Charleston World Heritage Coalition Executive Statement, October 1, 2015

Charleston World Heritage Coalition Executive Statement, October 1, 2015

Carolina Gold:   20 Iconic Sites of the Charleston Lowcountry Plantation Culture

Situated along the Atlantic coastal plain in the southeastern United States, the plantation culture of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry represents an exceptional example of human manipulation of land to exploit natural resources and create a distinct social and economic system that influenced the geo-cultural region from the late seventeenth into the late nineteenth centuries.  Through a confluence of geography, topography, climate, and human capital, Caribbean and European immigrants established a plantation-driven economy and culture in the Lowcountry that depended primarily on the skills and labor of enslaved Africans acquired through the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The former agricultural fields and formal landscapes of outlying plantations, together with key elements of Charleston residential, civic, and commercial architecture, continue to demonstrate how the plantation culture of the Lowcountry served as the cornerstone and economic engine of this globally-significant seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century North American city.

Cash crops drove the development of Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry’s extraordinary culture and economy, particularly “Carolina Gold” rice, which in the early eighteenth century became a worldwide commodity and stimulus for cultivation in other parts of North America. The resulting agricultural and mercantile economies, as well as the building typology they engendered, were made possible by a slave-based system. Even after slavery was abolished in the 1860s, the race and class divisions constructed through this labor system continued to shape social development in Charleston. The city and the surrounding Lowcountry landscape serve as a testimony to the power struggles and intercultural exchange between Africans, Europeans, West Indians, and their descendants across three centuries. The cultural landscape also distinctly reflects the urban-rural relationship that was significant to the economy’s growth. In the twenty-first century the Charleston area maintains key attributes of both the landscape and built environment of the distinctive culture produced through the historic plantation system.


  1. Caw Caw Interpretive Center County Park, 18th century
  2. Drayton Hall Historic Site, c. 1738
  3. Middleton Place, c. 1741
  4. Michael’s Episcopal Church and Graveyard, c. 1752-61
  5. Gadsden’s Wharf, c. 1767
  6. Old Exchange and Provost Building, c. 1767-71
  7. Miles Brewton House and Property, c. 1769
  8. Heyward-Washington House and Property, c. 1772
  9. Fort Sumter National Monument (incorporates Fort Moultrie), c. 1776, c. 1829-60s
  10. Charleston County Courthouse, c. 1790-92
  11. Daniel Ravenel House, c. 1796
  12. Charleston City Hall, c. 1800
  13. Nathaniel Russell House and Property, c. 1808
  14. William Aiken House and Property, c. 1808
  15. Aiken-Rhett House and Property, c. 1817
  16. Hibernian Hall, c. 1839-41
  17. Synagogue of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim and Graveyard, c. 1840-41
  18. McLeod Plantation Historic Site, c. 1858
  19. Old Slave Mart, c. 1859
  20. Emanuel AME Church, c. 1891


The following themes may be part of the final nomination:

• Urban-rural relationship (waterways, Ashley River Road, plantation homesteads and urban counterparts, urban buildings constructed through agricultural money)

• Residential complexes: main house with work yard and outbuildings

• Single house typology (and its relationship to the freedman’s cottages)

• Charleston’s role in the transatlantic slave trade

• Physical builders of the city

• Formal plantation landscapes

• Agricultural fields and evolution of commodities (livestock, naval stores, rice, indigo,

• Reasons for settlement (economic gain and therefore religious tolerance, Barbadian influence on structure)

• Diverse origin of settlers

• Coherence in the typology and architecture between vernacular and sophisticated/grand/refined

• Charleston’s role in wartime: significant leader financially meant a leading player in

• Retained Gullah Geechee culture

• Development of preservation standards (i.e. historic district)

About the Author


  • James Newhard November 23, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    The executive statement reads well. I would, however, suggest to mention/acknowledge that the history of the Lowcountry does not represent solely the confluence and hybridization of European and African cultures. Native Americans form the third leg of the formation of this unique landscape, and should not be ignored.

    • CWHC - Brittany
      CWHC - Brittany Author November 24, 2015 at 8:16 pm

      James, thank you for your comment. You bring up a very good point. We have had lengthy discussions on how to incorporate the role of Native Americans (their contributions, their enslavement, etc.) into our argument. This statement is in a draft form and if selected to move forward with the process, we will be consulting with WH experts on how and in what form we can incorporate this important element. Everything we argue must be tied to a physical resource – would love to continue this conversation and hear about what sites/landscapes you believe are worthy of recognition in this manner.

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