South Carolina Facts
South Carolina’s history as a former member of the Confederacy gives it an infamous reputation. But there’s more to South Carolina than being the state of former rebels who fought to preserve slavery. Learn more with these 50 South Carolina facts.
- South Carolina covers an estimated area of 83,000 km².
- Water makes up an estimated 5,000 km² or 6% of the state’s total area.
- An estimated 5.12 million people live in the state today.
- This gives South Carolina an estimated population density of 61 people for every km².
- At its lowest point on the Atlantic Ocean, South Carolina has an elevation at exactly sea level.
- Humans have lived in what would become South Carolina as far back as 50,000 years ago.
- The Spaniards became the first Europeans to arrive in the region in 1521.
- The English first used the name Carolina in 1629.
- They later split Carolina along north-south lines in 1712.
- Heavy fighting later took place in South Carolina during the American Revolution.
- South Carolina became the first US state to secede from the Union during the Civil War.
- Textile industries boomed in the state during the early 20th century.
- Manufacturing later grew in the state during the mid-20th century.
- State tourism also slowly grew over the 20th century.
- A federal court forced South Carolina to recognize same-sex marriages in 2014.
- Charleston stands as the largest city in South Carolina.
- South Carolina has Columbia as its capital, however.
- The state falls inside the USA’s Eastern Time Zone or GMT-5.
- South Carolina takes its name from King Charles I of England, particularly its Latin form, Carolus.
- The state also shares its name with its state anthem, Carolina.
South Carolina has distinct geography.
For one thing, only two states border South Carolina – North Carolina to the north and Georgia to the southwest. To the southeast, the state faces the Atlantic Ocean, with the Atlantic Coastal Plain dominating South Carolina’s eastern landscape. The Piedmont Plateau dominates the central landscape of the state and includes some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Scientists have found that they go as far back as the Paleozoic Era, between 541 and 252 million years ago.
Finally, the Blue Ridge dominates the state’s western landscape, parts of which even have an older age than Piedmont. Some of the mountains’ rocks go back to the Precambrian Era, at over 541 million years old. The Blue Ridge also includes South Carolina’s highest point, Sassafras Mountain.
An earthquake once devastated the state in 1886.
Specifically, the 1886 Charleston Earthquake, which took place on the morning of August 31 that year. With a magnitude between 6.9 and 7.3, it destroyed and damaged an estimated 2,000 buildings in Charleston, South Carolina. It also killed 60 people, with the extent of the damage costing an estimated $6 million at the time or $158 million today.
The earthquake also affected the rest of the state and extended to the rest of its neighbors. States as far away as Massachusetts and Louisiana felt the quake, as did distant islands like Cuba and Bermuda. Some scientists at the time even feared that the quake could cause Florida to break off from the rest of the continent.
South Carolina enjoys a uniform climate.
Specifically, a humid subtropical climate featuring hot and humid summers with mild winters. Temperatures generally average between 30 and 34 degrees Celsius in summer and between zero and 16 degrees Celsius in winter. Snow remains uncommon in South Carolina, with at most 6 inches of snow falling in a year. The higher elevations of the Blue Ridge make up the exception, though, with snow of up to 12 inches per year.
In contrast, plenty of rain falls in the state, with a maximum of 2 meters per year on average. Thunderstorms most commonly strike in summer and autumn, while hurricanes can strike in any season besides summer. Tornadoes may also strike in South Carolina, most commonly during spring.
Hurricane Hazel devastated the state in 1954.
Striking in October of that year, Hurricane Hazel had wind speeds of up to 215 kph, making it a Category 4 storm. Along the waterfront, it produced storm surges over 3 meters deep and destroyed an estimated 80% of all coastal buildings. In fact, the storm even flooded the barrier islands off the coast that supposedly protected them from flooding.
Scientists, however, attribute this not only to the storm but also the timing, with the storm making landfall during high tide. In the end, while only one person actually died from the storm, hundreds more suffered from various injuries. Damages amounted to an estimated $163 million, of which $61 million occurred along the coastal areas.
Hurricane Hugo devastated the state in 1989.
