Charles Town Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The English founded the first permanent European settlement in South Carolina, eventually displacing Spanish claims. With immigrants coming from British Barbados, France, Scotland, and Ireland, and with the arrival of African slaves, Charles Town became one of the most racially and religiously diverse colonies in the New World.

Summary of Event

In 1562, Huguenots (French Protestants) escaping from the Catholic-Protestant wars in France settled in Port Royal, South Carolina, under the leadership of Jean Ribaut, but this settlement quickly failed. In 1629, King Charles I of England gave a grant to Sir Robert Heath Heath, Sir Robert to resettle Huguenot refugees from England to South Carolina, but this plan also failed. In 1669, the Spanish were still the major European power in the Carolina area. Although the Spanish claimed Carolina, however, their closest settlement was 200 miles (320 kilometers) away in Saint Augustine, Florida. [kw]Charles Town Is Founded (Apr., 1670) Colonization;Apr., 1670: Charles Town Is Founded[2410] Expansion and land acquisition;Apr., 1670: Charles Town Is Founded[2410] American Colonies;Apr., 1670: Charles Town Is Founded[2410] Charles Town Colonization;England of Charles Town

England also made claim to Carolina, and the English challenged Spain’s claim. The Stuart monarchy was restored in 1660, when Charles II Charles II (king of England);Carolinas and became king of England, and in 1662-1663 he gave Carolina as a grant to the eight lords proprietors who had helped him regain the throne. In 1669, one of the proprietors, the earl of Shaftesbury, Shaftesbury, first earl of Anthony Ashley Cooper, took charge of the project and began to develop the area for economic reasons. Three ships, the Carolina, the Port Royal, and the Albemarle, left England for the seven-month voyage to America. The Albemarle wrecked and was replaced in Barbados by the Three Brothers, and the Port Royal wrecked and was not replaced, but in April, 1670, the Carolina entered what is now called Charleston harbor, followed by the Three Brothers on May 23. The two ships brought approximately 148 people.

The immigrants had planned to settle at Port Royal, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from present-day Charleston, but landed by mistake a little north of Charleston. They still planned to go to Port Royal, but the cacique (chief) of the local Kiawah Kiawahs tribe persuaded them to settle in the Charleston area instead, partly to help protect the Kiawahs from the Spanish and Spanish-allied Native Americans, such as the Westoes. Contrary to the “wild savage” image held by the English, the Kiawahs lived in semipermanent homes in villages, practiced some diversified agriculture, and had a fairly developed political system. Henry Woodward, Woodward, Henry an Englishman, had lived with the Kiawahs for several years and had good relations with them, which in turn helped develop good relations between the Kiawahs and the settlers.

The English went five miles northwest up the Ashley River and then west a short distance up Old Towne Creek, to the first high land that afforded a view of the river, so Spanish ships could be seen before they reached the settlement. Marshlands and a short palisade also helped the defense. Because of the threat of attack by the Spanish or by Spanish-allied Native Americans, Charles Town (briefly called Albemarle Point) was developed as a fort, with people sleeping inside and working outside during the day. Later in 1670, Spaniards from Saint Augustine attempted to attack but were defeated, because Native Americans friendly to the English warned them of the planned attack. In the 1670’, there were battles with the Westoe Westoes and Stono Stonos tribes. In 1686, another attempted attack by the Spanish and their Indian allies was stopped by a hurricane.

The settlers traded with the Indians, largely for animal furs and skins, and obtained lumber, tar, and pitch from the forests. Furs, trade in About fifteen different crops were experimented with, but corn was the main food raised. Cattle were raised, and fish and wild animals were plentiful. There were problems (for example, malaria), but fewer than in most other settlements.

Charles Town became very popular among Barbadians, who needed a place to move to escape from overcrowding and a lack of land on Barbados. In 1671, more than one hundred Barbadians (mostly of English heritage) had joined the settlement. Industrious and business-oriented, the Barbadians soon exercised a powerful economic and political influence. By 1672, there were thirty houses and about two hundred people at Charles Town. By 1680, the settlers had moved the settlement back down the Ashley River to where it joined the Cooper River to form the bay or harbor area, a few miles west of the Atlantic Ocean.

An eighteenth century view of Charlestown, South Carolina.

