Charleston’s Connection To “Amazing Grace”

newton, john

Today In Charleston History: May 26


For the first time in Charles Town records, names of individual Jews appear on the roll register for full citizenship:

  • Simon Valentine, a merchant from New York
  • Jacob Mendis, from the Caribbean
  • Abraham Avilia, from the Caribbean
1836 – Slavery.

The Pinckney Resolutions, introduced by Henry Laurens Pinckney, passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote of 117 to 68. It stated that Congress had no constitutional authority to interfere with slavery in the states and imposed the Gag Rule that forbade the raising, consideration or discussion of abolition.

Henry L. Pinckney

Henry L. Pinckney

Pinckney was born in Charleston and graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) in 1812. He studied law and was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Charleston. He served as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives (1816–1832). In 1819 he founded the Charleston Mercury and was its sole editor for fifteen years. Between 1829 and 1840, he served six terms as intendant or mayor of Charleston. He died in Charleston, South Carolina, February 3, 1863, and was buried in the Circular Congregational Church.

 1864-Bombardment of Charleston.  
Gen. John G. Foster

Gen. John G. Foster

Gen. John G. Foster became commander of the Federal forces in Charleston. He had been an engineer during the construction of Ft. Sumter, and was second in command during the battle of Ft. Sumter, on April 12, 1861.

His first order was to increase the number of shells being thrown daily into the city.

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.

Today In Charleston History: May 5


A lot was conveyed by Ralph and Mary Izard to James Nichols “for the use of the community of the French church in Charles Town.” The lot was located at the corner of Dock and Church Streets and is currently the site of the 1845 Gothic French Huguenot Church.

French Huguenot Church postcard

French Huguenot Church postcard

 1780-The Seige of Charlestown.

Col. Banastre Tarleton defeated a large American cavalry, capturing sixty-seven officers and more than 100 horses.

May 5, 1791

Washington visited Fort Johnson (James Island) and Fort Moultrie (Sullivan’s Island). For the evening Washington was once again entertained at the Exchange at a dinner hosted by Gov. Pinckney and other principal gentlemen of the city.

The dinner must have been as spectacular as the previous evening for Washington wrote in his diary “there were at least 400 ladies – the Number & appearance of which exceeded anything of the kind I had ever seen.”


Charles Pinckney

Today In Charleston History: April 14


John Wesley arrived from Savannah for a second visit to Charlestown. He noted in his diary:

I had the pleasure of meeting with the clergy of South Carolina among whom in the afternoon there was such a conversation for several hours on ‘Christ our Righteousness’ as I had not heard at any visitation in England or hardly any other occasion.

During Wesley’s visit he arranged with Lewis Timothy to publish the Collection of Psalms and Hymns, the first Anglican hymnbook published in the American colonies.

Lewis Timothy print shop

Lewis Timothy print shop marker on King Street, Charleston

1780-American Revolution 

Lt. Colonel Tarleton and his British dragoons took an American cavalry encampment commanded by General Issac Huger, at Middleton’s Plantation in Goose Creek. In a surprise attack Tarleton’s troops killed fifteen and captured eighteen. Tarleton noted that “Lt. Colonel Washington was Prisoner but afterward thro’ the Darkness of the Morn escaped on foot.”

This action effectively cut off Gen. Lincoln’s escape route from Charlestown. The Continental Army was now stuck in the city.

 1861 – Civil War

The Federal garrison at Sumter saluted the American flag with a fifty-gun salute.  The harbor was filled with thousands of Charlestonians, on every type of boat imaginable, to watch the surrender. Major Robert Anderson takes the Stars and Stripes with him when they evacuate the fort. 

The New York Times correspondent described the scene:

The bells have been chiming all day, guns firing, ladies waving handkerchiefs, people cheering and citizens making themselves generally demonstrative. It is regarded as the greatest day in the history of South Carolina.

1865 – Civil War

Maj. Gen. Robert Anderson, who surrendered Fort Sumter to the Confederates, came out of retirement to re-raise the same Stars and Stripes over Fort Sumter that he had lowered in surrender four years earlier. This flag is now on exhibit at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center.

Robert Smalls, the slave who had stolen his master’s boat, the Planter, and fled to freedom, returned with the Planter to Charleston harbor for the ceremonial raising of the American flag upon Ft. Sumter.

ft sumter flag raising

Flag Raising ceremony at Fort Sumter. Library of Congress