Sunday, February 26, 2012

Charming Charleston

St. Michael's, where John Rutledge and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, authors
of the first South Carolina Constitution and framers of the federal.  
My dissertation research on state constitution creation between 1776-1787 (possibly 1790) has taking me to Charleston this week.  I admit to being startled by its beauty and charm.

It has much in common with England, especially the pace of life.  Another English-like flavor of this city is the distinct and near-palpable sense of empire lost.  Charleston was an incredibly important player and produced many important national players from the Founding Period through up until the Civil War.  It was important enough to be defended by a major network of forts (Fort Sumter, Moultrie, Johnson, and Pinckney Castle).  As evidenced by the number of spires and grand mansions, the wealth of the city outclassed many others.  It was the seat of the confederation.

And yet, today, the population of the greater Charleston metropolis area hovers around 400,000, hardly bigger than the larger metropolis of my own un-heard of hometown, Provo, Utah (sorry family, I love it, but I am cognizant of its near-obscurity and Orem, you came long after we did...).  Cars on major roads stop for me to pass.  The airport has few direct flights from major cities--I had to fly from New York through Chicago of all places.  Although incredibly charming, it is not the place of great national or international importance that it once was.

The reason is evident at almost every turn.  Low, small buildings amid grand homes and the still stark class/racial divides (they are essentially one and the same) are a testament to Charleston's slavery past.  The Daughters of the Confederacy building is still proudly standing at the corner of Meeting and Market streets.  I read a will of a Charles Pinckney, father to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, which bequeathed other human beings as he did his "cloaths [sic], furniture, and silverware." Outside of Texas, I have not spent time enough in the South to grasp the enormity of the slavery position it once held.  This part of the country, for one reason or another, did not make the cut in my family's childhood cross-country trip.

The perspective my time here has given me has helped me better understand the historians who focus on racial issues.  I benefit from being part of a post-racial society and church--we who were shocked that a candidate's color would ever constitute a reason to vote against them.  Yet that also means that I miss the point of our terrible past.  I'm glad I'm here to be reminded and learn anew about what I hope society will never repeat.

Now I'm off to watch half of Gone With the Wind...

The houses here don't face the street because taxes were based off of the street-front property.
The porch roof is painted "taint blue" (because it "'taint" blue) to ward off the mosquitoes who believe it's the sky.

Reconstruction of Charles (not Coatesworth) Pinckney's home on Snee farm.

Main building of the College of Charleston, at the center of all this charm.

Daughters of the Confederacy building.

Rainbow Row, where nine homes are painted in as many pastel colors.

Battery Park, full of Civil War guns.

John Rutledge home, now made over into a bed and breakfast.

Marking where the liberty tree once stood and the Declaration of Independence read, at 80 Alexander  Street.

These wonderful little trolley cars that bustle around town are free.

The cannons of Fort Sumter.

Pelican flying over Fort Sumter with Charleston in the background.


  1. Fun post...we just visited there in October. We didn't make it to the "fort", though. I loved the rainbow-colored houses, the door entries to the street from the porch (instead of the house), that beautiful park, the small-town feel, etc. I'm glad you were able to go!

  2. Born in VA of Utah parents! As children we played 'war games' as characters based on the revolutionary and civil wars. This was confusing to the children in UT when we moved back. They played "Cowboys and Indians". Interestingly enough my parents did not teach class/race separation to us in the very divided 50's and 60's when we lived in the south..