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Charleston, South Carolina Timeline
By: Ill. Brother McDonald “Don” Burbidge, 33°

     South Carolina's recorded history begins in the mid 1500s, when Europeans first arrived, though the area had been inhabited long before then. The Cherokee Nation was prominent in the area when the Spanish reached South Carolina: The tribe's territory covered a wide area, including parts of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. The Cherokee primarily farmed and hunted and lived in settlements (often fortified) along rivers and coastal estuaries. They built log houses, made clothing from fabric and introduced corn and tobacco to European settlers.
     Even though the French and Spanish were attracted to the coast of South Carolina in the 16th century, it was the English who established the first sustained European settlement (Charles Town) in 1670 at Albemarle Point, near present-day Charleston.

This Timeline Covers The Years 1500 through 1861.


Early Carolina Expeditions and Settlements


(June 24) first recorded Spanish expedition reaches the Carolina coast, probably near Winyah Bay.


First French ship scouts the Carolina coast.


(August) First Spanish attempt at a settlement, San Miguel de Gualdape, probably near Winyah Bay. Colony fails within a year, and only 150 of 500 settlers live to return home.


Hernando DeSoto may have reached Carolina Low country on a trek north from Florida.


First French attempt at a settlement made by Jean Ribaut on Parris Island. Built a Fort named Charlesfort. Settlement fails within a year. Similar French attempts to settle in Florida brings about bloody Spanish massacre and equally bloody French reprisal.


Founding of St. Augustine.


Spain decides to build coastal forts to discourage French settlements. First of these, Fort San Felipe (later rebuilt as Fort San Marco) is built near the ruins of Charlesfort.


First attempted British settlement on Roanoke Island founded by Sir Walter Raleigh. Native Americans destroy it and Sir rescues survivors Francis Drake.


Second British attempt on Roanoke Island, also funded by Raleigh, fails within Three years as all settlers disappear, becoming known as "The Lost Colony."

Spanish withdraw from San Marco after Sir Francis Drake burns St. Augustine.


The Seeds of Carolina


Founding of the first settlement at Jamestown, VA.


Founding of Plymouth Colony.


First charter for Carolina Colony granted to Sir Robert Heath by King Charles I. Charter would never be used.


Founding of Middle Plantation in Virginia, later to become Colonial Williamsburg.


Founding of Boston


King Charles I is tried by a court of Puritans, convicted of treason, and beheaded. Oliver Cromwell comes to power.


First settlements near Albemarle Sound, in what today is North Carolina, by Frontiersmen from Virginia.


Cromwell dies and his son, Richard, is too weak to take power. The Prince of Wales, Charles II, assumes the throne.


King Charles II grants a charter to a group of eight English gentlemen who become known as the Lords Proprietors. In his honor they call the land Carolina, from the Latin for Charles. One of these eight gentlemen, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, encourages the settlement more than the others, and thus receives the honor of having both rivers, which surround the city, named for him.


Capt. Robert Sanford explores and names the Ashley River. On June 23 takes formal possession of Carolina for England and the Proprietors.


(July 21) The Fundamental Constitution of Carolina, written by the philosopher. The Lords approve John Locke, serving as secretary to Ashley-Cooper Proprietors. Its guarantee of religious freedom, in language similar to Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration, will have a profound and lasting influence on the development of Charleston's social fabric, leading to the immigration of such diverse groups as French Huguenots and Sephardic Jews.

Carolina colonists sail from London on three ships: the Albemarle, the Port Royal, and the Carolina.

(Nov 2) The colonists reach Barbados, where their ships are struck by a hurricane. The Albemarle is destroyed and the Port Royal and Carolina are damaged.


(March 15) The Carolina arrives in Seewee Bay, and proceeds to anchor at the north end of Bull's Island.

(April) Charles Town is founded as the capital city of Carolina, across the Ashley River from its current site on the main peninsula. Today, this area is a state park known as Charles Town Landing.


