The Old Slave Mart Museum has operated sporadically since 1938. It is often incorrectly called the Charleston Slave Market Museum or the Old Slave Market Museum.
The Old Slave Mart Museum is the first African-American slave museum. It is often staffed by individuals who trace their history to the enslaved people of Charleston. At one point during slavery, as many as 35-40% of enslaved people entered the United States through Charleston.
In addition to the staff, the building evokes an uncomfortable feeling of the past. There is a lot to learn. There is an interview with a former enslaved person. Don’t expect the inside to look like it did when people were sold there. In order to maximize your trip to this museum, plan on spending at least an hour reading the very informative posters and soaking in the environment. Because of all the reading, this slave museum is usually not entertaining for children.
If you are looking for artifacts and items from the slave trade, you will be disappointed. The museum has some artifacts but not as many as some visitors have hoped for.
History of Slave Mart Museum
Thomas Ryan owned Ryan’s Mart which later became the Old Slave Mart. It is located between Chalmers and Queen Streets. The museum was built in 1859 and is considered the last surviving slave auction gallery in South Carolina. It was used briefly before the Civil War ended all slavery in the South. It has been reported that all enslaved people were freed prior to the end of the war when Charleston was occupied by Union troops. In 1975, the Old Slave Mart was added to the National Register of Historic Places for its role in Charleston’s African-American history. Today, the building houses the Old Slave Mart Museum. This museum is often called the Slave Market Museum. The confusion around the “slave mart” and the “slave market,” lead many to believe that the Charleston City Market is where enslaved people were sold.
For additional great information about slavery in Charleston, South Carolina visit the Avery Research Center.