Dorchester State Park, old English settlement near Charleston

“I passed Dorchester, where there are the remains of what appears to have once been a considerable town: there are the ruins of an elegant church, and the vestiges of several well-built houses.” – A 1788 account by a passing traveler

Fort Dorchester built in 1775

The Dorchester Garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion during Revolutionary War

Few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Dorchester State Historic Park, a short drive from Summerville, the magnificent plantations and North Charleston.

Similarly to nearby Charles Towne Landing, visitors are rewarded with one of America’s most complete archaeological records of colonial life.

The park is open daily 9AM to 6PM and admission is $2 for adults, free for kids 15 and younger. Most Saturdays, from June through September you can attend educational programs and observe archaeologist at work (free with park admission, 10AM to 2PM)

Historic highlights and interesting artifacts (data and quotes provided by the park exhibits and brochure guide)

On October 20, 1695, Joseph Lord, Increase Summer and William Pratt were dismissed from their church from Dorchester, Massachusetts for “Ye gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina.” After securing 4050 of land here along the Ashley River, they sailed home to their congregation in New England.

Coming to South Carolina for an acceptable settlement

Lord, Summer and Pratt gathering of A Church for ye South Carolina

They returned in 1697 with other church members who hoped “to go to South Carolina to Settel the Gospel ther”.

When the new Dorchester was laid out, the village contained 116 quarter acre lots, a town square and commons. The St. George Anglican church was built in 1720, a fair was established in 1723 and the Free School opened in 1761.

By 1781, Dorchester became a booming trade center and boasted about 40 houses by 1781. The town gradually declined after the American Revolution and was abandoned in 1788. The threat of malaria and the shortage of land cause the Congregationalist colony to leave Dorchester and start a new settlement in Midway, Georgia.

In 1969, the land was donated to the South Carolina State Park Service. The village of Dorchester is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Dorchester Free School – The school was established in 1758 and consisted of

How it was like to go to school in the 18th century

The Dorchester Free School where girls were allowed to attend.

“two Brick Houses of the Dimensions of 23 feet in weadth & 36 feet in length, & one story high, with a dutch roof, shall be built for the use of the sd. School, one of them to serve as a School House, & other for a dwelling house for the Master, & his Family…”

Several girls attended the free school, an amazing feat for the time given most girls were raised to become just mothers and housewives.

During Revolutionary War the schoolmaster was removed from this post for remaining loyal to England and the school was closed.

The British troops burned it down and it did not reopen for almost 25 years. In 1818 the school moved to Summerville.

The St. George’s Anglican Church and Bell Tower – Angry with the Anglican Church, the Puritan Pilgrims left England in 1620.

Anglican Church Tower

St. George’s Anglican Church was built here in 1720. The bell tower was added in 1751.

Their descendants, known as Congregationalists, founded Dorchester in 1697, only to endure South Carolina’s 1706 declaration of Anglicanism as the colony’s official church.

With the Congregationalists worshiping only 2 miles away, St. George’s Anglican Church was built in 1720 in the center of Dorchester. Village founders and the other village “dissenters” were even taxed to support St. George’s.

The church was enlarged in the 1730s to meet its growing and prosperous parish. The bell tower was added in 1751.

St. George’s Anglican Church may have been a more convenient location for local worship, however the Congregationalist Church remained the religious center for most of Dorchester’s Puritan settlers.

The Native Coosa Tribe – Long before the English settlers, a small Native American tribe, the Coosa, lived here. The relationship with the English has always been uneasy. In 1671, the Charles Towne settlers accused them of stealing corn and livestock

17th century Indian village in South Carolina

The Coosa were one of the original inhabitants in the Lowcountry

and in 1674 they were even accused of murder.

The settlers waged war against the Coosa. After defeating the Indians, they required a monthly payment of deerskin per colony.

