Today In Charleston History: January 31

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown

Continental Army General Benjamin Lincoln requested that Governor John Rutledge “order 1500 Negroes to assemble in the vicinity of this town with the necessary tools for throwing up lines immediately.”


Charles Pinckney delivered a speech in the U.S. Senate on the subject of trial by jury.

Viewing as I do impartial juries as among the most indispensable ingredients of a free government, it is my duty to declare … that in those states in which the federal marshals have a right to summon jurors as they please, the people are not free!

1863 – Civil War
At about 5am, Confederate ironclads CSS Palmetto State and CSS Chicora attack the Union blockade outside of Charleston harbor. The Palmetto State rammed bow first into the Mercedita’s port quarter, ripping a hole in the ships keel. The Confederate crew fired its point blank into the Mercedita, bursting the ship’s boilers, immediately crippling the ship. The Chicora  and the USS Keystone State exchanged fire, with a Confederate shot hitting the steam drum on the Keystone State. The explosion killed 20 men. The Chicora signaled for the ships surrender but there was no reply.
Union ships began to arrive and both sides fired at one another until sunrise, when the wooden Union navy retreated, unable to inflict damage upon the iron side Confederate warships.

ironclad attack - 1863

 1864 – Civil War   

 Colonel W.W.H. Davis took in three Confederate Irish deserters from Charleston who complained they were “much pinched for food.” From the deserters accounts Davis reported that:

Our shells have done considerable damage in Charleston. Most of the shells explode, but as yet few people have been injured by them. Charleston is depopulated, except by the very poorest class of people, and they have moved as far uptown as they can get. Beauregard’s headquarters and all the public offices have been removed to the upper part of the city. 


Charleston, Meeting Street, circa 1865 – Ruins of the Circular Church after the 1861 fire and Federal Bombardment.

Today In Charleston History: January 30

1649 -English Civil War

King Charles I, “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy,” was executed for at the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall.

Execution of Charles I

Execution of Charles I


On the 12th anniversary of his father’s execution, Charles II ordered the body of Oliver Cromwell removed from Westminster Abbey. The corpse was given a posthumous execution by beheading and the “twice-dead” body was hanged in chains at Tyburn. The decapitated head was displayed on a pole outside Westminster Hall until 1685. (One of the world’s greatest moments of revenge.)


Lt. Governor William Bull urged the Assembly to make provisions for adequate education in South Carolina. He stated that “liberal education in the province was essential for the future of the community.” A committee which included Henry Laurens and Christopher Gadsden, presented a bill to the Assembly for the establishment of a college. This is often defined as the founding of the College of Charleston, which would be inaccurate since the bill was never approved by the Assembly.  The College would not officially be established until 1785.

1838 – Deaths

Osceola, the Seminole Indian chief, died in captivity at Ft. Moultrie.

In October 1837, Osceola was captured when he went for peace talks near St. Augustine, Florida. He was initially imprisoned at Fort Marionbefore being transferred to Fort Moultrie on Sullivans Island, outside Charleston, South Carolina. Osceola’s capture by deceit caused a national uproar. General Jesup and President Martin Van Buren were condemned by many congressional leaders. That December, Osceola and other Seminole prisoners were moved to Fort Moultrie, Charleston, South Carolina. where they were visited by many locals.

Three months later Osceola died of quinsy, a recognized complication of tonsillitis, or malaria, according to some sources. He was buried with military honors at Fort Moultrie.

osceola grave - illustration

Today In Charleston History: January 29

1737. Culture. Scandal

It was not unusual for husbands to place notices in the Gazette announcing their wayward wives, as a means of shaming them to society. However, Issac Simmons placed the following announcement in the Gazette about his wife, lured by the theater life:

This is to give notice to all people in Charles-town or elsewhere, not to credit harbor nor entertain Mary Simmons, the wife of Issac Simmons, which has made an elopement from her said husband especially to be employed in the Playhouse in Charles-Town, it being entirely against the said Mr. Simmons’ request. 

1751. Slavery

The Assembly received a petition of Thomas Miles for reimbursement for his slaves Venus and Kitt who “were tryed for Poisoning and condemned to be executed pursuant to the directions of the ‘Act for the better ordering and governing of Negroes and other Slaves in this Province.’” Kitt was executed but Venus was “pardoned, and was afterwards sent off the Province.” 

