Lightning Strike Ignites Charleston Romance

1777, June 8. 

 The Philadelphia-built frigate Randolph spent two months being refitted at Hobcaw shipyard in Charlestown. As the ship was being launched into the harbor a lightning bolt struck the mast and splintered it. The ship had to be pulled back into the shipyard for repairs.

Captain Nicholas Biddle of the Randolph, spent several extra weeks in Charlestown. Me met a young lady, Elizabeth Baker of Archdale Hall on the Ashley River, and began to court her. They became engaged by the end of the summer. So, thanks to a fortuitous lightning bolt, romance blossomed. 

Unfortunately, in March 1778, Randolph engaged the 64-gun British warship HMS Yarmouth and Capt. Biddle was wounded in the engagement. While he was being treated by the ship’s surgeon when Randolph’s magazine exploded, killing the entire crew, save four men. 

“I have courage. No one has dared to impeach it yet. If any should, I will not leave them a moment of doubt.” — Capt. Nicholas Biddle, 1776. 



USS Randolph (Courtesy of Hilda Straight)



The USS Randolph was a 32-gun frigate, named for Peyton Randolph.

The frigate, designed by Joshua Humphreys, was launched on July 10, 1776, by Wharton and Humphreys at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Captain Nicholas Biddle was appointed commander of the Randolph the next day.

Charleston Almanac update

The Charleston Almanac manuscript has been indexed (3 weeks of fun!). Proofs will be ready by the first of February. Another step forward.

This is the finalized cover.


Charleston Embraces “Porgy & Bess” … 81 Years Later

Stephen Sondheim in Invisible Giants: Fifty Americans Who Shaped the Nation But Missed the History Books, wrote:

DuBose Heyward has gone largely unrecognized as the author of the finest set of lyrics in the history of the American musical theater – namely, those of Porgy and Bess. There are two reasons for this, and they are connected. First, he was primarily a poet and novelist, and his only song lyrics were those that he wrote for Porgy. Second, some of them were written in collaboration with Ira Gershwin, a full-time lyricist, whose reputation in the musical theater was firmly established before the opera was written. But most of the lyrics in Porgy – and all of the distinguished ones – are by Heyward. I admire his theater songs for their deeply felt poetic style and their insight into character. It’s a pity he didn’t write any others. His work is sung, but he is unsung.

In 1922 a petition was sent to Charleston City Council, signed by thirty-seven white residents of Church Street and St. Michael’s Alley, which called for the immediate eviction of all the black residents of Cabbage Row. The petition detailed their unsavory behavior which included fornication between of black women and white sailors, knife and gun fights, unsanitary conditions and “the most vile, filthy and offensive language.”

During the spring of 1924, DuBose Heyward, founding member of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, began to work on “a novel of contemporary Charleston.” Heyward was the descendant of Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was part of Charleston’s aristocratic heritage where family bloodlines were more important than bank accounts.

During the early 1920s DuBose Heyward gained a reputation in American literary circles as a talented, serious poet. Charleston society was rightly proud of his success and reputation. The perception at Charleston tea parties was that his forthcoming novel of “contemporary Charleston” would, of course, be a drawing room drama, or a comedy of manners. Everyone was anxious to read it, assuming it would be about “them.” They could have never imagined what Heyward actually wrote, a lyrical folk novel about the Gullahs of Charleston.

For many white Charlestonians, the ubiquitous presence of Gullahs was as common as the humidity, present but rarely acknowledged. Heyward lived on Church Street, a dignified colonial-era neighborhood that had become quite ungentrified after Emancipation. Whites descended from the elite families of Charleston society now lived in close quarters, side-by-side, with descendants of their former slaves. The once pristine houses and gardens were now covered in shabbiness, the result of decades of dwindling fortunes and cultural depression.

Heyward became fascinated by the odd story of Samuel Smalls. The Charleston News and Courier featured a small item on the police blotter:

Samuel Smalls, who is a cripple and is familiar to King Street, with his goat and cart, was held for the June term of Court of Sessions on an aggravated assault charge. It is alleged that on Saturday night he attempted to shoot Maggie Barnes at number four Romney Street. His shots went wide of the mark. Smalls was up on a similar charge some months ago and was given a suspended sentence. Smalls had attempted to escape in his wagon and was run down and captured by the police guard.

Heyward finished the first draft of a novel based on Smalls’s life. He gave the manuscript to his friend John Bennett to read. Bennett was astonished by the story. “There had never been anything like it,” he said.

The story was set in a location Heyward called “Catfish Row,” two run-down tenement buildings one block from his home on Church Street. Nestled between the two tenements was 87 Church Street, a classic brick Georgian double house that had been the home of his ancestor, Thomas Heyward, Jr. As previously noted, by the turn of the 20th century both tenements were notorious as dens of crime and violence.

83-91 church street

85-91 Church Street, circa 1910. These pre-Revolutionary structures had deteriorated into slums by the turn of the 20th century. (L-R) Cabbage Row; Thomas Heyward House; Catfish Row. Courtesy of the Library of Congress 

DuBose Heyward’s novel, published in September 1925, was titled Porgy. It was the story of a crippled beggar on the streets of Charleston. During a dice game, Porgy witnesses a murder committed by a rough, sadistic black man named Crown, who runs away from the police. During the next weeks, Porgy shelters the murderer’s woman, the haunted Bess, in the rear courtyard of Catfish Row, a rundown tenement on the Charleston waterfront. Porgy and Bess fall in love. However, when Crown arrives to take Bess back Porgy kills him. He is taken in by police for questioning. After ten days he is released, because the police do not believe a crippled beggar could have killed the powerful Crown. When Porgy returns to the Row, he discovers that Bess had fallen under the spell of the drug dealer Sportin’ Life and his “happy dus’.” She has followed Sportin’ Life to a new future in Savannah and Porgy is left alone, brokenhearted.

The novel became a national best-seller, and received rave reviews. DuBose Heyward was praised for portraying “Negro life more colorful and spirited and vital than that of the white community” and for creating a character that is “a real Negro, not a black-faced white man,” who “thinks as a Negro, feels as a Negro, lives as a Negro.”

In Charleston, the reaction was polite but less positive. Some acknowledged the truth: it was a powerful book. Others claimed “the paper was wasted on which it was writ.” Most people were disappointed and shocked, when they discovered Porgy’s main characters were black, not white. The white characters were little more than poorly drawn caricatures. 

Lost amidst the initial praise and criticism, that, at its heart, Porgy, is a reminiscence of the old way of life in Charleston. Blacks are second class citizens, living lives of limited freedom and still expected to be subservient to whites. Porgy, however, examines this world from a black viewpoint. Portrayed with realism, these Charleston blacks were far removed from the “new Negro,” who could be seen daily on the streets of Harlem, and appearing in the literature of New York writers. In Charleston blacks and whites suffered from the same malaise.


In 1924 George Gershwin’s musical, Lady Be Good! ran for 330 performances on Broadway, establishing him as one of the most popular songwriters in America. While his second hit show, Tip-Toes, was on Broadway, Gershwin read Porgy in one sitting. He immediately wrote to Heyward proposing the two men collaborate together on an opera based on the story.

