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It’s Not Fort Sumter: Discover the significance of the “other” island in Charleston Harbor

It’s Not Fort Sumter: Discover the significance of the “other” island in Charleston Harbor
August 2021

Learn the long history of Shutes Folly and Castle Pinckney

Easily seen from The Battery, this property in Charleston Harbor is often mistaken for Fort Sumter. Deeded to Colonel Alexander Parris in 1711, the island came to be called “Shutes Folly” by the 1740s for the lush vegetation and grove of orange trees planted by its second owner, Joseph Shute. Because of its strategic location, the landmass has been fortified since the 1700s. Read on to discover more about the island and its inner harbor bastion, Castle Pinckney, now on the National Register of Historic Places and under the care of the Sons of Confederate Veterans

IN DEFENSE The island’s first fortification was built in 1742, a small earth and timber structure that saw action during the American Revolution. In 1797, a second, larger fort was built of logs and sand and named to honor General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of Revolutionary War fame. After that fortress was destroyed by the hurricane of 1804, it was rebuilt—this time of bricks. What remains is seen on the island today.

SILENT SENTINEL Castle Pinckney is now owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Fort Sumter Camp 1269, which works diligently to preserve the fort and its history. Representative flags are changed and raised with military precision.

WARNING! In the early 1700s, convicted pirates were hanged on the island, their bodies left on the gallows, a ghoulish but effective warning to visiting vessels that piracy was not allowed in Charles Town.

SEABIRD SANCTUARY In recent years, the island has gained a new importance as a much-needed haven for shorebirds. Brown pelicans and royal terns have built rookeries, thus the “no trespassing” signs erected to keep people from damaging the nests and hatchlings.

WAR ZONE After South Carolina seceded and with war imminent, on December 27, 1860, Castle Pinckney was taken without incident by Southern troops and remained in Confederate hands for the ensuing four years. After the battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) in July 1861, 130 Union soldiers were imprisoned there for a month until they were exchanged. When the Union took over Charleston in February 1865, the fort was again used as a stockade, this time to hold captured Confederate blockade runners.

HARBOR LIGHTS In 1878, the structure was transformed into a light station, and a lightkeeper’s house and other support buildings were erected on the island. Although severely damaged in the 1911 hurricane, the light station remained active until 1917, when it was transferred to the US Corps of Engineers, which used the buildings for storage.

NOT RUN OF THE MILL In 1805, a portion of the island was purchased by Jonathan Lucas, the famed inventor of the steam-driven rice mill that revolutionized the Carolina Gold rice industry. Early maps show a building on the northern end of the island, likely where Lucas built a toll mill for public use.