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

The site of CCPL’s newest branch has a rich but invisible history. Formerly occupied by Native Americans, the land was controlled by a succession of owners who grew rich from the labors of generations of enslaved people. From forest land in the 20th century to modern suburban development, the land under the Wando Mount Pleasant library holds quite a story.

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The “Negro” man Abraham used his courage and equestrian skills to blaze a path from slavery to freedom in 1760 during South Carolina’s Cherokee war. In the conclusion of his dramatic story, we find him dressed in a new blue coat, ranging across the colonial frontier with armed troopers, and then back in Charleston conversing with the royal governor.

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Electric streetcars or trolleys dominated the streets of Charleston at the turn of the twentieth century, but their long reign came to an ignominious end in 1938. Although the rise of the automobile contributed to their demise, the resurgence of the humble omnibus, in a new, mechanized form, played a significant role in transforming the history of mass transit in the Lowcountry.

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Horse-drawn streetcars and electric trolleys might seem like quaint vestiges of the obsolete past, but the debut of Charleston’s street railway in 1866 marked the beginning of a golden age of local mass transit. Since traffic is currently a major issue in the Lowcountry, and May is Mobility Month, let’s take a spin through history on a streetcar named “Progress.”

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Today marks the centenary of one of the biggest public disturbances in Charleston’s history—the “race riot” of 1919. Late on Saturday, May 10th, young white sailors fueled by racial hatred roamed the city, smashing property and spilling blood as they went. It was an ominous beginning to what became known across the United States as the “Red Summer.”

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The human remains discovered at the Gaillard Center construction site in February 2013 are returning to an earthly repose this weekend. As celebrations commence to honor those thirty-six people of African descent, let’s review the history of that burial site in search of clues to help us understand who they were and how their final resting place was forgotten.

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In the climax of his dramatic story, Abraham’s efforts to bring hope to the garrison at Fort Loudoun ended in tragedy and despair. While assisting his comrades at Fort Prince George, Abraham dodged Cherokee bullets and flying tomahawks, and then rode like the wind through a gauntlet of Indians to carry news of frontier violence to the provincial government in Charleston.

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Once a remote and desolate beachfront, Sullivan’s Island has developed into a bustling and chic destination since the first summer residents camped there in 1791. That transformation could not have happened without the aid of ferries, mule-powered street cars, and electric trolleys that carried weary people from the mainland to the invigorating island surf over the past two centuries.

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Following the colonial army’s stinging, chaotic battle with the Cherokee in late June, 1760, Abraham carried devastating news back to the provincial government in Charleston. Over the next several weeks, he shuttled repeatedly between the capital and the frontier as South Carolina struggled to continue its war against the Cherokee and to find a means of rescuing the distant garrison trapped at Fort Loudoun.

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Have you ever wondered what it was like to ride a steamboat from Edisto Island to Charleston around the turn of the twentieth century? Today we’ll board the steamer PilotBoy and make that journey with a young man who later wrote a charming description of the sights, smells, and sounds of that by-gone experience once treasured by generations of islanders.

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As South Carolina shudders between the extremes of peaceful diplomacy and bloody warfare in the summer of 1760, the epic travels of Abraham the express rider continue along the knife edge between safety and danger. His great skills as an intrepid backwoodsman may have secured his freedom, but now they threaten to propel him into the vanguard of the frontier violence.

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The death of Ellen O’Donovan Rossa, a poor Irish widow, in Charleston in 1870 might have gone unnoticed by the world, but for the international notoriety of her, incarcerated son, Jeremiah. His reputation inspired local Irishmen to memorialize Rossa’s mother as an expression of respect and solidarity. Their efforts were thwarted by the hands of time, however, as Ellen’s grave remains unmarked today.

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Stricken with smallpox, Abraham convalesced in Charleston in the late winter of 1760 before embarking on another round-trip journey carrying official messages through the dangerous Cherokee territory. Having witnessed grotesque scenes of death and misery both in town and among the frontier forts, Abraham returned to Charleston to see the wheels of government slowly turning towards the legal confirmation of his freedom from slavery. Read more

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Today we continue our narrative of the enslaved man Abraham by following his perilous solo trek from the Cherokee mountains of eastern Tennessee to the port of Charleston, with a few pit stops along the way. Promised freedom if he could complete this dangerous mission, Abraham found a provisional reward extended by the governor, and a crowded town wracked by fear and disease in the spring of 1760.

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The Oscar buzz surrounding the 2018 film, Green Book, has generated a lot of interest in the publication that inspired the name of the movie. Charleston isn’t part of the film’s 1962 storyline, but our community was definitely included in that eponymous African-American travel guide. Today we’ll investigate the history of the Green Book phenomenon and examine just how accurately mid-twentieth-century Charleston was represented in t... Read more

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Abraham was an obscure, enslaved witness to the escalating tensions between Anglo-American forces in South Carolina and the Cherokee people who lived far to the west of their settlements. When misguided diplomacy triggered the outbreak of frontier warfare in 1760, the promise of freedom drew Abraham into the spotlight and set him on an adventure from which other men had cowered in fear.

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I’d like to introduce Abraham the Unstoppable, the true adventure story of an enslaved man of African descent who won his freedom during the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1759–61. First we’ll explore the background of that unfamiliar war and learn about the world in which Abraham lived, and then we’ll follow the train of events that launched this enslaved man on an epic journey towards freedom.

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The 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in 1619 Virginia provides an opportunity for reflection. In today’s episode, we’ll situate this anniversary in a broader perspective and connect it to the history of Charleston’s own African arrivals. Facts and figures form a big part of this story, but language and thread-pulling are also important to the ongoing conversation about the Africanness of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

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Charleston was once a heavily heavily-fortified town, enclosed by defensive works that accumulated over successive eras of warfare with our enemy neighbors. The campaign to fortify Charleston commenced early in the town’s history, but precisely how early is unclear. Today we’ll focus on the earliest years and ask—how prepared were Charlestonians of the 1680s to defend their homes? The answer just might surprise you.

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Ropemaker’s Lane is a place name in Charleston that evokes images of antique men twisting long fibers into useful objects. That scenario is accurate, but it represents one facet of the site’s long history. To gain a fuller picture of its development over the past three centuries, lets reach back to the town’s early days and meet the people who created the lane and inspired its present name.

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