Today In Charleston History: December 31


By the end of the year the city had completed a hospital on “an acre of … Land called the old Burying Ground, lying on the back Part of Charles Town” – along Mazyck Street (now Logan). The hospital would also serve as a “Workhouse and House of Correction.”  

1781 –England, Tower of London

Henry Laurens was released from the Tower, in exchange for Lord Cornwallis and the payment of £12,000. Edward Rutledge had forcefully argued against Cornwallis’ release. Most South Carolina patriots blamed Cornwallis for the wholesale murder and plundering across the state. Rutledge wrote that Cornwallis should be “held a Prisoner for Life … because he was a Monster and an Enemy to Humanity.”

On the day of his release Laurens wrote:

On the 31st of December, being, as I had long been, in an extreme ill state of health, unable to rise from my bed, I was carried out of the Tower to the presence of the Lord Chief Justice of England, and admitted to bail “to appear at the court of king’s bench on the first day of Easter term, and not to depart thence without leave of the court.

Laurens immediately sent for his daughters to join him from France in London. He then went for several weeks to recuperate with the waters of Bath. 

Tower of London; Laurens marker. Photo by author.

Tower of London; Laurens marker. Photos by Mark R. Jones.

1799 – Slavery, Denmark Vesey Rebellion

On the last day of the 18th century, Denmark Vesey handed over one-third of his earnings from the lottery. In return he was handed his manumission papers, signed by Capt. Joseph Vesey. To Denmark the future looked bright. As Archibald Grimke, a Charleston mulatto and Denmark’s first biographer, wrote, Vesey was:

In possession of a fairly good education – was able to read and write, and to speak with fluency the French and English languages … [and had] obtained a wealth of valuable experience.  

At that time, the total free black population in South Carolina was 3,185, the majority of them being of mixed race ancestry – called Browns.  After being a dark-skinned slave for seventeen years in Charleston, Denmark, at thirty-three years of age, entered the 19th century as a free black man.

1864 – Civil War    
pgt beaureard

P.G.T. Beauregard

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard left Charleston to inspect what was left of Gen. Hood’s army in Georgia. Gen. Hardee’s Georgia troops withdrew into South Carolina. Beauregard ordered:

You will apply to the defense of Charleston the same principle applied to that of Savannah – that is, defend it as long as compatible with the safety of your forces … The fall of Charleston would necessarily be a terrible blow to the Confederacy, but its fall with the loss of its brave garrison would be still more fatal to our cause.

      Gen. Willliam T. Sherman communicated with Admiral Porter off the North Carolina coast, “The President’s anxiety to take Charleston may induce Grant to order me to operate on Charleston.”


Today In Charleston History: December 30

1820 – Religion

Bishop John England

The Catholic Church in Rome created a new diocese out of the Carolinas and Georgia. The newly consecrated Bishop John England arrived in Charleston.  He discovered that conditions were most uninviting and unpromising in the new diocese, with Catholics scattered in little groups over these states. Most of the few in Charleston were very poor immigrants from Ireland or ruined refugees from San Domingo and their servants.

1874 – Births

Future mayor John Patrick Grace was born in Charleston. He grew up on Society Street and attended the High School of Charleston. All four of his grandparents were natives of Ireland.

mayor grace

John P. Grace

His most lasting accomplishment as mayor was the construction of the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, which spanned the Cooper River to connect Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. It replaced the ferry system had been used to that point and opened in 1929.

John P. Grace Memorial Bridge

John P. Grace Memorial Bridge

Today In Charleston History: December 29


The British captured Savannah, Georgia, giving them a strong base to build up a land force in the South. It placed South Carolina and Charlestown, directly in the sights of British troops.


Savannah Marker, photo by author.


Joel Poinsett of Charleston arrived in Santiago, Chile. President James Madison had appointed him as Consul in General to investigate the prospects of the revolutionists in Chile and Argentina, in their struggle for independence from Spain.


     The South Carolina Jockey Club voted to disband and donate the club’s property to the South Carolina Library Society.  As the News & Courier noted:

The prospects of the amusement of horse racing on a respectable and financially safe footing have proved hopeless and the South Carolina Jockey Club finds itself the owner of property which can no longer be utilized for the purpose  in which it was formed …

Read this great on-line manuscript about the Jockey Club.

Washington Race Track - 1857. A one-mile loop around what is present day Hampton Park. Library of Congress

Washington Race Track – 1857. A one-mile loop around what is present day Hampton Park. Library of Congress

Today In Charleston History: December 28


Affra Harleston’s will, divided her estate between her nephew, John Harleston, and her husband’s half-nephew, Elias Ball.