Heyward was astonished, and then excited. Gershwin was one of the most powerful, successful and talented artists in the New York musical world. He contacted Gershwin and was told that, although the composer wanted to create an opera his work schedule was booked solid for the next several years. Heyward decided to go ahead and write a nonmusical stage version of Porgy.

DuBose Heyward’s wife, Dorothy, was an award-winning playwright. The two had met in 1922 at the MacDowell Colony, an artist retreat in New Hampshire, and Heyward was immediately smitten. In 1923 they married in New York where Dorothy’s play, Nancy Ann, won Harvard’s Belmont Prize, beating out Thomas Wolfe’s Welcome to My City. First prize was $500 and a Broadway production of the play. Meanwhile, MacMillan Publishing had accepted a volume of Heyward’s poetry for publication.  The young couple spent the first months of their marriage living apart, Dorothy in New York working on the play production and Heyward on a speaking tour across the South.

Heyward’s decision to go ahead with a dramatic stage version of Porgy, instead of waiting for Gershwin, was an important one. After all, he already had the perfect collaborator living under the same roof. Together the Heywards turned the novel into a stage play. Gershwin was fully supportive of the effort. He told Heyward that a stage script of the story could more easily be transformed into a libretto for the proposed opera.

Dorothy wrote most of the dialogue for the play, smoothing the Gullah dialect from the novel into more recognizable English. By the summer of 1926 the play was written and submitted to three professional production companies in New York. One week later, it was accepted by the Theatre Guild, but the Heywards were pessimistic that the play would ever be produced. They had one unshakable demand, which could easily have been the death knell of the production; they wanted black actors to play the black roles, not white actors in blackface, still common at the time. The original director resigned due to their demands and the play was set aside.

In early 1927 a young Armenian director named Rouben Mamoulian decided he would direct Porgy, with a black cast. Trained as a lawyer, Mamoulian and his sister had fled Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, moved to London and began working in West End theaters. Mamoulian arrived in America at the invitation of George Eastman (of Eastman-Kodak) to work for the American Opera Company. It was there that he attracted the attention of the Theatre Guild, who asked him to stage Porgy.

Over the next thirty years, Mamoulian came to be known as “the mad Armenian” due to his frenetic energy. He directed more than twenty Hollywood movies and several successful Broadway plays, including the original Oklahoma (1943) and Carousel (1945). Porgy, however, was to be his first opportunity in charge of a Broadway production.


Rouben Mamoulian

 To prepare, Mamoulian traveled to Charleston to soak up the atmosphere and learn about the Gullah culture. On his second day in Charleston, he was taken to the Jenkins Orphanage for an after-dinner private concert. Several women sang spirituals and then members of the Jenkins Band performed. Mamoulian was amazed by the band’s “melodious discordance” and the “infinitesimally small darkey boy who led the band.” Before leaving Charleston the next day, he persuaded Rev. Daniel Jenkins to allow the band to appear in the Porgy production.

Opening night for Porgy was October 10, 1927. At the beginning of the second act, when the cast travels to Kittawah Island for the picnic, they were led onstage by the Jenkins Band playing “Sons and Daughters Repent Ye Saith the Lord.”

Within a week, Porgy was playing to standing-room-only audiences. When it closed after 367 performances it was viewed as an overwhelming success, with a higher box office than its main competitor, Eugene O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings. During its run Porgy employed more than sixty black performers in a serious drama, unheard of on Broadway at that time.

Five years later, George Gershwin’s heavy work schedule finally lightened enough to allow him to devote his energies to the opera. In late February 1934 he reported to Heyward that “I have begun composing music for the first act, and I am starting with the songs and spirituals first.” He then asked Heyward to join him in New York so the work could be expedited. Over the next two months, while living in a guest suite at Gershwin’s famous fourteen-room house at 132 East Seventy-second Street, Heyward wrote the lyrics for almost a dozen Gershwin compositions, including “Summertime,” “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” “Buzzard Song,” “It Take A Long Pull to Get There,” “My Man’s Gone,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’.” The opera was beginning to take shape.

In June 1934, George Gershwin arrived by train in Charleston with his cousin, artist Henry Botkin. They drove out to Folly Beach, where Heyward had rented a cottage at 708 West Arctic Avenue.

Folly Beach was a remote, sparsely developed barrier island ten miles from Charleston. It was a vastly different world from Gershwin’s New York neighborhood, in the middle of rollicking night life and luxurious accommodations. Life at Folly Beach was at best simple and at worst primitive. The surrounding marshes were filled with gators and other wild, exotic creatures. Crabs and snakes entered houses freely. Heat and humidity often reached equatorial proportions. In his letters Gershwin complained that the heat “brought out the flys, and knats, and mosquitos,” leaving “nothing to do but scratch.” Two weeks later, the Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.) filed this story:

Charleston, June 30.

Bare and black above the waist, an inch of hair bristling from his face, and with a pair of tattered knickers furnishing a sole connected link with civilization, George Gershwin, composer of jazz music, had gone native. He is staying at the Charles T. Tamsberg cottage at Folly Beach, South Carolina.

“I have become acclimated,” he said yesterday as he ran his hand experimentally through a crop of dark, matted hair which had not had the benefit of being combed for many, many days. “You know, it’s so pleasant here that it’s really a shame to work.”

Two weeks at Folly have made a different Gershwin from the almost sleek creator of “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Concerto in F” who arrived from New York City on June 16. Naturally brown, he is now black. Naturally sturdy, he is now sturdier. Gershwin, it would seem intends to play the part of Crown, the tremendous buck in “Porgy” who lunges a knife into the throat of a friend too lucky at craps and who makes women love him by placing huge black hands about their throats and tensing their muscles.

The opera “Porgy” which Gershwin is writing from the book and play by DuBose Heyward, is to be a serious musical work to be presented by the Guild Theater early next year, is an interpretation in sound of the life in Charleston’ “Catfish Row”; an impressionistic dissertation on the philosophy of negro life and the relationship between the negro and the white. Mr. Heyward, who is staying at Lester Karow’s cottage at the beach, spends every afternoon with the composer, cutting the score, rewriting and whipping the now-completed first act into final form.

“We are attempting to have an opera that is serious and dramatic,” Mr. Gershwin said.  “The whites will speak their lines, but the negroes will sing throughout. I hope the audience will get the idea. With the colored people there is always a song, see? They always find something to sing about somewhere. The whites are dull and drab.”

It is the crap game scene and subsequent murder by Crown which may make the first act the most dramatic of the production. A strange rhythm and an acid, biting quality in the music create the sensation of conflict and strife between men and strife caused by the rolling bones of luck.

“You won’t hear the dice click and roll,” he said. “It is impressionism, not realism. When you want to get a great painting of nature you don’t take a camera with you.”

Jazz will rear its hotcha head at intervals through the more serious music. Sporting Life, the negro who peddles “joy powder” or dope, to the residents of Catfish Row, will be represented by ragtime.

“Even though we are cutting as much as possible, it is going to be a very long opera,” Mr. Gershwin said. “It takes three times as long to sing a line as it does to say it. In the first act, scene one is 94 pages of music long and scene two is 74.”

There is only one thing about Charleston and Folly that Mr. Gershwin does not like. “Your amateur composers bring me their pieces for me to play. I am very busy and most of them are very bad – very, very bad,” he said.

