Sullivan’s Island – Charleston County, South Carolina
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Just across the Intracoastal Waterway from Mount Pleasant is serene Sullivan’s Island. This largely residential island is home to famous Fort Moultrie and is an integral part of South Carolina history.
Sullivan’s Island is sometimes referred to as the African Ellis Island due to it being the point of entry throughout the eighteenth century for slaves who had suffered the Middle Passage journey. However, many take exception to this comparison, noting that the immigrants who came to Ellis Island in New York arrived voluntarily, as opposed to the slaves who were captured and transported under severe and inhumane conditions.
Once slaves arrived, they were kept temporarily on Sullivan’s Island in “pest houses,” essentially quarantined to ensure they were healthy enough to go to market. Their time spent on Sullivan’s Island was for the purpose of making them more robust, thus more marketable to buyers. It is believed that 200,000 slaves were brought to Sullivan’s Island over the course of the international slave trade, which ended in the United States on January 1, 1808.
Sullivan’s Island is likely better known for its military history. In 1776, a makeshift log fort located at the tip of Sullivan’s Island defeated British troops who were trying to enter Charleston’s harbor. The spongy palmetto logs used to build this fort deflected the barrage of British cannon balls and were the key to its success. The fort was eventually named Fort Moultrie after Colonel Moultrie who led the attack against the British. In 1860 the palmetto tree became the centerpiece of South Carolina’s state flag. Fort Moultrie, seen above, is now a National Monument.
Hurricane Hugo cast destruction over the island in 1989 when the category-4 storm made landfall on Sullivan’s Island just after midnight on September 22. The Ben Sawyer Bridge (seen above), at the time the only bridge access to and from Sullivan’s Island, was severely damaged during the hurricane but was repaired and operational by October of 1989. The town and island recovered from the storm, and today, Sullivan’s Island is mainly residential with a small, but lively, downtown area that has many restaurants and bars. Historic Charleston is the largest city nearby and is just a short drive away.
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