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.

Today In Charleston History: July 6


Peter Timothy, editor of the South Carolina Gazette wrote:

From the first of January last to the first of July no less than 4,233 [Negroes] had been imported and many more were expected before the close of the year. This scarcely needs comment; every man’s own mind must suggest the consequences of such enormous importation, especially at this time.

1774-American Revolution – Foundations
Exchange Building, 1823

Exchange Building, 1823

One hundred and four delegates arrived at the Exchange Building for a general meeting. Charlestonians Henry Middleton, John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Lynch, and Christopher Gadsden were named delegates to the First Continental Congress.

Dr. David Ramsay attended the meeting and wrote:

This Convention of the people, and these resolutions, laid the foundation of all subsequent proceedings which ultimately terminated in a revolution … The people, by virtue of their inherent right to resist illegal oppression by their rulers, delegated full powers to five men of their own choice to take care of their political interest … the germ of representative government then planted, has grown up to the tree of liberty and happiness …

Edward Rutledge wrote to Ralph Izard boasting that he was elected by a “great majority – 397.”

1775-American Revolution – Continental Congress

 Continental Congress issues a “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of taking up Arms.” It stated that the Americans are “resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves.”


John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

John Laurens secured a place on George Washington’s staff, with Alexander Hamilton and Marquis de Lafayette. Hamilton wrote that John had “stolen into my affections without my consent.”

Today In Charleston June 28


Rebecca Brewton married Jacob Motte.

1769-American Revolution – Foundations.
William Henry Drayton

William Henry Drayton

An “Association” was published, pledging non-importation of any products of Great Britain, and denouncing anyone who did not sign within a month. Many of the aristocratic leaders were upset by the surge of the mechanics (merchants and tradesmen) in politics, usurped by men they considered their inferior. William Henry Drayton condescendingly wrote in the Gazette:

No man who could boast of having received a liberal education would consult on public affairs with men who never were in any way to study, or to advise upon any points, but rules how to cut up a beast in the market … cobble on old shoe … or to build a necessary house.

  Christopher Gadsden pointed out that Drayton was exempted from labor to make a living due to his “marriage to a rich heiress rather than from any merit of his own.” The rally cry of the “Association” became “Sign or die!”

1776-American Revolution

Rev. Robert Cooper, a Loyalist, prayed from St. Michael’s pulpit that “the King might be strengthened to defeat his enemies.”

1776-Battle of Ft. Sullivan

The first major naval battle of the Revolution took place in Charlestown.  At 10 a.m. eleven British warships under Sir Peter Parker attacked Ft. Moultrie.

British fleet in Charlestown

British fleet in Charlestown

Commander Col. William Moultrie termed the situation “one continual blaze and roar, with clouds of smoke curling over…for hours together.” Although greatly outnumbered, and with vastly inferior armaments, the South Carolina troops kept the British fleet from entering the harbor. At the same time the 400 men, managed to hold The Breach, thwarting the British efforts to cross and land troops on Sullivan’s Island.

 In the midst of the battle, a British projectile broke the fort’s flagstaff. Sgt. William Jasper “leapt over the ramparts” and,

Sgt. Jasper replacing the flag

Sgt. Jasper replacing the flag

shouted, “Don’t let us fight without a color!” In the words of Captain Horry:

Jasper deliberately walked the whole length of the fort, until he came to the colors on the extremity of the left, when he cut off the same from the mast, and called to me for a sponge staff, and with a thick cord tied on the colors and stuck the staff on the rampart in the sand. The sergeant fortunately received no hurt, though exposed for a considerable time, to the enemy’s fire.

As American shot bombarded into the British men-of-war, one round landed on the Bristol’s quarterdeck and rendered Sir Peter Parker’s “Britches…quite torn off, his backside laid bare, his thigh and knee wounded.” The Acteon was grounded and severely damaged.  By 9 p.m. Parker withdrew and the reports came in:

  • British: 78 dead, 152 wounded. Lord William Campbell was wounded during the battle and later died of his wounds.
  • American: 12 dead, 25 wounded.
Battle of Fort Moultrie

Battle of Fort Moultrie


The Palmetto Society was organized to celebrate Palmetto Day, June 28, 1776.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Denmark Vesey was found guilty and sentenced to hang on July 2. Lionel Kennedy read a prepared statement for the record:

The Court were not only satisfied with your guilt, but that you were the author, and original instigator of this diabolical plot. Your professed design was to trample on all laws, human and divine, to riot in blood, outrage, rapine and conflagration, and to introduce anarchy and confusion in their most horrid forms. Your life has become, therefore, a just and necessary sacrifice, at the shrine of indulgent Justice.