Heyward took Gershwin on forays to neighboring James Island, which had a large Gullah population. They visited schools and especially churches. Gershwin was particularly fascinated by a dance technique called “shouting,” which entailed beating out a complicated rhythm with the feet and hands to accompany the spiritual singing. Heyward wrote:

The most interesting discovery to me, as we sat listening to their spirituals …was that to George it was more like a homecoming than an exploration. The quality in him which had produced the “Rhapsody in Blue” in the most sophisticated city in America, found its counterpart in the impulse behind the music and bodily rhythms of the simple Negro peasant of the South.

I shall never forget the night when at a Negro meeting on a remote sea-island George started ‘shouting’ with them. And eventually to their huge delight stole the show from their champion ‘shouter.’ I think he is probably the only white man in America who could have done it.

The first version of the opera ran four hours, with two intermissions, and was performed privately in a concert version at Carnegie Hall in 1935. The world premiere took place at the Colonial Theatre in Boston on September 30, 1935, the traditional out-of-town performance for any show headed for Broadway. The New York opening took place at the Alvin Theatre on October 10, 1935 and ran for 124 performances, impressive for an opera but woefully short for a musical. The reviews were decidedly mixed.

Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times, October 9, 1935:

After eight years of savory memories, Porgy has acquired a score, a band, a choir of singers and a new title, Porgy and Bess, which the Theatre Guild put on at the Alvin last evening … Although Mr. Heyward is the author of the libretto and shares with Ira Gershwin the credit for the lyrics, and although Mr. Mamoulian has again mounted the director’s box, the evening is unmistakably George Gershwin’s personal holiday … Let it be said at once that Mr. Gershwin has contributed something glorious to the spirit of the Heywards’ community legend.

It was called “crooked folklore and halfway opera” by Virgil Thomson. Whereas, Lawrence Levine stated: “Porgy and Bess reflects the odyssey of the African American in American culture.” Most critics complained about the form of the show – was it opera or musical?

Gershwin himself anticipated those reactions. In the New York Times in 1935 he said:

Because Porgy and Bess deals with Negro Life in America it brings to the operatic form elements that have never before appeared in the opera and I have adapted my method to utilize the drama, the humor, the superstition, the religious fervor, the dancing and the irrepressible high spirits of the race. If doing this, I have created a new form, which combines opera with theater, this new form has come quite naturally out of the material.

The argument still rages.

heywardand gershwin

George Gershwin and Dubose Heyward on Chalmers Street, Charleston.

People in Charleston, however, wasted little time in taking advantage of Porgy and Bess for profit. As the first American folk opera, composed by one of America’s greatest composers and based on a story written by a native son, the opera was a boon for Charleston marketing. Loutrel Briggs, landscape architect, who had moved to Charleston, became the driving force behind a movement to clean up Cabbage Row. He wanted to save the Row. He wrote:

DuBose Heyward, with an artistry to which my unskilled pen cannot do justice, has preserved for posterity the picturesque life of “Catfish Row,” and I have attempted to reclaim, with as little external change as possible, this building and restore it to something of its original state in revolutionary time.

The Chamber of Commerce paid for the placement of historical markers on structures throughout the city. The 1929 opening of the Cooper River Bridge had given motorists direct access to the city via Route 40 and the Atlantic Coast Highway. There was already an increase of tourists visiting in the city.  

The Chicago Tribune wrote:

In a world of change, Charleston changes less than anything …. Serene and aloof, and above all permanent, it remains a wistful reminder of a civilization that elsewhere has vanished from earth.

With the Great Depression gripping America, Charleston was in no financial position to turn away money. The pre-Revolutionary residential area of Heyward’s former neighborhood – Church and Tradd Streets – became a haven for tourist shops, catering to the much-disdained but much-needed Yankee dollar. Ladies of “quality” from Charleston’s “first families” opened coffee houses and tea shops and served as “lady guides” on walking tours down the cobblestone streets and back alleys. Their version of Charleston was completely focused on the glory days of the past, discussing “servants” not slaves, architecture not secession, George Washington not Jim Crow. They were trying to preserve, or more realistically, resurrect what Rhett Butler described in Gone With The Wind: “the calm dignity life can have when it’s lived by gentle folks, the genial grace of days that are gone.”

Led by two community-boosting-mayors John P. Grace and Thomas Stoney, this refocusing of history transformed Charleston in the 20st century. The 1930s preservation and tourism campaign solidified Charleston’s image as “America’s Most Historic City,” making it the darling of upscale tourists. In 2012, readers of the international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler voted Charleston the #1 Tourism City in the World.

17b. porgy and bess (loc) blank pg. 170

Broadway production of Porgy & Bess. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Kendra Hamilton wrote:

The ironies of the situation are compelling. Charleston becomes daily more segregated, the chasm between rich and poor ever deeper and wider, as in the salad days before the war. The tourist-minded city fathers become daily more ingenious at smoothing down the ugly truths of the city’s history so as to increase its appeal to people whose impressions of the South owe more to Scarlett O’Hara than Shelby Foote. And yet, the city’s most readily identifiable cultural emblems – from Porgy to “the Charleston” – have African-American roots.

During the 1930s and ‘40s, DuBose Heyward’s former home at 76 Church Street became the Porgy Shop. This store sold antiques, china curios and other fine furnishings that had nothing to do with the opera, the play or the novel. It certainly had nothing in common with its namesake, a poor, violent, black beggar turned folk hero.

porgy house (loc)

Porgy House. Dubose Heyward’s home on Church Street where he wrote the novel Porgy, was turned into a gift shop.

In another ironic twist, the “first families” of Charleston, who made money from this skewed, picturesque version of history, did not even allow a version of their most famous commodity to be performed in its home setting until 1970, thirty-four years after its debut. Indeed, Charleston often goes out of its way to soften its African history. In the 1991 video, Charleston, S.C.: A Magical History Tour, Mrs. Betty Hamilton, daughter of artist Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, discusses her mother’s 1920s-era paintings as capturing “the Gullah South Carolina niggra with their simplicity and their sweetness.”

In 1952 a new international production of Porgy and Bess was mounted, featuring twenty-four year old newcomer Leontyne Price as Bess and the veteran Cotton Club song-and-dance man Cab Calloway as Sportin’ Life.  This production was a theatrical triumph in Vienna, Berlin and London and also a hit when it returned to New York’s Ziegfeld Theater. The black press, however, launched a furious attack on the opera. James Hicks, a reporter with the Baltimore Afro-American, called the opera:

the most insulting, the most libelous, the most degrading act that could possibly be perpetrated against colored Americans of modern times.

Critic William Warfield noted:

In 1952 the black community wasn’t listening to anything about plenty of nothing being good enough for me. Blacks began talking about being black and proud.

In 1954 there was an effort to produce Porgy in Charleston, but it ran into trouble. South Carolina law at the time forbade the “mixing of the two races in places of amusement” for “historic reasons of incompatibility.” Local black performers refused to perform in front of a segregated audience and the show was canceled. It wasn’t until 1970, during South Carolina’s tri-centennial festivities that an amateur production of Porgy and Bess was approved and subsequently performed in Charleston before an integrated audience. It was the first amateur production of the opera allowed by the Gershwin estate, but by that time, the opera had acquired a problematic legacy.

