Going Postal at Old Exchange

The Old Exchange Museum is a spectacular introduction to Charleston’s past, and once was the first building in full view for sailing ships entering the harbor. The property was originally on the waterfront, and included a tactically-important part of the original city wall called the Crescent Moon battery. By the early 1700’s a guard house was plced on the spot, and here dozens of pirates held prisoner in 1718, including the famed “gentleman pirate” Stede Bonnet, who was hanged the same year. Replacing the guard house in 1767 was as a Custom House finished in 1771, featuring exquisite Palladian details in its Neoclassical structure. Built on a raised basement that included a storage area for incoming goods, the building offered a merchants floor as well as offices for customs officials on the second tier. The Exchange was commandeered by occupying British troops in 1780, who used its basement as a jail for American patriots who included two signers of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Heyward Jr. and Edward Rutledge.
After the Revolution, the Exchange building was sold to the U.S. government and became Charleston’s main Post Office until 1896. During the Civil War, Federal troops were firing at the building with long range guns from Morris Island during the siege of Charleston, and because they were technically shooting at their own property, this is the first case in history of someone “going postal.”
In the early 20th century, the building was saved from demolition by the Daughters of the Revolution, and today it is a city museum. When archeological work was being done on and around the building in the 1970’s, oyster shells were found in the spaces between the upper floors. Had the tide risen that high at one time? No, these were just the remnants of the builders’ lunch in the 1760’s.

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