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Today In Charleston History: May 23

1788-Constitution Ratified

Presided by Gov. Thomas Pinckney, the South Carolina Legislature ratified the U.S. Constitution by a vote of 149-73, the eighth state to do so. Voting was divided among the lowcountry planters and merchants for ratification and the backcountry farmers against.  Christopher Gadsden was “stuck with amazement” by the document. 


The new Independent Church opened for public worship. Due to demand for pews, a new church was needed at the Meeting Street location. During the two years of demolition (of the old building) and construction, the congregation worshiped at South Carolina Society Hall (72 Meeting Street).

Meeting Street view of the 1806 Circular Church

Meeting Street view of the Circular Church

The new church was opulent, costing $60,000. It featured a round auditorium with a copper roof, a steeple sixty feet high and could seat up to 2000 people. A portico of six columns stood over the sidewalk. The entire church was lit by candles, which took the sexton more than two hours to light and extinguish.

Robert Mills

Robert Mills

The church was designed by local architect, Robert Mills. Church member, Dr. David Ramsay, suggested in his writings that the new church be circular in form, crediting the idea from drawings done by his wife, Martha. Due to its shape, the church acquired the popular title, “Circular Church.” 

       A visiting minister, Rev. Abiel Abott, wrote about the new church:

The most extraordinary building on some accounts, I presume to say, in the United States … It was built of Carolina brick with a flagged pavement, the aisles broad … & carpeted to prevent echo – the Pulpit at the East end … It is beyond all comparison, the most difficult to fill with a human voice that I have ever seen & is said to be the coldest house in the winder in this city & the hottest in the summer.

Detractors of the church also made fun of the undersized steeple for such a magnificent building, creating a popular rhyme:

Charleston is a pious place and full of pious people

They built a house on Meeting Street but could not raise a steeple

In 1838 the rhyme became passe when a New England-style steeple that towered 182 feet above Meeting Street was constructed. 

Photo of  Meeting Street with 1806 version of Circular Church steeple and portico and SC Institute Hall, c  1860.

Photo of Meeting Street of Circular Church steeple and portico and SC Institute Hall, c 1860.


In the case State vs. Rebecca Solomons, Aaron Solomons, Nancy McDowall claimed that Rebecca Solomons, her husband Aaron and her son Shane had attacked her. She claimed that Mr. and Mrs. Solomon threw brickbats at her in her yard, cutting her head. She also claimed that Shane then threw a dead fowl at her and hit her in the face. Mrs. McDowall threw back the fowl and called Mrs. Solomons “a damned Jew bitch.”

The court refused to return an indictment.

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