Charles Town is reported to consist of 30 houses and some 200-300 settlers. The secretary of the colony reports the population to be "263 men able to bear arms, 69 women, and 59 children or persons under 16 years of age."


(April 30) The Richmond arrives carrying the first large group of French Huguenots.


(October) Louis XIV revokes the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed the rights of Huguenots in France. This revocation accelerates the emigration of French Huguenots to Charleston.


A "wonderfully horrid and destructive" hurricane thwarts a Spanish invasion, one of many Spanish attempts to destroy the early settlement.


Charles Town is officially moved to current site on the peninsula. Population is estimated at 1,200, making it the fifth largest city in North America.


"Liberty of Conscience" substantiated, reaffirming the right of locals to worship as they please.


City walls and six bastions are built about this time

Possible year of construction of the John Lining House at 106 Broad St., the oldest surviving frame building in Charleston.


(Oct 8) Increasing importation of African slaves prompts a law providing cash incentive for bringing white servants into Carolina.


A disastrous year for the city. Smallpox appears claiming 200 to 300 deaths in connection with yellow fever causing "at least 160 deaths." In addition a fire destroys one-third of the city, a hurricane hits in the autumn of 1699, and an earthquake rocks the city.


Charles Town has grown into a major trading center; plantations appear inland  along the rivers.

(Sept 1) Hurricane of 1700 strikes the city

(Nov 16) City Assembly establishes a tax-supported free library, possibly the first Public library in America. It operates for 14 years. This library, located on St. Philip's Street.


First known map of the Walled City: the Crisp Map of 1704


(Sept 2) Joint French and Spanish attack upon Charles Town during Queen Anne's War is repulsed when Colonial forces capture French vessel and crew.


Powder Magazine at 79 Cumberland St. and Pink House Tavern at 17 Chalmers St. built about this time.

The province of Carolina becomes North and South Carolina, each provided with its own governor.


Rhett Mansion is built at 54 Hasell St.

The territory of Carolina is divided into North and South, each having its own Governor.


(Sept 5) Hurricane of 1713 strikes the city.

The Powder Magazine, 79 Cumberland St., becomes operational.


Yemassee Indian War lasts two years in Carolina


City begins to remove fortifications to allow for expansion.


Blackbeard the Pirate sails into Charles Town Harbor with four ships; takes hostages for ransom. Also in this year, the pirate Stede Bonnet is hanged at White Point.


Failure of Lords Proprietors to protect colonists from various threats results in a Revolutionary Assembly. Citizens petition the King to take over the reins of government.


Crown Colony


South Carolina becomes a royal colony. General Sir Francis Nicholson made Governor.


Regular passenger and shipping service begins between Charles Town and New York.

Hurricane of 1728


(July 25) King George buys out the Lords Proprietors, finalizing South Carolina's Transformation into a Royal Colony.

A number of gentlemen, "chiefly natives of Scotland," organize the St. Andrew's Society, the first such Scottish organization in the world. Named for the patron Saint of Scotland, it lends assistance to widows, orphans, and others in need of help.


(Jan 8) The South Carolina Gazette publishes its first edition.

(April 19) The first known concert in Charles Town is performed by John Salter, organist of St. Philip's.


(Jan. 13) James Oglethorpe and the first settlers for Georgia arrive in Charles Town Harbor on the Anne. Savannah is founded soon after


(Feb 2) After the death of its first editor, The South Carolina Gazette resumes publication under Lewis Timothy, who is backed by Ben Franklin.


(Feb 18) The first public presentation of an opera in the colonies is performed at Broad and Church Street.


(Feb. 3) The Friendly Society for the Mutual Insurance of Houses Against Fire was founded in Charles Town.

One of the first theatres in the country, The Dock Street, opens with The Recruiting Officer.


