Historic Fort Moultrie, Charleston almost free things to do with kids

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’s

Inside Fort Moultrie National Park

Inside Fort Moultrie National Park

armament 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.

1776 cannon ball from the battle of Fort Moultrie

1776 cannon ball from the battle of Fort Moultrie


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.

The narrow stucco and molasses blended walls

The narrow stucco and molasses blended walls

Admiral Parker was wounded and deeply embarrassed when his breeches fell down baring his behind…hence the famous “we beat the pants off them” saying.

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.

18th century African Slave Drawing

18th century African Slave Drawing

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.

The amazing Queen Nzinga of Angola

The amazing Queen Nzinga of Angola

She fought the Portuguese for many years, gaining fame as an exceptional state woman and warrior. She died at 80 in 1663. Modern day resistance, styled after Queen Nzinga’s military tactics, lead to Angola’s independence in 1975.

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.

Fort Moultrie Radio Room

Fort Moultrie Radio 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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The Province of Carolina in the 1670s, an inspiring historic tour at Charles Towne Landing

The Charles Towne Landing Visitors Center has an incredible exhibit showcasing the Carolina beginnings. Step in the shoes of white English settlers, Native Americans, or African slaves and experience first hand how life was like in the late 17th century.

Samuel Benwood a successful tailor, became a free man after 2 years

Samuel Benwood a successful tailor, became a free man after 2 years

• How much money can you make if you were a woman?
• What skills were most sought after?
• What kind of crops and trade were the most lucrative?
• How much land can you own as an indentured servant?
• What were the interactions between the settlers and the Native Americans?
• What kind of wildlife roamed the Carolina Coast back then?

There are incredible drawings, artifacts and recollections that paint a vivid image of our primordial past. Here is just a sample:

The cash crop of the Barbados that started it all…

Molasses Cone and Jar in the 1650s

Molasses Cone and Jar in the 1650s

On March 15, 1670 The Carolina finally made it to shore.
“Everywhere they looked, they saw chattering flocks of birds, small game such as rabbits and squirrels, and rivers filled with fish and turtles…they saw miles of unspoiled, seemingly uninhabited land and unlimited potential for their future lives.”

The Carolina

The Carolina

The Cassique of the Kiawah welcomed the white settlers and trading of furs and Indian slaves soon flourished. One settler recollects “…when we came a shoare they stroked us on ye shoulders with their hands saying Bony Conraro Angles, knowing us to English be our collours (as wee supposed) we then gave them Brass rings & tobacco at which they seem well pleased…”

Native American Kiawah chief

The Welcome

Here’s a look at how the Albermarle Point colony developed during its first 10 years.

The first 10 years at Albermarle Point

The first 10 years at Albermarle Point colony

The white English settlers tried to replicate the Barbados style colonial plantations, were indentured servants, and especially African slaves, did the all the work: building houses, working the fields and harvesting the crops. They tried to grow tobacco, indigo, rice, sugar, olives, grapes, flax and cotton.

Life as an indentured servant

Life as an indentured servant

Slaves were brought in from Barbados to work on the new colony. Soon their contribution became indispensable, yet they lived under miserable and inhumane conditions, never allowed to own land or benefit from their hard work.

Pain and suffering...slave ships living Barbados for America

Pain and suffering...slave ships living Barbados for America

Wildlife was abundant along the Carolina coast. However the very lucrative fur trade lead to ravage hunting and the agricultural expansion to massive deforestation, negatively impacting the fragile ecosystem. Many species declined and some went extinct.

Natives hunting gigantic alligators

Natives hunting gigantic alligators

“…The Healthfulness of the Air; the Fertility of the Earth and Waters, and the great Pleasure and Profit will accrue to those that shall go thither to enjoy the fame”

Advertisement of the Carolina by the Lord Proprietors

Advertisement of the Carolina by the Lord Proprietors

History is great, but what about the children?

Relax, there is plenty of activities to enjoy throughout the park. Here are just a few fun things kids can do inside Charles Towne Landing.

History buffs rejoice! Visit Dorchester State Historic Park (only half an hour away, $2 admission) one of the most prolific archaeological sites on early colonial life. Most Saturdays you can observe archaeologists sifting through the remains of a town that included houses, markets, a school, a church, a boat yard and more.

Charles Towne Landing

Be a proud Carolinian at the historic Charles Towne Landing!

Magnolia Plantation just for kids activities (an exciting weekend adventure in Charleston)

The Magnolia Plantation and Gardens is Charleston’s best known attraction, a top 25 most visited home in America and one of the oldest public gardens in the country. Coveted glamour aside, we recently discovered there is in fact lots of fun things to do with children at the plantation.

