The present location of the City of Charleston was chosen because it was easy to defend and had access to the deep water of the Cooper River. By the mid-1700s, Charleston was a busy trade center exporting indigo, rice, and cotton and one of the largest ports in the American colonies. By the Civil War Charleston was the wealthiest city in the South and its commercial and cultural center.
In the years following the Civil War, Charleston’s economy languished but was buoyed by the presence of the U.S. Navy’s Charleston Naval Shipyard, naval station, and distribution center. Today, Joint Base Charleston is the Charleston area’s largest employer. The modern Port of Charleston, owned by the South Carolina Ports Authority, handles over 60 million tons of cargo annually including textiles, clothing, forest products, chemicals, machinery, vehicles, boats and aircraft, food, furniture and hardware. Learn more about the economics of the Charleston Harbor watershed.