(Library of Congress)

One of the unique features of Charles Town at its new location was that it was a planned city, following the checkerboard plan proposed for London after the Great Fire of 1666. At the time, only in Philadelphia and Charles Town were the streets laid out before the city was built. By 1680, approximately one thousand people lived in Charles Town. By 1690, with one thousand to twelve hundred residents, Charles Town was the fifth largest city among the North American colonies that would become the United States, after Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Newport. By 1700, Charles Town still was an 80-acre (32-hectare) fortified city-state, four squares long by three squares wide, surrounded by a wall. Six bastions helped protect the city. Many farms and plantations existed outside the city, and the city had become a trading center for the farms, plantations, and native villages, with rivers and original Indian trails becoming the avenues of commerce into the city. Deerskins and beaver skins remained important, but rice had become the major economic crop by the early 1700’.

By 1717, the Spanish threat had waned, unfriendly local tribes had been defeated in the Yamasee War, and friendly local tribes had settled primarily as farmers and hunters along local river areas in South Carolina. In 1717, the wall was removed from around the city to allow growth. Pirates remained a problem until 1718.


Charles Town was unique in its early ethnic mixture. Some scholars think that one African slave was on the Carolina in 1670, but even if this were not the case, African slaves were brought in soon afterward. Some of the Africans were free, and many, whether slave or free, were skilled craftsmen. There was a relatively small white middle class, because the large white wealthy class stymied middle-class growth, and an even smaller white craftsman class, because of the predominance of free Africans and African slaves as expert craftsmen. Slavery;Charles Town Against strong opposition from the lords proprietors, some Native Americans were enslaved. Huguenot refugees from England, France, and other places began moving to the city in the mid-1680’. The Barbadians and Huguenots Huguenots;Charles Town soon formed the largest part of the cultural and political elite of the area.

Close contact was maintained with Barbados Barbados;links with Charles Town , and these ties also helped the Barbadians and the city to prosper. Barbadian architecture, Huguenot wrought iron, and formal gardens became hallmarks of Charles Town. The proprietors encouraged Dissenters (Protestants who were not members of the Church of England) to move to Charles Town in order to limit the power of the Barbadians. Immigrants, mostly Calvinist Presbyterians, came from Scotland and Ireland, and they engaged in political conflict with the Barbadians and Huguenots. Quakers, and by 1695 Spanish and Portuguese Jews, also settled in Charles Town.

Charles Town remained unique in its tolerance of religious and ethnic diversity. It was the only major city in the colonial era that did not exclude undesirable strangers and probably was the least religious of the early major cities. In fact, Charles Town developed a well-deserved reputation as a cultured, wealthy, and pleasure-oriented city, a place of theaters, gambling, horse racing, dancing, and drinking. Much of this was possible only through exploitation of African slaves to provide most of the manual labor.

In 1970, Charles Town Landing was developed as a state park and major tourist attraction on the site of the original Charles Town settlement, celebrating the tricentennial of the 1670 settlement, which is also considered the tricentennial of South Carolina. A reconstruction of a village of the 1600’; a forest with animals found in Charles Town in 1670—such as black bears, bison, bobcats, alligators, snakes, and puma—a crop garden with tobacco, rice, indigo, cotton, sugar cane, and other crops grown in season; a reproduction of a seventeenth century trading vessel docked at the original landing area; a museum; a theater; and other re-creations showed many facets of the 1670 settlement.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Canny, Nicholas, and Alaine Low, eds. The Origins of Empire: British Overseas Enterprise at the Close of the Seventeenth Century. Vol. 1 in The Oxford History of the British Empire, edited by William Roger Lewis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Collection of essays by noted historians exploring numerous aspects of Britain’s worldwide colonial expansion. Explains the founding and governance of individual American colonies, and several essays focus on British colonies in New England, Carolinas, the mid-Atlantic, and the Chesapeake.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fraser, Walter J. Charleston! Charleston! The History of a Southern City. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989. A detailed account of Charleston’s settlement and history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, Lewis P. South Carolina: A Synoptic History for Laymen. Rev. ed. Orangeburg, S.C.: Sandlapper, 1978. Includes several chapters on the early history of the Charleston area.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lavender, Abraham D. French Huguenots: From Mediterranean Catholics to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. A general history of Huguenots that includes analysis of naming patterns in Charleston, illustrating early cultural assimilation among Huguenots, English, and others.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Osborne, Anne Riggs. The South Carolina Story. Orangeburg, S.C.: Sandlapper, 1988. Includes a detailed discussion of Charles Town’s settlement and a chapter on the pirates in the Charles Town area.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rosen, Robert. A Short History of Charleston. 2d ed. Charleston, S.C.: Peninsula Press, 1992. Separate chapters are devoted chronologically to Charleston’s history, including two chapters on its early history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, David Duncan. South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1961. Considered to be a classic history of South Carolina. Gives detailed information on Charleston’s settlement and history.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Charles I; Charles II (of England). Charles Town Colonization;England of Charles Town

Categories: History