(Sept 9) First major slave insurrection After hearing a rumor that Spaniards were promising freedom to slaves in St Augustine, slaves from the Stono River plantations (southwest of Charleston) revolted. More than 20 whites and approximately 40 blacks died during the insurrection. "Stono's Rebellion" was the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies prior to the American Revolution.


Fire rages through the waterfront district.

(April 28) News arrives of war against Spain, and plans are made to attack St. Augustine.

Construction of the East Bay warehouse district, today known as Rainbow Row.

Henry Middleton starts work on his gardens at Middleton Place.


Charles Town's population estimated to be 6,800.


Lots laid out for Ansonborough neighborhood.


(April 18) City leaders sign a treaty with Choctaw Indians establishing trade in return for their attacking French settlements.


(Dec 28) A group of citizens form the Charleston Library Society, a subscription library still in existence.


(June 14) City is divided into two parishes: St. Michael's south of Broad, and St. Philip's north of Broad.


(Sept) Great Hurricane of 1752 devastates the city, killing nearly a hundred.


Charlestonians adopt Benjamin Franklin and Dr. John Lining’s lighting rod to protect their homes during thunder storms.


Dr. John Lining writes the first description on Yellow Fever in America to Dr. Robert Whytt at Edinburg (The Royal Society).


(Feb. 1) First services are held at St. Michael's Church, the oldest surviving church building in the city.


First musical society The St Cecilia Society was founded in Charles Town.


First cotton exported to England. The custom house in London, England recorded a   shipment of 8 bales of cotton from Charles Town.


Through the local press Christopher Gadsden attacks the attempts of Parliament to enforce the Stamp Act. He encourages continued resistance by proclaiming, 10 years before Patrick Henry, that famous Latin phrase "Aut mors aut Libertas," which means "Liberty or Death."

1767-- The Old Exchange Building is built on the ruins of Half-Moon Battery, the site of the former Court of Guard.


(July 5) A statue of William Pitt, believed the first commemorating a public figure in America, is dedicated at Meeting and Broad.


Development of Harleston Village neighborhood.


Completion of the Exchange Building located at end of Broad Street


On November 26th Monday, Benjamin Franklin signed partnership with Louis Timothee [Timothy] to succeed Whitmarsh (d. c. 20 Sept 1733) in South Carolina . The partnership agreement mentions that Timothee is "now bound on a Voyage to Charlestown in South Carolina." Evidently Timothee sailed in November. His wife stayed behind to conclude their affairs and probably had Timothee's power of attorney.

(Jan. 12) A committee of The Library Society establishes the Charleston Museum-The oldest in the country.

The first use of the Exchange Building was for civic purposes

First public museum A special committee of the Charlestown Library Society met to discuss the establishment of a museum in Charlestown. Several months later another committee was appointed by Lieutenant Governor William Bull II (1710- 1791) to collect materials for the new Charleston Museum, which is now located on Meeting Street.

December 9, Oldest municipal Chamber of Commerce in continuous operation The Charlestown Chamber of Commerce was organized at Mrs. Swallows Tavern on Broad Street. Today it is called the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.


Charleston has it’s own Tea Party in the Harbour

(July 7) Charlestonians Henry Middleton, John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Lynch, and Christopher Gadsden are named delegates to the First Continental Congress.

(Oct 22) Henry Middleton is chosen President of the Continental Congress.

(July 30) First business publication The earliest known edition of South-Carolina Price-Current listed prices for 168 things bought and sold in Charlestown.


Revolution and the Siege of Charles Town


(Jan 11) Carolina's First Provincial Congress convenes at the Old Exchange.

(June 18) Lord William Campbell, the last Royal Governor, arrives.

(Dec 9) The first Chamber of Commerce in America is formed during a meeting at Mrs. Swallow's Tavern.

Charles Town's population estimated to be 12,000.


(Spring) Admiral Sir Peter Parker and General Sir Henry Clinton prepare a campaign to occupy Sullivan's Island as the southern base of British operations. Major General Charles Lee, the American commander of the Southern Department, arrives in Charles Town to take charge of the defense of the city.