Striking in September of that year, Hurricane Hugo had wind speeds of up to 260 kph, making it a Category 5 storm. Storm surges varied along the South Carolina coastline, from 2.4 meters at Charleston to 6.1 meters elsewhere. In the end, the storm killed 35 people across the state and caused an estimated $6 billion in damages. The Red Cross alone recorded the destruction of an estimated 3,000 homes and damages to another estimated 18,000 homes.
The storm also destroyed a full third of the state’s timber resources or enough wood to build an estimated 700,000 houses. Commercial estimates after the storm pointed to the destruction of 21% of the state’s softwood stocks, and 6% of the state’s hardwood stocks.
Climate change poses a major threat to South Carolina.
Scientists have estimated that global warming alone has increased temperatures in the state by 1.5 degrees in the past 100 years alone. This has come with rising sea levels, of about 4 cm every decade, which scientists expect to continue in the future. They predict sea levels off the South Carolina coast to rise at least one meter by 2100. While they admit this prediction proves lower compared to places like New York City, it would still destroy the South Carolina wetlands.
This, in turn, could devastate seabird and shellfish populations, and possibly even cause extinctions. Rising temperatures would also result in stronger storms and more common droughts. However, as of 2020, the South Carolina state government has yet to introduce any comprehensive plan to face the issue of climate change.
Spain and France both tried and failed to colonize the region in the 16th century.
The Spaniards first tried in 1526, with the founding of San Miguel de Gualdape, not far from modern Georgetown. It also had the distinction of the first European settlement in what would later become the USA. However, San Miguel de Gualdape lasted only eight months, before a combination of disease, Native American attacks, and other factors led to its abandonment. Out of the 500 original settlers, only 150 survived to return to Spain.
The French later tried in 1562, with French Protestants running from persecution in Europe founding Charlesfort-Santa Elena on Parris Island. Again, the settlement failed in less than a year, and while they tried again in 1564, it too failed. This led to both Spain and France abandoning attempts to colonize Carolina and instead focusing on Florida.
Slavery became big business in South Carolina early on.
From 1670 onward, South Carolina became the biggest entry point for African slaves to North America. At first, only European traders brought slaves for sale, but before long American colonists also began their slave raids on Africa. In fact, between 1670 and 1715 alone, South Carolina exported an estimated 50,000 slaves to its neighboring colonies.
The export revenue along with many other slaves to work the local plantations, all helped make South Carolina the center of the British Empire in the American South. Between the colony’s wealth and large population, this eventually led the British to make South Carolina a crown colony in 1719.
South Carolina became a leading member of the revolutionary cause.
The region participated in the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 when the colonists protested the requirement that publishers only use specially-stamped paper from Britain. South Carolina also adopted the slogan of “No taxation without representation” in response to new taxes raised by Britain after the Seven Years War. In 1773, Charleston mimicked the famous Boston Tea Party in protesting British taxes by dumping imported tea into the sea.
The colonists also boycotted other British imports, refusing to buy them and letting them rot in the warehouses, leading to massive losses for British exporters. Finally, in 1774, South Carolina sent representatives to join the Continental Congress. This led to the state becoming a party to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Many battles took place in South Carolina during the American Revolution.
In fact, a third of all battles in the American Revolution took place in South Carolina, more than in any other state. These included the Siege of Charleston in 1780 when Britain tried to break the stalemate by attacking from the south. The British first attacked the city on March 29 of that year and finally took it on May 12. This marked the worst defeat for the Patriots during the American Revolution. They also defeated the Patriots at the Battle of Waxhaw later that month.
However, Britain’s harsh response to guerillas, persecution of suspected Patriots, and scorched earth tactics undid their gains. Instead of threatening George Washington from the south, they now found themselves caught in a bloody stalemate in the southern countryside.
South Carolina had a tense relationship with the federal government in the leadup to the Civil War.
The rich landowners that dominated the state’s society resented the federal government’s attempts to enforce its authority. As early as the 1820s, South Carolina became a stronghold for advocates of limited government and states’ rights, as well as critics of the US constitution. Then in 1832, South Carolina courts branded federal taxes as unconstitutional, with the state government actively working to prevent their collection.
