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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.”



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