The hand-drawn map shows Ansonborough as originally subdivided and laid out to the specifications of Lord Anson. It is a one-of-a-kind piece of Charleston history. The map is also fragile, brown and brittle — which is exactly as you would expect from a plat dated June 24, 1760.
Right now, this aging relic resides in a climate-controlled room at the county Register of Deeds’ office. It is stored alongside thousands of other historical maps, plats, documents and books that record the transfer of property — and in some cases, slaves — going back to the days before Charleston was officially Charleston.
Michael Miller first discovered the Register of Deeds office in September 2017 while searching for records of his family’s property. The former school board member returned when he was researching land ownership in the Maryville neighborhood for the West Ashley Revitalization Commission.
Less than two years later, Miller is running the office — and the preservation of all these documents has become his problem.
“This is not just Charleston’s history, it’s American history,” Miller says. “And I have a duty to preserve it.”
That is precisely his job as Charleston County Register of Deeds.
In November 2018, Miller was elected to the office, becoming not only the first African-American Register of Deeds in Charleston history, but just the seventh person to hold the post overall.
Some of that has to do with Julius Elisha Cogswell’s 63-year tenure, which ended in 1956 — when the office was still called the Register of Mesne Conveyance (an English term even older than that map of Ansonborough).
Miller kept most of the staff from Charlie Lybrand’s and Elaine Bozman’s quarter-century of tenure, but he’s made some changes that have ruffled feathers among real estate agents and attorneys — the two groups that most often use the office.
For instance, the office no longer accepts titles or deeds with mistakes or missing information — which staff used to accept and correct. Miller says it’s a liability issue, as the slightest variation in a person’s name can become a legal headache that requires untold amounts of bureaucracy to repair.
Photo Credit: Michele Gray