A Coastal Retreat of Historical Importance
The pristine beaches and relaxed coastal community on Sullivan’s Island make it a highly desirable place to live and visit. However, it’s the island’s fascinating history and many historical sites that make it truly unique.
Located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, Sullivan’s Island has played a significant role in the region’s history. From early settlement of the colonies to the Revolutionary War and beyond, you won’t find any other coastal beach town in the country that offers such a rich and captivating history.
Explore the Military History of Sullivan’s Island
Sullivan’s Island is perhaps best known by its extensive military history, which can be explored by visiting the Fort Sumter National Monument. Operated by the National Park Service, visitors can experience Fort Moultrie and learn about its 171 years of seacoast defense history or take a guided boat tour to visit the historic sites of Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter.
Fort Moultrie has had a long history of defending the Charleston Harbor and protecting the nation’s eastern shores. One of the most historic moments for Fort Moultrie was during the Battle of Sullivan’s in 1776. On June 28, the incomplete fort was attacked by British forces and managed to resist due to Fort Moultrie’s palmetto-log construction. The palmetto tree inspired the basis of the South Carolina flag, and Fort Moultrie was named after Colonel William Moultrie, who led colonial forces.
The second time Fort Moultrie was used for defense was during the Civil War when Confederate forces occupied the fort. Both Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter endured heavy fire by Union forces for 20 months straight, and though they managed to hold Union forces back, the forts experienced significant damage.
A trip to Fort Sumter is essential if you’re staying on Sullivan’s Island. The construction of Fort Sumter began in 1827, but it was not yet finished when Major Robert Anderson fled with his 85 troops from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter in 1860.
Anderson refused to evacuate Fort Sumter, which provokedthe first shots of the Civil War on April 12, 1861.Fort Sumter was bombarded for 20 hours until Anderson surrendered. Though there were miraculously no casualties, the fort received extensive damage and served only as a lighthouse station until 1897.The start of the Spanish-American War prompted the U.S. to build massive concrete batteries in the center of the fort, but it never saw combat again.
Fort Sumter is free to visit, but there is a fee to use the ferry to reach the fort. Visitors can also purchase tickets for a boat tour that takes them to the fort and also provides helpful commentary on Fort Sumter’s history.
Battery Gadsen Cultural Center
Founded in 1992, the Battery Gadsen Cultural Center is also worth a visit for those who love military history. Built in 1903, the building is one of a series of historic artillery batteries that stretches from Fort Moultrie to the eastern end of Sullivan’s Island. Stop by the Cultural Center to support the local people of Sullivan’s Island who work to preserve the area’s rich history.
Gateway of the Middle Passage
The Middle Passage refers to the forced voyage of slaves along trade routes running from Africa to the Americas. It is a harrowing topic, but it is an important part of the history of Sullivan’s Island and the Americas.
Sullivan’s Island was a port of entry for nearly half of all enslaved Africans that were brought as human cargo to North America. The island had multiple quarantine facilities, called pest houses, that quarantined both free and enslaved passengers to contain the spread of infectious diseases.
According to the National Park Service, the first public pest house on Sullivan’s Island was built in 1707, and four others were built in the next 80 years, stretching from Fort Moultrie to the western end of the Island. In 1796, the last public pest house was closed after complaints from the island’s residents.
There are only two historical markers on Sullivan’s Island to commemorate the Middle Passage. One is located at the Fort Moultrie National Monument near the site of the first pest houses. The other is a small bench donated by the Toni Morrison Society in 2008.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Literary Legacy
Bookworms and history buffs alike journey to Sullivan’s Island to walk in the footsteps of famed American writer,Edgar Allan Poe, who was stationed here from November 1827 until December 1828.Although many cities have staked their claim on the famous writer, Sullivan’s Island undoubtedly has an equal claim to Poe as well.
Some of the author’s most celebrated tales clearly reference both the island and nearby Charleston in great detail. His 1843 story, The Gold-Bug, was set on Sullivan’s Island and notably borrows from the local folklore with tales of buried treasure. Additionally, his subsequent writings, like The Balloon Hoax in 1844 and The Oblong Box in 1850, also reference Charleston.
Drive around the island and you’ll notice streets named after the author and his works, including Raven Drive and Poe Avenue. Middle Street, the main drag on Sullivan’s Island, is where locals and tourists alike grab a bite to eat at the famous Poe’s Tavern.
Modern Entertainment & Amenities
Though there is history everywhere you look on Sullivan’s Island, the town has plenty of modern amenities to meet the needs of both tourists and locals. From fine dining opportunities to eclectic shopping boutiques, those who live on Sullivan’s Islandcan easily enjoy the comforts of a traditional city and the peaceful quiet of beach town living.
Make a stop at the Edgar Allan Poe Library or enjoy one of the many popular restaurants in the area,such as Poe’s Tavern, Sullivan’s Restaurant, SALT at Station 22 Restaurant, The Obstinate Daughter, and Dunleavy’s Pub. You’ll also find sweet shops, ice cream parlors and other eateries to satisfy your cravings.
As a coastal beach town, there are also many outdoor activities to be enjoyed as well. Kiteboarding, kayaking, and surfing are popular on the island’s beaches.If you’re not a fan of getting in the ocean, consider taking in a gorgeous sunset in solitude at Thompson Park.
In the rare case that you can’t find what you’re looking for on Sullivan’s Island, downtown Charleston is only about a 15-minute drive away.With its ideal mix of modern amenities, relaxing beaches and rich history, Sullivan’s Island is one of the best places to vacation or plant your roots.
Article by guest writer: Traci Magnus
About the author: Traci Magnus was raised on the Charleston Coast and attended the College of Charleston before heading to the Big Apple. She returned to Charleston in 2006, along with her husband Glenn and their son Max. She joined the Dunes Properties team in early 2008 as Director of Marketing.