Charleston's African-American Heritage
Famous Folks & Important Facts
1525/1526 - A Spanish explorer lands on the coast of South Carolina and tries to build a colony. The attempt to build a colony fails, but before survivors leave, some of the Africans brought on the voyage may have escaped and then intermarried with the Indians in the area.
1670 - About 100 English settlers and at least one enslaved African create the first permanent Colony in South Carolina near present-day Charleston. Soon after, the governor brings a family of enslaved Africans to the Colony. In subsequent years, slaves help establish the Colony in many ways, building homes, cooking, sewing, gardening, cattle raising, and providing many forms of skilled labor and artisanship. Approximately one in three of the early settlers is African.
1685 - Seed rice arrives in Charleston as a gift from a sea captain whose boat was under repair here. Efforts by the English to grow rice fail. Slaves, who grew rice in Africa, show the English how to grow rice in wet areas. The "rice culture" creates tremendous wealth for the Colony.
1708 - The growth of indigo and cotton require more labor, which leads to the importation of more captive Africans. By 1708, the numbers of whites and blacks in South Carolina are about 4,000 each. For the next two centuries (except for a brief period between 1790 and 1820), blacks outnumber whites in the state.
- Roughly 100 slaves capture firearms about 20 miles south of Charles Towne, and they attempt to rally more people to join them during what is now called the Stono Rebellion. They plan to fight their way to St. Augustine where the Spanish promise freedom. They run into a group of whites led by the lieutenant governor of the Colony, who alerts white authorities before the slaves have time to grow into an overwhelming force. The revolt is forcefully put down, and some 60 rebels are executed; many are decapitated.
- In reaction to the Stono Rebellion, the Legislature passes slave codes that forbid travel without written permission, group meetings without the presence of whites, slaves raising their own food, possessing money, learning to read, and the use of drums, horns and other "loud instruments" that might be used by slaves to communicate with each other.
- Denmark Vesey Plot. Led by Denmark Vesey, an African Methodist Episcopal church leader who purchased his freedom for $600. The well-planned and widespread rebellion involved about 9,000 people. However, two house slaves informed their masters before the planned date. Vesey, who refused to reveal any names, was hanged along with five others two days before local Independence Day festivities.
- Robert Smalls, a Charleston harbor pilot (and future state legislator 1871-1878), along with his family and a few friends, take control of the Confederate steamer, The Planter, sailing it out of Charleston Harbor and presenting it to the U.S. Navy. The Planter is converted for use as a Union ship and serves in that capacity throughout the Civil War.
- In support of the Liberia Emigration Movement (1877-1878), the Rev. Richard H. Cain, a local and national AME leader and politician, sponsors a bill to pay passage for those who desire to return to Africa. As a result, the ship Azor leaves from Charleston with 206 black emigrants en route to Liberia, West Africa.
- The Rev. Daniel Joseph Jenkins establishes the first and only orphanage for blacks in Charleston. The orphanage is created to be self-supporting with departments where orphans learn trades, produce items for sale and learn music. The Jenkins Orphanage Band is created to help raise funds for the institution.
- Chapters of the NAACP are organized in Charleston.
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks from the pulpit of Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street. King is brought to Charleston to help spark local voter registration efforts.
- Reuben Greenberg, an African American, is appointed city of Charleston police chief.
- On July 3, a 6-foot historical marker is placed on Sullivan's Island near Fort Moultrie to honor those enslaved Africans who arrived in bondage via Charleston Harbor.