During the 1960s the Civil Rights and black power movements transformed America. Porgy and Bess became an embarrassment to many black activists. Harold Cruse wrote that:

Porgy and Bess belongs in a museum and no self-respecting African American should want to see it, or be seen in it.

Such is the love-hate relationship associated with Porgy and Bess, and the ebb-and-flow of cultural acceptance that endures to this day. However, in 2011 the story was reborn for Broadway. Titled The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and starring four-time, Tony-award winner Audra MacDonald, the new show was not without its own controversy. The producers changed some of the story and music to make it more appealing to modern audiences. The operatic-styled recitatives were replaced by spoken dialogue.

Nonetheless, the production was a runaway hit. It received ten nominations at the 2012 Tony Awards, winning Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for McDonald. It played for 322 performances, seventeen more than the 1953 revival, making it the longest-running production of Porgy and Bess on Broadway.


This year, 2016, Porgy & Bess  is being performed during the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, and is accompanied by an all-out effusive campaign that encompasses the entire city and every media outlet – 81 years later. 

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun, at the age of 68, died of tuberculosis on March 31, 1850 at the Old Brick Capitol boarding house in Washington, D.C. Many know his name, but few remember that at one point, he was one of the most powerful figures in American politics.

john c calhoun - 1822_John_C_Calhoun_Portrait

1822 portrait of John C. Calhoun. New York Public Library

Calhoun served in the South Carolina legislature and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811, serving three terms. One year later, Calhoun and Henry Clay, two famous “war hawks,” convinced the House to declare war on Great Britain.

From 1817 to 1825 Calhoun served as Secretary of War under Pres. James Monroe. In 1824 he ran for the presidency (against John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson) and ultimately served as vice president under Adams. Four years later, Calhoun was re-elected vice president under Andrew Jackson.

Calhoun supported the Tariff of 1828, in opposition of Pres. Jackson. Calhoun wrote an essay, “The South Carolina Exposition and Protest” in which he advocated that a state had the right to veto any federal law that went beyond the enumerated powers and encroached upon the residual powers of the State.

Also, during this time, Washington D.C. became embroiled in something called “the Petticoat Affair.” Calhoun’s wife, Floride, who was queen of D.C. society, organized Cabinet member’s wives against Peggy Eaton, wife of Sect. of War John Eaton. Floride alleged that John and Peggy had engaged in an adulterous affair while Mrs. Eaton was still married to her first husband. Jackson, who was close friends with Eaton, resented the Calhoun’s attack, creating even more tension between the president and vice president.


Calhoun portrait by Matthew Brady. Library of Congress

In 1832 the South Carolina legislature nullified a Federal agriculture tariff, citing Calhoun’s “Exposition.” Pres. Jackson threatened to send naval war ships to Charleston to hang Calhoun or any man who worked to support nullification or secession unless South Carolina relented. Ultimately, a compromise was reached and passions cooled, but many of the South’s leaders smoldered with resentment of the Federal government’s growing dictatorial power, planting the seeds for the South’s secession, twenty-eight years later. 

On December 12, 1832, Calhoun was elected to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Robert Hayne, who had been elected South Carolina governor. On the 28th Calhoun resigned the Vice Presidency, the first man to do so. He was also the second and last vice president to serve under two presidents (George Clinton is the other.)


As a senator Calhoun engaged in one of the Senate’s most famous debates with Daniel Webster over slavery and states’ rights. In 1844 Pres. John Tyler appointed him as Secretary of State for two years during which time Calhoun supervised the Texas annexation and the creation of the Oregon Territory.

Calhoun then returned to the Senate in 1846 where he opposed the Mexican War and helped to defeat the Wilmot Proviso. 

calhoun's last appearance in the senate

New York Public Library

After his death he was buried at St. Philip’s Cemetery in Charleston. Toward the end of the Civil War, Calhoun’s supporters were concerned that Union troops in the city would ransack his grave, so during the night, they removed his coffin to a hiding place beneath the stairs of the church. The next night, they buried the coffin in an unmarked grave. In 1871, it was exhumed and returned to its original spot. In 1884, Calhoun’s brick tomb was replaced by a decorative sarcophagus by the South Carolina government. 

In 2000 the U.S. Senate honored Calhoun as one of the seven greatest senators of all time.


Calhoun’s grave at St. Philip’s Church, Charleston. Photo by author

Black History Month: Freddie Green – “Mr. Rhythm.”

Frederick “Freddie” William Green (guitar, banjo, vocals,) 1911-1987

“Rhythm guitar is like vanilla extract in cake. You can’t taste it when it’s there, but you know when it’s left out.” – Irving Ashby

Freddie Green had the longest job in jazz history – guitar player in the Count Basie band from 1937 until his death fifty years later. In a Downbeat article in 1939 Billie Holiday was asked about marriage and she said:

I’ve loved three men. One was a Marion Scott, when I was a kid. He works for the post office now. The other was Freddie Green, Basie’s guitar man. But Freddie’s first wife is dead and he has two children and somehow it didn’t work out. The third was Sonny White, the pianist, but like me, he lives with his mother and our plans for marriage didn’t jell. That’s all.


Freddie Green, cover of Jazz Podium

Freddie was born Charleston, South Carolina in 1911. He lived at 7 Dalts Court near Rutledge Avenue. Freddie’s first musical memories were at home. His father played the pump organ and his mother sang in the AME Church choir. He played the ukulele and sang baritone in barbershop quartets as a kid. They performed Irish songs on the street corners of Charleston for nickels and dimes. He was also a good dancer. That’s how he first ran into the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Green recalled: 

They used to come into my neighborhood. The minute I heard that brass I used to stop whatever I was doing and follow them all over the city … There was a group called the Nighthawks in Charleston and the trumpet player’s father was one of the teachers at the Jenkins Orphanage. His son was Samuel Walker. He was a terrific trumpet player so he had this group. I think it was trumpet, drums, saxophone, and piano … Most of the bands back in those days had banjos.

Freddie Green’s father died and at the age of twelve Freddie moved to New York City to live with his maternal aunt. They had an apartment in Harlem, on 141st Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, close to The Rhythm Club. That was where Freddie heard Jelly Roll Morton for the first time.  He attended PS-5l, located near 141st Street and Edgecombe Avenue, but left school at age sixteen. He remembered:

My aunt used to give house rent parties in Harlem. And she used to hire a guy to come in and play the piano. His name was Rock. He was a stride piano player. I really enjoyed the way he played. My aunt would keep drinks on the piano for him.

I made a friend with one of the guys in the neighborhood who was supposedly the baddest guy in the neighborhood. I think we had a fight one day. And after a while, I think I kind of knocked him down. And everybody was amazed that I did that to the bad guy. So then he and I were real close friends. And he was the leader of the gang on the block. We used to go around on different corners, that’s when the Charleston was out and I could always dance.  So he had a ukulele and we used to go on corners and dance.