This led the US Congress to authorize the use of military force to bring South Carolina into compliance with the federal government. Things only worsened by the 1850s, as slavery became the most heated topic in the USA. For one thing, in South Carolina, only slaveowners with at least 10 slaves could stand for election. They saw the election of the openly anti-slavery Abraham Lincoln in 1860 as the biggest threat to their society. This led to South Carolina’s secession from the USA before the end of the year.
South Carolina contributed heavily to the Confederate cause.
For one thing, South Carolina struck the first blow of the American Civil War, with the capture of Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861. Ironically, South Carolina would also see the final battle of the war, when the Union retook Fort Sumter in 1865. The raising of the Stars and the Stripes over the fort would become symbolic of the American victory. Overall, South Carolina contributed an estimated 60,000 men to the Confederate cause. Of those, an estimated 13,000 men died in battle, or 23% of its adult white male population.
This makes South Carolina the state that lost the most proportionally of its population in the Civil War. South Carolina has the infamous distinction of the only state to have so overwhelmingly supported the Confederacy. In fact, every other Confederate state saw many men stay loyal to the Union, even leaving their homes to join the Union Army. Only African-Americans from South Carolina ever joined the Union Army, whether escaping from their masters or when the Union Army arrived to liberate them.
General Sherman became infamous for his actions in the state during the Civil War.
The general had previously used a scorched earth strategy while fighting against the Confederacy in Georgia. This involved the deliberate destruction of factories, workshops, and even infrastructure like roads and bridges. Union troops also burned down plantations and farms, while also liberating slaves. This ensured the collapse of the already-limited industry of the Confederacy, as well as their economy. The effect proved even worse with the liberation of slaves, as, unlike the Union, the Confederacy completely depended on slaves for labor.
General Sherman’s success in Georgia led him to keep the strategy while marching into South Carolina. Unlike in Georgia, however, where many of his officers and men had doubts about using scorched earth, those doubts vanished in South Carolina. Union soldiers generally blamed the war, and all its loss and suffering on South Carolina. This led to the destruction of entire towns and even cities, such as Columbia and its surrounding suburbs.
South Carolina struggled during the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War.
The end of slavery, together with the devastation of the war and the loss of much of the adult white male population caused a near-collapse of the state’s economy. The federal government also sponsored a pro-Union leadership composed of former slaves, white northerners, and sympathetic southerners. South Carolina also found itself deprived of representation in the US Congress until 1869.
This led to resentment against the federal government and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) to enforce southern white supremacy. U.S. President Ulysses Grant responded by sending federal troops to put the KKK down but most managed to escape by going to other states. The U.S. government finally withdrew federal troops in 1877, which allowed the then-white supremacist Democratic Party to regain control of the state government.
Racial discrimination became a state policy after the Reconstruction ended.
The Democrats introduced what would later become known as Jim Crow laws on regaining control of South Carolina in 1878. A combination of poll taxes, residency requirements, and even literacy tests allowed them to strip most African-Americans of voting rights. In fact, despite African-Americans making up 58% of South Carolina’s population in 1900, they had no representation whatsoever in the state government.
They also adopted segregation, which limited which jobs African-Americans could have, where they could live, and which public services they could use. While segregation also affected whites, whites generally enjoyed better-paying jobs and better public services.
South Carolina ironically decided against a one-drop law.
Governor Ben Tillman introduced the bill in 1895, which would have stripped white status from anyone with mixed ancestry. Surprisingly, South Carolina’s state legislators rejected the bill, as too many of them had mixed ancestry. Not simply African-American either, but also Hispanic and even Asian ancestors, even if only once or twice in their family trees.
They also managed to gain popular support for opposing the one-drop law, on the basis that many Confederate soldiers and even just ordinary people had mixed ancestry. Even more ironically, they also managed to reconcile this with their racist agenda. Specifically, they argued that a few drops of mixed blood gave whites a strong sense of purpose they otherwise would have lacked.
The Civil Rights Movement later struggled in South Carolina.
Unsurprisingly, of course, given how deeply racism had become entrenched in the state by the 1960s. Surprisingly, though, the Civil Rights Movement faced less violence in the state compared to other states. This came from a shared belief between activists and their opponents that any reform or opposition to it should remain as peaceful as possible. This did, however, give South Carolina’s leaders a reputation for “playing by the rules” that made them look reasonable, and which they took advantage of.