As Vesey stood listening to his sentence, a single tear “trickled down his cheek. He glared at his accusers and muttered, “The work of insurrection would go on.”

That night, Vesey was visited by Rev. Richard Furman who suggested they pray together so that Vesey could die repentant. Vesey refused, telling Rev. Furman that it “was a Glorious cause he was to die in … it is no use to say any thing more.”

William Moultrie grave, Ft. Moultrie

William Moultrie grave, Ft. Moultrie

The remains of Gen. William Moultrie were re-interred on Sullivan’s Island near the water at the Ft. Moultrie Visitor Center.  Today, William Moultrie’s grave is marked by a flagpole and a tombstone enclosed by iron fencing. The grave is seen by thousands of people each year.

Today In Charleston History: June 20


Lord Ashley Cooper wrote to Sir John Yeaman:

The Distinction of the Governor from the rest of our deputies is a thing rather of order than of overruling power, and he hath no more freedom thereby than any one of the council to swerve from these rules.


Governor Joseph Blake gave £1000 sterling to the Independent (Congregationalist) Church.

1776-American Revolution. Battle of Ft. Sullivan

Gen. Clinton sent a brigade under Maj. Gen. Charles Cornwallis to pitch camp within sight of The Breach on Long Island (Isle of Palms). Cornwallis reported that the depth of The Breach at low tide, initially thought to be only half-a-yard, was in reality seven feet. Col. Willliam Moultrie had already stationed an Advance Guard of 400 men on the other side of the Breach to defend against the crossing, effectively stranding Cornwallis’s force.

1779-American Revolution. Battle of Stono Ferry

Under Lt. Col. John Maitland, the British had established their defenses at Stono Ferry, located on the Stono River. British troops were camped on one side with a detachment of Hessians camped on the other side.

The British rear guard force was attacked by Patriot forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. Within a hour the Patriots had taken the British redoubts and the British and Hessian troops were falling back, with many causalities. The Patriots were on the verge of victory when fresh British reinforcements came up.

The Patriots attacked the Hessian camp and  immediately came under fire from a British galley in the Stono River. The Patriots returned fire on the ship, forcing it to withdraw from the fight. The South Carolina Navy schooner Rattlesnake came down the river and began to fire into the rear of the British and Hessian forces. They both turned from the Patriot force and fired upon the Rattlesnake. The Rattlesnake was able to repulse the attack, however, incurring heavy losses.

The American loss in the battle was 34 killed, 113 wounded and 155 missing. Among the dead was Hugh Jackson, brother of future President Andrew Jackson. The British casualties were 26 killed, 93 wounded and 1 missing.

Map drawn by British officer, 1780.

Map drawn by British officer, 1780.


A writer named “Rusticus” wrote a letter to the editor about white anxiety over the presence Haitian slaves:

The circumstances which occasion’d their introduction gave new ideas to our slaves which the opportunities of conversation with the new comers could not fail to ripen into mischief. It may be perhaps true that the generality of those admitted were not immediately concerned in the revolt  – their hands were free from blood but they witnessed [sic] all the horrors of the scene – they saw the dawning hope of their countrymen to be free – the rapidity with which the flame of liberty spread among them …

1822-Slavery. Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

One of the incarcerated conspirators, most likely William Paul, finally broke down and identified Denmark Vesey as the “instigator and chief of the plot.” This set off an intense, frantic two-day long search of Charleston, from wharfs to streets and buildings.

Today In Charleston History: June 9


“A Exact Prospect of Charlestown” an engraving based on a watercolor by Bishop Roberts, was printed in London and published in London Magazine.

An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, by Bishop Roberts

An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, by Bishop Roberts

1776-Battle of Ft. Sullivan-American Revolution

Learning of the construction of Ft. Sullivan, and the fact that the back (land) side of the fort was not completed, Sir Henry Clinton and 500 British soldiers landed on Long Island (present-day Isle of Palms) just north of Sullivan’s Island. Over the following days, Clinton increased his force on Long Island. His plan was to cross The Breach, an inlet between Long Island and Sullivan’s and attack the fort from its unfinished rear while Sir Peter Parker’s ships assaulted it from the sea.

battle of sullivan's island

 1818 – Religion-Slavery

Rev. Richard Allen, black minister from Philadelphia, conducted a service on Wednesday evening at the AME Church. The city guard was called out to break up the service. One hundred and forty black congregants were arrested – including Denmark Vesey, Peter Poyas, Monday Gell and Gullah Jack – and spent the night in jail. The next morning a judge lectured them on the particulars of the 1800 law that prohibited black religious meetings after dark with a black majority.

