Home About Us Catalog Borrowing Services Resources Programs & Events Locations

The Walled City

Charleston was a walled fortress city between the years of 1690 and 1720, a period of constant danger from hostile French and Spanish invaders, Native American tribes, and pirates. The best contemporary view of the walls comes from a map and survey by Edward Crisp, dated approximately 1704. The illustration below is an adaptation of the Crisp Map, from a reproduction used courtesy of Historic Charleston Foundation. The Crisp Map is substantiated by other contemporary drawings which verify the general design without providing the interior details of Crisp. In all drawings, the walls are depicted as straight and sharply angular, with no evidence of haphazard construction. While the bastions may have begun as crude earthworks, it seems clear that by the early 18th century they had been engineered and refined to a fairly high degree of sophistication (text continues after map below).

A. Granville Bastion G. Half Moon N. Kea: L. Smith's Bridge T. Quaker Meeting House
B. Craven Bastion H. Draw-bridge in the line O. Minister's House V. Court of Guard
C. Carteret Bastion I. Johnson's covered half moon P. English Church W. first rice patch in Carolina
D. Colleton Bastion K. Draw-bridge in half moon Q. French Church 6. Poinsett
E. Ashley Bastion L. Palisades R. Independent Church 10. Tradd's house
F. Blakes Bastion M. Col. Rhett's bridge S. Ana baptist Church 13. Col. Rhett's house

The outer wall was in a shape of a trapezoid anchored at the corners by four bastions: Granville Bastion and Craven Bastion on the wide side of the trapezoid along the waterfront, and Carteret Bastion and Colleton Bastion anchoring the narrow inland side. Midway between Granville and Craven bastions was a semicircular waterfront projection called the Half-Moon Battery, above which stood the original Court of Guard. The Old Exchange building was built upon this spot in the mid-18th century. During the restoration of the Old Exchange in 1976, archaeologists unearthed a portion of Half-Moon Battery under the dungeon of the Exchange, which can still be seen today. This remnant substantiates contemporary descriptions of Half-Moon Battery as a brick, semi-circular structure with rectangular openings through which cannons projected at regular intervals. Remnants of Craven Bastion were similarly uncovered during the building of the U.S. Custom House in the late 19th century. At least the waterfront side of the fortress survived into the mid-18th century, for the Court of Guard, Half-Moon Battery and the seawall are in still evidence in the Thom's engraving "An Exact Prospect of Charleston" dated 1740. The detail below shows the Court of Guard standing on Half-Moon Battery on the left, marked C.

The waterfront wall was a single structure, but the inland walls consisted of double barriers seperated by a moat. Little is known about the nature of the moat. It may have simply been an open space between the inner and outer walls, or it may have been a trench. There is no indication whether water from the Cooper River was channeled into this moat, but given Charleston's water table and climate, it seems likely that it collected standing water for at least portions of the year.

Entrance to the fortress was gained by two drawbridges situated near where the Four Corners of the Law stand today: the intersection of present-day Broad and Meeting Streets. A visitor to Charleston from the inland side would see the outer wall stretching between Carteret and Colleton bastions. Midway between them, the wall would project sharply outward to a trianglular point. The visitor would pass through the outer wall by crossing a drawbridge on one side of this triangle at point K on the diagram, labeled "Draw-bridge in Half-Moon" by Crisp (see map above). The visitor would then be standing in a structure called "Johnson's Covered Half-Moon," situated in the middle of the moat, which presumably functioned as a sort of security check-point. A second drawbridge, labeled "Draw-bridge in the line," then ushered the visitor past the inner wall into the city proper at point H on the diagram.

By the early 18th century, powder magazines had been built near the interior side of the wall, one of which still stands today on Cumberland Street. This Powder Magazine is the only structure associated with the wall which still stands, and is currently under renovation. (However other structures known to date from the Walled City period do still survive, but do not appear on the Crisp Map. Examples include the Pink House Tavern, the Nicholas Trott House, the John Lining House, and a number of other houses, particularly on Tradd and Church Streets). While none of the other structures depicted in the Crisp map survive, the Walled City's general layout remains much the same as in 1704. St. Michael's Church was built in 1761 on the site of the "English Church" marked P; the French Hugenot Church was built on the site of the "French Church" marked Q; and Robert Mills built his First Baptist Church on the site of the "Ana baptist church" marked S by Crisp.

Mr. Tradd's house, marked 10 on the map, stood at what is today the intersection of Tradd St. and East Bay. Ten years after the Crisp Map, Col. Rhett had moved from his old house (marked "13" on the map) to a new house built beyond the creek to the right of the Walled City. This marked the opening of Rhettsbury, which would later be associated with Ansonborough, sometimes called America's first suburb. And the creek to the left of Granville Bastion, Vanderhorst Creek, later became the escape route for the last Royal Governor in his flight from Charleston on the eve of the American Revolution.