South Carolina National Bank. Richland Library.

Bank of Charleston / South Carolina National Bank

1818–1991

As the largest private bank in antebellum South Carolina, the Bank of Charleston soon became regional in interest, opening agencies in the coastal cities of Apalachicola, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; and New Orleans. By 1860 the bank was one of the strongest financial institutions in the Southeast, with a reputation that carried across the Atlantic to the commercial centers of Western Europe.

The Bank of Charleston traces its beginnings to 1818 as the Office of Discount and Deposit, South Carolina’s branch of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS). After President Andrew Jackson refused to renew the BUS charter in 1834, South Carolina businessmen moved to create a financial institution able to supply the resources necessary to ensure the state’s continued trade with European markets. On December 17, 1834, a group of Charleston investors under the guidance of Henry Gourdin secured a charter for the Bank of Charleston from the General Assembly. The formal organization of the bank took place in November 1835 with James Hamilton, Jr., installed as president. The new bank used the same workforce and building that served the old Office of Discount and Deposit.

As the largest private bank in antebellum South Carolina, the Bank of Charleston soon became regional in interest, opening agencies in the coastal cities of Apalachicola, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; and New Orleans. By 1860 the bank was one of the strongest financial institutions in the Southeast, with a reputation that carried across the Atlantic to the commercial centers of Western Europe.

When South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860, the Bank of Charleston lent $100,000 to the state to support the new government. It would subsequently lend a total of $1.5 million to the Confederate government. The money was never repaid. The bank’s assets of $6 million dwindled during the war, leaving the institution insolvent by the time of the Confederacy’s collapse in 1865. Despite this setback, the Bank of Charleston was the only bank in South Carolina to resume business after the Civil War, thanks to timely loans from England arranged by bank president Charles T. Lowndes. The bank reopened its doors in 1870.

The twentieth century brought significant changes to banking. In 1914 the Bank of Charleston joined the new Federal Reserve System as a part of the Richmond district. The rise of suburbs prompted the bank to embrace branch banking in 1922 to capture both individual and small business accounts. The greatest change for the bank came in 1926, when its directors took advantage of the newly passed McFadden Act to consolidate with small banks in Greenville and Columbia to form the South Carolina National Bank (SCNB).

By the time of the Great Depression, SCNB was the largest bank in the state. It suffered badly during the economic downtown. The drastic drop in deposits put the bank at risk for collapse. The Emergency Banking Act of 1933 forced its reorganization under the guidance of federal bank examiners. SCNB subsequently prospered, using advertising for the first time in 1951, and with consumer lending becoming an increasingly important revenue source. In 1968 the bank expanded into automobile loans. It began using automatic teller machines in 1972. Wachovia acquired SCNB, South Carolina’s last major independent bank, in 1991.

Clark, W. A. The History of the Banking Institutions Organized in South Carolina Prior to 1860. Columbia: Historical Commission of South Carolina, 1922.

Lindley, James G. South Carolina National: The First 150 Years. New York: Newcomen Society, 1985.

Rogers, George C., and Ronald E. Bridwell. The South Carolina National Bank. Columbia: South Carolina National Bank, 1984.

Stoney, Samuel Gaillard. The Story of South Carolina’s Senior Bank. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1955.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Bank of Charleston / South Carolina National Bank
  • Coverage 1818–1991
  • Author
  • Keywords Office of Discount and Deposit, South Carolina’s branch of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS), lend a total of $1.5 million to the Confederate government, Federal Reserve System, McFadden Act, South Carolina National Bank (SCNB), Emergency Banking Act of 1933,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date September 26, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 12, 2016
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