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Charleston and South Carolina’s Famous Families

Robert Smalls wearing a suit and tie

Robert Smalls, S.C. M.C. Born in Beaufort, SC, April 1839. (Library of Congress, prints and photographs division).

There are just some names you’ll hear over and over in Charleston. From Aiken to Boone to Ravenel to Rutledge, many of Charleston’s homes, streets, and structures are named after these famous families. You’re bound to hear about at least a few of them on your trip to the Holy City — and now you’ll know exactly who they are.

Aiken Family

Visit the Aiken-Rhett House on Elizabeth Street in Charleston to learn all about its previous owners, William Aiken (once the owner of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad Company) and former South Carolina Governor, William Aiken, Jr.

The home is now a museum currently operated by the Historic Charleston Foundation. It’s a model example of antebellum architecture, where you can learn about life in Charleston in the 1800s.

Boone Family

Head across the Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant to visit one of the oldest working plantations in the country.

This plantation dates to 1681 and was founded by Major John Boone, who was a descendant of Edward and John Rutledge, signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Boykin Family

The Boykins are so steeped in South Carolina’s history that there’s a town named after the family about 90 minutes north of Charleston. The dog breed, the Boykin spaniel (the state dog of South Carolina) is also named after the family.

Mary Boykin Chestnut was a famous Confederate author, whose diary encapsulated life in the upper-class society during the Civil War. The diary was later annotated by C. Vann Woodward and published as, “Mary Chestnut’s Civil War.” It won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1982.

Calhoun Family

Another famous Charleston family in politics, the Calhouns are descendants of the seventh vice president of the U.S., John Caldwell Calhoun (who served under presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson).

He was famously a supporter of states’ rights and played a major role in the South’s succession from the Union.

Drayton Family

Not one — but two — plantations were owned by the Drayton family of South Carolina: Drayton Hall and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

The Draytons have been in Charleston since the 1600s — back when it was named Charles Towne.

Magnolia Plantation was passed down through the Drayton family, and the gardens were enhanced by Rev. John Drayton. It was he who transformed the gardens into a tourist attraction. You can still visit the 60 acres of gardens in addition to the plantation house.

Legare Family

The Legares have been farming Charleston’s land since 1725. They are descendants of one of the city’s earliest settlers, Soloman Legare.

Soloman’s farm was on Johns Island, where he grew cotton, indigo, and potatoes.

Today, the Legares own a 300-acre farm outside of Charleston.

Hugh Swinton Legare was a U.S. Representative and South Carolina state attorney general in the 1800s. Thomas Allen Legare, Jr. was a member of the South Carolina State House of Representatives in the 1940s and 50s and a senator in the 1950s and 60s.

Middleton Family

Head north of Downtown, and you’ll eventually hit plantation country. Middleton Place is one of Charleston’s most visited plantations. Take a tour of this plantation if you want a deeper understanding of the enslaved African Americans who lived, worked, and died here.

The first Middleton to emigrate to South Carolina was Edward Middleton in 1768. His son Arthur was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Pinckney Family

Pinckney is another name you’ll see time and again in Charleston. Pinckney Island was named after the family when it was purchased by Judge Charles Pinckney in 1734.

Not only did Charles Pickney play a large role in the Revolutionary War, but he also participated in the Charleston Tea Party, one of the other tea parties besides Boston.

Charles’s son Thomas was a decorated Charleston Revolutionary War hero and governor of South Carolina in 1787. He was also a congressman in 1791. You can find Charles’s brother’s and cousin’s signatures on the U.S. Constitution.

His cousin was Arthur Middleton.

Ravenel Family

Drive or bike across the Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant and you’ll get one of the best water views in Charleston.

The Ravenels have lived in Charleston for generations. They descend from French Huguenots and are also connected to the DuBose family of South Carolina.

Henry Ravenel (1790 – 1867) was a planter and his son (also named Henry) was a botanist. Henry’s other son William married into the DuBose family and owned a plantation.

Arthur Ravenel Jr., a descendant was a South Carolina congressman. His son Thomas Ravenel is also a politician.

Rutledge Family

Rutledge Avenue runs from the northern edge of Downton, all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula.

It was named after John Rutledge, Chief of Justice in the U.S. in 1795 and Governor of South Carolina from 1779 to 1782. He was also a signer of the Constitution.

His former home has been transformed into the John Rutledge House Inn.

Smalls Family

Robert Smalls was an African-American politician, serving as senator and representing South Carolina from 1874 to 1886.

He was born into slavery in nearby Beaufort in 1839. In 1862, 22-year-old Smalls commandeered and steered a first-class steamer to a Union-controlled port, freeing himself and his family.

Smalls served in the Union Navy. After the war, he returned to Beaufort and purchased the house where he was born (previously owned by his former master), and opened a school for African Americans.

Waring Family

Waring is another name you might hear in Chucktown — though you may not hear this one as often as some of the others on this list.

Judge J. Waties Waring was a U.S. District Judge, who was appointed in 1942. He would later go on to play a major role in the desegregation of the South while presiding over the school segregation case, Briggs v. Elliott. He was the son of a Confederate soldier and the descendant of slave owners. He is memorialized in a life-size statue at the Hollings Judicial Center in Downtown.


Want to know more about Charleston’s famous families? You’ll hear the stories of these families and more on our Alleys and Hidden Passages and Historic Downtown Walking Tour.


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