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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Gallery Eighty-seven: Impressions of Charleston, South Carolina tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Eighty-seven: Impressions of Charleston, South Carolina



The main purpose of my recent visit to Charleston, South Carolina, was to visit with far-flung family members who chose to rendezvous on a beach just outside the city for two weeks of sun and splashes. I could not share those beach pleasures, since I do not like to get wet, be hot, or acquire sand between my toes. However this visit did offer a huge dividend. I had a chance to spend several days photographing one of America’s most historic cities, only a half hour away from our beach house.

In this gallery, I offer my photographic impressions of nearly 350 years of the city’s turbulent history. Founded in 1670, the young city, then known as Charles Town, was regularly attacked from both sea and land. Spain and France contested England’s claims to the region, Indians raided the city, while pirates preyed upon its shipping. Yet by the middle of the 18th century, Charleston managed to become the trading hub for all of the southern colonies, the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia. Traces of Charleston from that early era can still be found – and felt. However, a darker past, with tragic consequences, also lurks in the fabric of Charleston’s history. Between 1670 and 1715 the city was the leading exporter of Indian slaves. It also was one of the first major centers of African slavery in the United States.

In the late 18th century, Charleston became a focal point of the American Revolution in the South. It was twice the target of British assaults. American troops holding Fort Moultrie heroically repelled 2,000 British soldiers in 1776. However just four years later, the British returned to besiege the city, causing the greatest American defeat of the war.

Over the course of the next seventy years, a booming cotton plantation dominated economy flourished on the backs of African slaves in Charleston. South Carolina’s politicians became devoted to the idea that state’s rights were superior to the Federal governments authority. By 1860, South Carolina was a hotbed of secession. It was the first state to ever secede from the Union, and in 1861, the civil war began in Charleston Harbor when shore batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter. The city resisted occupation for most of the war. While other Southern port cities were closed off by a Union blockade, Charleston’s harbor remained open and became a center for blockade-runners. As the war neared its end, Union forces attempted to seize the harbor, but failed to capture the forts that guarded it. The city fell under Union siege in September 1863, yet managed to hold out until finally surrendering in February 1865. Although the Union bombardment destroyed much of the city, today the great forts and many of the city’s Civil War era buildings have been restored, and make compelling photographic subject matter.

After the defeat of the Confederacy, Federal forces occupied the ruins of Charleston, while its freed slaves faced poverty and discrimination. It took the city and its people almost 40 years to recover from this devastation, and the war’s effects took an economic toll on Charleston well into the 20th century.

Charleston revived its economy and cultural heritage beginning in the 1970s, survived the wrath of Hurricane Hugo in the 80s, and today it has become the second largest container port on the East Coast, and a prime location for high tech corporations. Charleston’s historic district, along with its miles of pristine beaches, now draws visitors from all over the world. Yet its modest skyline, with nary a skyscraper in view, speaks of the city’s difficult economic history.

I made over a thousand images while in Charleston, and offer 60 of them in this gallery. I not only photographed remnants of its colorful yet haunted history, but I also include some impressions of its current recreational offerings.

I organize this gallery in blog style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see the image in full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions and will be delighted to respond.