In 1675, one of the Lord Proprietors was granted the land where the Coosa village once stood. Although the grant gave him legal title he officially purchased the land from the surviving Coosa for “a valuable parcel of cloth, hatchet, beads and other goods and manufactures now received…” He called his home there the “Cussoo House”

By 1696, the Coosa ceased to have a significance presence in this area. Some had settled in the nearby St. Paul’s Parish, some migrated west, others died or intermarried with the English.

Fort Dorchester – During the French and Indian War rumors of an impeding naval attack by the French forced swift action by leaders in Charles Towne.

Dorchester earthen and osyster shells colonial defense

The powder magazine was fortified in 1775

A brick powder magazine enclosed by a tabby wall 8 feet high was built here in 1757.

During the Revolution, Dorchester was a strategic point.

In 1775, the magazine was fortified and the garrison commanded by Capt. Francis Marion. British troops occupied the town in April 1780 and again in 1781. At one point there were over 600 British soldiers in Dorchester.

They were driven out by cavalry and infantry under Col. Wade Hampton and Gen. Nathaniel Greene on December 1, 1781.

The meeting House was located 2 miles west of the village. The first structure was built of wood and replaced in the mid 1700 with a brick building. The interior is described as:

“A single door admitted to a single aisle, leading to a lofty pulpit, with a sounding board above it.

Congregationalist colony ruins Dorchester Park

What is left of the Dorchester burial ground

In front of the pulpit was an elevated seat for the ruling elder; a little lower and just behind the communion table was a seat for the deacons.

On either side of the island were several plain benches, capable of seating four or five persons each.

Along the sides of the house were two or three long seats, and at the site of the pulpit were several shorter ones. Back by the door two seats were fitted up for the guardsmen, with their old matchlocks.”

During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied the building and reportedly burned it when they evacuated the area. In 1794 the structure was repaired, and eventually its congregation entered into an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church.

As the Dorchester settlement declined and the town of Summerville grew, a new church was constructed nearer the town. Over time the old meeting house fell in disrepair and in 1886 it was severely damaged by the Great Earthquake. Today, only crumbling walls and the burial grounds remain.

The Artifacts – At the center you can see numerous artifacts such as hand painted pearl ware, Staffordshire candle holder, lead-glazed earthenware, white salt-glazed stoneware and the Colono ware. The Colono ware is similar to pottery from Nigeria and Ghana. It started to be produced in Carolina around 1680, peaked in the early 1700s and then disappeared by 1800. Typical vessels were flat bottomed, burnished, grit-tempered and often had an “X” incised on their bases.

Step back in the colonial period at Dorchester State Historic Park!

Dorchester State Park outdoor attractions

Best place to have a picnic along Ashley River


Fast and curious Powder Magazine! A quick look at Charleston in the 1700s

“Charles Towne the Capital of this Province…is very inviting, and the Country about it agreeable and fruitful…There are several fair streets in the Town and some very handsome buildings…As for public Edifices the Church is most remarkable.”
John Oldmixon, 1708

The Powder Magazine is the oldest public building in South Carolina. It took us about 20 minutes to visit the museum. Admission was $2 (free for my daughter) which is about right, for the easy going, brief peak into colonial Charleston history.

Goofing around at the Powder Magazine museum

I did not do it! Trust me...

Historic highlights
• In 1713, under the Lord Proprietors rule, the Powder Magazine was completed in the northwest corner of the Charleston fortifications.

GR British cannons found in Charleston

American Revolution field guns in front of the Powder Magazine

• Col. William Rhett – the same guy who will later capture the famous Stede Bonnet, The Gentleman Pirate – was appointed Commissioner of the Fortifications.

• The building had thick brick walls and a sand packed roof designed to collapse in an event of explosion. Iron nails and metal fixture were kept to a minimum to prevent inadvertent sparks.Today, you can still see an exposed section of the original brick.

Back then they truly built to last!…

• From 1713 to 1770, and again briefly during the Revolutionary War, it was used as storage building for loose gunpowder. Afterward it became a livery stable, wine cellar, print shop, and finally a museum.