Freddie Green returned home to Charleston for his mother’s funeral. His former neighbor from Dalts Court, Leotha Elmo, met him at the train station. She became Freddie’s girlfriend and later, his wife. He recalled how he became a professional musician:

There was a professor of brass instruments at Jenkins. Professor Blake was his name. We became good friends. I used to go to his house. He was a graduate of Howard University. He was a tuba player. On Sundays we would go through his library where his music books would be, and he’d help me. We would use a blackboard. We would go through the routine of scales, and what not.

My father-in-law was a contractor [in Charleston] and I used to help him quite a bit doing odd jobs and what-not … I tried all kinds of jobs and I was never pleased with whatever I did until music came.

We had our first kid. Then I left Charleston. The Jenkins [Orphanage] group had a show. They were going to tour the state of Maine. I left with them [as a non-resident of the orphanage and a grown man] and went up to Maine with this show they had. Went on the road with them with my banjo. We toured the state of Maine playing in Grange Halls, whatever they had up there in order to accommodate this traveling show. It was something! I don’t think we got paid. We played for contributions and the like.

The band had two alto saxes, one tenor sax, two trumpets, two trombones, one tuba, one banjo [Freddie] and drums. We used to have to get up around noon and play all through the streets … a parade, you  know. We were in the small towns of Maine. And we had dress uniforms that we wore.


Freddie Green, 1940s

The Jenkins Band stopped in New York and Freddie decided to stay. He sent for Leotha and their son to join him.

During the early 1930s Freddie had two jobs in New York, working at a factory upholstering chairs during the daytime, and playing in a dance trio at night.

I was working in a club called the Yeah Man Club. I knew how to play the ukulele. And the banjo, well, I could tune it, you know what I mean (laughs). Then I got a few books on banjo chords. As soon as I picked up the banjo, the guitar came in (laughs).

At the Yeah Man I was playing banjo. And the manager of the club said “Well, everybody’s playing guitar now. You have to get a guitar, okay?” I got one from a music store on 47th Street. King’s Music Store. I bought it on time.

In 1937 Freddie was hired at the Black Cat Club in Greenwich Village for eleven dollars a week. Record producer and talent scout, John Hammond was a regular customer at the Black Cat. Hammond later achieved mythical status for his keen eye of spotting talent. Through the years he was given credit for “discovering” Billie Holiday, Pete Seeger, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughn. In his autobiography John Hammond on Record he discussed his first impressions of Green:

One of my favorite clubs was the Black Cat, a mob-owned joint. The band included two cousins, the drummer Kenny Clarke and the bass player Frank Clarke, but it was the guitarist that interested me the most. His name was Freddie Green, and I thought he was the greatest I had ever heard. He had unusually long fingers, a steady stroke, and unobtrusively held the whole rhythm section together. He was the antithesis of the sort of stiff, chugging guitarist Benny Goodman liked. Freddie was closer to the incomparable Eddie Lang than any guitar player I’d ever heard. He was perhaps not the soloist that Lang was, but he had a beat.

john hammond, 1939

John Hammond, 1939

Hammond had brought the Basie Band from Kansas City to New York and he thought a good rhythm guitar was the missing piece for the band’s sound. Green auditioned in Basie’s dressing room at Roseland. When the Basie Band left for Pittsburgh the next day, Freddie Green was on the bus and he stayed on it for the next five decades.

In 1938 the Count Basie Orchestra became one of the leading dance bands in America, due in part to what has been called “the All-American Rhythm Section”: Count Basie, piano; Jo Jones, drums; Walter Page, bass and Freddie Green, guitar.


The All-American Rhythm Section, (L-R): Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Walter Page, Count Basie.

As the years passed, Freddie Green’s importance to the Count Basie Band increased. The numerous nicknames he acquired are good illustration of his musical stature: “Esquire” – because he was such a cool gentleman; “Pepper” or just “Pep” short for “Pepperhead”, because his head was shaped like a pepper; “The Fourth Wheel”, short for “the fourth wheel on the Basie band wagon”, “Quiet Fire” and “Mr. Rhythm.” Count Basie called Freddie Green “my left hand.”

Buck Clayton, trumpet player with Basie explained, “Basie never did play much with his left hand, so Freddie substituted for it.” Basie’s adopted son, Aaron Woodward III said, “… everyone knew Freddie’s position was of equal importance to Dad’s.”

Quincy Jones, who arranged for Basie as a young man before becoming more famous as Michael Jackson’s musical mentor and producer, said about Freddie:

That man is a sort of spirit. He doesn’t talk loud and he doesn’t play loud. But man! You sure know he’s there.

The brass and reeds can be up there shouting away, but there’s Freddie, coming right through it all, steady as a rock and clear as a bell. He’s something special. What he represents is the only one of its kind in existence.

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Freddie Green’s 1955 solo swing classic LP. Author’s collection

Saxophonist Paul Quinichette once observed of Green:

He’s got it right there, in his wrist. What he has is the key to a musical era, an unmatched mastery of big band rhythms.

Green did not live the stereotypical life of jazz musicians. He ate smartly, rarely drank or smoked. Even while on the road with the Basie band, he rose at 7 or 8 a.m. each morning to take a long walk or play golf. Singer Joe Williams, recalling his own philandering youth, says:

At a critical time, Freddie took me aside and advised, “Take some and leave some. Don’t try to get it all. You’ll enjoy it more and you’ll last much longer, no matter what it is.” Since it came from Freddie Green, who doesn’t say that much, he only had to say it once, and I’ve never forgotten it.

When Charlie Christian introduced the electric guitar with the Benny Goodman in 1939, the jazz world changed dramatically. Freddie, however, continued to use his acoustic guitar on stage. Harry Edison recalls:

Charlie Christian and he [Freddie] were very close friends, and Christian gave him an amplifier. But whenever Freddie would lay out of the band to take his solo, the whole rhythm section used to fall apart. It got to the point where we had to do something about it. So one night I would remove the plug from Freddie’s amplifier wire and it wouldn’t work. Next night Herschel Evans would break a wire in it so it wouldn’t play, and Freddie would have it fixed … So finally we took all the guts out of the amplifier. Freddie got ready to play one night and there was nothing but a box. Naturally he got furious but nobody paid him any attention. So he reached a point where he said, “Well, to hell with it. I won’t play anymore solos.” So that’s the reason he’s not a soloist today. He probably could have been one of the best at that time, but we had to sacrifice him for the good of the band.

One of the greatest Freddie Green stories was how Freddie re-hired himself to play with Basie in 1950. After World War II most of the big bands were struggling to make money. So, Basie, like other top bands, was forced to downsize. He put together a small group that included Clark Terry, Buddy DeFranco, Bob Graf, Jimmy Lewis, and Gus Johnson. They worked a month at the Brass Rail in Chicago. Everyone in the audience was surprised that Freddie Green was not with the group.

When the sextet met in New York for their next gig, Green was sitting on the bandstand with his guitar. Clark Terry recalled the dialogue between Basie and Green:

Basie: “Say, Pep, you’re not on this gig, are you?”