(March 24th) First independent government in the colonies Four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, South Carolina adopted a state constitution– drafted by a Provincial Congress–and elected John Rutledge (1739-1800) as the state's president and Henry Laurens (1724-1792) as its vice-president. The titles of these offices were changed to Governor and Lieutenant Governor by the Constitution of 1779.

(May) Panic sweeps the city at the first offshore sighting of a British armada carrying over 3,000 British regulars. (June 28) First major naval battle of the Revolutionary War Colonel William Moultrie (1730-1805) and his patriot troops defeated Sir Peter Parker's (1721- 1811) attempt to sail a British Fleet into Charlestown harbor. The key to this critical American victory was a hastily constructed palmetto fort on the south end of Sullivan's Island. This structure was later named Fort Moultrie.


(August 5) Declaration of Independence arrives at the city. Maj. Barnard Elliot reads it under the Liberty Tree near present-day 80 Alexander St.

William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton design the Great Seal of South Carolina; with matrices executed by Charles Town silversmith George Smithson. It would be used for the last time to seal the Ordinance of Secession in 1860.


(Feb. 13) The new state government stipulates that each male citizen shall denounce the King and pledge loyalty to the state.

(May 20) First treaty between two US states Georgia and South Carolina met with the Cherokee Indians to make the Treaty of DeWitt's Corner. South Carolina gained most of present-day Anderson, Oconee, Pickens, and Greenville counties through this treaty.


(Jan 15) A major fire destroys many buildings on Broad, Elliott, and Tradd Sts. British loyalists are suspected of arson.


(Nov-Dec) Unable to win a decisive battle in the northern states, the British prepare a massive combined sea and land expedition against Charles Town, under the command of Vice Admiral Arbuthnot, General Sir Henry Clinton, and Lord Cornwallis.

(Dec) General Washington orders 1,400 Continentals to join the forces of General  Benjamin Lincoln defending Charles Town.


(Feb 10) British troops under Sir Henry Clinton land on Seabrook Island, and make preparations to lay siege to the city. South Carolina Gazette editor Peter Timothy takes a spyglass up the steeple of St. Michael's Church and reports seeing smoke from hundreds of British campfires.

(March) British warships sweep past the forts guarding the harbor entrance to anchor within broadside range of the city. British Army crosses the Ashley River and establishes a line of breastworks 1,800 yards north of Charles Town's defensive line, completing their encirclement of the civilian population.

(March 29) British siege begins; lasts 40 days.

(May 12) After a bitter struggle, General Benjamin Lincoln surrenders Charles Town to the British, their greatest prize of the Revolutionary War. Two-and-a-half –year occupation begins.

(August 27) British troops arrest prominent citizens for encouraging resistance and imprison them in the dungeon of the Old Exchange. Only those signing an Oath of Loyalty to the Crown is released.

(Sept 3) Henry Laurens is captured by the British on his way to the Netherlands and is imprisoned in the Tower of London.


(Aug 4) Col. Isaac Hayne, a Revolutionary leader of the South Carolina Militia, is hanged by the British just beyond the city limits of Charles Town.

(Nov-Dec) American forces under Gen. Nathanael Greene retake most of South Carolina and advance to within 15 miles of Charles Town.

(Dec) When news reaches London of Washington's defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown, the British Parliament resolves to bring the war to an end.

(Dec 31) Henry Laurens is released from the Tower of London in a prisoner exchange for the release of Lord General Cornwallis by the Americans.


(Dec 14) Defeated British Army marches out of city, ending the occupation.


(August 13) The city incorporates establishing its first municipal government with an intendant (major) and wardens (councilmen). It also changes its name from Charlestown to Charleston.


Antebellum Charleston


(March 19) The General Assembly charters the College of Charleston, making it the oldest municipal college in the country today.


The South Carolina state capital is moved from Charleston to Columbia.

