Today In Charleston History: March 31

1850 – Death

John C. Calhoun, at the age of 68, died of tuberculosis at the Old Brick Capitol boarding house in Washington, D.C. He was buried at St. Philip’s Cemetery in Charleston. 

Calhoun served in South Carolina’s legislature and was elected to the United States House of Representatives serving three terms. From 1808 to 1810 an economic recession hit the United States and Calhoun realized that British policies were ruining the economy. In 1812, Calhoun and Henry Clay, two famous “warhawks”, who preferred war to the “putrescent pool of ignominous peace”, convinced the House to declare war on Great Britian.

Calhoun's tomb in St. Philip's cemetery

Calhoun’s tomb in St. Philip’s cemetery

Calhoun served as Secretary of War under President James Monroe from 1817 to 1825 and ran for president in the 1824 election along with four others, John Q. Adams, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. However, Calhoun withdrew from the race, due to Jackson’s support, and ran for vice president unopposed.
Calhoun was vice president of the United States in 1824 under John Quincy Adams and was re-elected in 1828 under Andrew Jackson.

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Jackson supported the Tariff of 1828 which caused fierce opposition between the president and vice president. Because the tariffs benefited  the industrial North and hurt the slave-holding South, John C. Calhoun became the first vice president to resign. (On October 10, 1973 Vice President of the United States Spiro Agnew resigned after being charged with federal income tax evasion.)

Calhoun wrote an essay about this conflict, “The South Carolina Exposition and Protest”, in which he asserted nullification of federal laws, and in 1832 the South Carolina legislature did just that. The next year in the Senate Calhoun and Daniel Webster opposed each other over slavery and states’ rights in a famous debate. In 1844 President John Tyler appointed Calhoun secretary of state. In later years he was reelected to the Senate, where he supported the Texas Annexation and defeated the Wilmot Proviso.

In 1957, United States Senators honored Calhoun as one of the five greatest senators of all time.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston 

In a letter to his mother, Gus Smythe, look-out for the Confederate Signal Corps, wrote from the steeple of St. Michael’s Church:

Here am I on my lofty perch, behind a big telescope , looking out for any movements of the Yankees which may be of sufficient importance to send up to Gen. Jordan … My tour of duty to-night is from 1:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. & I have been on duty half the day … The worst difficulty is the trouble of getting up here, for it is no joke climbing up 150 feet … our place is in the upper piazza, above the clock. We have boarded it in, & bunks put in for us to sleep in so that we are tolerably comfortable, except when the wind blows thro’ the cracks  of the boards at a great & there is always a wind up here.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: March 30

 1780 – The Seige of Charlestown.

John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

First action that morning was led by Col. John Laurens’ unit against the advancing British light infantry. After several hours of scattered battle, Lauren’s men retreated back behind the city’s fortifications at dark. Laurens described it as “a frolicking skirmish for our young soldiers.” It was the first engagement fought within sight of the city, or as one officer noted, “in view of … many ladies.”

The British set up camp at Gibbes Landing (present-day Lownde’s Grove), which was a perfect staging area from which to lay siege to Charlestown.

Three principal types of artillery used during the Revolution: field guns, howitzers and mortars.

  • Field Guns: mounted on large-wheeled carriages and fixed to fire at low angles. Varied in size from three-pound (weight of solid shot fired) to forty-two pounds. Larger guns weighed appx. 5000 pounds (2½ tons).
  • Howizters: Similar to field guns, but with shorter and stockier barrels. Could be fired at a low or high angle. Range: 1300-2000 yards.
  • Mortars: a useful weapon because of its small size and ease of movement.  It usually had a fixed trajectory (around 45 degrees), and the distance the shot traveled was adjusted by varying the powder charge.  Just like the howitzer, the use of the exploding shell was popular to reach troops inside fortifications. Range: 2000 yards.

 1843 – Marriage.

Susan Petigru King Bowen, in later life

Susan Petigru King Bowen, in later life

Susan Petigru, 19, married Henry Campbell King, “short, stout, and physically unattractive.” Henry was the son of a prominent Charleston lawyer, Mitchell King, and friend of Susan’s father.  

