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Benne Seeds in the Lowcountry - Charleston Time Machine

Sesame, or “benne” seeds represent an important vestige of the African cultures that came to South Carolina three centuries ago. Lowcountry settlers observed the value of the benne seed, adopted its African name, and once sought to produce it on an industrial scale. For a brief moment in the 1740s, it looked as if South Carolina would become a benne colony. That commercial venture never materialized, but the interest it generated here laid the foundation for the spread of benne throughout...


The Watch House: South Carolina’s First Police Station, 1701–1725 - Charleston Time Machine

South Carolina’s first police station was a brick “Watch House” constructed around 1701 at the intersection of Broad and East Bay Streets in Charleston. Built to shelter both the town’s nocturnal watchmen and the lawbreakers they caught on the streets at night, the Watch House was once a vital part of daily life in early Charleston.


I am the Trickster: The Resurrection and Burial of Charles Barker Nixon - Charleston Time Machine

After last week’s cliffhanger, we now return to the story of Charles Barker Nixon, a traveling magician and escape artist who came to Charleston in 1876 to be buried alive for the amusement of a crowd of spectators. This week we’ll witness his rise from the grave, learn how the feat was accomplished, and hear the pathetic conclusion to the story of Professor Nixon.


The Slippery Enchanter of 1876: Charles Barker Nixon - The Charleston Time Machine

Over the course of a few weeks, this flamboyant, bohemian showman enthralled and terrified the local population by holding séances and speaking of ancient Egyptian prophecies. Nixon’s story is a tragi-comical tale set in the depths of the Reconstruction-era Charleston, about a mysterious enchanter who baffled the nation by charging admission to his funeral and inviting spectators to watch him rise from the grave.


Demilitarizing Urban Charleston, 1783–1789 - The Charleston Time Machine

For the first century of its existence, the urban landscape of Charleston was dominated by an evolving ring of fortifications designed to protect the city against potential invasion by Spanish, French, and later British forces. Our provincial legislature repeatedly devoted large sums of tax revenue for the construction and repair of walls, moats, bastions, and related works, resulting in what was undoubtedly the largest public works program in colonial South Carolina. Despite the...


The Men who Built St. Michael’s Church, 1752–1754 - Charleston Time Machine

You’ve probably heard by now that on June 19th, 2018, Charleston’s City Council adopted a resolution “recognizing, denouncing, and apologizing on behalf of the City of Charleston for the city’s role in regulating, supporting, and fostering” the institution of slavery. In the course of the debate in Council Chambers on that date, Mayor John Tecklenberg made reference to the enslaved laborers who built our present City Hall. To demonstrate the mayor’s point about the use of enslaved...


Too-la-Loo for the Fourth of July - Charleston Time Machine

In the late 1860s and throughout the 1870s, when celebrating the Fourth of July was almost exclusively a black phenomenon, the city’s annual celebrations commenced with a parade down Meeting Street, featuring brightly dressed citizens, politicians, brass bands, and uniformed members of the South Carolina National Guard, which, in the post-war era, was composed almost exclusively of formerly-enslaved black men. The parade ended at White Point Garden, where thousands of people would gather...


Carolina Day 2018 - The Charleston Time Machine

If you’ve ever wondered why there’s a palmetto tree on the South Carolina state flag, or why we’re known as the Palmetto State, then you need to hear this story.


The Night Watch of Colonial Charleston, Part 2: 1696–1701 - The Charleston Time Machine

This nocturnal force, composed of unpaid citizens who guarded the streets from sunset to sunrise, played an extremely important role in the everyday life of early Charleston, but you won’t find much written about it in the thousands of books and articles written about the history of this city.


Fish and Fishermen in 1888 Charleston - Charleston Time Machine

It’s summertime in the Lowcountry, and the fish are jumping. Seafood season is definitely here, even if the shrimp are running a bit late this year. Fishing has been a big part of our community’s history since, well, long before Europeans and Africans arrived first here more than three centuries ago.


The Zenith and Decline of Ferry Service across the Cooper River - Charleston Time Machine

After a century of human- and horse-powered ferry boats carrying passengers across the Cooper River, the arrival of steam power signaled a sea-change in our sense of mobility. The convenience provided by fast and powerful steam ferries fueled the first suburban development boom in the rural areas east of the Cooper River.


The First Century of Ferry Service across the Cooper River - Charleston Time Machine

In the past, Charleston-area commuters once had a variety of transportation options, including trains, trolleys, omnibuses, and bicycles. Today we’re going to talk about the predecessor to the modern water taxi—the ferries that once plied across the Cooper River, shuttling people, animals, and vehicles between Charleston, Daniel Island, and Mount Pleasant.


The Medieval Roots of the Charleston Night Watch - Charleston Time Machine

You might be surprised to learn that the roots of the Charleston police department, and of all law enforcement services in South Carolina, stretch back more than seven hundred years to thirteenth-century England.


The Baird Brothers and Their Bicycles - The Charleston Time Machine

The first bicycles appeared on the streets of Charleston in the spring of 1869, at which time the machine was general called a “velocipede,” after the Latin roots “veloci” (fast) + “pede” (feet). For about six months after the first velocipedestrian rolled through the streets of Charleston, the city experienced a case of bicycle fever.


The Rebellion of South Carolina: April 21st, 1775 - The Charleston Time Machine

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 20th, 1775, the members of the General Committee of the South Carolina Provincial Congress convened in Charleston. After discussing the latest news received from England, and the intelligence contained in the private mail stolen from the post office the preceding night, the president of the Provincial Congress, Colonel Charles Pinckney (1732–1782) appointed William Henry Drayton (1742–1779) to head a “Secret Committee” to execute a series of preemptive...


Stealing Lord Dartmouths Mail

In last week’s cliffhanger, we were listening in on a committee meeting of the colony’s rebellious shadow government, when they were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of breaking news from Britain. Let’s return to that scene on Broad Street now, rewind our Time Machine, and pull up a chair at the beginning of that important meeting.


Prelude To The Revolution - The Charleston Time Machine

At the same time Paul Revere was making his famous midnight ride, and British soldiers were battling Massachusetts militiamen at Lexington and Concord, events were taking place right here that represent South Carolina’s first acts of rebellion.


You've Got (Colonial) Mail - The Charleston Time Machine

Long before the invention of email, and long before the advent of the U.S. Postal Service, how did the people of early Charleston exchange letters and news with other towns, other colonies, and across the Atlantic Ocean?


Ten Women 2018

A century ago, this community was just beginning to emerge from a social, economic, and cultural rut created by backward-looking politics. To move Charleston forward, we needed to embrace new, progressive ideas and policies, especially those recognizing the equal rights of women and of the African-American population.


Charleston Emigrant Society of 1795 - The Charleston Time Machine

During its brief tenure, this organization embarked on a promotional campaign to lure Europeans to settle in the Palmetto State. Who was the Emigrant Society, and what were their motivations?