The most profitable commodity in the lowcountry was African slaves  – to work the rice fields, construct casks and barrels and build and maintain the boats that transported the rice down river from plantation to port.  Two skilled slaves represented a substantial financial investment for a planter. In present-day economics, their value would approximately be $15,000 – $20,000. The Carolina planters’ appetite for new slaves was so strong that one merchant wrote that “Negroes are the proper bait for Catching a Carolina Planter, as certain as Beef to catch a Shark.”

Lt. Governor Bull estimated there were 57,253 Negroes in South Carolina, about 15,000 adult males. He also noted that with only about 6000 white males this “must raise in our midst many melancholy reflections.”

rice production

Today In Charleston History: January 28

1787 – Marriage

Dr. David Ramsay married Martha Laurens.

Ramsay had been married twice, and tragically lost both wives within a year of being married. Martha was the beloved daughter of Henry Laurens, former President of Continental Congress, and the first American imprisoned in the Tower of London (he was arrested by the British while acting as an agent for Congress raising funds for the Revolution in Europe.) Ramsay met Martha while he was researching his History of the Revolution of South Carolina. 

1861 – Secession 
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

P.G.T. Beauregard was removed as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was the shortest tenure of any superintendent – five days. His orders were revoked when his native Louisiana seceded from the Union. Beauregard protested to the War Department that they had cast “improper reflection upon [his] reputation or position in the Corps of Engineers” by forcing him out as a Southern officer before any hostilities began.

Within a month he resigned his commission and became the first Brigadier General of the Confederate Army. He served in Charleston and ordered the firsts shots of the War be fired at Fort Sumter. 

1866 – Civil War

The melted fragments of St. Michael’s bells were shipped to England by Fraser, Trenholm and Company. 

The bells for St. Michael’s were cast in 1764, by Lester & Pack in London. When the British evacuated Charleston in 1782 as part of their plunder, the eight bells of St. Michael’s were taken back to England. Shortly afterward, a merchant in London secured the bells and returned them to a grateful Charleston. 

st. michael's - postcard

St. Michael’s Church

In 1864, when Sherman made his march through the South Carolina, Charleston expected to be in his path, so the bells were sent to Columbia for safe-keeping.  Sherman by passed Charleston and burned Columbia, the state capital. The shed in which the bells were stored was burned and the bells were reduced into molten slag. The metal was salvaged and the bells were sent to London to be recast by Lester & Pack – today in history.The bells were returned in 1868 and resumed their place in the church.

In 1989, the bells were damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They once again were shipped to London for repair. They can be heard chiming in Charleston today on an hourly basis.

Today In Charleston History: January 27

1649 – English Civil War
King Charles I

King Charles I

King Charles I was found guilty by a court of Puritans. When given the opportunity to speak, Charles refused to enter a plea, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to death.

1716 -Yemassee War

  Several weeks of negotiation bore fruit when the Cherokee tribe allied with the English. They lured Creek soldiers with a plan of hiding in the forest, lying in wait for the English. The Cherokee killed the Creek and attacked their villages. Within a few months, the Creek and the Yemassee were decimated and asked for peace.

1730 – Arrivals.  

Eleazar Phillips, a bookseller, binder and printer arrived in Charlestown from Boston, the “first Printer to his Majesty” in Carolina.

1784 – Politics. State Capital.

       More than 220 citizens of the District between the Broad and Catawba Rivers petitioned the Assembly for “removal of the seat of government, county courts, a college, a revision of the state constitution and tobacco inspection warehouses.” They asked that the new capital “be fixed as centrical as possible for the ease and convenience of the community at large.”

       John Lewis Gervais presented a plan to move the capital to Friday’s Ferry on the Congaree River. His plan called for the division of 640 acres near Friday’s Ferry into half-acre lots. The legislature passed “an act to appoint Commissioners to purchase lands for the purpose of building a town and for removing the seat of government thereto.” The new town would be named Columbia.

Today In Charleston History: January 26

1776. Fortifications.

      The Council of Safety ordered Col. William Moultrie to develop new signals to be used for the lighthouse at Morris Island, at Ft. Sullivan and Ft. Johnson to warn of the approach of British naval vessels.


As part of the defenses of the city,  a fleet of twenty ships were sunk in Maffit’s Channel off the Isle of Palms.


DoubledayoAbner Doubleday, who DID NOT invent baseball, died. However, Doubleday DID fire the first shot of the War in defense of the Union at Ft. Sumter, April 12, 1861.

