Oldest known Charleston map found in Scotland

Published 1:07 am Sunday, September 24, 2006

The earliest known detailed map of Charles Towne, the first permanent European settlement in the Carolinas, has been discovered in a collection at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Local historians Cheves Leland and Dianne Ressinger have spent months translating the map and the accompanying letter in French written by a well-educated Huguenot merchant in 1691, only 21 years after the city was founded.

Jean Boyd, writing his sister in London, described Indians, plants, wildlife, the price of goods and the local cuisine of Charles Towne. The map shows a handful of streets, two forts and small houses scattered in the woods.

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“The more you read between the lines, the more you question,” Ressinger said of the letter. “I don’t consider this a finished project.”

In the letter Boyd describes landing in “this much longed-for country.”

He adds, “I had imagined I would find the town of Charlestown built differently and much larger than it is.”

The colony was established when the ship Carolina, sailing from Barbados, landed in March of 1670 at a site on the Ashley River.

The original settlement at Albemarle Point was built behind a palisade as protection against both the Spanish and American Indians. A decade later, the settlers moved down the Ashley to the Charleston peninsula, the site of the city’s present historic district.

Boyd arrived 11 years after the colony moved to the peninsula.

The map shows fortifications that appear to be the beginning of the city’s walled defenses. It also shows the tavern where the council was held as well as woods, a pier and an offshore marsh.

The map predates by 20 years what had been the oldest known map of the city. That map was drawn by Edward Crisp in 1711 showing a city with walls and a grid of unnamed streets, blocks and lots.

Nicholas Butler, a historian who has researched the city’s early history, said the street locations in Boyd’s map match Crisp’s as well as maps drawn later.

He said the early fortifications on the map agree with British and French military architecture of the time.

“The only thing I’m surprised about is the tavern that serves as the place the council sits,” Butler said. “We don’t have any legislative records from this time period. None from 1680 to 1692, so this fills a nice void.”