Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

South Carolina
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

Becoming a state in 1788, South Carolina was one of the founding colonies of the United States. Located on the country’s Atlantic seaboard, it is one of the southern states and was previously home largely to indigenous groups speaking a range of Siouan, Iroquoian, and Muskogean languages. The Spanish established colonies here in the 16th century, followed by the English in the 17th century. The term “Carolina” emerged in reference to King Charles I, while this new province divided into northern and southern halves in 1729. With an economy relying heavily on plantations worked by enslaved African Americans, South Carolina was a founding member of the Confederacy and saw its influence and economy devastated by the Civil War.

Archaeology & History Sites in South Carolina

Ashtabula Historic House

Built during the 1820s, Ashtabula Historic House is a two-story clapboard structure reflecting the Lowcountry style plantation architecture found in this part of South Carolina. Ashtabula was originally intended as a home for Lewis Ladson Gibbes and his family, but both he and his wife died before it was completed. After that point it passed through various owners until coming into the possession of Pendleton Historic Foundation in the latter half of the 20th century. Today, they run it as a historic house museum, open to visitors by guided tour.

Boone Hall Plantation

The plantation at Boone Hall was established in 1681 by an Englishman, John Boone. In 1743 an avenue of oak trees was planted here that today makes for an impressive sight. The surviving ‘Big House’ dates from 1936, completed in the Colonial Revival style. Boone Hall also devotes attention to its former enslaved residents, preserving several late 18th or early 19th-century brick slave cabins and hosting live presentations exploring the life and culture of the Gullah people, an African American group found in Lowcountry parts of the southern states.

Charleston Tea Garden

Charleston Tea Garden, also known as Charleston Tea Plantation, sits on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Established in the 1980s, the tea plantation replaced an earlier potato farm that operated on the island. While a comparatively modern plantation, Charleston Tea Garden continues a tradition of growing tea in South Carolina that dates back to the late 19th century – the state’s first successful tea plantation, Pinehurst, was established at Summerville in 1888 by Charles Shepard. Entry to the garden is free, although fees are charged for tours of the grounds and factory.

Drayton Hall

Built in the middle of the 18th century, the Palladian-style Drayton Hall was the creation of John Drayton Senior. It passed down the Drayton family for many generations, surviving both the American Revolutionary War and then the Civil War. Today, many of the interior furnishings and artworks reflect the changing fashions and tastes of successive residents of the property. Since the 1970s, the Hall has been open to visitors as a historic attraction. Meanwhile, archaeologists have unearthed more about the enslaved and freed African Americans who resided within the surrounding plantation.

Fort Sumter National Monument

Construction of Fort Sumter began in 1829 and in the 1860s it played an important role in the Civil War. In 1861 Confederate forces attacked the fort, eventually securing the surrender of the Union forces stationed there. Union counter-attacks followed in 1863, with the fort being left heavily damaged at the end of the war. In the 1940s it became a National Monument and has become a popular tourist attraction. The historic fort is only accessible by ferry rides from Liberty Square and Patriots Point in Charleston.

Frampton Plantation House

The Frampton family established this plantation after the English king awarded them the land in an 18th-century grant. Decades later, the plantation was caught up in the Civil War, as Confederate forces erected earthworks nearby to defend their rail links, archaeological features that are still evident. In 1865, the Union Army seized control and burned the plantation house to the ground. John Frampton rebuilt it in a Lowcountry farmhouse style. In 1997, it passed to the Lowcountry Tourism Commission and became home to the Lowcountry Visitor’s Center and Museum.

Hampton Plantation

Built between 1730 and 1750, this Georgian-style ‘Big House’ was at the centre of a plantation whose wealth stemmed from the cultivation of rice. At its height, over 300 enslaved people lived at Hampton, and today the exposed foundations of the plantation slave dwellings can be seen. Displays also devote attention to the freed African Americans who subsequently lived in the Santee Delta region in the decades after emancipation. Much of the plantation is now given over to pine forest and operates as a state park; the house is open by guided tour.

Hopsewee Plantation

Surrounded by areas of rice cultivation, the ‘Big House’ at Hopsewee Plantation was built in the 1730s. It was here that Thomas Lynch Jr. was born in 1749, the ‘Founding Father’ who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence on behalf of South Carolina. Hopswee was also home to many enslaved people, and an insight into their lives can be gained at the two surviving slave buildings. Events at the plantation give visitors the chance to learn sweetgrass basket weaving and learn more about the culture of the Gullah Geechee people.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation began life in 1676, established by members of the Drayton family. Originally devoted largely to rice cultivation, it relied on a workforce of enslaved people. During the American Revolutionary War, it was occupied by forces from both sides. In the 1840s, the plantation’s owner, Reverend John Grimké Drayton, began developing a garden at Magnolia. In the wake of the Civil War, this garden opened to the public in 1870, making it one of the oldest public gardens in the United States. It remains in the ownership of its founders’ descendants.

Mansfield Plantation

The Mansfield Plantation emerged in 1718 after John Green secured a land grant of 500 acres. Eventually growing into one of the largest rice plantations in South Carolina, it was subsequently heavily impacted by the Civil War. In 1865, a group of slaves set fire to the main house, driving its owners out. Under private ownership by descendants of one of the house’s Antebellum residents, the plantation now operates as a bed and breakfast. The timber slave chapel has also been fully restored, having fallen into considerable dilapidation.

Museums & Art Galleries in South Carolina

Patriot Point Naval & Maritime Museum

The Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum can be found on the Charleston Harbor at Mount Pleasant. Three historic US Navy vessels are preserved here: the USS Yorktown is an aircraft carrier launched in 1943, USS Laffey a destroyer also launched in 1943, and the USS Clamagore a submarine launched in 1945. Visitors can explore these three vessels, each decked out with various displays about life in the US Navy. Visitors can also see the only Vietnam Experience Exhibit in the US, the Cold War Memorial and the Congressional Medal of Honor Society’s official museum.