Discover the Oldest City in South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina, USA at Waterfront Park
© Pavone

Written by Kristen Holder

Updated: June 21, 2023

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South Carolina has a rich history that’s steeped in both local and imported cultural inheritances which creates its unique identity. As one of the oldest colonized regions in the United States, it also hosted some of the first recorded settlements. Let’s discover the oldest city in South Carolina now.

The Oldest City in South Carolina

Charleston South Carolina

Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina.


Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina. It was founded in 1670 though it was moved to its current spot in 1680. The colony eventually developed into an agricultural community and plantations developed around crops like indigo, rice, and cotton.

The original colonists wanted to establish an industry based around export crops destined for England. That’s why crops like indigo were grown even though there was virtually no domestic interest in it.

After the Revolutionary War, indigo production disappeared. Americans weren’t concerned with clothing dye at the time as it couldn’t be eaten or fed to animals.

South Carolina officially became an English colony in 1719 and it became a state on March 26, 1776. Originally named Charles Town after the King of England, it was renamed Charleston in 1783.

South Carolina’s economy was based around enslaved labor and black Americans were the majority in Charleston before and after the Civil War. The state of South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. It later surrendered to the Union in February of 1865 and slavery was abolished.

Despite the devastation caused by the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and subsequent natural disasters, many historic buildings remain in Charleston. There are 73 extant buildings built before the Revolutionary War with a few hundred other buildings being over 100 years old.

Discover the Angel Oak Tree Outside of Charleston, South Carolina

Angel Oak Tree near Charleston South Carolina

© Ver Sprill

The Angel Oak Tree in South Carolina may be up to 400 years old and it’s one of the oldest living trees in the United States. It’s also the oldest living tree of its type east of the Mississippi River. This tree is located in one of the City of Charleston’s parks located outside of town on Johns Island.

The tree is over 25 feet around its base and it’s 65 feet tall. Its longest branch is also over 180 feet long.

It’s a southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) which is a tree found throughout the southern United States. Outside of South Carolina, they’re found in Florida, Oklahoma, and as far west as Texas. They don’t survive anywhere that regularly experiences freezing temperatures.

The acorns of these trees are a valuable food source for animals like deer, sapsuckers, squirrels, wild turkeys, and black bears. Southern live oak trees flower in the spring and produce their acorns in the fall.

The moss that hangs from the tree is a common nesting material for birds in the area. Florida scrub jays are a threatened species that prefer to build their nests in southern live oak trees.

The park this particular tree grows in is called Angel Oak Park in honor of its famous inhabitant. Admission is free and there is a gift shop on site.

2 of the Oldest Museums in America are in Charleston, SC

The oldest museum in the United States is the Charleston Museum in South Carolina. It is located at 360 Meeting Street in Charleston and it opened in 1773 before the Revolutionary War.

The first museum devoted to African American culture and arts is called the Old Slave Mart Museum and it opened in 1938. It’s located at 6 Chalmers Street in Charleston, South Carolina.

Discover the Charleston Museum in South Carolina

Based on the income acquired from free agricultural labor in the late 1700s, the elites in the region were able to participate in the Age of Enlightenment. They established the Charleston Library Society which opened the Charleston Museum before the Revolutionary War. Its first iteration was established on January 12, 1773, and it changed locations for various reasons throughout its history.

Today, the museum focuses on natural history, collecting historical artifacts from the region, and displaying its current collection which contains pieces from around the world. It also participates in the documentation of its older collection for wider distribution.

Charleston is in an area of the state called the Lowcountry. This area is not only a historic agricultural hotbed, it’s home to the most biodiverse regions in South Carolina. There are mounted examples of extant birds, reptiles, and mammals from the area on display.

Extinct birds are also available for viewing. These birds include the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, and the ivory-billed woodpecker.

There is a permanent exhibit on prehistoric animals. The skeleton of the largest known bird capable of flight, called the Pelagornis, is on display. A giant ground sloth that stands 13 feet tall and a crocodile that’s 18 feet long are mounted for view. There is also a cast of a megalodon’s jaw to show how massive this 60-foot shark used to be.

The Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, South Carolina

The Old Slave Mart Museum has been in business on and off since 1938. It is the first museum in the United States that was dedicated to African American culture and slave history.

Charleston saw almost 40 percent of slaves from Africa arrive at its ports at one point. However, it was the domestic slave trade that drove auction commerce. Enslaved people born on American soil were the most represented demographic for auction right before emancipation.

The Old Slave Mart Museum is on the same property that used to be an auction house. The oldest building still on the property is the original auction room housing the museum.

Charleston was at the forefront of the South Carolinian slave trade and its economy was reliant on forced labor for close to 2 centuries. An enslaved person might sell for as little as 800 dollars or as much as 1500 dollars depending on their age, sex, and skills. 1500 dollars when the auction house at the museum site was active was around 40,000 dollars in today’s money.

Where is Charleston Located on a Map?

As we said, Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina. It was founded in 1670 though it was moved to its current spot in 1680. It is a port city in the southeast corner of the state and is known for cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and pastel antebellum houses, particularly in the elegant French Quarter and Battery districts. 

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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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