Green: “You’re workin’, aren’t you? After I gave you the best years of my life, you think you’re going to leave me now?”

basie, chairman board

So the sextet became a septet and Freddie Green remained the anchor of the rhythm section until his death. During his career Freddie Green performed worldwide, made over 1,000 recordings with the Basie band, and appeared as a sideman on over 700 recordings by other jazz artists.  The list of artists he recorded with are a Who’s Who of the 20th century: Mildred Bailey, Emmett Berry, Ruby Braff, Kenny Burrell, Benny Carter, Buck Clayton, Al Cohn, Harry Edison, Duke Ellington, Herb Ellis, Karl George, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman, Billie Holiday, Illinois Jacquet, Jo Jones, Joe Newman,  Paul Quinichette, Jimmy Rushing, Pee Wee Russell, John Sellers, Sonny Stitt, Joe Sullivan, Jack Teagarden, Joe Turner, Earl Warren, Dicky Wells, Teddy Wilson, and Lester Young.

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Duke Ellington, Freddie Green, Count Basie

Through the years Freddie Green also became the gauge of quality. Byron Stripling, trumpet player with Basie said, “If an arranger comes in and his work is jive, Freddie just shakes his head and it’s all over.”

According to Dennis Wilson (trombone), all new Basie Band members had to deal with:

… the intimidation of Freddie Green. You never know if Freddie likes you. It worries you until that mystical, magical day when he finally says a couple of words to you. Then you know you’re okay, and you realize he hasn’t been testing you; he’s been allowing you to test yourself.

When Count Basie died in 1984 almost every publication in the world offered a eulogy. Freddie Green simply said: “I’ve been with the band since 1937, what am I to do now?”

Thad Jones, the popular trumpeter and Basie sideman, was chosen to take up the reins of the Basie Band after the Count’s death. He commented:

I don’t think it’s possible to speak of the Basie band without Freddie Green. He’s the link that keeps the tradition alive. He’s the dean, the guy we look to for that spiritual thing.

In the May 1983 issue of Guitar Player, Jim Hall wrote:

If you pruned the tree of jazz, Freddie Green would be the only person left. If you have to listen to only one guitarist, study the way he plays rhythm with Count Basie.

One of the longest and quietest careers in musical history came to a conclusion on March 1, 1987.  Freddie Green died of a heart attack after playing a Basie show in Las Vegas. Tributes and obituaries poured in from all over the world. Several days later, what was intended to be a surprise tribute to Green in Los Angeles organized by jazz critic Leonard Feather was turned into a memorial featuring the Basie band, vocalist Sarah Vaughan, and guitarist Kenny Burrell. Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley declared March 19 Freddie Green Day.


Freddie Green, “Mr.Rhythm”

Sonny Cohn said, “The most important part of your body is your heart. It keeps everything else going. That’s what Freddie does.”

Dennis Wilson, a trombonist and composer-arranger with Count Basie said, “It’s as if in the Bible they said, ‘Let there be time’, and Freddie started playing.”

Freddie’s son, Al Green, eulogized his father:

Dad had a quiet dignity about him, with a demeanor of an elder statesman, unassuming, diplomatic, and fair. I spent three days with Dad to celebrate his Grammy nomination as a member of The Swing Reunion album. As we got dressed for the affair that evening, he asked if I would help him with his bow tie, a kind of reversal of roles that we both acknowledged warmly. After the Grammys when we were departing, we kissed and embraced, (not knowing that it would be for the last time), he said, “I really enjoyed this time we got to spend together. It was special.”

You’ve lost Mr. Rhythm. We’ve lost our Dad. I’ve lost my hero.

Freddie once discussed about his role in the Basie band:

The main thing is the Basie band. I get a joy out of keeping the band together and supplying the soloists with a foundation. That’s more soloing to me than soloing. I’ve played rhythm so long that it’s just the same as playing solos as far as I’m concerned. The rhythm guitar is very important. A performance has what I call a “rhythm wave”, and the rhythm guitar can help to keep that wave smooth and accurate. I have to concentrate on the beat, listening for how smooth it is. If the band is moving smoothly, then I can play whatever comes to mind, but that doesn’t happen too often.

      I feel responsible for keeping my part in the structure going, as from the original band. I do what I do. That’s enough.  It’s given me a whole lot of joy, pleasure, good feeling. And some bad feeling which goes with everything – you’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet. I’m part of it, and I’m doing a job, and that’s it. I realize that the public likes the band. And I appreciate it. And I think that’s what keeps us going. I go along. After all, you have to live.

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The rhythm section at work. 


Selected Count Basie Recordings:

  • The Complete Decca Recordings, 1937-39. Verve, 1992
  • Count Basie Live – 1938 At The Famous Door, NYC. Jazz Hour Records, 1997
  • April In Paris. Polygram Records, 1956
  • The Complete Atomic Basie. Blue Note Records, 1958
  • Chairman of the Board. Blue Note Records, 1958

Other Recommended Recordings:

  • Rhythm – Freddie Green. Fresh Sound Records.

These are the only recording sessions available with Green as band leader. As one would expect, its filled with sharp, tight arrangements of swinging songs, all propelled by Freddie’s steady rhythm guitar playing.

  • Billie Holiday – The Legacy. AMG, 1991.

This three-boxed set offers more than 50 songs that cover Lady Day’s career. Twenty-three of the songs feature Freddie’s very audible guitar strumming.

From the book Doin’ the Charleston (2013)

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Black History Month – First Black State Supreme Court Justice

In 1840, Jonathan Jasper Wright was born in Pennsylvania.  He attended the district school during the winter months and worked for neighboring farmers the rest of the year. He saved up enough money to attend Lancasterian University in Ithaca, New York. 

Wright graduated in 1860 and for the next five years taught school and read law in Pennsylvania. In October 1864 Wright was a delegate to the National Convention of Colored Men in Syracuse, NY. Chaired by Frederick Douglass, the convention called for a nationwide ban on slavery, racial equality under the law and suffrage for all males.

Wright then applied for admission to the Pennsylvania Bar but was refused due to his race. After the War he joined the American Missionary Association and was sent to Beaufort, South Carolina to organize schools for freedmen.

When the Civil Rights Act was passed, Wright returned to Pennsylvania and demanded a Bar examination. He was admitted on August 13, 1865, and became the state’s first black lawyer. By January 1867 he was back in South Carolina as head of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Beaufort where he became active in Republican politics. He was chosen as a delegate to the historic 1868 South Carolina Constitutional Convention that met in Charleston. As one of the few trained black lawyers in South Carolina, Wright had a great deal of influence in writing the Constitution and setting up the judiciary.

In a somewhat back-handed compliment, the Charleston Daily News called Wright a “very intelligent, well-spoken colored lawyer.”

There were 124 delegates to the convention, seventy-three of them black. The new Constitution bestowed voting rights and educational opportunities “without regard to race or color.” It also included universal male suffrage, forbade all property qualifications for office, outlawed dueling and legalized divorce.

Later that year, in the first election under this new Constitution, Wright was one of ten black men elected to the South Carolina Senate. In the South Carolina House seventy-eight of the 124 representatives were black. However, many whites had no intention of “obeying a Negro constitution of a Negro government establishing Negro equality.” The white-dominated press called it the “Africanization of South Carolina,” and most whites never accepted the 1868 Constitution as legitimate. They were determined to undermine all the gains made by blacks with the support of Yankee carpetbaggers.

