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.... Show More

Episodes

July 2, 2020 34 min
After citizens planned rebellion and celebrated independence beneath Charleston’s Liberty Tree, British soldiers tried to obliterate its legacy. Some sons of the Revolution never forgot its symbolic role, and preserved memories of the tree throughout the nineteenth century. Thanks to their trail of clues, we can reconstruct a path to the site of the tree that once symbolized resistance against injustice.
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Charleston’s Liberty Tree is an important part of the story of the American Revolution in South Carolina. From the earliest protests over taxation in the 1760s to the British siege of 1780, it served as a venue for political debates and patriotic celebrations. Today we’ll examine the roots of its symbolic meaning and its role in the journey to independence.
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Commemorating the end of slavery has been an annual tradition across the United States since the end of the Civil War, but there is no single date of observance. Whether one celebrates “Juneteenth” or some other “Emancipation Day” is largely a matter of geography. Today we’ll explore the history of emancipation and focus on the story of Charleston’s own celebratory traditions.
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Scores of laborers transformed tons of oyster shells into a towering concrete barrier to protect the town’s northern boundary in the late 1750s, but the changing tide of world events convinced local authorities to abandon the Horn Work before its completion. This turbulent genesis forms a long-forgotten prelude to the gallant defense of South Carolina’s capital during the American Revolution.
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The story of the tabby fort that became an American citadel during the British siege of 1780 commenced decades before the Revolution. It arose from efforts to protect Charleston’s backside, and superseded earlier works. Prompted by a new war with France in 1756, local officials and royal engineers ordered the construction of new fortifications that transformed the Lowcountry landscape.
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Have you heard the story of the Horn Work in Marion Square? You know—that mysterious, unobtrusive, lumpy slab of concrete covered with oyster shells standing in the park near King Street? Did you know it’s actually a tiny remnant of a massive fortress that once controlled access to colonial-era Charleston? And it was the city’s first citadel during the American Revolution? The Horn Work is one of Charleston’s biggest secrets hiding...
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The “golden age” of huckstering food in the streets of Charleston dawned after the Civil War, when formerly-enslaved people expanded this popular form of marketing. Urban hucksters became nostalgic characters in an increasingly romanticized version of local history in the twentieth century, but they never really completely disappeared and their legacy continues to the present.
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Mobile hucksters, predominantly of African descent, formed an important part of the local culinary market from the earliest days of Charleston by carrying food around the city in baskets and carts. To trace their enduring influence on local culture and commerce, we’ll wind our time machine back to the roots of the hucksters and chart their rise into Antebellum days.
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While most of the food and beverage industry is currently shuttered, we can look to our past in search of forgotten service models that might offer fresh inspiration for future business. The variety of food retail options in early Charleston is so diverse that we’ll begin this culinary history with a starter course of bite-sized samples of the big picture.
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Pedestrians and draft animals moving at a “moderate trot” set the pace in Charleston’s streets for more than two centuries, until automobile drivers pushed local government for faster travel through the city’s narrow streets in the early 20th century. The story of street speed in Charleston forms an important part of the diverse legacy of our community’s shared roads.
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In South Carolina’s early years, the provincial and imperial governments offered cash bounties to encourage local planters the grow hemp on a commercial scale. The crop showed promise, but its brief success was soon overshadowed. Despite its failure to take root, the rise and fall of hemp forms one of the most interesting and least-remembered chapters in this state’s agricultural heritage.
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Charleston turns 350 this month, and the anniversary of its founding presents opportunity to contemplate our community’s long journey since 1670. To demonstrate the relevance of that distant story in the present world, we’ll consider a simple question: What decisions made at the founding of Charleston had the most profound and lasting effects on this community’s long history?
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Separating the sick from the healthy has been a part of Charleston’s public health policy since 1698, when our provincial government instituted a novel quarantine policy for incoming ships. Over the ensuing 250 years, local authorities enacted a series of evolving and occasionally contentious quarantine laws that impacted nearly every immigrant and visitor who entered Charleston harbor until 1949.
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Charlestonians were shocked to find a local magistrate at the center of an illegal black dance raided by police in 1795. William Cunnington defended his honor by publishing a narrative of the soirée, but historians have misinterpreted this intriguing story. Forgotten for more than two centuries, Cunnington’s text provides a valuable and entertaining glimpse of life in early Charleston.
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The sounds of an illegal nocturnal “negro dance” in an East Bay residence in November 1795 aroused the wrath of local authorities who dispersed a party of mixed-race revelers. Meanwhile, a respected white citizen at the center of this merry scene was vilified by his neighbors and a shade of scandal still looms over his reputation today.
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Under the shadow of the Great War in 1918, Charleston was ill-equipped to counter a major health crisis when influenza spread throughout the community in a wave of acute sickness and death. Quarantine, isolation, and volunteer efforts soon arrested the disease, however, and the city rebounded from its first modern epidemic with a lamentable but limited death toll.
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Yamboo was an African Muslim whose faith helped him endure a life of servitude in 18th-century South Carolina. His brief autobiography, published in 1790, provides valuable evidence of Islam among this region’s enslaved population as well a rare narrative of the journey from Africa and his struggle for survival and dignity in the face of oppression.
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Between 1720 and 1775, a succession of British warships anchored in Charleston to protect the port’s valuable trade and to assist His Majesty’s government. Their presence forms a significant part of South Carolina’s maritime history that is not well remembered on these shores. Today we’ll jog the collective memory with an overview of this important nautical topic.
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Can you put a monetary value on your freedom? South Carolina’s early laws trapped enslaved people in a life of servitude, but a handful of them managed to generate sufficient cash to buy their own freedom. Today we’ll explore the phenomenon of self-purchase and review a few cases of men and women whose perseverance unlocked the yoke of slavery.
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The laws of early South Carolina allowed slave owners to set free an unknown number of men, women, and children with little or no interference from the government. Today we’ll explore the phenomenon of private manumission from the colonial era to the legislative interventions of the early nineteenth century that restricted and finally prohibited this traditional practice.
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