Susan, the daughter of another prominent Charleston lawyer, James Petigru, was something of a rebel so the marriage to King was considered the best the Petigrus could do for her. Susan herself wrote that she would “probably get no better offer.” She had been a rambunctious child who grew to be a quick-tempered woman who never bothered to conform to the role of a society belle. She moved into her husband’s family mansion at 24 George Street.

Today In Charleston History: March 29

1722 – Religion.
St. Philips Church, 1723

St. Philips Church, 1722

On Easter Sunday, the congregation of St. Philip’s worshipped for the first time in their new church. The structure was described as a

work of … Magnitude Regularity Beauty … not paralleled in his majesty’s Dominions in America … lofty arches and massive pillars, an octagonal tower topped by a dome and a quadrangular Lantern and weathervane soared eighty feet above the church.

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown.

The British army crossed the Ashley River and landed on the Charlestown peninsula, two miles north of the Continental lines, approximately near the present-day site of the Citadel. 

Due to lack of men the Continental army could not stop the British crossing. Gen. Lincoln was so determined to save Charlestown that he gambled by keeping the bulk of the Southern Army within the city. However, he did order a light infantry unit led by Col. John Laurens to take post outside the city’s fortifications “to watch the motions of the Enemy and prevent too sudden an approach.” He also wrote to the Continental Congress:

We have to lament that, from the want of Men, we are denied the advantages of opposing them with any considerable force in crossing this river.


Today In Charleston History: March 28


Aerial photo of Middleton Place

Arthur Middleton received 800 acres from the Proprietors. Arthur was active in public life and became president of the convention that overthrew the Lords Proprietors in 1719. His son, Henry, married Mary Williams whose dowry included the property which is now called Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark. 

Henry’s son, Arthur, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.


In a public letter in the South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Rev. Charles Woodmason expressed the outrage of the back country people of the most recent election. He publically ridiculed Christopher Gadsden as the “Scriblerus of the Libertine” and claimed he and the Sons of Liberty were hypocrites – protesting British taxation without representation yet turning around and taxing the back country without allowing them fair representation. Woodmason wrote:

Lo! Such are the Men who bounce and make such Noise about Liberty! Liberty! Freedom! Freedom! Rights! Privileges! and what not … and these very Scribblers and Assembly Orators … keep under the lowest Subjection half the Inhabitants of this Province … These are the Sons of Liberty!

1778 – American Revolution

Legislation was passed that ordered all males sixteen or older to swear allegiance to South Carolina and agree to defend the state against George III. This precipitated the first mass exodus of Tories from Charlestown, making the city a predominant Patriot stronghold.

1818- Births

Wade Hampton III was born in Charleston, in the William Rhett house. His grandfather had created one of America’s largest fortunes from cotton. Although opposed to secession, Hampton remained loyal to his state and rose to the rank of Lt. General during the Civil War, seeing action at the First Battle of Bulls Run, the Peninsula Campaign and Gettysburg. After the War Hampton became one of the most prominent men who popularized the “Lost Cause” movement across the South. He was elected governor in 1876.

wade hampton illustration

LEFT: Wade Hampton. RIGHT: 54 Hasell Street (William Rhett House, 1712), Hampton’s birthplace. Currently a private residence in Charleston


Mayor J. Adger Smyth and the Charleston City Council endorsed the plans for an Exposition in Charleston. The newly organized South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition Co. had already raised more than $40,000 and chosen Captain F.W. Wagner as the company’s chairman.

Not everyone was confident of the Exposition’s success. W.D. Parsons wrote in the Inter-State Journal, “The audacity of this little town in sandwiching in an exposition between the great fairs of Buffalo and St. Louis is truly great.”

Today In Charleston History: March 27

1780 – The Siege of Charlestown.

From St. Michael’s steeple, Peter Timothy reported over thirty British flatboats along the Wappoo Cut “skulking in the marsh.”

St. Michael's Church

St. Michael’s Church

During the months leading up to the British siege of Charlestown, St. Michael’s steeple was used as a lookout tower to report on troop movements outside the city. Peter Timothy, editor/publisher of the South Carolina Gazette was a Revolutionary and published passionate pro-Patriot stories. After the British successfully captured Charlestown, Timothy was one of thirty-three patriots arrested and placed in the provost dungeon of the Exchange Building.