Basic admission to the Gardens, petting zoo and grounds

Cheese! Magnolia Plantation beautiful gardens in Spring

Cheese! Magnolia Plantation beautiful gardens in Spring

is $15 for adults, $10 for kids 6-12 and free for kids under 6. Here is a list with all prices grouped by age, attractions and type. Hold on to your receipt, it allows you one FREE admission within a week.

The Spring Garden is in full bloom at Magnolia Plantation!

Come enjoy a symphony of vibrant colors from beautiful Native Azaleas, Tulip Magnolias, Wisterias and the Cherokee Roses.

Little kids love spending time at the petting zoo. Say hello to donkeys, mini horses, sheep, geese and ducks. A red little antique carriage proudly decorates the green pastures.

Cute little donkey!

Cute little donkey!

Kids of all ages enjoy the fossil dig, the playground and the topiary garden. We found an ammonite, maybe you’ll get a dinosaur tooth!

Fossil Dig Fun

Fossil Dig Fun

Right across from the playground is the intriguing maze. I let my girls try it on their own and they successfully completed the quest within minutes. Then we all had fun doing it backwards!

Find your way through the Garden Maze

Find your way through the Garden Maze

From here follow the trail to the scenic 1840s Long Bridge over the Cypress Lake, then through the 1680s Flowerdale and the Japanese Garden. Watch out for snakes, we had a close “wild moment of the day” encounter!

The path strolls along the lake all the way to the Wildlife Observation Tower. Here you get breathtaking views of the marshes surrounding the Magnolia Plantation.

The Bird's Eye Watch Tower

The Bird's Eye Watch Tower

Now that you took the bait get onboard the Nature Boat Tour, a 45 minute ride that explores the plantation’s 125 acres of rice fields. This tour offers excellent wildlife viewing, including upclose looks at alligators! The tour is $7 (free for kids under 6).

Boat cruises through pristine marshes

Boat cruises through pristine marshes

Of course no visit is complete without a tour of The Audubon Swamp and Garden, one the most diverse and unique wildlife ecosystems in the country. Admission is $7 (free for kids under 6) and best time to spot animals is late afternoon.

If you are passionate about Charleston’s history then you must go to the Charles Towne Landing park, the birthplace of our state, an oasis of outdoor relaxation filled with fun activities for kids.

Wild family fun at the mysterious Audubon Swamp Garden (what to do with kids in Charleston)

The Audubon Swamp in Charleston is America’s most unique garden and wildlife preserve, a remarkable, must see family experience.

Alligator soaking the sun next to his best pal

Alligator soaking the sun next to his best pal

The swamp garden became famous when John J. Audubon visited 150 years ago in search of waterfowl specimens for his paintings.

Fast forward to our time, it shined again as the filming site of the movie “The Swamp Thing”.

Audubon is an unequaled biodiversity with thousands of plant and animal species coexisting in the 60 acres of blackwater cypress and tupelo swamp.

The pristine waters are home to nesting blue herons and great egrets, impassable alligators, playful otters, slender deer, mysterious turtles and slithering snakes.

Great Egrets Couple

Several boardwalks, dikes and bridges traverse the wilderness allowing you to observe animals in their natural habitat. You may encounter small animals such as rabbits, foxes, squirrels and opossums.

Boardwalk over the eerie swamp

Boardwalk over the eerie swamp

Bird lovers will be delighted to observe blue herons, great egrets, blue-winged teal, common moorhen, pied-billed grebe, wood ducks, white ibis, red-shouldered hawk, yellow warbler, and occasionally, a majestic bold eagle.

Older kids will enjoy reading the centuries old headstones in the graveyard…

Old graveyard inside Audubon Swamp Garden

Old graveyard inside Audubon Swamp Garden

And visiting the pre Civil War slave cabins.

Inside slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston

Inside slave cabin at Magnolia Plantation in Charleston

Touring the swamp takes about an hour, more for the nature enthusiast. Best time to observe wildlife is late afternoon.

The Audubon Swamp Garden is open year around from 8AM to 5:30PM (8:30 – 5 in winter) and can be accessed via Magnolia Plantation. Standalone admission is $7 for individuals (free for kids under 6) and $4 for groups that are also visiting the Magnolia Plantation (here are more price details to all the attractions).

The Swamp Troubadours at Magnolia Plantation

The Swamp Troubadours at Magnolia Plantation

Reward your inner beauty at the Audubon Swamp Garden and the historic Magnolia Plantation, one of top 25 most visited homes in America!

