Charleston, is the main port city of South Carolina. Originally called Charles Towne, was one of the first three English colonies in North America, with James Town Colony in Virginia and Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

Charleston was built on a peninsula between the Cooper and Ashely rivers. By the mid 1700s, trade in indigo, rice, and tobacco had made Charleston one of the richest ports in the colonies. Of course, another major 'trading commodity' for Charleston was slaves.

As a the main port in the southern colonies, Charleston was of tremendous strategic value in the American Revolution, prompting the British to attack early. Hasty defenses had been erected on Sulivan's Island, near the mouth of Charleston Harbor. The fort, commanded by Col. William Moultrie, was made out of the palmetto trees growing on the island. British ships attacked on June 28, 17761. The springy wood of the palmetto trees absorbed the impact of British cannon fire without splintering, allowing the structure to absorb much more damage than harder wood forts. The defenders were able to defeat the British, delaying the fall of Charleston for some time. The state name, "The Palmetto State" and the palmetto emblem on the flag commemorate this event. Charleston was eventually taken by the British, and later campaigns in the south took place further inland.

As one of the oldest cities in the US, Charleston boasts some incredible ante-bellum architecture, and is the birthplace of America's first natively trained architect, Robert Mills. Charleston continued to prosper in the ante-bellum period, surviving both political upheaval and slave uprisings.

Charleston re-took the spotlight as South Carolina became the first state to cecede, after the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, leading to the American Civil War. After the cecession, several months followed uneventfully as President Buchanan, the then lame-duck president (America has a long period between the election and the inauguration of the new president) dithered and generally failed to react. Fort Sumter, built on an aritificial island in Charleston Harbor, was occupied by Union Army troops. Fort Moultrie, the fort on Sulivan's Island, was manned by Confederate troops. After a great deal of tension and bickering and generally telling the Yankees to get lost, Fort Moultrie fired on Union ship coming in to resuply Fort Sumter. This was the first shot in anger in the Civil War. Fort Moultrie then bombarded Fort Sumter for some time, doing a fair amount of damage, but causing relatively few casualties. After a few days, the Union Soldiers evacuated Fort Sumter.

Charleston was then brought under blockade, and then siege, holding out for most of the rest of the war. Numerous attempts to break the blockade were made, including the trial of a man-powered submarine, the CSS H.L. Hunley, which became the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel, the USS Housatonic2. The Hunley sunk with all hands before it could return to shore. The Hunley was recently found and raised by a group funded largely by Clive Cussler and is now being studied in a lab in Charleston.

On August 13th, 18863, Charleston was struck by a massive earthquake, the largest ever observed on the east coast. Many buildings collapsed, and many others were destroyed by the subsequent fires, but a good number of the buildings survived. Due to the more consolidated east-coast geology, the effects of this (by California terms) moderate earthquake were felt much farther than equivalent west-coast quakes, ringing bells in Chicago, and stopping railway station clocks as far as Boston. After the earthquake, Charleston required 'earthquake rods' or steel rods connected to large metal plates on the outside walls, be fitted to buildings, to keep them from separating from the floors and collapsing, as happened to many of the buildings destroyed by the quake. This is thought locally to be the first earthquake building code in the US, although I have not seen this confirmed.

Nowadays, the historic part of Charleston is a beautiful town, although some of the newer parts are pretty grungy. Even the strike of Hurricane Hugo in September 1989 did little to diminish the town, although at the time it was the most destructive hurricane in dollar terms to strike the US. Hugo was only exceded by Hurricane Andrew, a smaller but even fiercer storm which hit Miami just a few years later.

Visiting Charleston, or going to school there at the College of Charleston, or the ridiculously controversial military college, The Citadel, you'll find it a fairly good pedestrian city, with some pretty good bars, restaurants (especially seafood), and shops, and plenty of history to check out. The annual Spoleto USA festival showcases internationally renowned classical performances, and is a big cultural draw for the city. Charleston is similar in feel to its younger and bigger cousin, New Orleans, only without the Mardis Gras atmosphere and with better access to beaches. Watch out for the mosquitos, though. Both Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter can be visited, along with the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier, which is now a floating museum on the Mount Pleasant side of Charleston Harbor.




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