The whole “invented baseball” thing is typical of lazy history. In 1908, fifteen years after his death, Doubleday was declared by the Mills Commission to have invented the game of baseball (a claim never made by Doubleday during his lifetime). While the modern rules of baseball were formulated in New York during the 1840s, it was the scattering of New Yorkers exposed to these rules throughout the country, that spread not only baseball, but also the “New York Rules”, thereby harmonizing the rules, and being a catalyst for its growth. Doubleday was a high-ranking officer, whose duties included seeing to provisions for the US Army fighting throughout the south and border states. For the morale of the men, he is said to have provisioned balls and bats for the men, hence his connection to spreading baseball across the country.

When I mention Doubleday’s connection to Ft. Sumter on tour, someone always says, “He invented baseball.” When I tell them, “No, he didn’t” you’d think I just insulted their mother. If they persist the argument I ask, “Do you also think George Washington never told a lie?”

1911. Hampton Memorial

Louisa Smythe wrote to Mayor Robert Goodwyn Rhett:

hamptonmonument-smEight years ago, it was decided by Daughters of the Confederacy to put up a memorial to Hampton – an ‘Egyptian obelisk of correct proportions’ on three low bases each about one foot high.

The Daughters raised $2000 for the monument, which was ultimately erected in Marion Square. 

Hampton, of course, is Wade Hampton III. Born in Charleston, into one of the most prominent families in South Carolina, Hampton became one of the wealthiest men in the South. When South Carolina seceded, Hampton formed his own calvary unit and served across the South throughout the War. After the War, near the end of the Reconstruction, he was elected 77th Governor of South Carolina, serving 1876-1879, and later was elected as a U.S. Senator.

640px-WadeHamptonp274cropHis election as governor was marked by extensive violence by the Red Shirts, a paramilitary group that served the Democratic Party to work to disrupt elections and suppress black voting in the state. They contributed to the Democrats regaining control of the state government.

Today In Charleston: January 25


Andrew Rutledge married Sarah Hext, widow of Hugh Hext, one of the richest men in South Carolina. Hext left Sarah a plantation in Christ Church on the Wando Neck and twenty-three slaves. His other holdings were left as a legacy for his eight-year daughter, Sarah, to inherit when she turned twenty-one or upon her marriage, whichever came first. They included: two houses in Charlestown, a 550-acre plantation at Stono and a 640-acre plantation at St. Helena (Beaufort).


Major Pierce Butler of the British Army married Mary Middleton. She was heiress to a vast fortune, the orphaned daughter of Thomas Middleton, a South Carolina planter and slave importer. Two years later Butler resigned his commission in the British Army and settled with Mary in South Carolina.

Pierce Butler

Pierce Butler

The War for Independence cost him much of his property, and his finances were so precarious for a time that he was forced to travel to Amsterdam to seek a personal loan. Butler won election to both the Continental Congress (1787-88) and the Constitutional Convention. In the latter assembly, he was an outspoken nationalist who attended practically every session and was a key spokesman for the Madison-Wilson caucus. Butler also supported the interests of southern slaveholders. He served on the Committee on Postponed Matters. He was one of the four signers of the Constitution from South Carolina. 

His later career was spent as a wealthy planter. In his last years, he moved to Philadelphia, apparently to be near a daughter who had married a local physician. Butler died there in 1822 at the age of 77 and was buried in the yard of Christ Church.


Today In Charleston History: January 24


Shepheard’s Tavern

The first record of a theatrical season in Charleston began with the show The Orphan, or the Unhappy Marriage by Thomas Otway. It was performed in the long room of Shepherd’s Tavern, which once stood on the corner of Church and Broad Street. Tickets cost 40 shillings. (Note: one shilling =12 pennies, so the ticket cost would be appx. $8.)

1781 – American Revolution.

Patriot commanders Lieutenant Colonel “Light Horse” Harry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) and Brigadier General Francis Marion the “Swamp Fox” of the South Carolina militia combined their forces and raided Georgetown, South Carolina, which was defended by 200 British soldiers.

