City of Charleston
"A Historic City"
The birth of the historic city of Charleston is tied to a unique coastal zone feature, the estuary. The Charleston harbor is an estuary, a place where the fresh water rivers, such as the Cooper River, meet the salt water of the ocean. Access to inland rivers and ocean trade routes made Charleston an ideal location for a seaport. Natural features of the estuary, such as marshes, dunes and barrier islands, protect the harbor from waves and hurricanes.
The area began to host trade ships from Europe as early as the 15th century. Goods soon traveled to and from inland locations on rivers that emptied into the harbor. Trade by sea eventually led to the founding of Charleston in 1680. In the 1700s, raw goods such as animal skins, rice, wood, indigo, and tobacco were popular exports. Imports such as textiles and luxury items came in from European locations. In the 18th and 19th century, Charleston also played a major role in the slave trade, both as an importer and slave market.
Above the estuary, coastal zone rivers became the setting of Charleston's first economic success, the rice plantation. The inland flush of tides was ideal for the cultivation of rice. Rice was difficult to cultivate, and rice planters relied on the labor of experienced slaves from West Africa. The tradition of growing rice was new to the colonies, but common in this area of Africa. Today, West African traditions and language known as "Gullah" are an important part of the coastal culture.
As South Carolina's oldest city, and one of the largest tourist attractions in America, Charleston is of incredible historic value to the country. In the 1700s, wealthy rice planters began building the grand homes and buildings of the city. During the plantation period, traditions of West African culture added to the state's growing personality. In 1718, the pirate Blackbeard sailed into the Charleston harbor and blockaded the city. During the Revolutionary War, the harbor was the scene of the first naval battle, and in 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Charleston's Fort Sumter. Tourism, a major seaport, and industry based on the river continue to fuel Charleston's economy.