 1864-Bombardment of Charleston  

Gus Smythe, serving in the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston, wrote to his mother:

Well the Yankees have succeeded at last in hitting St. Michael’s Church. NOT the steeple, just the base of it. The shell entered the South roof of the church on Tuesday, but did not burst nor do much damage … I do not consider the charm as broken now even until the Steeple itself receives a scratch

Today In Charleston History: June 8


The South Carolina Gazette published a proclamation by Governor Charles Greville Montagu:

It has been represented to me that a large number of dead negroes who have been thrown into the river, are driven upon the marsh opposite Charles Town, and the noisome smell arising from their putrefaction may become dangerous to the health of the inhabitants of this province: In order to prevent such an inhumane and unchristian practice, I think it fit, by the advice of his Majesty’s council, to issue this my proclamation strictly forbidding this same: And I do hereby offer a reward of ONE HUNDRED POUNDS to be paid on the conviction of the offender to any person that will inform against any one person who shall be guilty of such practice.

1769-American Revolution – Foundations

The Gazette announced that “several Societies of gentlemen …in patriotic associations” agreed to dress in homespun and boycott all British goods that could be manufactured in America.

1776-American Revolution-Battle of Ft. Sullivan

Most of the British fleet crossed the Charlestown bar and anchored in Five Fathom Hole. General Clinton delivered a proclamation to the patriots

“to entreat and exhort them, as they tender their own happiness and that of their posterity, to return to their duty to our common sovereign.”

South Carolina President John Rutledge rejected this plea.

1776-American RevolutionContinental Congress.

In a letter to John Jay, Edward Rutledge explained that he supported the idea of independence, but for tactical reasons he was opposed to a declaration of independence which would only give Britain “Notice of our Intentions before we had taken any Steps to execute them.” He also noted that he was going to propose to delay “for 3 Weeks or a Month” the vote on the resolution for independence.

1780-American Revolution-British Occupation


Sir Henry Clinton

Gen. Clinton left for New York, appointing Lord Cornwallis to take command of all British forces in the southern provinces. Before leaving, Clinton issued one final proclamation that demanded no one in South Carolina remain neutral, “all persons should take an active part in Settling and Securing his Majesty’s government and delivering the Country from that anarchy …”

All prisoners who had not participated in the defense of Charleston were paroled as of June 20. If they did not pledge allegiance they would be imprisoned. There was also a clause that if so ordered they would have to take up arms to defend Britain. He concluded by saying that all those:

who shall afterwards neglect to return to their allegiance and to His Majesty’s government will be considered as Enemies and Rebels to the same and treated accordingly.

Clinton stated, “I may venture to assert that there are few men in South Carolina who are not either our Prisoners or in Arms with us.” He was wrong.

Col. Issac Hayne signed the declaration of allegiance to avoid be separated from his dying wife and small children ill with small pox. He was told by General Patterson that he would not have to honor the clause about bearing arms against his fellow citizens. He then returned to his plantation in St. Paul’s parish, forty miles south of Charlestown, present-day Colleton County.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

After a week in the “black hole” of the Work House, Warden Thomas Napier warned William Paul that “he would soon be led forth to the scaffold, for summary execution.” Paul blurted out that the plot was “very extensive, embracing an indiscriminate massacre of the whites.” He also stated he believed the leader of the plot was “a Gullah man who carried about him a charm which rendered him invulnerable.” He also named Ned Bennett as one of the conspirators.

Today In Charleston History: May 20


Charles and Eliza Pinckney returned to Charlestown from London, with their ten-year old daughter Harriot. Their sons, Charles Cotesworth and Thomas, remained in England to attend school. Charles contracted malaria soon after their arrival.


Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens sent his schooner, Wambaw, loaded with provisions, to his Georgia plantation without clearing Charlestown customs. The Wambaw offloaded her cargo and took on 50,000 cypress shingles as ballast and sailed back to Charlestown. Customs Collector Moore refused to allow the ship legal clearance of the harbor and seized the vessel.

1780-British Occupation. 

Most of the American militia were given parole and allowed to return to their homes. Many of the important men, stripped of their property, had little recourse than to pledge loyalty to the Crown.

John Wells of the South Carolina and American General Gazette quickly swore allegiance to the King to save his property. He was allowed to resume publication in July.

Peter Timothy’s paper, the South Carolina Gazette, was seized by the British and given to the Tory Robert Wells.

miles brewton house

Miles Brewton House, 27 King Street

The Miles Brewton home at 27 King Street was made headquarters for Gen. Henry Clinton, and later Lt. Col. Nisbit Balfour, commandant of Charlestown, and Lord Rawdon, supreme commander of British troops in South Carolina.