Despite that, change came slowly but steadily, with desegregation beginning as far back as 1963. Full desegregation finally became reality over the 1970s, at least officially. Unofficially, segregation continued as white parents refused to send their children to public schools. Instead, they sent them to private schools which most African-Americans could not afford to attend.
South Carolina has a surprisingly diverse population.
Whites became the majority back in the 1930s, but only make up 66% of the state’s population. This resulted from the widespread migration of African-Americans from the state in search of better prospects to the north. That said, African-Americans still form the state’s second-largest ethnicity, and largest non-white ethnicity, at 26% of the population.
Hispanics trail after African-Americans in third place, making up an estimated 7% of South Carolina’s population. Both Asian-Americans and Native Americans each make up an estimated 2% of the state’s population. Finally, members of other ethnicities cumulatively make up an estimated 1% of the state’s population.
The same goes for the state’s religions.
The various Protestant denominations make up the majority of the state’s religions, followed by an estimated 66%. Of those, the denominations calling themselves Evangelical Protestantism make up the plurality, at 35%. Mainstream Protestant denominations like Lutheranism and Calvinism, among others, make up another 16%. African-American-dominated Protestant churches in South Carolina also fall into a category of their own, Black Protestants, at 15%.
After Protestants, Catholics follow at making up an estimated 10% of South Carolina’s population. Members of other Christian denominations like Eastern Orthodox make up only 2% of the population. Followers of other religions, like Islam or Buddhism, cumulatively make up another 2% of the population. Surprisingly, followers of one of those, the Baha’i Faith, have more of their kind in South Carolina compared to any other US state. Finally, people who identify as not following or do not know what religion they belong to, make up 20% of the population.
The state capital of Columbia goes back to the 16th century.
The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed through the region in 1540. At the time, he recorded the presence of the Cofitachequi Native Americans along the way. That said, it would take until the 1700s before Europeans began to settle in the region, starting with Fort Congaree. In addition to guarding the Congaree River and any nearby settlements from Native American attacks, the fort also doubled as a trading post.
The colonial government also later established a ferry service for the settlements scattered across the region. The colonists also took advantage of the various waterfalls in the region, using them to turn mills for a variety of tasks from industry to even farming.
Local citizens elected Columbia as the state capital after the American Revolution.
This took place in 1786, with Columbia winning thanks to its central location in South Carolina. A legislator also proposed to rename the city as Washington after George Washington, but the proposal failed to pass the state legislature. That said, the state legislature itself did not finally move itself to Columbia until 1790.
Columbia did not even have the status of a village until 1805, and would not become a city in 1854. However, its nature as the political center of the state led to quick infrastructural development. For one thing, Columbia built one of the first canals in the USA, the Santee Canal, between 1786 and 1800.
The Civil War devastated Columbia.
Historically, Columbia has the infamy of the place where the Civil War truly began, with the state legislature voting 159-0 in December 1860 to secede from the Union. The Civil War spared the city for most of the war, but all that changed in February 1865. In that month, Union troops under General Sherman marched in Georgia. As part of his scorched earth campaign against the Confederacy, the general ordered the destruction of all industry in the city.
This, in turn, started a fire that destroyed most of the city, which General Sherman later expressed regret for. He also blamed the Confederacy for the fire, claiming they had deliberately stacked and set fire to cotton on the streets. They originally planned for the fires to slow the Union Army down. But instead, strong winds caused the fires to go out of control.
The Civil Rights Movement won various victories in Columbia.
One of those victories went back long before the movement gained momentum in the 1960s. In 1945, a federal judge in Columbia ruled that African-American teachers in the state receive equal pay to white teachers. While this led to opposition from white supremacists, the court had set a legal precedent regardless.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court used the case of segregated schools in Columbia to rule segregation nationwide as unconstitutional. Then in 1962 previously white-only chain stores in the city began serving African-Americans. A year later, segregation began to end in various public schools in the city.
Heavy industry widely operates across South Carolina today.
The Upstate area, for example, features a Michelin tire plant that goes back to the 1970s. The area around Interstate 85 in the Upstate also has the nickname of Autobahn from a large number of German car factories present. These include BMW’s first car factory outside of Germany, which opened in 1995 between Greenville and Spartanburg.
