Charleston, SC

Gail and I just returned from Charleston, SC. It was a business/pleasure sort of trip. I attended a 4-day conference that was smartly scheduled from 8:00 to 12:00 each day, giving the participants and spouses ample time to explore the city and the surrounds.

Charleston has a rich and interesting history. It was established in 1670, the southernmost English settlement. The large bay made it a good site for a port town. In the earliest days Charleston provided deerskin for use in Europe. With the subsequent slave economy, other exports such as rice, cotton, and indigo were produced. Especially because of the slave trade, and the labor force it created, many people in Charleston made vast fortunes. Many of the stately mansions that were built in those days still stand in what is now called the Historic District. Many of these fortunes were lost after the Civil War and subsequent Emancipation. It’s a little tougher to run a business when you actually have to pay the workers!

The city played major roles in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. There are numerous historic sites relating to these events.

There are churches and steeples everywhere, each with their own creepy cemeteries. At one point it was called “The Holy City” because of the number of churches, which were evidence of the area’s religious tolerance. All denominations were welcome, except for Catholics! Charleston was often attacked from the south by the Spanish, who were Catholics. Personally, I have a hard time thinking of this city as “Holy,” given the fact that it was North America’s main hub for the buying and selling of human beings. But good and bad, the history is fascinating.

That is a picture of me at The Calhoun House, a typically beautiful mansion in the Charleston Historic District. It was actually built by a Mr. Williams who made his fortune in the shipping industry. But it was later the residence of John C. Calhoun, a major political influence in the early 1800’s who would eventually become the 7th vice president of the United States. For all the good he might have done, he was also a key figure in defending slavery and possibly the most influential person in the South’s eventual attempt to secede from the Union, and thus the start of the Civil War. In that sense, I believe Calhoun will forever hold a large part of the responsibility and blame for the deaths of over 600,000 Americans in the Civil War. He has been lauded as one of America’s greatest politicians and speakers. I think he was an evil person with the ability to speak and influence, just like a cult leader, just like Adolph Hitler.

This mansion is on Meeting Street, along with many others, each with their own story spanning hundreds of years. Some of them have tours, open to the public. One can visit this part of the city on foot, but the heat and humidity can be daunting for much of the year. Many visitors prefer a guided tour by horse drawn carriage. Gail and I both walked and took a carriage tour. The carriage tour was fun. Two thumbs up!

Here are a few more pictures from the Charleston Historic District:

And just a few short blocks from all this opulence is the old warehouse district, most of which has been transformed to a market, restaurants, and cute little businesses. But I was very glad to see that this important part of the city’s history was preserved:

This was an actual location, one of many, where captured Africans were auctioned, bought and sold into slavery. It is now a small but deeply touching museum, an acknowledgement of the evils that happened here. To me, this place in the old warehouse district represents the heart and soul of old Charleston, and really, of the old South.

I hated History when I was in grade school, but I am now old enough to appreciate it. I am fascinated by what our ancestors accomplished, through their hardships and struggles. If you are of like mind, you would very much enjoy a visit to Charleston, SC.