South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that became the United States following the American Revolution. As a colony, it was divided from the original Province of Carolina in 1710. Named for Charles I of England (Carolus was considered a Latin form of Charles) by his son Charles II, the province struggled for decades to host a permanent settlement. By 1670, Charles Town, near present-day Charleston, was established as an outpost dealing with the Cherokee and Catawba tribes that inhabited the provincial lands.
The S.C. coast, particularly the Lowcountry from Charleston to Savannah, provided rich natural resources to the young colony and its English proprietors. From fish, fur and forests, to indigo, cotton and rice, merchants and farmers eventually thrived, “importing” many thousands of African slaves to work the land and more. Some planters and merchants did so well under colonial rule that they rejected the idea of American independence, prompting bloody battles between neighbors, even brothers, during the Revolution. Still, key patriots, such as Francis Marion, Thomas Heyward and Charles Pinckney hailed from the Lowcountry, sacrificing much of their wealth and even family members, in the fight. S.C. boasts more Revolutionary battlegrounds than any other state.
By 1850, largely thanks to the slave-based plantation economy, most of the richest men in the world had large properties in the Lowcountry. A dozen years later, that economy tumbled amid the “Civil War,” a term only recently accepted along the Carolina coast. Previous generations of S.C. children learned to refer to the conflagration as the “War Between the States,” and some still remember when Charleston ladies would refer to their state’s role in the war as “the recent unpleasantness.” Regardless of what you call it, it began on April 10, 1861, with the firing of cannons on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. And by the time it ended, the state’s slaves were legally free, much of its infrastructure (and records) were destroyed and its economy was devastated.
The S.C. Lowcountry would take nearly a century to recover. Upcountry, rivers would power S.C.’s industrial revolution, but the coast – aside from ports in Georgetown, Charleston and Port Royal – remained primarily an agrarian society. Timber and turpentine were important resources for farming and export. There were several phosphorous mines. And large tracts from former plantations transitioned from fields to forests, many maintained by wealthy northern families as hunting retreats.
As American vacation culture grew, Myrtle Beach began to emerge as an accessible resort, a day’s drive from the Mid-Atlantic states, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and much of the Northeast. And in the mid-1950s, a Yale law graduate, son of a Georgia general and timber baron, proposed that a large woodlot on a then-remote barrier island could be a new home and resort for the discerning and well-heeled. Charles Fraser’s Sea Pines Plantation became a model for Southern gated golf course communities, creating a style of home and landscaping often referred to as “Lowcountry.”
That understated approach to construction and the environment has, in many areas, given way to more luxurious digs. And the S.C. Lowcountry has counted among the fastest growing areas in the country during recent years, its economy driven not only by tourism and timber, but also by transportation, distribution, large service industries, real estate and construction. It offers a wide range of outdoor activities and cultural events, paired with a rich collection of historic sites and incredible natural beauty.
According to the U.S. Census, the state of South Carolina grew 15.3 percent between 2000 and 2010, with its population now approaching 4.7 million. Three of the six largest population centers in the state are along the coast.