Memory is an unreliable thing. I was certain I had last been at Charles Towne Landing in 1993, one year after Hurricane Hugo hit. But some fact checking before writing this travel log showed me I was wrong. It turned out this Category 4 storm had ripped into and devastated the Charleston area on September 22, 1989, not in 1992 as I had believed. I am therefore pretty sure I visited in early Spring 1991. Despite a nearly two year gap between when the hurricane hit and my original trip, Hugo’s footprint could still be seen in the form of a large number of downed and broken trees.
It had also leveled the Charles Towne Landing site, forcing its staff to rebuild it from ground up. But don’t worry: no historical buildings from the 1670s were damaged or lost because there were none. In fact, as of this writing, archeologists are still looking for signs of the original town for which they’ve only found one building. (Here I suggest they are looking in entirely the wrong place, similar to why it took archeologists so long to find the original Jamestown fort site.) After the hurricane, the museum built a little town of “replica” buildings based not on what they knew was there but what they thought probably existed. It was set up something like Williamsburg, with historical reenactors scattered about. And here I thought faulty memory had gotten me again. I didn’t see said structures, causing me to wonder if I had this place confused with somewhere else. I asked someone at the Visitor’s Center and this fellow eased my mind. The replica town I remember did exist, but it is no more. He even showed me a map of what the site looked like when I first saw it. It had the buildings I remembered and nothing more. Since then the replica town has been taken down. These days you enter through the fairly new Visitor’s Center that includes a gift shop and an excellent museum.
According to a rather impressive-looking outdoor sign complete with raised letters, Charles Towne was “the first permanent English settlement in what is now S.C. [that] was established here in 1670” at Albemarle Point. Permanent it was not. A mere ten years later, the entire town moved across the Ashley River to the present site of downtown Charleston. The abandoned settlement, by 1700 known as “Old Town Plantation,” served as farmland for the next 300 years.
Charles Towne was a business venture masterminded by Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron of Shaftesbury, the man whose middle and last names were given to the two rivers between which the current downtown area of Charleston is located. As part owner of a very profitable sugar planation on Barbados, Ashley Cooper wished to expand elsewhere, and to that end convinced seven others to finance the venture. Collectively these men became known as the Lords Proprietors. Their plan was simple: establish a colony in what would on day be South Carolina and there grow a cash crop that would make them even richer than they already were.
Starting a colony in North America required two things: getting the king’s permission and finding volunteers. The former was by far the easier to achieve. To entice the latter to come, the Lords Proprietors offered those who settled on the new Carolina colony something they were unlikely to ever get in Britain: land, and a lot of it. According to one of the museum’s information signs, a person who agreed to settle would receive 150 acres of land plus “150 more for every able Servant.” For every servant under the age of sixteen, he received 100 more acres. And servants, presumably of the indentured type, also received 100 acres of land when their contract was up.
The trouble with giving so much land away was it belonged to someone else: the Native Americans. Imagine for a moment that a spaceship arrives in your city, 150 aliens disembark, then claim your house and land as their own. If you protest that it already belongs to you, they’ll use force to remove you. It’s also too bad that you have no immunity to the diseases the aliens brought with them, because chances are one of those will kill you. If not, the aliens can always sell you into slavery, which has the dual benefits of generating a profit and ridding the area of one of its troublesome humans.