Shortly after the election, Solomon Hogue resigned from the South Carolina Supreme Court to take a seat in the U.S. Congress. That left a vacant seat on the high court for the ten-month remainder of his judicial term,. The black Republican-dominated legislature was determined to elect a black man to join the two white men – Chief Justice Franklin J. Moses, a scalawag (Southerner who supported the Federal government), and Associate Justice A.J. Willard, a carpetbagger (Yankee involved in Southern  politics) – already on the court.  

In fact, Moses, a former governor, who was notoriously corrupt, picked up the nickname “king of the scalawags” and “the Robber Governor.”

The three candidates for the open seat were Wright, J.W. Whipper, a black representative, and one white candidate, former governor James Orr. The final legislative vote on February 1, 1870 was:

  • Wright, 72
  • Whipper, 57
  • Orr, 3

Jonathan Jasper Wright became the first black associate justice elected to a state Supreme Court. Ten months later, Wright was elected to a full term (six years). He was thirty-years-old.

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Jonathon Jasper Wright, from Harper’s Magazine. Author’s collection.

Edward McCrady of Charleston was incensed by Wright’s election to the high court. He published a virulent pamphlet which claimed that had Wright been a white man, he never would have attained such a position with so little experience.

During his seven-year tenure on the bench, Justice Wright heard 425 cases and wrote eighty-seven opinions. However, during the heated election of 1876 (see entry #36), Wright voted to support the Republican victory against Democrat Wade Hampton. Four months later when President Rutherford B. Hayes pulled Federal troops out of South Carolina, the Republicans vacated their seats and the Democrats took charge of the state.

The new Democrat-controlled legislature quickly attempted to impeach Justice Wright for corruption and malfeasance based on trumped-up charges. He initially vowed to defend himself, but in August 1877 realized he could not win. He submitted his resignation.

Governor Hampton, in accepting the resignation, wrote to Wright, acknowledging the illegitimacy of the accusations:

Dear Sir:

Your favor of this date, covering your resignation of the office of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of this State, is at hand and contents noted.

I accept the same as a tribute on your part to the quietude of the State, and as in no sense an acknowledgement of the truth of the charges which have been made against you.

Wright moved to Charleston and established a law practice. He taught classes from his office and established the law department at Claflin College in Orangeburg. When he died of tuberculosis in 1885, his reputation in South Carolina was still viewed through the lens of racism and suspicion.

A century later, in 1997, the South Carolina Supreme Court unveiled a portrait of Wright, originally published in Harper’s Weekly magazine and a granite grave marker. Chief Justice Ernest Finney, Jr., the first black on the court since Wright stated:

[Wright’s] election to the supreme court marked a high point in a celebrated career of public service, as a teacher, a lawyer and as a statesman.

On Thursday, September 26, 2013, at the South Carolina Black Lawyers Association hosted a ceremonial unveiling of a South Carolina Historic Marker at the site of Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright’s law office on Queen Street in Charleston.

wright sign

From the book, Charleston Firsts. Available on Amazon. 


The Irrepressible Daisy Breaux

In 1864 a young girl was born in Philadelphia. She was christened Margaret Rose Anthony Julia Josephine Catherine Cornelia Donovan O’Donovan. Her friends called her “Daisy.” Her father, Cornelius McCarthy Moore Donavon O’Donavon, died when she was three, and her mother moved to New Orleans and married Gustave Breaux, a wealthy member of an aristocratic French family. 

daisy breaux - Copy

From New York Public Library – Public Domain. Author’s Collection.

Daisy was brought up in wealth and high southern society. She became known for her smart alecky sense of humor and attitude. When schoolmates would make fun of her – “Why do you have a French name and look so Irish?”- she usually responded with a slap in the face. However, once she started turning the heads of boys, Daisy became a popular girl. So much so that her mother sent Daisy off to the Georgetown Visitation convent school in Washington, D.C.

After her schooling was finished Daisy returned to New Orleans and fielded dozens of offers of marriage. In 1885 she married a wealthy Charleston banker, Andrew Simonds, who had lavished her with gifts like a diamond necklace and diamond pendant. She wore both at the altar.  

In Charleston, Daisy immediately turned heads. The couple was given a new house on the Battery as a wedding present and Daisy was told her to “decorate it anyway you wish.” She erected scaffolding in the drawing room and personally painted clouds with roses on the ceiling … all while receiving formal guests. Daisy was also fond of giving her guests unflattering nicknames, which she then proceeded to use in public. There was one grand old Charleston dame who always wore a tiara whom Daisy called “the Comb.” Another woman with unfortunately prominent teeth became known as “the Piano.” 

However, the most shocking event may have been when Daisy ordered her wedding present destroyed and a new mansion was built in its place at 4 South Battery.  It was an Italian Renaissance villa with four Corinthian columns along the front, designed by Frederick P. Dinkelberg who later became famous as the designer of the Flatiron Building in New York.    

In 1905, Simonds’s premature death left Daisy and their 5-year-old daughter, Margaret, in a precarious financial position. Ever the practical woman, Daisy turned her Charleston home into a luxury hotel. She named it after herself: the Villa Margherita — “margherita” being Italian for “daisy.”

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The “Villa Margherita” (to the left) at 4 South Battery, Charleston, SC. Author’s Collection. 

Daisy invented the hotel’s motto out of fractured Latin: “Sic tibi pecunia non intrare non licet est.” Daisy translated it as: “If you ain’t got no money you needn’t come around.” She leased the property to Miss Ina Liese Dawson, who operated the Villa Margherita, serving wealthy northerners on their winter excursions to South Carolina for hunting expeditions, including Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell.

Daisy met her second husband, Barker Gummere Jr., when they both happened to be aboard the same yacht during a congressional junket to the Panama Canal. Gummere was a banker whose political influence earned him the nickname the “Kingmaker of New Jersey.” Their 1907 wedding took place in Charleston at the Villa. 

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Daisy Gummere. Courtesy Library of Congress

Daisy then designed another house — a mansion called Rosedale on 57 acres that Gummere owned near Princeton. Again, tragedy cut the marriage short when he died of pneumonia in 1914. Daisy hired nine teachers and transformed Rosedale into a private academy for girls, enrolling her daughter as the first student.

Four years later, she married her third husband, Capt. Clarence Crittenden Calhoun. He was a Kentucky lawyer and Spanish-American War veteran with a lucrative law practice in Washington. Daisy became one of the most renowned hostesses in Washington, charming Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future King of England.  

In the summer of 1920, the Calhouns traveled to San Francisco for the Democratic National Convention. The 19th Amendment was about to give women the right to vote, and politicians were eagerly courting this new constituency. Daisy noticed that female conventiongoers were being treated with an amazing amount of deference. Daisy recalled: 

While I had always believed in woman’s political power behind the throne, I came away from the Convention a thorough convert to her new place in the world, not only for equal rights in politics and business, but as a public speaker.

Back in Washington, D.C. Daisy had decided to harness what her husband had dubbed “dynamic woman power.” She founded the Woman’s National Foundation, and chief among its bylaws was the promise to educate:

women in their civil rights and duties as citizens, by giving and receiving instruction in history, civics and statescraft and all other branches helpful to good citizenship . . .

