Local residents know that the South Carolina State Historic Site at Fort Dorchester offers pleasant walking trails, features the ruins of a colonial town, cemetery, and church tower, and showcases one of the best-preserved oyster-shell, or “tabby,” fortifications in the nation. Visitors from farther afield, however, may be surprised to find the remnants of a flourishing eighteenth-century trading post and Revolutionary War stronghold only 25 miles from the City of Charleston. Although the town of Dorchester disappeared after American independence was won, it had a prominent role in the early history of South Carolina and the struggle for liberty.
Dorchester was located on an advantageous peninsula, between two creeks on the north side of the Ashley River. Before the 1600s, this area was wilderness and inhabited by American Indians , who were skilled hunters and lived off the land. They used the Broad Path, which followed the Ashley River, to trade with nearby communities. During the American Revolution the old Broad Path became known as the Road to Dorchester (now Dorchester Road) and was used by British and Patriot troops as the main route from the tabby fort here at Dorchester to Charleston.
American Indians no longer lived in this area by 1696, when a small religious congregation from the town of Dorchester, Massachusetts, settled here. Led by Reverend Joseph Lord, the group established a new town, named for their old one, and began to spread the gospel. The community erected St. George’s Anglican Church to serve the parish and conducted a thriving trade in rice, indigo, and other cash crops. A powder magazine, or munitions storehouse, and fort were built here in 1757 during the French and Indian War.
When the colony of South Carolina embraced the cause of independence in 1775, the new government looked for nearby assets to help defend the valuable port city of Charleston. Dorchester not only had the formidable church and old fortifications, but also two wharves, the critical Bacon Bridge spanning the Ashley River, and about forty houses, making it the third largest town in South Carolina. The town was near the wagon road to the backcountry and accessible to areas south and west of the Lowcountry. In the fall of 1775, the Charleston Council of Safety decided it was time to restore Dorchester’s crumbling defenses.