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Old Slave Mart Museum

Exploring a darker side of Charleston’s rich history, the Old Slave Mart Museum shows visitors what life was like in antebellum Charleston during the centuries of slave trade that the city was famous for. Read on below to learn more about this important Charleston attraction.

Old Slave Mart

Charleston is one the most historically important American cities in the South. From its early days as an important English settlement, to its role in the Revolution and the Civil War, Charleston has shaped America’s history. Unfortunately, among that history is the city’s prominence in the slave trade. Some parts of Charleston still show signs of the city’s sordid past, and as easy as it would be overlook them, it is still an important part of history and a reminder of how far America has come. One of these such monuments is the Old Slave Mart in Charleston.

Charleston Slave Marts

Charleston was a major economic hub of activity in the south, mainly due to the agricultural output of the plantations and farms surrounding the city. These plantations relied heavily on slave labor, and so Charleston became a major city for the buying and selling of slaves. At one point, 35 to 40% of slaves entered the United States through Charleston. In 1856, the city prohibited the sale of slaves in the streets, and so this exchange began to take place inside privately built slave marts.

Gain Insight into Charleston’s Pre- and Post-Civil War History

Housed within what was once a private slave auction house, the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston has exhibits and artifacts depicting the unfortunate realities of slave trade in the city, as well as the heritage, legacy, and culture of the African-American slaves who lived in Charleston during the time. Slave trade played a central role in Charleston’s economy up until 1863, after which time the city was defeated and occupied by Union troops.

The building now known as the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston South Carolina was first built in 1856 after a city ordinance banned public slave auctions. As a result of the ordinance, the Old Slave Mart was one of many private auction houses that sprang up in the area. Slaves would stand on 10-foot-long tables, raised three feet in the air, while sellers and buyers negotiated. With the abolition of slavery in 1865, the Old Slave Mart was no longer needed for its original purpose.

The Charleston Old Slave Mart once consisted of the auction gallery, a kitchen, a morgue, and a barracoon, or slave jail. The areas with the kitchen and barracoon have since been demolished, as the property was turned into a two-story tenement dwelling in 1878, followed by a tenement building and auto repair shop in 1937, then an African and African-American arts and crafts museum in 1938. The Old Slave Mart Museum closed in 1987, after which the City of Charleston acquired the property and restored it during the late 1990s.

The Old Slave Mart Museum is one of the only known slave auction buildings in South Carolina that still exists. Here, you can see plaques dedicated to the gritty details of the slave trade, such as how slaves that were considered highly valuable could sell for as much as forty thousand dollars in 2007 dollars, that the sum of hundreds of slaves were often worth more than the plantations their slave owners ran, and that, surprisingly, the majority of white Southerners didn’t own slaves, despite slavery being accepted as a part of life in the region.

Visiting the Old Slave Mart in Charleston

A visit to the Old Slave Mart Museum is a heavy experience, but an important one. Often the individuals on staff can trace their lineage back to Charleston slaves, and the building itself evokes an eerie feeling. Inside, you won’t find the building to be set up like a slave market, rather you will find a video of an interview with a former slave, posters and information along the walls, and some artifacts. Since the museum’s exhibits are rely heavily on reading, young children may not enjoy it.

The Old Slave Mart Museum is open from 9:00am until 5:00pm on Monday through Saturday.

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Contact our office for additional information on the Old Slave Mart Museum and other historical landmarks you can see firsthand when you reserve your stay in one of our elegant vacation rental properties today!