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Daisy Calhoun. Courtesy Library of Congress

She raised funds from wealthy donors, in 1921 purchased 10 acres of prime land at Connecticut and Florida avenues NW for $80,000. Known as the Dean estate, the property included a mansion that became the foundation’s headquarters and was the setting for a hectic schedule of civics lessons, socials and inspirational pageants.

Daisy Calhoun, however, discovered that women had a less praiseworthy trait – jealous, sniping harpies. She wrote in her memoir, The Autobiography of a Chameleon:

Many women are so constituted that they cannot bear to see one of their sisters, who has been on a par with them, suddenly elevated to a position of authority over them.

Calhoun’s daughter, Margaret, eloped when she was about 18. Her secret suitor was a wealthy young Washingtonian named Arthur Drury, whom Calhoun described as “feckless and not suited to business.” The marriage didn’t last long, and Margaret later married Charles Waring, a Charleston lawyer. Margaret had children by both men.

daisy - recipes, philiosphy

Clarence Calhoun died in 1938 and Daisy Calhoun promised to publish a second memoir that recounted how she had been “prey for many of the scoundrels and racketeers that infest Washington.” She never did, though her cookbook, Favorite Recipes of a Famous Hostess, became popular.

She moved back to Charleston in 1948 and died there the following year at age 85. She was buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. 

Such was the life of Margaret Rose Anthony Julia Josephine Catherine Cornelia Donovan O’Donovan Breaux Simonds Gummere Calhoun.

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Daisy’s headstone in Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston. Photo by Mark R. Jones





Some 1886 Charleston Earthquake History

eq - book coverThe following pages are taken from A Descriptive Narrative of the Earthquake of August 31, 1886 by Carl McKinley for the Charleston City Year Book 1887. 

Specifically, these pages report the effects of the earthquake around the state of south Carolina. The epicenter was 20 miles north of Charleston, but the quake was felt across the east coast north to Chicago and south to Miami.

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People fleeing the earthquake’s destruction on the night of Aug. 31, 1886. Image from Harper’s Week

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Church Street damage: Dock Street Theater (left); St. Philip’s Church (center); French Huguenot Church (right)

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Broad Street … 27 Broad Street with crumbled facade

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Hayne Street (looking east from Meeting Street)

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St. Michael’s Church and City Guard House

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Food lines, from Harper’s Weekly

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Washington Square became a refugee camp for hundreds of residents whose home were destroyed. 



Today In Charleston History: March 24

March 24


Charles II granted the territory called Carolana to the “true and absolute Lords and Proprietors.” The eight men were:

  • John Berkeley, Baron Berkeley of Stratton – Berkeley fought on the Royalist side during the Rebellion, general of the Royal forces in Devon. He also became a Proprietor for the Colony of New Jersey.
  • Sir William Berkeley – During the Rebellion, William served as Governor of Virginia and was a consistent supporter of Royal rule.
  • Sir George Carteret – Served as lt. governor of Jersey, the largest of the channel islands, fifteen miles off the French coast, which became a refuge for Royalists during the Rebellion. Carteret ran an active privateering campaign against Parliament, who branded him a pirate. After the execution of Charles I, Carteret had Charles II declared King  in Jersey,  even though the action forced  him  into  exile  for nine years.  He also became a Proprietor  of New Jersey. 
  • Sir John Colleton, 1st Baronet – Served in the infantry during the Rebellion and made heavy financial contributions to the Royal cause. After Charles’s execution, Colleton fled to Barbados where he acquired an extensive estate.
  • William Craven, Earl of Craven – Contributed substantial financing for the Royal cause during the Rebellion. Known for his “bawdy language,” Craven was one of the few noblemen who did not flee London during the Great Plague of 1665. He remained in the city to help keep order and donated property for mass grave sites.
  • Anthony Ashley Cooper, Baron Ashley of Wimborne St. Giles – A political opportunist who started the Rebellion as a Loyalist, then became a supporter of Cromwell after the War, but then devoted much of his energy for the Restoration of Charles II, for which he was well rewarded, becoming one of the most politically powerful men in England.
  • Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon – Maternal grandfather of two monarchs, Queen Mary II and Queen Anne, Hyde was one of Charles’ closest advisors during the nine-year exile. His daughter, Anne, married Charles’s younger brother, James, Duke of York. Later in life he authored the acclaimed “History of the Rebellion.”
  • George Monck, Duke of Albemarle – A brilliant military leader for Charles during the Rebellion, Monck was arrested and spent two years in the Tower of London. Accepting a commission as Major General he fought with Cromwell in Ireland and Scotland. After being elected to Parliament in 1660, Monck campaigned for the Restoration of Charles II. He was rewarded as Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the most prestigious honor in England.

Each Proprietor contributed £75 sterling to establish a fund for financing a colony in Carolina. They also agreed, if necessary, to contribute an additional £500 sterling each. The Proprietors, of course, hoped that no more money would be required. There was a strong consensus that the colony could be established by luring experienced settlers from established Caribbean colonies like Barbados and Bermuda, by offering large land grants in lieu of providing financing.

Six of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolina Colony

Six of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolina Colony


William Johnson of Charleston was appointed an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He was the first of Thomas Jefferson’s three appointments to the court, and is considered to have been selected for sharing many of Jefferson’s beliefs about the Constitution. Johnson was the first member of the U.S. Supreme Court that was not a member of the Federalist Party.


William Johnson

Born in Charleston on December 27, 1771, Johnson was the second son of blacksmith William Johnson and his wife Sarah Nightingale. Graduated first in his class from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1790, Johnson went on to read law under attorney Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, The following year, on March 16, Johnson married Sarah C. Bennett, sister of future governor Thomas Bennett.


 Samuel Smalls, a well-known disabled black street vegetable vendor, who traveled the city on Nan the Goat,  got into an argument with Maggie Barnes on 4 Romney Street over an allegedly stolen watch. He shot at her, and ended up at the City Jail on Magazine Street.  Judge Brown suspended his sentence on June 3, 1924 and Sammy returned home  to his mother on James Island until he died a few months later at about age 35.

Charleston writer, DuBose Heyward, read the story, and was familiar with Smalls. This incident inspired Heyward to write the novel “Porgy,” which was v e r y loosely based on this story. Sammy became “Porgy” and Maggie became “Bess.”  George Gershwin read the book, and saw the subsequent Broadway play based on the novel, and purchased the rights to the story. In 1935, Gershwin’s version of the story debuted on Broadway and as”Porgy and Bess,” 

Today In Charleston History: March 19

1778 – Politics

Rawllins Lowndes

South Carolina President Rawlings Lowndes approved changes to the state constitution that changed the title of South Carolina’s chief executive’s office from president to governor, although he was called “president” until the end of his term. It also disestablished the Church of England in South Carolina.

1785 – Education

The Legislature granted a charter for College of Charleston to “encourage and institute youth in the several branches of liberal education.” The founders of the College include three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward, Jr.) and three future signers of the United States Constitution (John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney).

The Act also granted the college almost 9 acres of land bounded by present-day Calhoun, St. Philip, Coming and George streets; three-fourths of the land was soon sold to pay debts,  In 1837 CofC became America’s first municipal college in the country.

Randolph Hall, College of Charleston main campus

Randolph Hall, College of Charleston main campus