And if that’s not enough drive to the modern Edisto Island Serpentarium to rub elbows giant alligators, exotic turtles and fearsome snakes of all shapes and sizes.

Kids rule at the North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum

“So where do you want to go today? The Fire Museum or the Aquarium?” “The Fire Museum!!!” shouted the girls in unison. “It’s so much fun to drive the fire truck!”

And that settled it. Off we went for the second time in 3 days. No complaining from me. The admission is FREE for kids and only $6 for adults (compare this to $37 I would have paid at the Aquarium…)

Fire Museum magnet, the fire simulator

Look mom, I'm driving the fire truck!

The very affordable entertainment is not the only advantage. The North Charleston and American LaFrance Fire Museum is a modern facility filled with exciting fire education exhibits. From the 18 exquisitely restored antique fire pumpers to the fire truck simulator, from the fire pole slide to the smoke house hazard demonstration, there is something fun for everyone to do.

Here are the highlights:
The most popular activity for kids is a virtual drive in a brand new, authentic firetruck cabin. You start the simulation by touching a blue screen, then the engine roars, the seats vibrate, and the fire siren goes wild. You can push a different pedal to sound the horn out loud. The adrenaline kicks in as you wind your way to the busy city traffic all the way to the fire scene. Good job, future firefighter!

The wonderful 7 seats LaFrance Fire Cabin

The wonderful 7 seats LaFrance Fire Cabin

Think you know what can start up a house fire? Think again. After you watch the 15 minutes house fire hazards and prevention demo you’ll be amazed how easy it is to destroy a home. Luckily the show also gives you great tips to prevent such a disaster.

Theater Fire Hazard Demo

Theater Fire Hazard Demo

The firefighter training station has engaging hands-on exhibits. Can you hold onto a 300 lbs fire hose in an emergency? Prove it at the awesome LaFrance Fire Museum in North Charleston!

Firemen in the making...hold that hose!

Firemen in the making...hold that hose!

Fire! Fire! Fire! Everyone down the fire pole, then through the fire chute, c’mon let’s go put up that fire. Even Spot our little dalmation puppy toy is ready to lend a hand.

Fun sliding down the fire pole and chute

Fun sliding down the fire pole and chute

Grownups will be delighted to browse the country’s largest American LaFrance collection of fire apparatus, all perfectly restored to working conditions.

Like the 1857 Button and Blake 16 men hand pumper that required 30 volunteer firefighters to continuosly drive water into the tub then pump it out onto the fire. At this exhibit you can also get an audio simulation of a 19th century Charleston home fire rescue.

1857 hand pumper that started American LaFrance

1857 hand pumper that started American LaFrance

My favorite is the beautiful red and white Liberty, a 1911 Type 5 Double Tank Fire Truck, one of the most popular LaFrance models ever.

Beautiful white and red double tank fire truck

1911 Liberty Type 5 Double Tank Fire Truck

Other notables:
• 1785 Richard Mason Hand Fire “Enjin”
• 1886 Silsby Steam Pumper
• 1911 “Type 8” Roadster
• 1912 “Metropolitan” Steam Pumper
• 1926 “Type 75” Triple Combination
• 1958 GMC Pitman Chicago Snorkel #1

The Fire Museum is located at the Tanger Outlet entrance and is open Monday to Saturday from 10AM to 5PM. Added bonus, there is a Visitors office inside the museum so you can get coupons and discounts tickets to various Charleston attractions right there and then. Like the 5th Annual Battle of Charleston reenactment on April 18 – 19 from 9AM to 5PM (battles held both days at 2PM) at the Legare Farm on Johns Island. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 for children 5-12 and free for those 4 years old and under. Here is the events schedule and photos from previous years.

Happy Junior Firefighter

Happy Junior Firefighter

Here is a map with the Fire Museum and other under $10 family fun activities.

The cherry on our cake was when the girls received free firefighter hats. What’s not to love?

Soul searching travel into Fort Moultrie mysteries and Sullivan’s Island sorrows

Would I know where to kneel and dig?
Who first covered the fort’s walls with molasses and lime?
What treasures still lie beneath my feet?
– from “Molasses” by Ed Madden

A trip to Fort Moultrie and Sullivan’s Island is filled with emotions, mysteries and soul searching questions. The fort is most famous for the Patriots bravery and ingenuity during the Revolutionary War that lead to a historic victory, the state flag and its marquee Palmetto symbol.

But there is more behind the old stucco fortifications. If only the walls could talk…

Inside Fort Moultrie

Inside Fort Moultrie

There are closed tunnels, locked gates and hidden passages that lead nowhere. Who built them and why?