During their passage to exile in St. Augustine, Timothy was “lost at sea” according to British reports. 


Robert Newman Gourdin was born at Buck Hall Plantation in St. John’s Parish. He was the son of Dr. Samuel Gourdin and Mary Doughty Gourdin.

Gourdin graduated from South Carolina College in 1831, read law, and was admitted to the bar in 1834. He and his brother Henry were members of the prosperous mercantile firm Gourdin, Matthiessen, and Company of Charleston. Robert Gourdin was active in city and state affairs; he served as an alderman in Charleston and toward the end of the Civil War he served as a colonel in the South Carolina reserves.

Gourdin was a signer of the Ordinance of Secession from St. Philip and St. Michael’s Parishes, Charleston, at the Secession Convention of South Carolina; he was listed in the Journal of the Convention as a commission merchant, age 48, in 1860. He was chairman of the Executive Committee of the “1860 Association” of Charleston. Gourdin, who never married, died in Charleston February 17, 1894, and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina.

1860. Road To Disunion.

Population trends were going against the South, and Southerners were also becoming dependent on Northern manufacturers. The Mercury noted that:

A church built in Charleston was apt to have its doors, windows, and even pulpit made to order in the North. We thus starve our own artisan-laborers and send out money away to strengthen, enrich and fatten those who are ready to draw the sword of extermination on us.

1888. Lily Langtry Plays Charleston.

The “fair Jersey lily” as she was called, appeared on the Charleston stage at the Academy of Music. As a young woman, Lily Langtry had been celebrated in New England society for her “beauty and charm. Her looks and personality attracted interest and invitations from artists and society hostesses.” In 1874, the 20-year old Lily married Irish landowner Edward Langtry. For the next decade she became famous in European society, becoming the mistress of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, and was befriended by Oscar Wilde and actress Sarah Bernhardt. She also became the mistress of German Prince Louis of Battenberg and Charles Chetwynd, Earl of Shrewsbury.

lily langtry - two views

Lily Langtry, two views. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

In 1881, due to her husband’s financial difficulties (and Lily no longer the official mistress of Prince Albert) she became an actress and quickly was drawing large crowds to the theater, more due to her scandalous celebrity than her skill on the stage.

Her appearance in Charleston met with mixed reviews. Her beauty and style were fawned over in local papers, filled with detailed descriptions of her costumes:

The lower skirt was of satin brocade, trimmed in waves of golden beads, the tight-fitting bodice covered with three glittering pendants … a short puffed sleeve … on the right arm, while from the bare left arm fell a drapery of white crepe which, with the crepe over-skirt and train, gave a very Grecian effect to the whole.

Every seat at the Academy of Music was priced at $1.50; there were no “cheap seats” for Lily’s performance. Although she was praised as a beauty, a reviewer reported that “it was doubtful that one in twenty would care to see her again.”



Today In Charleston History: March 26

1726 – Ansonborough
Lord Anson, 1755

Lord Anson, 1755

Capt. George Anson purchased a tract of land which later would bear his name – Ansonborough – from his winnings at cards. According to local legend, Anson won the entire tract in a single game from Thomas Gadsden. In fact, Gadsden conveyed this tract to Capt. George Anson for £300 sterling. This was an unusually large sum for such a young naval officer to possess, so it is quite possible that Anson’s winnings at cards was the source of his money. 

Anson later led a British expedition that circumnavigated the world and served as Admiral as the British Fleet from 1756-62.

1737 – Crime & Punishment

Alexander Forbes was convicted of “stealing Cloathes and other things.” He was sentenced to “be whipped on the bare back at the cart’s tails through the town.”

1776 – American Revolution. Charleston First

Four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, South Carolina adopted a state constitution, drafted by the Provincial Congress and the Republic of South Carolina was born. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was chosen to chair the Constitutional Committee. This was the first plan for an independent government in the American colonies. 

