The History Behind One of Charleston’s Most Historically Significant Buildings: The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon

The History Behind One of Charleston’s Most Historically Significant Buildings: The Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon

old exchange charleston

Image above is an old photo of the Old Exchange and was taken from the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon website

 

Situated at the end of Broad Street, the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is one of downtown Charleston’s oldest buildings, steeped with centuries of fascinating history. Vistors to Charlston can explore the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon on a variety of tours (details outlined at the end of this blog post).

Here’s a look at some of the history behind the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon:

During the 1670s, Charlestowne (what is now known as Charleston) began to see its first signs of wealth as production of rice, indigo, and slavery increased and the shipping trade grew. Due to the tremendous growth in trade from Charleston, there needed to be an area that managed the trade—and thus, the Royal Exchange and Custom House was built. But it wasn’t until 1767 when the actual construction began. Today, the Exchange building is unique in its architecture, designed with beveled Portland stone.

The purpose of the Exchange and Custom House would be to act as a meeting place for public and private business and to accommodate export-import trade. But it also served as a house for the Post Office (1815 – 1896), a prison for pirates and for individuals who committed treason, the meeting place for ratifying the constitution of the United States, and more.

Below is a list of just a few of the historical moments that took place at the Exchange & Provost Dungeon:

1773: After the arrival of 257 chest of East India Company tea arrived in Charleston harbor, a meeting was called two days later where citizens argued that no teas should be imported that are subject to tax.

The tea remained under lock and key until 1776 when it was sold for defense against the British.

1788: On May 12, South Carolina delegates were assembled in the Exchange Building to ratify the constitution of the United States. But it wasn’t until May 23 that the motion was passed to ratify the constitution with 149 “ayes” and 73 “noes.” This, however, wasn’t enough to completely ratify the constitution. One more state needed to also pass the vote for ratification (to make 9 states in total). This state was New Hampshire who voted for ratification that same year in June.

1791: One of the Old Exchange’s most significant political roles was during 1791 when George Washington visited South Carolina and hosted four grandiose events at the Exchange in his honor.

1886: A devastating earthquake damaged the Exchange Building, as well as much of the downtown Charleston area.

1913: In 1898, it was decided by Act of Congress to sell the Exchange Building. When the Rebecca Motte Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution caught wind of this, they were determined to purchase and preserve the Exchange. The Exchange Building was passed into the possession of the Rebecca Motte Chapter in 1913.

The Old Exchange is still owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution and currently offers public tours. During these tours, visitors receive insight into Charleston’s history during the Colonial and Revolutionary eras and learn about the building’s role in Charleston’s harbor history.

For admission costs and hours of operation, visit the Old Exchange website at http://oldexchange.org/planavisit/ or call their visitors office at (843) 727-2165.

And to learn even more about Charleston harbor’s fascinating history, hop aboard Charleston Harbor Tours’ Carolina Belle for a 90-minute, narrated, historic tour. Click here for ticket details.

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