Development of Radcliffeborough neighborhood

First golf club Scottish merchants formed the South Carolina Golf Club in Charleston. Club members played on Harleston's Green in Charleston until 1800.


(May) A Constitutional Draft for the Convention in Philadelphia is prepared by Charles Pinckney.

(Sept 17) South Carolina delegates Pierce Butler, Charles Pinckney, John Rutledge, and Charles C. Pinckney sign the U.S. Constitution.


First cotton mill Frances Ramage, a planter's widow, established a cotton mill on James Island, a large sea island that forms the southern shore of Charleston harbor.


(May 2) President George Washington arrives in Charleston for a week's visit. His  itinerary includes lodging at the Daniel Heyward House (87 Church St.), a reception at the Old Exchange, and a social evening at McCrady's Longroom (153 East Bay).


(Dec 21) The Charleston Water Works, the city's first public utility, is established to bring water from Goose Creek.

First ice transported commercially Ice was transported by ship from New York to Charleston.


The Supreme Council for the Scottish Rite was founded on May 31st


First tea planted French botanist Francois Andre Michaux (1770-1855) planted tea at Middleton Barony (now known as Middleton Place) near Charleston.


(Sept 7) Hurricane of 1804.


Charlestonians build the first bridge over the Ashley River. It is large enough for two carriages to pass with ease, and even has a railed path on each side for foot traffic.


Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, arrives in Charleston to begin a printing business.


President James Monroe visited the Exchange accompanied by Major General Thomas Pinckney and other distinguished gentlemen.


Charleston's population estimated to be 24,790.


(May) The alleged slave uprising of Denmark Vesey is revealed to authorities.

(July 2) Denmark Vesey and five associates are hanged.

The first native-born architect in America, Robert Mills designs the first fireproof Building in America standing at the corner of Chalmers and Meeting Streets. A native Charlestonian, Mills also designed the First Baptist Church and the Washington Monument in our nation's capital.


The Medical Society of South Carolina establishes the Medical College.

First fireproof building Construction of Charleston's Fireproof Building began in 1823 and was completed four years later. This building, which is located at 100 Meeting Street, was designed by Robert Mills to house state records. The South Carolina Historical Society, which had offices in the building from 1859 until the end of the Civil War, has been located in the building since 1943.


A group of members of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim form the Reform Society of Israelites, making Beth Elohim the recognized birthplace of Reform Judaism in the United States.

Founding of the Medical College of South Carolina, the first medical school in the South (today named the Medical University of S. C.).


A young Army recruit named Edgar Allan Poe is stationed at Ft. Moultrie on Sullivans Island for a year. Later sets his first published story, The Gold Bug, on Sullivan's Island, incorporating coastal Carolina pirate lore.


(Dec 25) The first steam locomotive in America to pull passengers in regular service, The Best Friend, begins its route between Charleston and Hamburg SC.


(Oct 16) John James Audubon arrives in Charleston to work on his Birds of America.


(Jan 30) Osceola, Chief of the Seminoles, dies during imprisonment at Ft. Moultrie.

A terrible fire destroys much of Ansonborough.


(May 6) First building to be used solely as a college library Construction on the University of South Carolina's Library was completed in 1840 after a design by Robert Mills (1781-1855). The building served as USC's main library until 1940 and today it is home to The South Carolinians Library.


(March 20) The Citadel opens for its first class of cadets.


Renowned scientist Dr. Louis Agassiz comes to Charleston to teach at the Medical College of S.C. and establishes a seaside laboratory on Sullivan's Island to study the flora and fauna of the Atlantic Ocean.

A native Charlestonian receives a patent for the first ice-making machine. Instead of welcoming the invention, people view it as unnatural. They see it as tampering with the ways of God. Dr. John Gorrie fails to benefit from his effort, dying penniless. Gorrie installed a mechanical refrigerator in the US Marine Hospital in Apalachicola.

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