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Today In Charleston History: April 20

1780The Siege of Charlestown

Gen. Lincoln convened the council of war in Charlestown. He informed his officers that the Continental garrison had ten days of provisions left and discussed offering terms of capitulation to British general, Sir Henry Clinton – surrendering the city. His terms were:

  • The American army withdrawing from Charlestown within thirty-six hours, keeping their arms, artillery and all stores they were able to transport.
  • Sir Clinton was to allow the Americans ten days “to march wherever Gen. Lincoln may think proper … without any movement being made by the British troops.”
  • Security to the persons and property of the citizens

Clinton rejected the terms, considering the offer “insolence.” At 10:30 pm the British resumed their bombardment, firing more than 800 rounds into the city.

1789 – Charleston First.
Ramsay's petition to Congress. National Archives

Ramsay’s petition to Congress. National Archives

Dr. David Ramsay filed a petition with the House of Representatives asking Congress to pass a law to grant him the exclusive right of “vending and disposing” of his books within the United States. The Congressional committee approved his petition on April 20, 1789 – the first private citizen granted a copyright.


Angelina Grimke wrote in her diary:

Today is the last time I expect to visit the Presbyterian Church – the last time I expect to teach my interesting class in Sabbath School. I saw Mr. McDowell day before yesterday … and told me that he pitied me sincerely for that I certainly was under the delusions of the arch adversary…

She began to attend the Quaker Meeting House which had two members – two elderly men who never talked to each other. Angelina discovered that one of the men was a slaveholder and had cheated the other man out of a sum of money. When she tried to facilitate a reconciliation by telling them “Christians ought to be gentle and courteous to all men,” they called her  “busybody in other men’s business.” 

1864-Bombardment of Charleston. 

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. P.G.T.Beauregard was relieved from the Charleston command and replaced by Major General Samuel Jones, Beauregard’s former major of artillery at Manassas.  Jones was not considered a good officer. He had not impressed Gen. Robert e. Lee, who had him transferred to Charleston. Beauregard wrote, “I hope he will do, but from what I hear I fear not.” Beauregard had longed complained about the quality officers assigned to Charleston, calling it the “Department of Refuge.”

1903 – Washington Race Course  

The city of Charleston donated the four gateposts of the Washington Race Course to August Belmont of New York, who was planning to build the largest horse-racing facility in the country – Belmont Park. The posts were made of brick and weighed ten tons each. During their removal one of the columns slipped from a wire and William Mosimann had “the life mashed out of him.”

The “gift” to a Yankee millionaire was not universally popular among the people of Charleston. A letter to the editor in the News and Courier complained:

It seems to me that we have relics to burn … too much history and too many landmarks. We should be glad that Mr. Belmont has accepted the brick pillars and we might give away the old City Wall, the old Postoffice [sic], the Powder Magazine and a score of other relics that hamper our progress.  

 Other editorials described the pillars as “valued souvenirs of past peculiarities of a peculiar people” and “relics of a glorious past.”

Today the brick pillars are located at the automobile entrance of the Belmont Park clubhouse in New York. The bronze plaque on the left pillar reads: 

Pillars at Belmont Park

Pillars at Belmont Park

Presented to Belmont Park May 1903 by the Mayor and Park Commissioners of the City of Charleston SC.  At the suggestion of B. R. Kittredge Esq. and through the good offices of A. W. Marshall Esq. These piers stood at the entrance to the grounds of the Washington Course of the South Carolina Jockey Club Charleston SC. Which course was opened Feb. 15th 1792 under presidency of J. E. McPherson Esq. and was last used for racing in December 1882. Theo. G. Barker Esq. being then president.

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