Settlement & Exploration

The district through which the Ashley River flows is directly associated with the foundation of the Carolina Colony in 1670. That year, the first permanent European settlement in what is now South Carolina was established at Albemarle Point, just north of present-day downtown Charleston. Ashley Barony, the 12,000-acre land grant formally made to Anthony Ashley Cooper in 1675 remains a largely undeveloped area in the northwest corner of the district. From this location and numerous other grants established along the north and south banks of the Ashley River, the first waves of European settlers were able to establish trade with the Native Americans and begin to create, or add to, this cultural landscape.

An important figure in the development of Ashley Barony and colony itself was Dr. Henry Woodward, who first arrived in South Carolina in 1666. He established a network of trading arrangements that laid the groundwork for the Carolina Indian trade. The Carolina Indian trade in skins, furs, and slaves dominated relations with the Southeast Native-Americans for the next century. Woodward was the foremost translator and expert on Native American affairs for the Charles Town colonists in the 1670s. He was the first colonist to make an overland trip to Virginia in 1671. He established the Indian trade with the Westos in 1674 and with the Creeks on the Chattahoochee River in 1685.

The Lord Ashley site is closely associated with Woodward. He established Lord Ashley‘s personal Indian trade with area tribes in 1674 and he departed for Westo town on the Savannah River in October of 1674 for the Ashley Barony. This is a trip that he chronicled which provides a rare look into 17th-century Native American lifestyle. From Lord Ashley‘s estate he carried on a six-year trade with the Westos until the trade was destroyed by a group of Carolina competitors. 

Beyond the establishment of Charles Town to the south, other settlements were laid out in and around the district as merchants sought to extend their commercial ties to the interior of the region. The most well-known site is the colonial town of Dorchester which is located 15 miles north of Charleston on the north bank of the Ashley River. It was founded by a group of Congregationalists from Massachusetts in 1697 and flourished until the 1750s. This settlement was largely deserted after the American Revolution, and a portion of the town site, including the fort and the ruins of St. George‘s Parish Church, is preserved as Colonial Dorchester State Park. Archaeological investigation of Colonial Dorchester continues to illuminate aspects of early colonial social organization, commerce, and religious practices.

Conservation Spotlight

Poplar Grove and Watson Hill: A Case Study In Coalition Building and Land Conservation

Two converging development threats in the Ashley River Corridor beginning in 2003 catalyzed a major conservation effort led by the Coastal Conservation League, Ducks Unlimited, the Lowcountry Open Land Trust and others…