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


Charleston boom or bust? The Old Exchange and Dungeon tour

The Old Exchange Building was the state’s commercial, political and social epicenter during the Golden Age.

Kids are fascinated by the old colonial style dressed people

Trick or treat...the start of the Dungeon tour

Today it’s the most significant historic public building in Charleston, and a highly advertised family attraction.

Although the building has many exhibits to enjoy, don’t expect “fireworks” or dramatic re-enactments on the guided Dungeon tour ($8 adults, $4 children 7-12).

The museum is open daily 9AM to 5PM.

You can park in the metered lot left of the building or the garage on Mid-Atlantic Wharf ($1 per hour, $10 per day).

Things to know before you go
1. The tour is geared toward kids and lasts about 30 minutes.

Talking mannequins...some like it, some do not

Most of the time you listen to animated mannequins tell you stories about the burgeoning British rule, the capture of famous Caribbean pirates and the Patriots uprising.

My 5 years old really enjoyed it, she was intrigued about all the (fake) rats roaming around.

2. Mystery seekers should consider one of the city night tours, like the “Charleston Ghost and Dungeon Tour” offered by Bulldogs Tour ($18 adults, $10 children over 7. The website offers a $2 coupon). At night the Dungeon will make you shiver with its pitch dark pathways and eerie sounds…you may even catch an orb or two on your digital camera.

3. History buffs will appreciate the 2 stories filled with photos, original artifacts, exquisite furniture and stories from the Revolutionary and Civil War periods. I was humbled by the many pictures depicting the overwhelming destruction Charleston suffered during Civil War.

Most significant events that took place at the Old Exchange building (data from the official website):

Revolutionary War defense against British

Don't let the British get their hands on this!

• Stede Bonnet “the Gentleman Pirate” and crew are imprisoned prior to their hanging at the Battery Park.
• British tea is seized and stored in the Exchange cellars.
• South Carolina drafts its first constitution and declares independence from Great Britain.
• General William Moultrie hides 10,000 pounds of gunpowder in the cellar.
• Colonel Isaac Hayne is imprisoned in the Exchange, and later executed by the British.
• George Washington is entertained here several times during his Southern Tour.
• The Charleston Post Office moves into the Exchange.
• The Half-Moon Battery, part of the original Charleston fortification is excavated beneath the cellar of the Exchange.

4. There are many cool colonial artifacts throughout the Exchange: the “Stair to Nowhere”, the Half Moon wall, the 17th century bronze Spanish war vest, the 18th century flintlock British pistols, the Post Office replica, Gen. William Moultrie waistcoast and Gen. Marion Francis lucky charm buckeyes and much more…

Down in the Dungeon

Trying on the Spanish bronze vest and drums

5. Children will enjoy the stories and graphical representations of the most famous Pirates who used to rule the Charleston Harbor and the Sea Islands: Stede Bonnet, Blackbeard, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.

Old Exchange tour exhibits

Hey look at these old guns!

Nearby family attractions:

The kids favorite Waterfront Park (free)
• The Old Slave Mart Museum ($7)
• SC Aquarium ($18 adults, $11 children over 2)
• The Powder Magazine ($2)
• The Market.

If you decide to vacation at Folly Beach make sure to check out the beautiful Morris Island Lighthouse and to visit the country’s only Tea Plantation, that produces the flavorful, aromatic and truly eco-friendly American Classic Tea.