Hauntings at The Old Exchange and Provost

Posted by in US Ghost Adventures

Built in 1771, The Old Exchange and Provost have served various purposes throughout history. Not all of these purposes were as civil as the name of the building may imply. Beneath the bustling multi-purpose Exchange and the customs house lay a dungeon. Its inhabitants were the unlucky and the unkempt, the malicious and the malfeasant, those that held no proper status in civil society, nor did they want to. 

Pirates and criminals, petty, dangerous, and captured in times of war, were held here. Some of the most heinous criminals in the Holy City’s long and fruitful history stood in chains below these prestigious meeting places of the minds. Some were held already against their will. The Old Exchange was also used to hold enslaved African peoples who had gone against their enslaver’s commands and desires.


Who haunts the Old Exchange and Provost?

The spirits of these tortured souls remain behind and are often seen and heard in the form of orbs, audio and visual apparitions, and cold spots. The building serves as a museum today and has become a popular spot on any ghost tour of Charleston. If you visit the old port city, take a tour with US Ghost Adventures’ Charleston Terrors!

Historical Importance of the Old Exchange

Long before the Old Exchange and Provost stood at 122 East Bay Street, there was another building. In 1965, the remains of an old military base and town hall were found buried far beneath where the Georgian building stands today. Still partially visible on the lower floor of the museum dedicated to the Exchange, the Half Moon Battery was constructed in 1694, twenty-four years after the foundation of Charleston. 

The city found itself needing defense from Native attacks as well as sea-faring threats, or more so, the sea itself! A large, half-moon-shaped wall was built along the Wharf of old Charles Town to protect it from the encroaching shoreline. A hurricane hit the city in 1700, cementing the importance of a sea-facing wall. 

This great wall was turned into a battery, a fort not fully enclosed, by the early 1700s and continued to protect the city from any sea-faring threats, the French, and numerous pirate attacks until the mid-1760s. After the Seven Years’ War ended, there was a time of peace in the British colonies. In April of 1767, the South Carolina General Assembly ratified the construction of a new Exchange and Customs House. 

The Exchange building was completed in 1771, and the old battery became part of the newly constructed dungeon on the lower floor. In 1965, as the old Exchange building was being set up as a tourist attraction, an insurance agent noticed an odd bump in the wooden floor of the former dungeon. The old wall was dug up and is another great site to see in this fantastic museum. 

As time passed and America began to fight for its independence, the Exchange became a great site of importance for the founding fathers. It was used as a military prison for those accused of treason and, subsequently, prisoners of war. In 1788, it was one of many sites used to write the US Constitution and is only one of four that remain today.

Isaac Haynes and Other Prisoners

Many were held within the walls of the Old Exchange, but none more famous than Issac Haynes—the man whose unjust and confusing death inspired countless Americans to take up arms against the British. In April of 1780, Charleston was overrun by the British Royal Army during the Siege of Charleston. Being the largest city in the Southern colonies, they knew that if captured, it would act as an entrance into the remaining colonies. 

Here, the British bellied that they would find many loyalists still declaring an oath to the crown. Liberation from the Patriots and a swift victory would follow. Over 2,500 men were captured at Charleston, Haynes being one of them. After the city’s official surrender, he was told that he and the other prisoners could return to their families as prisoners on parole. Released from the dungeon of the Old Exchange, Haynes now faced a new challenge. 

Some months later, he was approached and told that he could either take an oath to the British crown or remain a prisoner in closed confinement. Not wanting to abandon his sickly family, who had contracted smallpox during the siege, but not wanting to go against his country and beliefs, he faced a tough choice. The actions of James Patterson, the commandant in charge of Charleston, compounded this confusion. He told Haynes he could decline any call to serve if he took an oath. 

Haynes returned to his family again, this time under the British crown. It was not long before he was called to serve. After his refusal in the summer of 1781 and an ill-fated fall from his horse, he was recaptured by the British as a member of the Continental Army. Despite his logical interpretation of the situation and pleas, no trial was given to him. He was hung on August 4th, 1781, guilty of treason and espionage against the British crown. His spirit haunts the upper floor of the Old Exchange building, where he was kept before his hanging.

Spirits of the Old Exchange

Many say they hear his boots stomping around the upper floor late at night and the sound of his voice yelling out to his sister, whom he passed on the way to execute that fateful day in 1781. He is not the only spirit who roams the Old Exchange’s historic floors. Before the Revolutionary War, the dungeon was used to house mainly pirates. Most famously, Blackbeard, the former wealthy landowner known as the “Gentlemen Pirate,” Stede Bonnet, Bonnet and his men were captured by Colonel William Rhett in August of 1718 in North Carolina and taken to Charlestown, as it was known then in reference to King Charles II. 

They were held in the prison of the Half Moon Battery, which is now the dungeon of the Old Exchange. On Dec 10th, Stede Bonnet was hung at the nearby White Point Gardens area. Bonnet and the spirits of his men still roam the halls of the old dungeon, contemplating their fate for all eternity. Many visitors report seeing “workers” dressed in Revolutionary War garb, only never to see them again. 

Perhaps spirits of old prison guards, making sure the wretched men who withered away in the old, dark dungeon never return to the physical world again. Find out for yourself next time you visit old Charles Town on a tour with Charleston Terrors! Keep reading our blog for more information about the Holy City!