• In 1902, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America and the State of South Carolina purchased the building and opened it as a museum.

• Recently, the Powder Magazine has been restored to its original appearance (except for the addition of a thin plaster wash inside to protect the brick from a chronic moisture problem).

18 century artifacts (on loan from the Charleston Museum)
• Two Revolutionary War cannons, found in the Charleston area. The field guns featured the British “GR” – Georgius Rex – stamp, in reference to King George III.
• Right-handed bone dice, “Royal Welch” button, bronze whistle, slate whizzer
• A 6 pounds cannon ball, embedded in the wood it was shot at and a 3 pounds solid shot, found under a house in Charleston near the location of the American lines during the Charleston Siege
• Iron crossbar, Irish coin, English flintlock.

Revolutionary War flintlock pistol iron crossbar

17 and 18 century British and African artifacts

Defend the city!
The walls and moat that surrounded Charles Towne allowed entrance only by sea at the Cooper River wharves and by land over a drawbridge near the intersection of Broad and Meeting streets.

Indian weapons demonstration Charleston Museum

Look mom I am a warrior!

Although, one settler said “This fortify’d more for Beauty than Strength” the walls proved useful on two major occasions:

• In 1706, five French and Spanish ships sailed into the harbor to conquer the colony. Colonial forces lead by Gov. Nathaniel Johnson and a fleet of six small ships lead by Col. William Rhett repelled the invaders.

• In 1715 the colony faced its biggest threat, when Yemassee Indians with support from Spain, attacked the English settlements. More than 400 colonists were massacred. Carolinians flocked to Charles Towne, regrouped and marched out to counterattack.

By 1716, the Yemassee were defeated and driven into Florida. Then the Proprietors amassed the lands owned by the Indians, angering the settlers who have fought and won the war.

• In 1719, surprise, surprise…the colonists “peacefully” overthrew the Lord Proprietors, and South Carolina became a royal colony.

Kids enjoy playing with the interactive Charleston map that showcases the city’s landmarks in the 1700s

Old Charles Towne Harbor walled city bastions defenses

Lightning up Charleston landmarks in the 1700

Free and fun family attractions in the area

• The one and only Waterfront Park
• The renovated Dock Street Theatre

Having fun inside the Powder Museum

Checking out the powder kegs

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!

Outdoor and Wildlife Wonders at Charles Towne Landing

Charles Towne Landing: Quiet and relaxing family time. Learn about South Carolina and Charleston history. Bike or walk under serene live oak trees away from the city’s hustle and bustle yet just minutes from all the “civilization” amenities. Do nothing but smell the beautiful flowers and listen to the birds.

Funny otter at Charles Towne Landing

Get excited spotting alligators around the ponds spread throughout the park or watching the bison, black bears and puma napping all day at the Animal Forest zoo. Maybe we can learn from them and give ourselves a well deserved break in the Charles Towne Landing incredible outdoors. And is only $5… That’s a venti double latte…C’mon what else can you ask for?!

Read more about this hidden Charleston attraction here.

Happy outdoor relaxation in Charleston South Carolina!

Wild Turkey Chasing Vultur video at Charles Towne Landing zoo

Come admire the natural-habitat zoo at the Charles Towne Landing state park’s Animal Forest showcasing native Carolina wildlife as it was more than 350 years ago. Among the highlights to enjoy at this historic Charleston attraction (our state first settlement) are the bison, puma, black bears, bobcats, otters and the yellow crowned night heron.

Oh yeah, and the pompous wild turkeys which in Spring they gotta do their dance mating thing. Apparently no one told them the poor lone vulture is no threat competing for their cuties.
Well good for me cause I could shot this little chase video 🙂

Enjoy wildlife, experience history and relax among serene oak trees in beautiful Charles Towne Landing park the birthplace of South Carolina!