A Piratey Powder Magazine?

With 307 years worth of history (as of the year 2020), the Powder Magazine has seen centuries worth of tragedies, restorations, and faces. Not to discount any previous work from historians, paranormal investigators or other Charleston fanatics, but to narrow down one of these elements and tie it to an alleged haunting has been quite the task.

A brief timeline of tragedies

Let’s get started with an overview of the history of the Powder Magazine to give you a scope of the historical timeline the building has suffered through.

  • Wars served:
    • Yamasee War
    • Tuscarora War
    • Stono Rebellion
    • King George’s War
    • French and Indian War
    • The Cherokee War
    • American Revolution
    • Civil War

Although the magazine wasn’t a major factor in all of the wars listed above, it did partake a role in some format.

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“Pirates and the First Revolution” Guide Panel

The Powder Magazine is said to be the oldest building in Charleston, SC being built in 1713. However, research shows that the Pink House on Chalmers street could date back as far as 1694 -1714. Regardless of which building is older, there is no doubt that The Powder Magazine has survived a much more tragic lifespan than that of the infamous Pink House.

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The Structure of the Building

There’s something to be said about the structure of the Powder Magazine and its lifespan. With 35-inch thick walls, sand in the attic and slate rooftop, the design was meant to contain any explosions from the gunpowder that resided here. I find the sand-filled lofted roof to be very interesting and the 307-year-old sand is still laid inside the loft. The nine pillars that make up this building were constructed in a groin-vault style. Along with the sand in the roof and groin-vault construction, this was meant to contain internal explosions and to shield the powder from enemy projectiles. The magazine could house up to five tons of black gunpowder.

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(The Old Powder Magazine, Cumberland Street)

Pirate History?

So, amidst all the wars served and survived, Charleston has had an attraction for our Pirates. Connected to the history of The Powder Magazine is that of Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Through any historical tour in Charleston (especially one based on the bloody scoundrels), you’ll hear stories of these pirate ladies along with Stede Bonnet and even Blackbeard himself. I’ve mentioned a bit about Bonnet and Blackbeard in my White Point Garden post.

Ghost stories and lore will tie the spirit of Anne Bonny to The Powder Magazine with alleged sightings and shadows.

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Bonny’s story is lacking details, to say the least. Just like the absent blueprints for the Powder Magazine, such is the written history of this female villainous pirate. Legend has it that Bonny, from Ireland, moved to the Carolinas with her father. It is said that her mother was a servant and Anne was born out of wedlock. Bonny’s defiance of authority led her to piracy where she married James Bonny, another pirate. She would soon leave James and meet up with Mary Read aboard the ship of Calico Jack, with whom she fell in love.

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Notice the groin-vaulted walls. Photo by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

Upon being captured, both Mary Read and Anne Bonny claimed to be pregnant and were released. To this day, it is unsure if the two women went on to live the pirate life or if they settled and lived out their days with children at their feet.

I have no doubt that either of these two female pirates knew of The Powder Magazine or had raided its contents at one point in their piracy.

However…

In all the research for a tie to either pirate that is said to have had their spirits seen at the Powder Magazine could I find ANY tie to this historic building. I could find no pictures, video or any personal claims of persons visiting the Powder Magazine of such ghosts or haunting activity.

My Visit

I visited the Powder Magazine in the late afternoon just before their closing and told the staff why I was there: to research ghosts and paranormal activity. They welcomed me to do my research and then sold me a copy of the building’s history, The Arsenal of History by R. Alan Stello Jr. A fantastic read for this ghost enthusiast, I might add.

With my EMF detector running and spirit boxes gurgling out static, I took plenty of pictures and waited for any activity while touring the building and outside yard reading the guide panels and listening to other guests whisper to each other showing respect to the old building.

My EMF gave a “blip” (I should really define this one day) of just outside the green zone on occasion, but I couldn’t relate it to any other activity to the spirit boxes or specific location of an artifact inside the museum.

The Spirit box app, “Ghost Detector” gave me one word that stood out: “Writing”. I took this as I should really dive into the book I purchased as well as other research, in other words, the “writings” about the building would give me what I was looking for. Coincidental enough, I took the clue and ran with it.

