History of the Site

Named after its original owner and operator, Thomas Ryan, Ryan’s Mart opened on July 1, 1856. It came to be after a city ordinance banned slave auctions around the Old Exchange Building, previously Charleston’s busiest slave trading destination. It was later sold to local slave trader Ziba Oakes, at which point it became known as “the Mart.” It operated for seven years, closing in 1863 when Union bombardment forced its evacuation and closure. Slave trading continued in other parts of Charleston until February 1865, when the city was reclaimed by the U. S. Army.

The Old Slave Mart Museum is located at the site of Ryan’s Mart, Charleston’s most prominent location for public slave auctions on the eve of the American Civil War.

Ryan’s Mart was a four-building complex that stretched from Chalmers Street to Queen Street. The Old Slave Mart Museum is housed in the Mart’s last remaining structure, which served as a salesroom and showroom. During its years of operation, Ryan’s Mart also included a kitchen, an infirmary, a four-story jail where enslaved people were confined prior to sale, and a large enclosed lot used as a slave pen.

After the Civil War, former property that made up the Mart was broken up and served a variety of roles, including as tenement housing for local African Americans. In 1938, Miriam B. Wilson opened the Old Slave Mart Museum in the former salesroom building at Chalmers. Privately owned for its first fifty years, the museum was acquired in 1988 by the City of Charleston, who renovated and reopened it in 2007.