On my return visit to Fort Moultrie I spent more time soaking in the remarkable stories behind the lime colored stucco walls. From the heroic Revolutionary War battle to the African trade slave tragedy and the World War II sonar defenses.
Admission to the park is free for children under 16 ($3 for adults). Here are the highlights (data provided by the Visitors Center exhibits):
The 1776 Battle Exhibit
The palmetto log fort was garrisoned by 413 provincial officers and troops under the command of Colonel William Moultrie. Most had no experience with the fort’sarmament of twenty six old French and British large bore guns.
The British moved slowly allowing the Americans to prepare the fort and build defenses around Charleston.
Redcoats troops were to attack the fort while the naval vessel were to bombard them.
2,500 soldiers lead by General Henry Clinton landed on present day Isle of Palms believing he could ford the inlet between the two islands. This intelligence proved disastrously untrue since most channels were too deep to cross.
On June 28, around 11:30AM, the seven British warships squadron launched a terrific bombardment, described by one of the Clinton’s soldiers as “an eternal sheet of flame”.
Expecting to quickly drive the patriots from their guns, the British were amazed to see the spongy palmetto ramparts absorb the hits without splintering.
Around noon the three frigates, Actaeon, Syren, and Sphinx, left the line and moved behind the fort in an attempt to bombard the fort from the rear. However, all ran aground in a submerged sandbar.
The Sphynx and the Syren got off but the Actaeon remained stuck. The captain destroyed the vessel rather to have it fall into the patriots hands.
Running low on powder Moultrie ordered his men to only shot at ten minutes intervals through brief clouds smoke openings. Once re-supplied the patriots return the heaviest fire onto the flagship Bristol and Experiment warships. Both suffered severe casualties.
Realizing he could not ford the inlet from Long island, Clinton tried to ferry his men across in flat-bottom boats.
This proved to be a huge mistake, as the narrow channels forced the Redcoats to proceed in single file directly into the fire into the patriots guns on Sullivan’s Island.
Soon after the battle the fort on Sullivan’s Island was named after Colonel William Moultrie and the palmetto tree was adopted as the state’s symbol.
Ironically, 4 years later, the British captured the now complete Fort Moultrie without firing a single shot!
The West Africa Slavery Exhibit
Rice and slavery formed the basis of the South Carolina’s wealth. Enslaved workers cleared cypress swamps and built dikes and canals by hand using their homeland rice growing skills.By 1708 Africans made the majority of the colony’s population and for over 100 years Charleston became the main point of entry for ~240,000 West African slaves.
To prevent the spread of diseases many of the Middle Passage survivors were quarantined aboard ships or in pestilence houses on Sullivan’s Island and James Island.
Le Amistad – In July 1839, 53 enslaved Africans revolted on board Le Amistad leading to a US Supreme Court ruling that set the Africans free. The captives were smuggled to the Americas from Africa after the international slave trade was outlawed. The Africans revolted off the coast of Cuba and their case was heard in a New England court.
Echo – Abolished in 1808 the Atlantic slave trade continued illegally. In 1858 the slave ship Echo so her captain and crew could stand trial for trading in captive Africans. The ship was headed to Cuba when it was captured in the Caribbean. The federal government resettled the remaining 271 Africans in Monrovia, Liberia. The captain and crew were acquitted.
Queen Nzinga of Angola ruled the land that became present day Angola.
Olaudah Equiano – “The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. This filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror.”
Olaudah Equiano was captured as a child in Nigeria and brought to America. He bought his freedom, became a seamen and joined the abolition movement in London. His self-published memoir made him wealthy and helped advance the anti-slavery cause.
The World War II Exhibit
HECP Room – Here sat the officer in charge of HECP – HDCP. His primary duty was to take immediate action against any suspected enemy treat or activity within the defense sector. Charleston harbor was also monitored from this room.
The Radio Room – The radio information network of the Charleston Harbor Defense provided direct communication line between HECP – HDCP and all elements of the harbor defense system.
It was constantly manned by 2 men, one Army and one Navy, who would respond to all sightings of enemy vessels and distress signals coming from ships.
Duty officer and Operations Room served as the operations center of the Charleston Harbor defense.
Relive 3 centuries of legendary moments at the historic Fort Moultrie National Park!
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