Today, Charleston, South Carolina, has a reputation of being one of America’s friendliest cities and a popular travel destination for vacationers nationwide. The “Holy City” was also once regarded as the national’s capital of the international slave trade, with 40 to 60 percent of slaves landing in the New World within the region.
Sullivan’s Island, which rests in Charleston County, was the point of entry for at least 40 percent of Africans taken from the West Coast of the continent. The island has been compared to Ellis Island in New York but with much harsher conditions and consequences.
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While many of the individuals shipped to America came to be indentured servants, the colonialists would soon enslave them and kept them in bondage against their will. Although international slave trading was banned in 1808, the former Charles Towne thrived by continuing with the still-legal and heinous practice of domestic slave trading.
During the antebellum period just before the Civil War of 1861, Charleston became one of America’s richest cities on the backs of the enslaved. In Charleston, the last existing slavery auction hall, the Old Slave Mart, is now a living reminder of the past and a museum hosting artifacts from that period. Accounts vary of the conditions slaves were held under.
Some recordings say that slaves toiled away in the low country fields picking cotton and other manner of farming. There are also accounts that say some slaves lived comfortably in homes and even held their own land. No matter the living conditions, they were still owned as property and made up the rich slave economy that built up the city and the region.
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At the conclusion of the Civil War that marked the end of the Confederacy and the South conceding to the North, slavery was officially outlawed by President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Freed Blacks who were well-established businessmen and landowners would become the leaders of the state’s Republican Party and a handful of these gentlemen took state and federal positions within the government structure.
The end of the slave economy bankrupted Charleston and for several decades the city toiled in despair. Disaster struck Charleston in 1866 when a massive earthquake nearly destroyed the city. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo hit the region, causing billions in damage. But by 2009, the city had rebounded and was on the path to economic recovery.
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