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Today In Charleston History: May 22

1718 – Blackbeard Blockades Charles Town 

Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet’s six ship fleet blockaded the Charles Town bar and quickly pillaged nine vessels, including the Crowley, which was headed for London with several prominent citizens hostage, including Samuel Wragg, a member of the Governor’s Council and his four-year old son, William. With these hostages at his mercy, Blackbeard effectively held the city of Charles Town in his control for several days.

blackbeard-brimstoneBlackbeard directed his ship’s surgeon to compile a list of needed medicines for the fleet. He sent an armed boat commanded by a Mr. Richards into the city, along with a Mr. Marks, one of the captured citizens. Blackbeard demanded that within two days, Marks would convince Governor Johnson to meet the demand or the citizens would be hanged one by one from the bowsprit of the Crowley.

The deadline passed and Blackbeard sailed eight of his ships into the harbor, creating a panic among the citizens. Finally, in exchange for rations, money and medical supplies gathered from among the leading merchants, Governor Johnson was able to buy the release of the hostages. Blackbeard sailed unmolested out of the harbor with more than £1500 of gold and silver and made a beeline to his hideout on Ocracoke Island for Teach’s Hole.

Stede Bonnet and David Herriot sailed to North Carolina and received a pardon from Governor Charles Eden. Bonnet then renamed the Revenge the Royal James and called himself Captain Thomas. They sailed to Delaware and plundered several vessels.

1770 – Death

Henry Laurens’ wife, Eleanor, died in childbirth. Laurens fought a losing battle over his sorrow for several years. He wrote:

If I go here or there I find something or other to refresh my Sorrow and feel that some thing which constituted my Happiness is gone from me … I look round upon my Children, I lament for their Loss. I weep for my own.

 He never married again.

1777 – State Seal

The state seal was used for the first time by President John Rutledge. The seal was made up of two elliptical areas, linked by branches of the palmetto tree. The image on the left was a tall palmetto tree and an oak tree, fallen and broken, which represents the battle fought on June 28, 1776, between defenders of the unfinished fort on Sullivan’s Island, and the British Fleet. The standing palmetto represents the victorious defenders, and the fallen oak is the British Fleet. Banded together on the palmetto with the motto “Quis separabit?” (Who Will Separate [Us]?), are 12 spears that represent the first 12 states of the Union. At the bottom is the phrase “Animis Opibusque Parati,” or “Prepared in Mind and Resources.”

Seal of South Carolina

Seal of South Carolina

The other image on the seal depicts a woman walking along a shore littered with weapons. The woman, symbolizing Hope, grasps a branch of laurel as the sun rises behind her. Below her image is the word “Spes,” (Hope) and over the image is the motto “Dum Spiro Spero,” (While I Breathe I Hope.)

1802 – Birth

Theodosia Burr Alston gave birth to a son, Aaron Burr Alston at the Miles Brewton House at 27 King Street, the home of her father-in-law. It was a difficult birth and Theodosia suffered a prolapsed uterus, which rendered her incapable of having further children, and made marital relations with her husband impossible.  For the rest of her life she would endure spasms of intense pain.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

A slave named Peter, sitting on the Charleston wharves, noticed a ship named Sally recently arrived from St. Domingue. The ship was flying a flag with the number “96.” Puzzled, he asked another black man, William Paul, about the flag. Paul, who worked in a grocery store owned by John Paul, told him it was a reference to the 1796 Haitian slave insurrection. Paul then began to talk about the horrific conditions of the slaves in South Carolina. Peter became frightened and fled from Paul.

Peter reported the conversation with Paul to a friend, a prosperous free black man named William Penceel and member of the Brown Fellowship Society. Penceel advised Peter to tell his master. Peter’s master, John Prioleau, lived at 50 Meeting Street. Prioleau was a factor and was out of town inspecting plantations  so Peter told Prioleau’s wife and young son about the conversation with Paul. They did nothing.

1856- Road to Secession
Preston Brooks

Preston Brooks

Congressman Preston Brooks (D-SC) beat the hell out of Charles Sumner on the floor of the U.S. Senate in retaliation of Sumner’s verbal attack on Brooks’ uncle, Sen. Andrew Butler. See May 19th entry.

Brooks, Butler’s nephew and Democratic representative from South Carolina, discussed challenging Sumner to a duel. He was told by fellow SC Congressman, Lawrence Keitt, that “dueling is for gentlemen of equal statue. Sumner is lower than a drunkard. Dueling with him would only be an insult to yourself.”

Sen. Charles Sumner

Sen. Charles Sumner

Two days later Brooks strode into the Senate chamber approached Sumner sitting at his desk. As Lawrence Keitt held other senators at bay, Brook said: “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” He then struck him repeatedly with a cane until it broke into five pieces before several men rushed past Keitt and overpowered Brooks. 

Brooks became an instant hero in the South, and the fragments of his weapon were “begged as sacred relics.” A new cane, presented to Brooks by the city of Charleston, bore the inscription “Hit him again.”

Various editorial illustrations of the Preston Brooks' attack on Sen. Charles Sumner

Various editorial illustrations of the Preston Brooks’ attack on Sen. Charles Sumner

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