Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

Webpage: South Carolina State Park

General Description: By the middle of the 17th century, England was competing with both Spain and France tapping into the wealth that could be made in the New World.  England had seen great economic success in Barbados with sugar plantations covering the entire island by this point in time and desired to duplicate this success.  Spain controlled most of Florida and claimed land up to Virginia, however, their settlements did not extend much beyond central Georgia.  The Carolina territory was chartered to eight Lord Proprietors in 1663 with the goal to make a substantial return on their investment.  It took them 7 years to buy, provision, and sign up the settlers with promises of land and the freedom to handle the slaves in any way they wanted.  Most of the settlers from England were indentured servants that would have to work their way to freedom.  The first stop of the expedition was Barbados where they reprovisioned the ships and took on additional settlers and numerous slaves from the sugar plantations.  With the belief that the lush lands of the Carolinas would support extensive sugar cane and other tropic cash crops they joined the expedition to seek their fortune.  The original settlement was in Charles Towne in 1670, on the Ashley River just south of the peninsula that would eventually become Charleston, which they named Oyster Point.  While Oyster Point would provide a deep harbor, it was also vulnerable to attack from Spanish ships and pirates.  The shallow waters and marshy conditions along the Ashley River provided must needed protection from their enemies.  They constructed a wooden palisade to protect the settlement along with a few buildings for defense.  Having learned their lesson in Jamestown and Fort Raylegh, the Lord Proprietors knew that the settlers would need to receive supplies for the next few years in order to survive.  Along with the supplies came additional settlers over the next few years so the population quickly expanded.  Although the original palisade has been located and reconstructed, very few buildings have been found within the palisade.  From detailed records it is known that the settlers wasted no time in clearing and planting crops along the river, using the palisade only when attacked.  They also had the advantage that the native Americans in the immediate area were friendly and welcomed assistance against their more aggressive neighbors.  However, the tropical crops they tried initially did not work for obvious reasons and finding a cash crop to satisfy the Lord Proprietors proved difficult.  They harvested wood to make wooden casks for sugar cane to be shipped to Barbados which had long since removed all the native forests on the islands.  They also collected furs and hides for shipment to England and Europe.  Within ten years, the settlement was successful enough that they created a town center around the deep harbor on Oyster Point and Charleston was born.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site is definitely worth the price of admission.  Overall it is a beautiful park with a lot to see.  We did not take advantage of their audio tour, so I cannot comment on whether it is worth it, but there are a lot of interpretive signs to provide the historical context.

2) The Visitor Center was amazing!  The exhibits giving the history of Charles Towne is extensive and well done with many interactive features.  Unlike many previous expeditions, there remains extensive documentation about the first 10 years.  You learn about each of the 8 Lord Proprietors and why they were interested in investing in the colony.  Copies of the original manifest listing all the provisions and passengers are on display, as well as, the incentives used to entice the settlers.  A detailed account of the voyage to Barbados, the provisions and additional settlers along with numbers of slaves, and the difficult voyage from Barbados is provided.  You learn one of the three ships was lost getting to the Carolinas.  Descriptions of the native Americans they found and what life was like in the first ten years is given in detail.  They did an excellent job and we spent over an hour in the museum alone.

VisitorCenter

2) The Historic Site includes a small zoo of the animals the settlers would have encountered and hunted for food and hides.  Included is a black bear, panther, red wolf, bison (although their animals were western bison since the eastern bison is extinct), otter, skunk, turkeys, vultures, and deer.  Initially I was surprised they would include a zoo in the park, however, the way they limited it to species they knew where here at the time and used by the settlers made sense.

Buffalo

3) Archeologists have found evidence of a large ceremonial ground used by the native Americans.  There is no written account from the settlers so it is not known how old the site could be.  There were no mounds like you find at other native American sites in the southeast, but they did find evidence of two or three buildings.

IndianCeremonial

4) Archeologists have also uncovered the remains of one of the original homes built by the settlers which includes the only bathtub made out of stone that I have ever seen!

StoneBathtub

5) The archeologists have also located the original palisade and it has been reconstructed along with the ditch outside of the wooden wall.  They left part of the palisade out so you can see the dark stain the archeologists used to locate the original structure.  This was a great addition exhibit as it was so much better than the pictures I have seen at other sites.

PalisadeStain

6) They have not found evidence of very many structures within the palisade and it is not clear what method was used in their construction.  They could have been logs covered with waddle as used in the West Indies or cut planks as used further north in the colonies.

HouseReconstructed

7) They have reconstructed the earthen cannon emplacements along the river and installed a number of cannons to show the line of defense.  Every third Saturday of the month they have a cannon firing demonstration, which is impressive if you can time your visit.  Certainly a lot of noise and smoke and that was just a single cannon!

CannonPlacement

8) In my opinion, the best part of the park was their reconstruction of the 17th century trading ship.  The crew quarters are a bare minimum, as most of the ship was for cargo storage.  We had the opportunity to talk with a Park Ranger that knew a lot about the ship and how it operated.  The ships were small enough to navigate in the shallow waters and marshes of the Ashley River, yet was able to make the ocean trip to Barbados.  As Charles Towne had no central harbor or town center at the time, these ships provided door to door service all along the river.  Basically, the first UPS service.

TradingShip

9) Finally, there is a nice walk through the gardens and tours of the Legare-Waring Plantation home.  They were setting up for some function while we were there and the house was not open to tours, but it is a beautiful antebellum house with an impressive entrance lined with huge live oak trees from the river.  The pond with a fountain was a nice place to rest and watch the turtles.

WaringPlantationTurtle

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