Please note that the island itself is called Shutes Folly. Only the fort bears the name Castle Pinckney.
The ruins that remain on this atoll in the Charleston harbor are barely visible from High Battery, if at all, leaving the overgrown enclave a mystery to those viewing the majestic Fort Sumter beyond it. The small island was granted to Colonel Alexander Parris, treasurer of the South Carolina colony and namesake of Marine Corp Recruit Depot Parris Island, in 1711.
A timber horseshoe battery was built on the island in 1742 as a secondary defense structure. By 1746 the property was purchased by a Quaker from Charleston named Joseph Shute, and the island became known as Shute’s Folly. (Folly is an archaic term meaning island, green, or thicket.) Shute parceled the land and sold a portion to Jonathan Lucas, rice planter and developer of the rice mill, and to Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress.
In 1797 another fortification was built and christened Fort Pinckney for Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Revolutionary War officer and ambassador to France. A hurricane demolished the stronghold in 1804, but by 1808 it was rebuilt with the bricks that comprise the ruins that can be seen today.
Soon after the Ordinance of Secession was adopted by South Carolina on December 20, 1860, the United States sent engineers to fortify the tiny citadel. However, they were driven quickly from Castle Pinckney by the South Carolina militia, who took over Shutes Folly with the intent to use its fort – by then called Castle Pinckney for its more formal design – as a military prison during the Civil War.
After the war, a lighthouse station was erected on the island and remained until 1916. Castle Pinckney was later declared a National Monument and operated by the United States Park Service until 1933.
In 1958 the South Carolina Ports Authority acquired Castle Pinckney and deeded it to the Fort Sumter Camp 1269 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1969. Unable to garner the funds to restore or maintain the fort, the camp transferred ownership of the fort back to the South Carolina Ports Authority. In turn, the Ports Authority deeded Castle Pinckney back to the camp for $10 in Confederate currency. The camp is working to restore the fort, which it hopes can accommodate visitors again one day. The rest of Shutes Folly remains in the Laurens family.
The Irish flag seen above was placed at Castle Pinckney in June of 2013 to honor the Irish Memorial Park on Charlotte Street, which was dedicated on June 10, 2013.
Castle Pinckney is listed in the National Register:
Typical of the castle-type fortresses which guarded important early settlements, but which lost their effectiveness with the improvement of explosive shells and the development of rifle pieces, Castle Pinckney is believed to be possibly the only horseshoe fort left in America which can be restored. The fort is a Charleston Harbor landmark and is historically interesting because it existed for such a long period of time, reflecting a number of colorful and significant events from the Colonial through the Confederate periods.
The crescent-shaped, castle-type bastion on Shute’s Folly, a mile offshore East Battery, Castle Pinckney was constructed 1808-1811 as an inner-harbor, secondary defense fortress. The island’s name reflects a later owner, Joseph Shute, and preserves the Colonial custom of describing a Carolina sea island as a “folly.” The fort was named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a Charlestonian and President Washington’s Ambassador to France, famous for his stand against the United States payment of any tribute. Castle Pinckney was the first ground seized by the Confederate military, accomplished on December 17, 1860, an act some historians claim as the first overt act of war.
Reflections on Castle Pinckney
Pinckney descendant Thomas Pinckney Lowndes, Jr. provides additional details about Castle Pinckney:
The original “fort” of 1797 was a log and sand redoubt and was named Fort Pinckney. The Castle or casement structure of 1810 was the brainstorm of Johnathan Benjamin Williams, first superintendent of West Point. He served as an aid to his grand uncle, Ben Franklin, in France seeking French aid for the revolution. He studied “tiered” or casemented castles in France and believed such would best serve the fledgling country’s coastal defenses.
After Fort Sumter Camp 1269 returned the Castle to the Ports Authority it was then deed back the Camp in 2013 for $10 in genuine Confederate currency. Since then the Camp has cleared off vegetation, erected a flag pole and created a 501(c)(3) organization called The Castle Pinckney Historical Preservation Society. CHPS has teamed up with General Engineering Labs and University College London and conducted a magnetometer survey. They, with the Institute of Archeology in Columbia, SC, will begin a dig in August of this year (2019).
The purpose of CHPS is to restore and preserve Castle Pinckney and establish it as a visitors venue providing an additional footnote to the long and illustrious history of Charleston Harbor. Building of a new pier will be of immediate need to remove the cement slab and dirt fill within the Castle walls.
I wanted to add that those garrisoned at the Castle in December of 1860 included a single officer, an ordinance sergeant, and a number of laborers. The Castle was surrendered to Colonel Pettigrew, 1st SC Regiment. The officer, Meade I think, resigned his US commission; the ordinance sergeant and laborers were taken to Major Anderson Fort Sumter.
Photographer Jim Miller of Mount Pleasant includes this helpful information with his image:
Castle Pinckney is the remains of a small masonry fort constructed by the US government in 1810. It has been used as an artillery fort, a prisoner-of-war camp, a storehouse for munitions as well as several other uses. It was captured from the US Army by the SC Militia on December 27, 1860, one week after South Carolina seceded from the Union. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. You currently cannot visit the fort, but that may change at some future date.
The fort has had an uncelebrated past and has had multiple owners. It was a US National Monument, later transferred to the South Carolina Ports Authority and now finally to the current owners, the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1269.
Periodically, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans will change the flag flying over the fort. I’ve seen the Bonnie Blue Flag, the South Carolina Secession Flag, and the French National flag among others. Currently, the Irish Tricolor flag is flying. I believe the Irish flag is flying in honor of the Meagher Guards, one of the three militia units who captured Castle Pinckney in 1860, The Meagher Guards were a company of Charleston Irishmen, which had named itself in honor of Thomas Francis Meagher. They later changed their name to the Irish Volunteers as Meagher became a Union officer.