterfront of urban Charleston. A close reading of his description of the incident identifies clues that illuminate its context and help us reimagine a forgotten aspect of South Carolina’s musical heritage.
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The declaration of war between England and Spain in 1702 provoked anxiety in South Carolina about the security of Charleston. The capital's waterfront fortifications provided some protection against invasion, but the rest of the town was undefended. After an offensive expedition failed to capture Spanish St. Augustine, the provincial government elected to build an earthen wall and moat around Charleston’s urban core.
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In the decades after the founding of Charleston in 1670, more than a dozen tribes of indigenous people across the Lowcountry interacted with the growing population of White settlers and enslaved Africans. Disease, warfare, and displacement gradually reduced their numbers, however, and the first people of the Lowcountry were virtually extinct by the middle of the eighteenth century. https://www.ccpl.org/charleston-time-machine/first...
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For more than three centuries, the government of South Carolina has used a ceremonial sword to represent the state’s military strength and civil authority. The original “sword of state” disappeared from the state house in 1941, however, and its theft is now a cold case of historical proportions.
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A Charleston law of 1793 required the proprietors of pubs and barrooms to assist physicians attempting to revive the bodies of “apparently dead” persons lingering in a state of “suspended animation.” This medical endeavor, based on cutting-edge science of the day, involved procedures both ghoulish and comical that blazed a path towards the modern techniques of resuscitation.
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The Apprentices’ Library Society, founded in 1824, sought to enhance the education of Charleston youths by providing reading material to teenagers studying traditional handicrafts, but its educational mission expanded to include programs and classes. Although fire wrecked the society’s fortunes in 1861 and it dissolved in 1874, this forgotten institution pointed towards the future libraries of Charleston that we recognize today.
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Rival claims to the land of South Carolina sparked hostility between England and Spain that shaped the first 78 years of the colony’s existence. The English considered Floridians to be jealous rivals, while the Spanish saw Carolinians as habitual trespassers. Spain held a better claim to the contested territory, but British colonists eventually won the land by force.
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From Spanish perspective, the colony of La Florida once encompassed all of the land from the Florida Keys to the southern edge of the Chesapeake Bay. The creation of the Carolina colony in the 1660s usurped the northern half of that broad landscape, however, and sparked a fierce rivalry that shaped the first century of South Carolina’s early history.
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Captured after a manhunt, the African prisoner Albro was committed to jail in Charleston with a former friend and an infamous pair of White criminals. A brief and biased trial judged him guilty of murder and sentenced him to hang. After a brief reprieve, the condemned man made a gallows confession before a crowd assembled at a well-known crossroads.
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Following Albro’s fatal encounter with a White man on Dewees Island, the African fled through the waters of Copahee Sound and across several mainland plantations. Meanwhile, the victim’s father traveled to Charleston to summon help and initiate a manhunt. As militiamen pursued the fugitive’s trail, Albro was betrayed by an enslaved man who stopped him in his tracks.
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