1723 – Births

Elizabeth Lucas (known as “Eliza) was born in Antigua, West Indies at Cabbage Tree Plantation. It was customary for elite colonists to send boys to England for their education. Her father, Lieut.-Colonel George Lucas, recognized Eliza’s intelligence and against the custom of the time, sent her to boarding school in London at age eight. Her favorite subject was botany.  She wrote to her father that she felt her “education, which I esteem a more valuable fortune than any you could have given me, will make me happy through my future.”


The Charlestown Library Society was organized by seventeen young gentlemen of various trades and professions who wished to avail themselves of the latest publications from Great Britain. At first, the elected librarians safeguarded the Library’s materials in their homes. From 1765 until 1778, it resided in the upstairs of Gabriel Manigault’s liquor warehouse.

In 1792, the collection was transferred to the upper floor of the Statehouse, currently the County Courthouse at Broad and Meeting. From 1835 until its 1914 move to the current King Street location, the Charleston Library Society occupied the Bank of South Carolina building at the corner of Church and Broad Streets. That building was paid for with “Brick” memberships, a permanent membership for a one-time lump sum: several of these memberships are still in use, generations later, by Charleston families.


Surveyor for the Southern District of North America, William Gerard de Brahm, sent a report to his Majesty which said:

The city of Charlestown is in every respect the most eminent and by far the richest city in the Southern District of North America; it contains about 1500, and most of them big houses, arrayed by straight, broad and regular streets; the principal of them is seventy-two feet wide call’d Broad Street, is decorated, besides many fine houses, with a State house near the centre of said street, constructed to contain two rooms, one of the Governor and Council, th’ other for the Representative of the people, the Secretary’s office, and a Court room; opposite the state House is the Armory-house, item St. Michael’s Church, whose steeple is 192 foot high, and seen by vessels at sea before they make any land; also with a new Exchange on the east end of said street upon the bay; all four buildings have been rais’d since the year 1752, an no expense spared to make them solide, convenient and elegant.

The city is inhabited by above 12,000 souls, more than half are Negroes and Mulattoes; the city is divided in two parishes, has two churches, St. Michaels and St. Philips, and six meeting-houses, vid, an Independent, a Presbyterian, a French, a German and two Baptists. There is also an assembly for Quakers, and another for Jews, all which are composed of several nations.

Charleston, circa 1780

Charleston, circa 1780

1832 – Nullification Crisis

John C. Calhoun resigned as Vice President to take Sen. Robert Hayne’s vacated seat in the U.S. Senate. It was a coordinated political move as a response to the Nullification Crisis and perceived heavy Federal hand of Pres. Andrew Jackson. 

1864 – Civil War    

Gen Henry Halleck, Army chief of staff wrote to Gen. William Sherman, who was in Savannah after burning through Georgia:

 … should you capture Charleston, I hope by some accident that the place be destroyed, and if a little salt should be sown on the site it may prevent the future growth of nullification and secession.

Today In Charleston History: December 27

1771 – Births  

William Johnson was born in Charleston. He would later serve as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


William Johnson

His father, William Johnson, was a revolutionary, and deported by Sir Henry Clinton to St. Augustine with other distinguished South Carolina patriots. [His mother, Sarah Johnson, née Nightingale, was also a revolutionary. During the siege of Charleston, she quilted her petticoats with cartridges, which she thus conveyed to her husband in the trenches. 

The younger Johnson studied law at Princeton and graduated  in 1790. He read law in the office of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney before passing the bar in 1793. Johnson was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by Thomas Jefferson on March 22, 1804, to a seat vacated by Alfred Moore. He was the first of Jefferson’s three appointments to the court, and is considered to have been selected for sharing many of Jefferson’s beliefs about the Constitution. Johnson was the first member of the U.S. Supreme Court that was not a member of the Federalist Party.


Johnson’s Row, 22-28 Queen Street, Charleston. Photo by Brian Stansberry. 

Johnson’s Row in Charleston on Queen Street, is named after him.


Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies, congratulated Lt. Gov. Bull on his handling of the tea situation, saying the events in Charlestown:

altho not equal in criminality to the Proceedings in other Colonies, can yet be considered in no other light than that of a most unwarrantable insult to the authority of this Kingdom.


The Douglass Company opened the last theatrical season until after the Revolution in a newly constructed theater on Church Street (the Dock Street Theater had been destroyed in the 1740 fire). The Company performed seventy-seven plays and farces.


Governor Pickens, and South Carolina’s delegates in Washington, were shocked to discover that Major Anderson had broken the armistice and reinforced Fort Sumter during the night. They demanded federal troops be withdrawn immediately. 

