The Charleston Museum was founded in 1773 and is regarded as America’s First Museum. The museum’s mission is to preserve and interpret the cultural and natural history of Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. The Museum's collections now represent the most comprehensive assemblage of South Carolina materials in the nation. Artifacts range from prehistoric to Revolutionary War to pre- and post-Civil War. Classes and workshops are also offered.
Backstory and Context
Established by the Charleston Library Society in 1773, it is the first official museum in the country. Early exhibits focused on New World and South Carolina notables which included Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Reverend John Bachman, Thomas Heyward, Jr., and John J. Audubon. Open to the public in 1824, the Museum’s collection was lauded as one of the best in the country. Closed during the Civil War, it reopened after and has remained open ever since.
The museum’s current home is a modern two-story structure. Permanent exhibits include “The Early Days,” The Loeblein Gallery of Charleston Silver, and The Natural History section. The museum also manages and provides tours for two historic homes located nearby - the Joseph Manigault House and the Heyward-Washington House for an additional cost.
The Joseph Manigault House (350 Meeting Street) is also known as Charleston’s “Huguenot House” as the Manigaults were descendants of French Huguenots who fled seeking religious freedom. The house is of Federal design and displays the life of a wealthy rice planter’s family along with the slaves they owned. Manigault inherited several area rice plantations and over 200 slaves from his grandfather in 1788. He married well, first to Maria Henrietta Middleton, daughter of Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. After her death, he married Charlotte Drayton. The museum purchased the house in 1933.
The Heyward-Washington House (87 Church Street) is also known as the Revolutionary War House and is a Georgian-style double house. It was the townhome of Thomas Heyward, Jr., another South Carolinian signer of the Declaration of Independence. Captured by the British in Charleston in 1780, he was exchanged in 1781. President George Washington stayed there in 1791 during his visit to South Carolina. Heyward sold the house in 1794 to John F. Grimke, father of Sarah and Angeline Grimke, the famous abolitionists and suffragists. The house was acquired by the museum in 1929. The house features a collection of Charleston-made furniture and the only 1740s kitchen building open to the public in the city.
"Charleston Museum." Accessed February 24, 2016. http://www.charleston-sc.com/charleston-museum.html.