From the Charleston Harbor through Copahee Sound and all the way up to Bull’s Bay, the area of East Cooper is packed with history. Pirates frequented the Carolina shores in the early 18th century, like Blackbeard who bottled up the Charleston Harbor and took prisoners for ransom. Blackbeard’s cohort Stede Bonnet was another pirate acquainted with the Carolina shore; arrested and brought to Charleston, he escaped to Sullivan’s Island before being recaptured and hanged at White Point.
The history of the area continues in richness with the Colonies fighting for independence from Britain, and the War Between the States. Important military posts like Castle Pinckney, Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter saw plenty of action in more than one conflict and are still preserved. East Cooper traditions continue today with commercial and recreational fishing, diving, shipbuilding and racing. Many families in the East Cooper area have been fixtures in the community for generations and are strong factors in the continuing richness of culture that is indigenous to East Cooper.
As you may know, Arcadia Publishing’s series “Images of America” is a photographic history of various local communities across the United States. Roughly defined as the Charleston Harbor and Cooper River up northward to Bull’s Bay and Awendaw, East Cooper is an intriguing spot ripe for the attention bestowed by an eponymous book. The photographic collection for the East Cooper region proves to be a fascinating account of an area living slightly in the shadow of the attention grabbing downtown Charleston. Mt. Pleasant and the surrounding communities have a similar and intertwined history to downtown — but also one that is unique in its formation and local community.
Charleston has long been a heavily used port. The strong presence of the shipping industry is still seen today with the large container ships that cruise by Sullivan’s Island and into the harbor. The book readily points out that heavy boat traffic could be seen even in the 18th century with frigates, sloops, schooners and brigantines all crowding the harbor on a typical day. Noting this, the book provides many striking photographs and detailed illustrations of the region’s waterways bustling with various types of sea transport. Shipping and the maritime lifestyle in general lend East Cooper an important part of its identity; bringing outside influences from all over the world yet maintaining a stasis of local identity.
To each of the book’s nine chapters the authors give a brief historical summary before treating the reader to a rich collection of black and white photographs, granting a historical lesson that is informative yet still fascinating. The authors give concise accounts that include how the Carolinas were granted to the eight Lords Proprietor by King Charles II in 1669, the Revolutionary War, and the War Between the States. In each of the wars, the Charleston Harbor was blockaded, first by the British and then by the Union forces, demonstrating the continuing strategic importance of the Holy City’s port.
What the photographic history of East Cooper shows best is the diversity in all forms that thrives in the region. Place names of the area are a testament to the wide variety of people who have inhabited the East Cooper region in past centuries. Familiar names like Wando, Copahee, Hobcaw, Shem, Sewee and Awendaw are all Native American in derivation. Names like Geechie Dock in Mt. Pleasant demonstrate the African-American presence. Also, other settlers have had a strong influence upon the culture of the area; these include colonizers from France and Spain — and of course Britain. A truly eclectic mix of the past forms the culture of East Cooper today.
Parity in this theme of diversity is seen in the wildlife forms that inhabit the region. The book dedicates a large portion of its contents to the commercial fishing industry that thrived in the 20th century and continues today. The commercial fishermen base their livelihoods on the natural wildlife diversity that graces the East Cooper area. The coastal areas and offshore fishing grounds up to 120 miles out provide harvested species as diverse as conch, blue crab, golden crab, octopus, shrimp, oysters scallops and obviously all the different types of fish, ranging from bluefin tuna and swordfish to porgies and cigar minnows. The breadth in species diversity in critical to the unique habitat and lifestyle that those living in the East Cooper region enjoy.
The bountiful fishing, aesthetic beauty and history that East Cooper and the adjacent waterways provide show how precious and unique this small community is. The author’s efforts to preserve the history through pictures and words are a valuable endeavor. Yet a focus on conservation is necessary to preserve the natural habitats for the unique ecosystem of the East Cooper and the culture it engenders. This focus should embody conservation of our fishing resources, land use and natural resources along with the conservation (or preservation) of the history that makes this community unique. It is important to live in a sustainable fashion and preserve the past that continues to influence East Cooper today. This book provides a valuable opportunity to sit down and reflect on the identity of a place that is close to many of us. Understanding the history of a place like East Cooper makes us realize the importance of planning for the future responsibly.