The factory has steadily grown over the decades, and today makes up BMW’s biggest factory in the whole world. In fact, today the factory alone contributes an estimated $17 billion to the state’s economy. Aside from automobiles, the aerospace industry also has a presence in South Carolina. Boeing, in particular, opened a factory in North Charleston with a similar impact on the state economy as BMW’s factory.
Tourism also widely operates across the state today.
South Carolina’s Lowcountry has become a center for the tourist industry as far back as the 1960s. The factors for this go back to the 1920s, with the expansion of the local road network making it easy to travel across the countryside. State investments into the tourist industry began in the 1940s, but the forming of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism in 1967 kicked the tourist industry into high gear.
Today, official statistics record that domestic tourists alone contribute an estimated $14 billion to the state economy per year. Aside from the Lowcountry, an estimated 7 million tourists also visit the historic city of Charleston per year. This allows the city to generate $8 billion out of the total income produced by South Carolina’s tourist industry per year.
Economic discrimination also widely exists in South Carolina.
This became especially apparent after the Great Recession of 2008, with economic analysts noting that African-American communities suffered more than white communities did. They also realized that whites have steadily dominated the real estate sector, with African-Americans losing land for economic reasons as far back as the 20th century.
African-Americans trying to buy land have also suffered a 31% failure rate. This is in contrast to whites who only suffer a 10% failure rate. In fact, the income divide between whites and African-Americans in South Carolina has remained the same for 70 years. This particularly shows in the fact that African-Americans in the state generally earn only 60% of what whites earn.
The state has a solid public transport network.
South Carolina has the USA’s fourth-largest road system, covering an estimated distance of 47,000 km. When it comes to railways, Amtrak operates four different passenger routes in the state. These include the Crescent route for the Upstate and the Silver Star route for the Midlands area. There are also the Palmetto and Silver Meteor routes, both of which serve the Lowcountry area.
Various other railway companies also provide freight services, with CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern as the biggest. South Carolina also has seven different airports, with Charleston International Airport as the most important. Located 19 km northwest of Charleston, it services an estimated 5 million passengers per year.
It does, however, have a mixed record over education.
For one thing, South Carolina doesn’t follow international standards for math and language courses. In fact, the South Carolina Supreme Court even ruled in 2014 that the state had failed to meet constitutional requirements for public education. The year 2015 also saw the state gaining a national SAT average score of 1490, 48 points below the nationwide average.
And while South Carolina remains the only state to have a public school bus system, funding issues have left their bus fleet old and dilapidated. Records show that half of the state’s school buses go back over 15 years. Some buses even go back over 30 years. This even led the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to donate $1 million to South Carolina in 2017, for the state to replace their older buses with newer and more environmentally-friendly buses.
The same goes for the state’s healthcare system.
South Carolina ranks 33rd out of all US States when it comes to the quality of a state healthcare system. In particular, the state suffers from a high rate of teenage pregnancy, at 53 teen mothers out of every 1,000 teenage girls. This is in contrast to a nationwide average of 41 teen mothers out of every 1,000 teenage girls.
Similarly, the state has high infant mortality rates, at 10 deaths for every 1,000 births. Again, this contrasts with a nationwide average of seven deaths for every 1,000 births. That said, the state falls within the US average of three doctors for every 1,000 people. The state’s residents also spend the US average of $5,000 on health expenses per household. However, South Carolina has more children suffering from obesity, at 34%, compared to the nationwide average of 32%.
South Carolina also has a mixed record in sports.
For one thing, South Carolina has no teams that solely represent it in any major league sports. They do share teams with their neighbor North Carolina, though, such as the Carolina Panthers in football and the Carolina Hurricanes in ice hockey.
The state also participates in college sports, which proves very popular in South Carolina. These include the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers, both of which compete in the NCAA. Other teams also participate in the NCAA, such as the Citadel Bulldogs, the Furman Paladins, and the Wofford Terriers. South Carolina also regularly hosts NASCAR races, such as the Southern 500, Whelen, and the Xfinity Series. The state even has a dedicated racetrack for NASCAR, the Darlington Raceway.