President Buchanan’s Secretary of War was notified that Major Anderson has violated the standing armistice, abandoned Fort Moultrie, and reenforced the previously abandoned Fort Sumter. (Act of War) Sec. J. B. Floyd asks for conformation of the violation directly from Major Anderson, and Anderson replied as follows:

CHARLESTON, December 27, 1860.

Hon. J. B. FLOYD, Secretary of War:

The telegram is correct. I abandoned Fort Moultrie because I was certain that if attacked my men must have been sacrificed, and the command of the harbor lost. I spiked the guns and destroyed the carriages to keep the guns from being used against us.

If attacked, the garrison would never have surrendered without a fight.

ROBERT ANDERSON, Major, First Artillery

anderson - 1861

Today In Charleston History: December 26


Henry Laurens, in a letter to Thomas Franklin, wrote:

I have always disliked those stupid Garnishings of No. 45, Wilkes and Liberty and drinking 45 Toasts to the Cause of true Liberty 450 Times unnecessarily.

1779 – The Seige of Charlestown.

Sir Henry Clinton

Sir Henry Clinton, British commander, left New York City with a fleet of over 100 ships to transport 8700 men, horses and other supplies to attack Charlestown. Second in command of the force was Lt. General Charles Cornwallis.

1860 – Civil War 

At sundown, December 26, 1860, Major Anderson of the First U.S.  Artillery Regiment, in command of the U.S. garrison at Fort Moultrie in Charleston harbor, ordered his men to pack everything and prepare to move to Fort Sumter within half an hour. The 55-year-old Anderson had assumed command the previous month of two companies of the First Artillery and the regimental band, a total of 84 officers and men.

anderson moves to sumter - frank leslie

anderson-enters-fort-sumter - harpers weekly

Anderson enters Fort Sumter under cover of darkness. Harper’s Weekly illustrations, courtesy of Library of Congress.

 Three miles away in Charleston, Christmas celebrations were still taking place in many of the homes. Over the next hour, taking advantage of the holiday laxness and the cover of darkness, the entire garrison relocated from Ft. Moultrie across the narrow channel to Fort Sumter.

As they were leaving, a small detachment spiked the cannons, burned the gun carriages that faced Fort Sumter and cut down the flagstaff.   

spiking the guns

Spiking the guns at Fort Moultrie. Harper’s Weekly illustration, courtesy of Library of Congress.


Today In Charleston History: December 25


SouthCarolinaRR_Schedule1841The first regularly scheduled passenger train in America pulled away from the Line Street station, Charleston, South Carolina at 8:00 a.m. Nicholas W. Darrell operated the locomotive as engineer for the 10-mile round trip from Charleston to San Souci and back. The trip was described a writer, Jockey of York.

Away we flew on the wings of the wind at the speed of 15 to 25 miles per hour, annihilating time and space … leaving all the world behind. It was nine minutes, five and one fourth seconds since we started and we have discovered ourselves beyond the forks of the State and Dorchester Roads … We came to San Souci in quick time. Here we stopped to take up a recruiting party, darted forth like a live rocket, scattering sparks and flames on either side, passed over three saltwater creeks, hop, step and jump and landed us all at the Lines before any of us had time to determine whether or not it was prudent to be scared.

More than 140 passengers took the first trip, riding in two cars. During the first day, the Best Friend carried more than 500 people. Truly, it was one of the most wondrous Christmases in Charleston history.


Best Friend of Charleston


19a. jabbo smith (author's collection)Jabbo Smith was born in Pembroke, Georgia. He grew up at the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston and became one of the major figures in the Jenkins Band. By age 17 he was playing with the Paradise Orchestra at Smalls Paradise and being called “the hottest trumpet player in New York.”  Due to excessive living, his career burned out by the time he was thirty, but to this day, his 1920 / 30s recordings are considered ground-breaking jazz music. 

Today In Charleston History: December 24

1737 – Religion
John Wesley

John Wesley

John Wesley left Charlestown for England, ending his ministry in Georgia.

1825 – Fire

A fire destroyed parts of King Street with damages estimated to be at least $80,000. Authorities determined it was the work of arsonists. Over the next several weeks, more fires were set nightly. With the Denmark Vesey slave conspiracy still fresh in resident’s mind, it was thought the arsonists were slaves.


The Charleston Courier reported:

The public are respectfully informed that the Rail Road Company has purchased from Mr. E.L. Miller his locomotive steam engine and that it will hereafter be constantly employed in the transportation of passengers. The time of leaving the station in Line Street will be 8 o’clock, at 10 a.m. at 1 and half past three o’ clock p.m.. Great punctuality will be observed in the time of starting.

Best Friend of Charleston

Best Friend of Charleston

1854 – Slavery

Robert Smalls, a slave harbor pilot married hotel maid Hannah Jones.


