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Today In Charleston History: April 17

1763 – Marriage

Lord William Campbell, a captain on the HMS Nightingale stationed in Charlestown, married a South Carolina heiress, Sarah Izard. Campbell would later serve a short term as South Carolina’s last Royal governor before being unceremoniously run out of town in 1775.


The “Secret Committee of Five,” organized by the First Provincial Congress, headed by William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton, seized the mail arrived from England on the Swallow. The official British dispatches made it clear that British authorities would not hesitate to use force to keep and restore order in the colonies.

1806 – Births

William Gilmore Simms

William Gilmore Simms was born in Charleston. His mother died soon afterward and his father joined Coffee’s Indian Fighters so Simms was raised by his grandmother, Jane Miller Singleton Gates, who told him stories of Indians, pirates, the colonial era, and the American Revolution, thereby stimulating his imagination and furnishing him with a vast fund of material on which he would draw for his later writing.

His writings achieved great prominence during the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe declared Simms to be “The best novelist which this country has, on the whole, produced” and “immeasurably the greatest writer of fiction in America”.  His short story collection, The Wigwam and the Cabin, was singled out by Poe as “decidedly the most American of American books.”  He is also remembered for his strong support of slavery and for his opposition to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in response to which he wrote reviews and a pro-slavery novel, The Sword and the Distaff.

At first, Southern readers, especially those in his home town of Charleston, did not support Simms’s work because he lacked an aristocratic background. Eventually, however, he was referred to as the Southern version of James Fenimore Cooper, and Charleston residents then invited him into their prestigious St. Cecilia Society.

1937 – Eleanor Roosevelt in Charleston

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a series of newspaper columns. Here is the column of her day in Charleston.

eleanor roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

CHARLESTON, S.C., Friday—We had tea yesterday afternoon with my friend Mrs. Huntington. The only other guests were the Mayor and Mrs. Maybank, Miss Pinckney, Mrs. Camman, and Dr. Canby. It was a nice, leisurely tea, served in an exquisite old china tea set, and everyone went at intervals to look at the changing light in the garden. Charleston is a leisurely place, and it was seriously suggested that I remain over a few days in order to see the vine at the back of the house in full bloom. It would be a lovely sight, but I receive the Children of the Revolution next Monday in Washington.

It was cloudy in the evening and rained hard during the night, but this morning brilliant sunshine greeted us again. Mrs. Huntington came for us, and we have visited houses and gardens to our heart’s content all morning. I have never seen a greater wealth of carved woodwork and panelling and more beautiful mantelpieces. The houses which have been restored seem on the whole to have been done with extraordinary taste and feeling, and the gardens, with their high walls and careful planting, give one a sense of complete privacy. One gentleman pointed out some interesting facts. As we looked back from one corner of his garden, we seemed to get a vista of an endless number of tree tops going on into a far distance, and he remarked: “That has been done so cleverly in Charleston. You get a sense of infinite space, even in small gardens.”

We ended up our morning by a look at Catfish Row, which, they tell me, was originally called “Cabbage Row,” and a rather hurried visit to the Heywood House. Now we are off in a few minutes to lunch with an old friend, Mrs. Victor Meyrowitz, and this afternoon we will visit St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s churches and the City Hall, where they have a museum and some historic portraits after which we are to have tea with the Mayor and Mrs. Maybank. There seem to be an endless number of trips, so that we are sorry we have to leave early tomorrow morning. It will be a long run tomorrow, for we have to be in Washington by noon on Sunday.

I am taking back with me a most interesting looking book called A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties. It contains some lovely reproductions of water colors by Alice R. Huger Smith and the tale at the end of life as it was lived in the old plantation days, given in combination apparently by Herbert Ravenel Sass and D. E. Huger Smith.

People have been endlessly kind and have invited us to do so many things that I wish we could forget that there is such a thing as work, even when one is on a vacation. We have, however, devoted our evenings to doing the mail and such other pieces of work as we had brought with us. I am not going back with a clean slate, but I have done a few things.

Sometime this Summer I must spend several days in the kitchen, for I’ve been given Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, a superlative cook book, and the call to try some of these delicious sounding dishes is going to be more than I can withstand.

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