Since 1670 this well-protected harbor has persisted as a center for shipping and trade. By 1770 Charleston was America's third busiest port; Gadsden's Wharf, located here, became its largest pier. Along this waterfront ships loaded cargo and departed for Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and other American ports. Exports included timber bound for the Caribbean. Ships returned with imports that included rum, sugar, slaves, and luxury items. By the 1850s cotton replaced rice as Charleston's dominant export.
In the mid-1800s, as manufacturing grew in the Northeast and railroads expanded westward, Charleston did not keep pace with the nation's growth. Then came the Civil War. Its aftermath would dominate Charleston's economic recovery for years.
Today the Port of Charleston has regained its prosperity. It is the largest container port along the Southeast and Gulf Coasts and is one of the largest in the country, handling millions of 20-foot container units annually. The port also handles "breakbulk" cargo, such as vehicles, machinery, boats, and heavy equipment.
Container ships are a familiar sight on the Cooper River, connecting Charleston to ports around the globe.
(Caption for background):
Charleston Harbor around 1838 as seen from Hog Island (now Patriot's Point). At left is Castle Pinckney; the steamer on the right is the ferry to Hobcaw.