Charleston, the county seat of Charleston County, is South Carolina's second largest metropolitan area. It lies primarily between the Ashley
and Cooper rivers. The harbor of Charleston has given the city a major role in the naval history of the United States, and particularly the Civil War.
When Charles II was restored to the throne of England, he was unable to reward everyone to whom he was indebted with cash. In 1663, he provided
eight former generals, who became known as the Lords Proprietors, the title to Carolina. The Fundamental Constitution of Carolina, written in
1669 by the philosopher John Locke and modeled after his "A Letter Concerning Toleration," provided the basis for Carolina's early government.
In 1670, settlers arrived at the Ashley River and established a settlement on its west bank, which they named Charles Town in honor of Charles II. The following year, to provide for better defense, they transferred themselves across the river and rebuilt at the tip of the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers.
The Fundamental Constitution provided a climate of tolerance that greatly affected Charles Town's early development and led to immigration
by such diverse groups as French Huguenots and Sephardic Jews. In 1700, the town authorized the first taxpayer-supported public library in America, which remained open for more than ten years. In 1718, Blackbeard sailed into Charles Town's harbor with four ships and took hostages for ransom.
The British Crown wanted greater control over the colony and in 1720, reorganized it as a Crown Colony. In 1729, the proprietors were completely bought out by King George. Growth continued under the new regime. In 1747, the city struck a bargain with the Choctaw Indians, exchanging tradings rights for an agreement by the Choctaws to attack the French.
The Charleston Library Society was organized in 1749. It organized the Charleston Museum in 1773, the oldest such museum in America. The College of Charleston gave its first classes in 1770, making it the oldest municipal college in America.
Charles Town played an important role during the American Revolution. A Charlestonian, Henry Middleton, was chosen president of the First Continental Congress in 1774. His plantation, Middleton Place, was home to three more generations of prominent South Carolina politicians and is now a carefully preserved National Historic Landmark. Two years later, the city was made the state capital. In that same year, the British sent a fleet against the city, but were repulsed. They tried again in February 1780, with a siege that lasted 40 days and resulted in the capitulation by the city on May 12. The British occupation lasted until December 14, 1782. In August of the following year, the city was chartered and took the name Charleston. The state capital was moved to Columbia in 1786.
The Reform Society of Israelites was established in 1824, making Charleston the birthplace of the Reform branch of Judaism in America. During that year, the Medical College of South Carolina was opened. It later became the Medical University of South Carolina. The Citadel, South Carolina's state-supported military college, opened in 1842. It admitted its first woman cadet in 1994. Roper Hospital, the first
community hospital in the Carolinas, was founded in 1850.
Reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 was not long coming. On December 20, a convention meeting in Charleston declared
South Carolina to be an independent commonwealth, the first act of secession by any state. The first shots fired in the Civil War were the bombardment of Fort Sumter by Confederate forces on April 12, 1861. Towards the end of the year, Union forces began a blockade of Charleston. On February 17, 1864, the CSS Hunley rammed and sank the USS Housatonic, marking the first sinking of a vessel by a submarine. The Hunley itself sank while returning to port.
The war in Charleston came to an official end on April 14, 1865, when the Union flag was raised over Fort Sumter on the fourth anniversary of its
surrender. Although Charleston is in the Deep South and Jim Crow laws were put in place after Reconstruction, the city took a moderate approach
by local standards. Blacks were able to participate in Charleston's politics and vote freely from World War II onward. A Charleston
judge, J. Watis Waring, dissented from a Federal District Court decision upholding the "separate but equal" doctrine in Briggs v. Elliott in 1951. His dissenting opinion was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court when it ruled in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
Established as the Carolina Art Association in 1858, the Gibbes Museum of Art opened its doors to the public in 1905. Charleston Southern University, founded in 1964, is associated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention.