Another rainy day on our 2019 Christmas trip to Charleston seemed the perfect time to visit The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon in Charleston, South Carolina. I have also included our visit to The Slave Mart Museum in Charleston.
History of the Exchange and Provost Dungeon
The Provost Dungeon was Built in 1767-1771 upon the Half-Moon Battery, which was once part of a fortification around the harbour at Charleston from 1701-1768. Incidentally, preceding the Revolutionary War, the Exchange and Provost Dungeon is older than our country! The British originally owned it and used it as a commercial exchange and customs house. Also used as a post office, prison, and city hall, it is currently a museum. In addition, in 1788 South Carolina approved the US Constitution here.
Guided Tour of The Provost Dungeon
For a small fee, we took a guided tour through the lower level and learned a lot from the guide. He was very informative and from him, among other things, we learned the following. Originally used for storage the lower level came in handy. In 1773 as did most of the colonies, Charleston boycotted tea. To avoid the British Tax, forty-five tons of tea were taken from a boat and hidden in the cellar for three years. When independence was declared, in 1776, the tea was sold to fund the war.
In 1780 the British occupied Charleston for two years and housed many prisoners in one large cell in this basement making it a provost, or dungeon. Because of the awful conditions here, disease was rampant due to crowding, no bathroom facilities other than a bucket and filthy straw or hay covering floors. Under these conditions, many people died while in prison here. This prison held all types of people, including American and British soldiers, private citizens and slaves.
Self-Tour of the Exchange
The first and second floor of the building is home to a museum dedicated to the other uses of the Exchange Building. We were there at Christmas time and it was fun to see the huge tree decorated upstairs. You will find interpreters dressed in period clothing that will answer questions you may have on either floor.
The Old Slave Mart Museum
If you choose you can include in your admission ticket the opportunity to visit The Old Slave Mart Museum. We decided on this option. The Slave Mart was a few blocks down the street which we walked to. This museum is in the original building. International slave trading was outlawed in 1808. This building, operated from 1856-1863 in the business of domestic slave trading. In 1856, the city of Charleston outlawed public slave auctions. Resulting in buildings like this built for the purpose of private sales, including slave auctions. Slave auctions ended in 1863.
This museum was different in its approach than the Provost and Dungeon. You can not take photos inside the building. There were no guided tours, actually just many posters, boards, and displays reviewing the history of slavery and the slave mart. The reading was very informative and there were quotes and statements from former slaves. Unfortunately, we did not read as much as we would like because the museum was extremely crowded making navigation difficult.
I did find out that this Slave Mart sold Domestic Slaves. People that were born in America to slaves and therefore born into slavery. Slaves that were brought here often were sold away from their families for any reason the plantation owner wanted. So very heartbreaking. I can’t imagine how those families felt. There was one display stating at times, free-African Americans would buy their family members to keep them together.
I would recommend both museums if you are in Charleston. In the long run, I am glad we did have a rainy day otherwise I am not sure we would have visited the museums as we are outdoorsy people. Next week’s post will be about our ghost tour at the creepy Old City Jail in Charleston!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at The Vendue, which was in walking distance to everywhere we went while in historic Charleston. You will find The Vendue in a historic area on a street called Vendue Range. Originally built as a French warehouse in the 1780’s, this art hotel has a lot of character. We enjoyed our stay here. Included with our room was morning breakfast, 4:00 PM wine and cheese and 9:00 PM warm chocolate cookies and milk! A rooftop bar is at The Vendue. Unfortunately, it had to close because of the rain. In addition, The Vendue also has an on site restaurant that we heard was good but did not eat there on this trip. The staff was wonderful with lots of good information. Click on this link to book a room at The Vendue