What about the unusual colors “the color of onion and okra”, “the chalk wash”. Apparently the interior brick walls and buildings were painted yellow to protect the soft brick from the elements. The sulfur on the inside walls comes from molasses, used to thicken the mix of water and lime!

The Middle Passage and the houses of pain and sorrow
The pest houses are gone now, but the fact remains: 40% of all Africans brought to North America from 1700 to 1775 first arrived on Sullivan’s Island.

Few historical monuments and markers pay (and are planned to pay) tribute to the millions of enslaved Africans:

Bench by the Road 2008 Ceremony - Photo by Tony Morrison Society

Bench by the Road Ceremony - Photo by Tony Morrison Society http://www.tonimorrisonsociety.org

Bench by The Road – a 6-foot-long structure with a small bronze plaque mounted on its back. The bench was revealed last summer during the Fifth Biennial on Sullivan’s Island in a ceremony lead by Toni Morrison, the 1st African American Nobel Prize for Literature winner and main catalyst of the project.

• A marker erected in 1999 that says tens of thousands of African captives arrived on Sullivan’s Island’s shores between 1700 and 1775.

• Future planned exhibit “Passages” connects the West Coast of Africa with Lowcountry Gullah-Geechee culture.

• Future commemorative markers of the four Pest Houses where slaves were quarantined and kept in abominable conditions. The houses were demolished at the end of the 18th century so residents could better enjoy their island.

Fort Moultrie Park Entrance

Fort Moultrie Park Entrance

Admission to Fort Moultrie is FREE. The fort is open 9AM – 5PM year around except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Check out these awesome photos that several visitors posted on Flickr.

More area attractions

Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor where the Civil War started. Free admission, must pay for ferry to get there

• USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier in Mount Pleasant. “The Fighting Lady” is home to dozens incredible war jets, a submarine, a flight simulator and more.

• Charles Towne Landing, the birthplace of Charleston and South Carolina, is an incredible park featuring a historic trail, Horry plantation ruins and the Animal Forest Zoo.

Visit USS Yorktown, a military wonder and true family adventure (Charleston weekend fun things to do with children)

What better way to celebrate Memorial Day weekend than visiting the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier the world’s most imposing military marvel during WWII? “The Fighting Lady” is almost 10 football fields long, weighs in at about 27,000 tons and is bristling with weapons and war planes, from the Wright Brothers Flyer to the sleek Tomcat to the mighty Skyraider.

Yorktown fought Japanese forces in epic battles like the Philippine Sea, Marshall Islands, Truk and Iwo Jima and became target of desperate Kamikaze missions in the open waters of the Pacific. In 1968 Yorktown recovered the 8 people crew from the Apollo Space Ship.

USS Yorktown and the destroyer USS Laffey will be featured on the History Channel, beginning Memorial Day weekend, in “HERO SHIPS” a 13 part series with gripping interviews and real war stories told by the sailors who were there.

Tips to Know Before You Go
1. You can easily spend hours on the carrier itself. There are 4 decks and hundreds of rooms to cover inside the aircraft. The outside decks house a plethora of fighter jets and helicopters just waiting for you to get onboard. Best to start your tour at the Clamagore submarine then continue on to The Congressional Medal of Honor Museum located onboard Yorktown then take your time with the carrier.

2. At times it’s difficult getting up and down the stairs and in and out of the tiny rooms. Be prepared to carry your little kids especially when touring the submarine. There is an elevator that takes you to the main level inside Yorktown. Here you have access to the Honor Museum, the Simulator, a Snack Bar, a huge movie screen and you can admire a many war planes on display.

3. The most popular thing to do onboard is to experience the “Top Gun” like fighting at The Simulator. This is $5 extra and it lasts about 10 minutes, lot less than waiting in line to get in.

Where
Yorktown is located at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant. Open daily except on Christmas Day from 9 AM to 6:30 PM (the ticket office closes at 5). Here is the Google Map to Patriots Point

Admission Fee (subject to change, check website for latest prices and details): Adults $18, seniors and military $15, children (6 to 11) $11, and under 6 is FREE. The ticket also covers admission to the Clamagore submarine, the Laffey destroyer, the Coast Guard cutter INGHAM and the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum. This can take half a day to visit them all!

Come to Patriots Point to salute our Veterans and experience the embodiment of honor, courage and sacrifice!

Other historic sites to see in the Charleston area are Fort Sumter (where the Civil War started), Fort Moultrie (where the Palmetto tree became our state symbol) and the mysterious Hunley Submarine (the first successful combat submarine in the world!)