South Carolina President (later govenor)  John Rutledge

South Carolina President (later govenor) John Rutledge

John Rutledge was elected as the state’s president, Henry Laurens its vice-president and William Henry Drayton, Chief Justice. The 1776 Constitution was considered a temporary measure until “an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America can be obtained.” It gave the president “absolute veto power” over the acts of the legislature. Due to his power, Rutledge picked up the nickname “Dictator.”

For the second time in its history, South Carolina had forced a change in its government – in 1719 they had overthrown the Proprietors and now they had replaced British rule with a local government.

1820 – Scandal

Charles Pinckney, in Washington, D.C., was caught in an abandoned house with a “mulatto wench.” A butcher who had been robbed saw Pinckney go into the house and thought it was the robber. A group of men surrounded the house and began to holler for the “thief to come out!” Pinckney, panicked, jumped out of window and attempted to run away. Due to his age, he was unable to outrun his pursuers, who released him when they realized their mistake.

1861. Lincoln’s Spies In Charleston. 

Col. Ward Lamon, former law partner to President Lincoln,arrived in Charleston to meet with Gov. Pickens who told Lamon that “nothing can prevent war except acquiescence of the President of the United States of secession.” Any attempt to reinforce the Southern forts would mean war. Lamon responded that no attempt to reinforce Sumter would happen, and that the fort would most likely be abandoned.

Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter met James Chesnut on the street. Toomer expressed his dismay that war was now inevitable. Chesnut, however, was more optimistic. He told Toomer, “There will be no war, it will be all arranged. I will drink all the blood shed in the war.” Henry Gourdin, however, agreed with Porter that “nothing now but a miracle can arrest the onward course towards destruction and war.”


The first Shakespearean play of the 20th century in Charleston was The Taming of the Shrew, at the Academy of Music. “Despite the fact that it was Lent” there was a “very large crowd …. in this most decorous and conventional of cities.”

academy of music

Academy of Music, Market and King Street (present site of the Riveria Theater.

Today In Charleston History: March 25

1781 – British Occupation.

Lord Rawdon, British commander in the South after Cornwallis was posted to Virginia, decreed that all jobs in Charlestown were closed to any but Loyalists to the King.  Many men who were sympathetic to the rebel cause were forced to pledge British allegiance out of the necessity of feeding their family.

Francis Edward Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings

Francis Edward Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings

Today In Charleston History: March 24

March 24


Charles II granted the territory called Carolana to the “true and absolute Lords and Proprietors.” The eight men were:

  • John Berkeley, Baron Berkeley of Stratton – Berkeley fought on the Royalist side during the Rebellion, general of the Royal forces in Devon. He also became a Proprietor for the Colony of New Jersey.
  • Sir William Berkeley – During the Rebellion, William served as Governor of Virginia and was a consistent supporter of Royal rule.
  • Sir George Carteret – Served as lt. governor of Jersey, the largest of the channel islands, fifteen miles off the French coast, which became a refuge for Royalists during the Rebellion. Carteret ran an active privateering campaign against Parliament, who branded him a pirate. After the execution of Charles I, Carteret had Charles II declared King  in Jersey,  even though the action forced  him  into  exile  for nine years.  He also became a Proprietor  of New Jersey. 
  • Sir John Colleton, 1st Baronet – Served in the infantry during the Rebellion and made heavy financial contributions to the Royal cause. After Charles’s execution, Colleton fled to Barbados where he acquired an extensive estate.
  • William Craven, Earl of Craven – Contributed substantial financing for the Royal cause during the Rebellion. Known for his “bawdy language,” Craven was one of the few noblemen who did not flee London during the Great Plague of 1665. He remained in the city to help keep order and donated property for mass grave sites.
  • Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron Ashley of Wimborne St. Giles – A political opportunist who started the Rebellion as a Loyalist, then became a supporter of Cromwell after the War, but then devoted much of his energy for the Restoration of Charles II, for which he was well rewarded, becoming one of the most politically powerful men in England.
  • Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon – Maternal grandfather of two monarchs, Queen Mary II and Queen Anne, Hyde was one of Charles’ closest advisors during the nine-year exile. His daughter, Anne, married Charles’s younger brother, James, Duke of York. Later in life he authored the acclaimed “History of the Rebellion.”
  • George Monck, Duke of Albemarle – A brilliant military leader for Charles during the Rebellion, Monck was arrested and spent two years in the Tower of London. Accepting a commission as Major General he fought with Cromwell in Ireland and Scotland. After being elected to Parliament in 1660, Monck campaigned for the Restoration of Charles II. He was rewarded as Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the most prestigious honor in England.

