The ruins that remain on this overgrown island in the Charleston harbor are barely visible from the 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 folly – which may have been archaic term for either island, green, or thicket – 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. Shute parceled the land and sold it 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 called Castle 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 masonry, which comprises the ruins that can be seen today.
Soon after the Ordinance of Secession was adopted by the South Carolina on December 20, 1860, the United States sent engineers to fortify the island citadel. However, they were driven quickly from Shute’s Folly by the South Carolina militia, who took over the island and used the fort 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 the fort 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. The rest of the island 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
Contributor Yvette Lewis-Wilson says of photo below: “It was taken from the water park downtown Charleston. Such a beautiful place. I love the history of Castle Pinckney.”