Originally built in 1753, the building was constructed as South Carolina's first and only colonial Statehouse. From 1756 to 1788, the Statehouse was the seat of the Royal British Governor, the Colonial Assembly and the central meeting place for South Carolina politics. Struck by fire in 1788, the two-story structure was partially destroyed. The foundation and some exterior walls were preserved and used in the rebuilding effort that begun in 1790. The structure was expanded to include a third floor and additions to the east and west ends of the original Statehouse. President George Washington visited the unfinished building in may of 1791 as he searched for architectural examples he could use as a pattern for the White House. While in Charleston, Washington may have met James Hoban, who would become the architect for the original White House, built in 1792. Historians have noted that "the similarity between the Charleston Statehouse and the first design of the White House is too strong to dismiss."
In December 1792, the U.S. District Court began meeting in the newly rebuilt building, marking the beginning of its use of as a courthouse. S.C. General Assembly records indicate that the courthouse was greatly damaged during the Civil War bombardment of the city. The building sustained damage in the 1886 earthquake and during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Restoration efforts returned the building to its original 1792 appearance, and the building was reopened on 2001.
Evidence of a moat that surrounded Charleston from 1700 to 1718 was revealed in the western third of the courtyard. It appears that the city wall on the west side of colonial Charleston consisted of an earthen rampart with a wooden palisade at its crest.
The use of the site from 1718 to 1739, when the moat was filled, is not documented. A 1739 map shows the site as part of a large public square dedicated in part to market activities.
By 1753, the location had become the site of the S.C. Statehouse, and by 1768 the rear yard had been formally established as a walled courtyard containing a two-story dwelling, two single-story privies, a fire well/cistern, and a drinking water cistern. In the early 19th century, the circular drinking water cistern was filled and replaced by a rectangular cistern adjoining the rear wall of the building. The foundations of the dwelling and privies have been reproduced to show their locations. The location of entrances to the courtyard is unknown. Two additions to the courthouse, built in 1926 and 1941, were removed to return the courthouse to its 1792 appearance.
(Drawing at right, shows Courthouse Square)