A leader in the successful fight to wrest California away from Mexico, the explorer and mapmaker John C. Fremont, the Great Pathfinder, briefly became governor of the newly won American territory. Fremont, CA is named after him.
     Fremont attended the College of Charleston, and later mapped the Oregon Trail with Kit Carson. He was one of the first two senators from California, serving only 175 days in 1850-51. He was a Free Soil Democrat and was defeated for reelection largely because of his strong opposition to slavery. He was the first presidential candidate of the new Republican Party in 1856.
col fremont
          EMANCIPATION CONTROVERSY. Frémont took command of the Department of the West for the Union Army in 1861. On August 30 Frémont, without notifying President Lincoln, issued a controversial proclamation putting Missouri under martial law. The edict stipulated that civilians in arms would be subject to court marital and execution, the property of those who aided secessionists would be confiscated, and the slaves of rebels were emancipated. President Abraham Lincoln asked Frémont to revise the order of emancipation. Frémont refused to do so. Lincoln publicly revoked the proclamation and relieving Frémont of command on November 2, 1861, saying, that Frémont “should never have dragged the Negro into the war.”
     The FIRST Federal official to free slaves was a Southern man. Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, re-enslaved the freed blacks because it was not politically convenient … at that time.

Today In Charleston History: January 23

1800 – Deaths.

 Governor Edward Rutledge died “with perfect resignation, and with perfect calmness.” He was buried in the family plot in St. Philip’s graveyard. He was replaced as governor by John Drayton.

Edward Rutledge

Edward Rutledge

Born to an aristocratic family, Edward Rutledge spent most of his life in public service. He was educated in law at Oxford and was admitted to the English Bar. He and his older brother John both attended the Continental Congress and unabashedly supported each other. Edward attended Congress at the remarkable age of 26 and was the youngest man to sign the Declaration of Independence.

During the Revolution he served as a member of the Charleston Battalion of Artillery, and attained the rank of Captain. The colonial legislature sent him back to Congress in 1779 to fill a vacancy. During the defense of Charleston, Rutledge was captured and held prisoner until July of 1781.

In 1782 he served in the state legislature, intent on the prosecution of British Loyalists. In 1789 he was elected Governor.

1861 – Secession.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was appointed superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was the shortest term in the post ever. Six days later his commission as superintendent was revoked, the day after his native Louisiana seceded from the Union. The Federal powers-that-be did not trust Beauregard’s Southern sympathies. One month later, Beauregard resigned his captaincy in the U.S. Army Engineers and offered his services to the Confederate government being formed in Montgomery, Alabama.

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

Beauregard was born into a prominent Creole family in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana and raised on a sugarcane plantation outside of New Orleans. He was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1834 at age sixteen and became a popular cadet, earning several nicknames including “Little Napoleon” and “Little Creole,” due to his slight statue – 5’7”, 150-pounds. His favorite teacher was his professor of artillery, Robert Anderson. He graduated second in his class in 1838 and remained at the school to serve as Anderson’s assistant artillery instructor.

During the Mexican War he serving under Gen. Winfield Scott and during the 1850s served as a military engineer clearing the Mississippi River of obstructions. He also spent time as an instructor at West Point before becoming the school’s superintendent for less than a week.

On February 27 in Montgomery, Alabama, Beauregard was appointed the first brigadier general of the Confederate Army and sent to Charleston. On April 12, he ordered the first shot of the Civil War fired at Fort Sumter, commanded by his former West Point instructor, Major Anderson.

Today In Charleston History: January 22


The Columbian Herald called for drastic measures to prevent burglaries and robberies:

The danger which threatens the inhabitants from a gang of villains who now actually invest this city [Charleston], calls loudly for an extraordinary exertion of the police, but also of the inhabitants themselves. – It were to be wished that voluntary associations might be entered into to patrol the streets, guard the property of citizens, detect the villains, and bring them to condign punishment.

1800 – Slavery.

 The newly freed slave, Telemaque, now called Denmark, chose his former owner’s surname as his own, Vesey. Most freedmen chose a name that cut their ties with their former owners. Denmark, however, knew that making his living in Charleston would be hard enough and the linguistic association with a prominent white man’s name would give him a better chance to make his way in the city. 

He was unable to purchase freedom for his wife, Beck and their three children. He was also not allowed as a free black to live in the home of his wife’s master. Due to Charleston’s growth, city expansion and ship building Denmark began to make his living as a carpenter in Charleston. A Freeman carpenter could earn a respectable $1.50 per day so Vesey apprenticed himself to a “free black” carpenter named Saby Gaillard, who lived at 2 Wentworth Street.

Vesey “soon became much respected and esteem’d by de white folks … distinguished for his great strength and activity.”

vesey statue copy

Denmark Vesey statue @ Hampton Park, Charleston