The manual spirit box, spit out static and nothing else. Not even a whisper of any kind of activity came through this device.

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“The Walled City” guide panel.

So, I dove into the book, by Stello Jr. and read from cover to cover. Stopping at the Anne Bonny page, I read it over several times looking for any connection or tie into the Powder Magazine. Without a direct relation to Anne Bonny, Mary Read or any other pirate, I was baffled as to why she was even mentioned in a book strictly about the magazine and its history.

I dove into an online search looking for more about Bonny and her whereabouts in her life. Not one indication of historical videos, articles related to her history, or other experts on Bonny could I find any relation to the Powder Magazine. I researched evidence of sightings or shadows and came up with zilch.

In Conclusion

As a writer who needs evidence and physical proof of alleged hauntings, I have to say, the whole Anne Bonny and Mary Read correlation with the Powder Magazine feels more like a tourist trap attraction to liven up such a historical building. Let’s face it, when someone starts rattling off dates and war heroes, most of us get a little bored and/or if nothing else, a little confused about how things tie together. Throw a pirate into the mix after a few blockbuster hits with a big name actor and the history juices start flowing again with interest.

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The Powder Magazine and front yard. Photo by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

I pass by the Powder Magazine on my Interactive Ghost Hunting Experience tours, mainly because I didn’t know much about the history of the building other than haunting “claims”. In the future, I will take my guests closer to the structure (it’s closed in the evenings) and do a bit more researching with gadgets we use on my tour. The Grid Pen will come in handy in this scenario as well as any thermal imaging from our camera.

In the event that any new evidence is found with an actual piece of evidence, this blog post and podcast episode will be updated with such evidence. For now, enjoy the legends and lore on other tours as they will heighten your attention to look closer at the history of Charleston, even if some of the stories are a stretch to attract attention.

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Photo by Nicholas McGirr. Cannot be used without permission.

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Stories in the Cemetery Tours

Whether you’re a local or someone on vacation, you can take an Interactive Ghost Hunting Experience tour with me through downtown Charleston. We’ll visit many haunted locations using real ghost hunting equipment and possibly discover new activity! What will you discover on your tour?

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References

Bartelme, Tony. “The true and false stories of Anne Bonny, pirate woman of the Caribbean.” 21 November 2018. Post and Courier. https://www.postandcourier.com/news/the-true-and-false-stories-of-anne-bonny-pirate-woman/article_e7fc1e2c-101d-11e8-90b7-9fdf20ba62f8.html. 29 January 2020.

National Park Service. “The Powder Magazine.” 15 February 2018. National Park Services. https://www.nps.gov/places/powder-magazine.htm. 29 January 2020.

Sandlapper Water Tours. “7 Spooky Charleston Ghost Stories to Get Those Goosebumps.” 21 March 2019. Sandlapper Water Tours. https://www.sandlappertours.com/7-spooky-charleston-ghost-stories-to-get-those-goosebumps/. 29 January 2020.

Stello Jr., R. Alan. Arsenal of History: The Powder Magazine of South Carolina. Charleston: History Press, 2013. print book.

The Old Powder Magazine, Cumberland Street. Charleston, 24 November 1860. https://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/lcdl/catalog/lcdl:281?tify={%22panX%22:0.489,%22panY%22:0.531,%22view%22:%22info%22,%22zoom%22:0.479}.

Traveler of Charleston. “6 Spookiest Places in Charleston.” 10 October 2017. Traveler of Charleston. https://travelerofcharleston.com/6-spookiest-places-charleston/. 29 January 2020.

 

Swamp Fox Ghost Town

To listen to the accompanying podcast episode, CLICK HERE

Taking a step back in time is a normal activity for Charlestonians and tourists alike. However, this hidden gem of history is located outside of Charleston in Summerville, South Carolina. What remains of the Colonial Dorchester Site are tales left to be told of how early settlers in the area lived and eventually vanished after the Revolutionary War.

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Inside the bell tower. Photo by Nicholas McGirr

The Structures

The first thing anyone would notice as you pull in to this park is the remains of the St. George Bell Tower. Erected before 1756, the bell tower was burned by the British during the Revolutionary War. It held four bells in it’s prime and was slightly repaired after the torture of being burned. What remains today is a scope of historical architecture for all to observe.