Each Proprietor contributed £75 sterling to establish a fund for financing a colony in Carolina. They also agreed, if necessary, to contribute an additional £500 sterling each. The Proprietors, of course, hoped that no more money would be required. There was a strong consensus that the colony could be established by luring experienced settlers from established Caribbean colonies like Barbados and Bermuda, by offering large land grants in lieu of providing financing.

Six of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolina Colony

Six of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolina Colony


William Johnson of Charleston was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He was the first of Thomas 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.


William Johnson

Born in Charleston on December 27, 1771, Johnson was the second son of blacksmith William Johnson and his wife Sarah Nightingale. Graduated first in his class from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1790, Johnson went on to read law under attorney Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, The following year, on March 16, Johnson married Sarah C. Bennett, sister of future governor Thomas Bennett.


 Samuel Smalls, a well-known disabled black street vegetable vendor, who traveled the city on Nan the Goat,  got into an argument with Maggie Barnes on 4 Romney Street over an allegedly stolen watch. He shot at her, and ended up at the City Jail on Magazine Street.  Judge Brown suspended his sentence on June 3, 1924 and Sammy returned home  to his mother on James Island until he died a few months later at about age 35.

Charleston writer, DuBose Heyward, read the story, and was familiar with Smalls. This incident inspired Heyward to write the novel “Porgy,” which was v e r y loosely based on this story. Sammy became “Porgy” and Maggie became “Bess.”  George Gershwin read the book, and saw the subsequent Broadway play based on the novel, and purchased the rights to the story. In 1935, Gershwin’s version of the story debuted on Broadway and as”Porgy and Bess,” 

Today In Charleston History: March 23


Sarah Chamberlain was found guilty of “the Murder of her Bastard Child.” She was sentenced to death.

1740 –Religion.

 While in Charlestown Rev. George Whitefield conducted public services – open air preaching –  that disregarded the Book of Common Prayer, an offense against the Church of England, of which he was a licensed minister. Rev. Alexander Garden called on him to explain his offense. Whitefield warned that God had been:

Contending with the people of South Carolina … for two years –  with disease, the Stono Rebellion … God has a quarrel with you, for your abuse of and cruelty to the poor negroes.

Rev. George Whitefield - open air preaching

Rev. George Whitefield – open air preaching

Today In Charleston History: March 22

 1765 – American Revolution –The Stamp Act.

stamp actIn a another attempt to pay the debt run up during the French and Indian War, British Parliament passed the Stamp Act,  which required that most printed materials in the colonies be produced on “stamped paper” (an embossed revenue mark)  from London. The printed materials included newspapers, legal documents, playing cards and magazines. There was quick and passionate opposition to the Stamp Act in Boston, Philadelphia and Charlestown.

South Carolina’s London agent Charles Garth wrote to John Rutledge informing him of the proposed Stamp Act being argued in Parliament. In Garth’s opinion the Act could not be successfully opposed by the colonies.

The Stamp Act was viewed as a threat by most Charles Town’s men. Just a year before they had managed to secure the upper hand over Governor Boone who had challenged the Assembly’s right to determine the validity of elections. 

1794 – Execution

Thomas Walsh “was assisted in his devotions by the Rev. Dr. Keating, pastor of the Roman Catholic church” before he was hanged for counterfeiting in Charleston. He then

politely waved his hand to the crowd and said, ‘Good day, gentlemen’ before he pulled the cap over his face” and was immediately launched into eternity.


Charles Dickens, Jr. appeared at the Academy of Music, reading excerpts from his father’s famous works.

Samuel Smalls, a disabled black Charleston street peddler, often seen on his goat cart, was arrested for shooting at his girlfriend Maggie Barnes at 4 Romney Street. DuBose Heyward, wrote the novel Porgy, based on Smalls’ arrest and the fight with his girlfriend. George Gershwin read and collaborate with Heyward on “Porgy and Bess.”

sammy smalls arrest