Following the Modified Mercalli Intensity X 31 August 1886 earthquake, a privately published report described the damage sustained by each of the approximately 7,000 buildings in Charleston, South Carolina. We have examined this report to seek the factors that contributed to the observed damage. An analysis of the data suggests that the type of material used in the construction was the most important single factor and the site location (made versus solid ground) a secondary one. Over 80 per cent of the damaged buildings were of brick construction. Only a slightly higher proportion of brick buildings located on made ground (69 per cent) suffered compared to those located on firm ground (63 per cent). Only 7 per cent of wood frame structures sustained damage, of these 96 per cent were located on made ground.