South Carolina History

South Carolina history


South Carolina holds a firm place in American history. This is where new arrivals from England established one of their first New World settlements, and the first shots of the American Civil War later rang out here.

With more than 1,300 sites listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places, South Carolina’s museums and historic sites document the state’s rich, varied history, from its importance in Colonial times and during the American Revolution to its indigenous history and the state’s pivotal role in the Civil War.

But the state’s history began long before that. For thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans, the state was occupied by at least 29 indigenous tribes. That population greatly declined, due to disease and conflict, after European settlers reached it’s shores. A few tribes have, however, survived, including the Catawba, Cherokee, Pee Dee, Chicora, Edisto, Santee, and Chicora-Waccamaw.

The first known European attempt at a settlement was a group of Spaniards in 1526, close to Winyah Bay, near Georgetown. A few decades later, a group of French Huguenots attempted a settlement near Beaufort. Neither effort lasted long.

The state’s first permanent settlement began in 1670, when Englishmen landed near Charleston along the Ashley River. The site is now preserved as Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site, which includes an interactive museum, authentic crop garden, indigenous animal park, and a replica 17th-century sailing vessel.

The Battery in Charleston, SCToday Charleston is a modern city, but it has retained its Old World charm. You can walk through the English gardens of perfectly preserved colonial plantation homes or take a carriage ride along cobblestone streets. Stroll through the historic district, and you’ll see many houses built before the Civil War. Many now are bed-and-breakfast inns, giving you the chance to sleep in the midst of history.

Journey along the Battery, and you’ll see magnificent houses and old mansions facing the sea, most of which were built by wealthy plantation owners who grew rice and cotton. Just outside the city, you’ll find huge plantation homes that have been restored and are now open for tours. The homes have beautifully maintained gardens, and you can glance at what life was like in the 18th century.

The two major wars fought on the soil of what is now the United States both involved combat in South Carolina, and there are many battlefields and historic areas to see. The American Revolution was waged across the state, with major battles in Camden, Cowpens, Kings Mountain, and Brattonsville. Charleston, of course, also has many sites from this era.

The American Civil War began in South Carolina, when cadets from The Citadel fired shots at Fort Sumter, which was occupied by Union forces. The war took a brutal toll on the state, and it took decades for South Carolina to recover economically and socially. 

In the 20th century, the cotton gin spurred economic growth, as cotton mills were built all across the Upstate. Work that had previously been done by hand was now being completed by machines and computers. In the latter part of the 20th century, large national and international companies opened offices in South Carolina because of its mild climate, natural resources, and strong workforce.

South Carolina has many museums that showcase different parts of the state’s history. In Charleston, visit the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in combat. Pulled from the Atlantic 136 years after she sank, taking a crew of eight with her, the boat now rests in a 340,687-litre tank. See

USS YorktownAlso in Charleston, see naval history from a past century by visiting Patriots Point. There you can tour the USS Yorktown, which was used in World War II and for other purposes. You also can tour the USS Clamagore, the Medal of Honour Museum, the Cold War Submarine Memorial, and the only Vietnam Support Base Camp within the United States. See

The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia is located inside the world’s first totally electric textile mill. The museum has four large floors dedicated to art, history, natural history, and science/technology. It also has several rotating exhibits. See
From the American Revolutionary War and Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, South Carolina has been at the centre of both conflict and resolution throughout the history of the Unites States. The food, music, and culture of South Carolina reflect a fusion of multiple heritages in large cities and in small villages. Distinctive architecture throughout the state reflects a sense of pride and history evident in European, African, and Caribbean influences.

Visit South Carolina to see all of this and more.

For more information about South Carolina, contact the South Carolina Tourism Office. Tel.: (803)734-1700 E-mail: or you can visit us on the Internet at


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