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Burned bell tower of St. George’s Church. Photo from Art of Charleston
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Repaired bell tower of St. George’s Church. Photo by Nicholas McGirr

Towards the back of the park next to the Ashley River is a tabby fort with walls made of oyster shells and concrete. Today, this is the best-kept display of tabby in America even though it was damaged during the earthquake of 1886.

Inside the fort walls are the remains of a powder house where Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion was stationed. The remains are preserved by keeping visitors from climbing or damaging the remaining structure. Along the Ashley River, the park has set up benches and tables for fishermen and for those wishing to enjoy a very peaceful lunch. At low tide, you can observe the wharf and dock that was once used in this colonial society.

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Photo taken by Nicholas McGirr

Behind the church, you can stroll through the base structures of homes and the school that was located there complete with informational panels to guide you. There were even street signs still visible, their date is unknown.

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The History

With the site once thriving with homes, two schools and a church, where did everyone go? I’ll keep it simple.

During the Revolutionary War, many settlers began to flee the area after many of the structures were burned. These areas included parts of Georgia and further south to avoid another raid in the area. By 1788, the entire town was abandoned leaving it to become a ghost town.

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Photo taken by Nicholas McGirr

During the war, it was Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion and Thomas Sumter that were stationed at the site to guard the powder magazine. The remnants of the magazine can be seen today in the middle of the fort walls.

During my research, I found no reported deaths or tragedies on the area which left me curious as to find any paranormal activity on the grounds.

The Data

It was on the bell tower that I first received EMF readings, but after several visits to the site, I have never been able to recreate the readings. Even with a small cemetery nearby (at least what’s visible as a cemetery), there are absolutely no EMF readings, cold spots or spirit box activity of any kind. Even the app that I normally use to accompany the actual spirit box gave random answers and words while investigating this site. None of the terms and words that came from the app could be linked to the site.

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Photo taken by Nicholas McGirr

This ghost town is just a town abandoned. Even though I was able to find a slight EMF detection near the bell tower, I was unable to recreate it. This tells me two things: First, any hauntings that are at this site do not wish to be found. Second, that this was once the home to many of our early settlers doesn’t mean it will hold onto the residual spirit activity.

The intent for my research is to not just investigate the famously haunted locations but to find new locations that may not have been discovered as having activity. The Colonial Dorchester site is not one of those locations. What I did get out of this investigation is a furthered understanding of the Charleston history which may tie into future investigations later. This is a good thing.

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Photo of the tabby fort walls at Fort Dorchester. Photo from Art of Charleston.

So even though I found no paranormal activity, to keep my integrity as an author and researcher, I presented this investigation anyway. Not all investigations are going to be a success, but with the history attached to the Colonial Dorchester site, I am claiming success on what I’ve learned to further understand how our ancestors lived before us.

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Parish Church of St. George. Photo taken by Nicholas McGirr

I recommend you visit this site for yourself to not only see the tabby walls but to get a feel for how our ancestors before us would have created a community.

If you’d like to support this blog/podcast, you can always

Buy Me A Coffee

Stories in the Cemetery Tours

Whether you’re a local or someone on vacation, you can take an Interactive Ghost Hunting Experience tour with me through downtown Charleston. Even though we won’t trek up to Summerville to visit the Colonial Dorchester site, we’ll visit many haunted locations using real ghost hunting equipment and possibly discover new activity! What will you discover on your tour?

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References Used to write this post

City of Charleston. Art Work of Charleston: Published in 12 Parts. W. H. Parish Publishing Co., 1893. https://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/lcdl/catalog/lcdl:129214?tify={%22panX%22:0.449,%22panY%22:0.964,%22view%22:%22info%22,%22zoom%22:1.393}.

South Carolina Picture Project. Colonial Dorchester, Summerville, SC. Updated 2019. https://www.scpictureproject.org/dorchester-county/fort-dorchester.html. 28 November 2019.

South Carolina State Parks. Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site. 2019. https://southcarolinaparks.com/colonial-dorchester. 28 November 2019.