South Carolina legislature published The Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, also known as the South Carolina Declaration of Secession. Written mainly by Christopher Gustav Memminger, it explained the reasons for South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Memminger later served as first Secretary of Treasury for the Confederate Government.

FOR full text of the “Declaration”, CLICK HERE. 

Christopher G. Memminger

Today In Charleston History: December 23

1719 – Bloodless Revolution.

The Assembly pronounced it was convened as “a convention of the people,” seeking to become a royal colony. The legislature denounced the rule of the Lords Proprietors and officially petitioned King George I to purchase the Carolina colony from the Proprietors.

The Assembly voted unanimously for a new provisional government until his Majesty assumed control of the colony. The officers chosen were:

  • James Moore, Jr. (son of a former governor), Governor
  • Richard Allein, Chief Justice (Nicholas Trott was removed)
  • Francis Yonge, Surveyor General of the Province
  • William Rhett, Receiver of the Province
  • John Barnwell, Agent of the Province.

They sent Barnwell to England with instructions and a Declaration of Causes to present to the King which, in part, read:

Whereas the Proprietors of this province of late assumed to themselves an arbitrary and illegal power of repealing such laws as the General Assembly of the settlement have thought fit …and acted in many other things contrary to the laws of England and the charter to them and us freeman granted.

Whereby we are deprived for those measures we have taken for the defence of the settlement, being the south west frontier of his Majesty’s territories in America …

We therefore … the Representatives and delegates of this Majesty’s liege people and free born subjects of the said settlement now met in convention at Charles Town … do hereby declare … James Moore his Majesty’s Governor of this settlement, invested with all the powers and authorities belonging and appertaining to any of his Majesty’s governor in America till his Majesty’s pleasure herein shall be further known.

For all practical purposes, the citizens of South Carolina had overthrown the Proprietary government, America’s first Revolution. They had proven that, if need be, the citizens were willing to take matters into their own hands.

1765 – Stamp Act.

British Secretary of State Henry Seymour Conway informed Lt. Gov. Bull that further violence was “not suitable for either the safety or Dignity of the British Empire.” He instructed Bull to call upon British General Thomas Gage to combat the violence of the mobs.

In addition to the mobs, Bull was also concerned about the 1400 unemployed sailors who were stranded in Charlestown due to the closure of the port. The sailors spent most of their time in taverns and were increasingly disorderly. 

1824 -Religion.
view of old synagogue

Interior of the Old Synagogue at Charleston, S. C., Destroyed by Fire April. 27, 1838. (From a drawing by Solomon N. Carvalho ).

A group of a dozen Jewish men, “A Convention of Israelites,” submitted a petition to the president of the congregation of Beth Elohim, urging reform of their worship services, including the introduction of English. They wrote they had “witnessed with deep regret, the apathy and neglect which have been manifested towards our holy religion.”

This was the beginning of the Reformed movement in America.


Today In Charleston History: December 22

1747 – Religion

Solomon DeCosta, a Jewish merchant who seems to be in partnership with James Peyne, attended a meeting of the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations in London for “the settlement of several of their poor in South Carolina.”

1773 – American Revolution – Foundations

In the pre-dawn hours, British custom officials off loaded the 257 chests of tea and stored them in the basement of the Exchange. They informed the public that the tea would remain locked away and any attempt to remove it would be met by force. 



Continental Congress creates a Continental Navy, naming Esek Hopkins, Esq., as commander in chief of the fleet. Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina designed Hopkins’ personal standard, which flew from the first navy fleet. The yellow flag bore the image of a coiled snake and the Patriot motto, Don’t Tread on Me.

Gadsden, famously skeptical of any government involvement in business affairs, once stated, in the aftermath of the Jay Treaty, “Better to send a virgin to a brothel than a man to England to sign a treaty.”



From Georgetown, South Carolina, Dr. Greene wrote Aaron Burr:

I have engaged passage to New-York for your daughter[Theodosia Burr Alston] in a pilot-boat that has been out privateering, but has come in here, and is refitting merely to get to New-York. My only fears are that Governor Alston may think the mode of conveyance too undignified, and object to it; but Mrs. Alston is fully bent on going.

The ship Patriot was a private vessel authorized for military service. It had been fitted with less than five cannon and attacked several British merchant ships. It was being refitted in Georgetown, her guns dismounted and hidden below decks.

1822 – Slavery

In response to the Denmark Vesey slave plot, South Carolina legislature passed the Negro Seamen Acts. Any free Negro that came into the state on a vessel would be lodged in the jail during the stay of the vessel in port. If the captain would not pay for the cost of board and lodging, the Negro would be sold into slavery.