Rebecca Brewton Motte, with a sick and invalid husband, refused to give up her brother’s home to the occupying force. Although she was at the mercy of her “guests”, she always “sat at the head of her table in the large drawing-room and commanded the respect, at least, of his lordship and followers.” The officers “showed her the greatest courtesy and referred to themselves as ‘her guests’.”

Rebecca’s main concern was the safety of her three daughters and the care of her husband. The Motte family was crowded into a small area of the house on the third floor while the British lived in comfort in the large rooms on the lower floors.


Capt. Joseph Vesey died at the age of eighty-eight. Vesey was a notorious figure in Charleston. His former slave, Denmark Vesey, had been executed in 1822 as the leader of a large slave insurrection. 

#Today In Charleston History: May 12

1780 – The Surrender of Charlestown.

At 2:00 pm Gen. Lincoln and Gen. Moultrie met the British commanders at the horn work and gate and surrendered the city of Charlestown. It was the British army’s greatest prize of the Revolutionary War, capturing the majority of the Southern Continental Army regulars. Sir Clinton wrote:

Whatever severe Justice might dictate, we resolved not to press to unconditional Submission a reduced army whom we hoped Clemency might yet reconcile to us.

He ordered all regular army and militia to “bring all their arms with them, guns, swords and pistols.”

Henry Laurens also complained about surrendering the troops, “Thousands of Muskets … useless in Charles Town which might have been shouldered in our defence.”

A marked man by the British, Gov. John Rutledge traveled to Philadelphia and spent the rest of the war living with other Southern refugees. He spent most of his time trying to secure help from Congress for South Carolina.

Casualties during the Charlestown siege were:

  • American: 150 dead; 138 wounded
  • British: 99 dead; 217 wounded.

British soldiers were given the power to arrest people on any pretext’ citizens could be jailed without a pre-trial hearing. They also cut down the Liberty Tree on Mazyck’s Pasture and burned the stump. Thus began a two-and-a-half year occupation.

1781-American Revolution. 

motte1Rebecca Brewton Motte’s plantation home on the Congaree River in St. Matthews Parish, was called Mt. Joseph. It had fallen in British hands, by British Lt. Donald McPherson with over 150 men who threw up earthworks and dug a deep ditch around the house. The British called it Fort Motte.

Rebecca Motte, whose Charleston home was also being occupied by occupying British officers, was distressed that both of her homes were now in British hands. The British ordered Motte to gather what belongings she wanted and move to her overseer’s house nearby – a rough structure, covered with weather-boards, and only partially finished.

Patriot leaders were determined to re-take Ft. Motte. Gen. Francis Marion thought that the best thing would to be set fire to the mansion house and burn the British out. When Rebecca was told of their plans she:

“immediately and cheerfully consented, assuring him that the loss of her property was nothing compared to the advancement of their cause.”

Imacon Color Scanner

Rebecca Motte directing Gen. Marion and Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Harry Lee to use the arrows to ignite her house.

To facilitate the effort she handed three special arrows to Lt. Col. “Light Horse” Harry Lee. The arrows had given to her by her deceased brother, Miles Brewton. These East Indian, chemically-tipped arrows, were supposed to be “ignited upon contact with any hard substance.” The arrows had been kept in the plantation house, but Rebecca had managed to take them with her as she evacuated to the cottage.


Ft. Motte as the combustible arrows ignite the house’s roof. In this painting Lt. Col. Lee consoles Mrs. Motte while Gen. Marion watches.

The combustible arrows were fired from a musket; two of them sputtered out, but the third hit its mark and set fire to the roof of the house. The British, sneaking out of the attic dormer windows in effort to the flames, were easy targets for the Patriot riflemen and were quickly driven back inside. Lt. McPherson ran up the white flag, fearing they would be blown up if the gunpowder stored in the house were set on fire. Together, British and American soldiers put out the flames, saving most of the house.

Rebecca then invited both the American and British officers to join her for dinner in the main house.

State legislature met in Columbia for the first time, in a newly constructed wooden State House. Gov. Charles Pinckney presided during the writing of a new state constitution.

The South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company (SCC&RR) was chartered, and the Charleston & Hamburg Rail Road became one its projects. Elias Horry was the president of the SCC&RR.

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 29

1710 – Education

The Assembly passed an act to establish a

“Free School … for the instruction of Youth … in grammar, arts and sciences and the principals of Christianity.”

Requirements for the teacher included being able to teach “Latin and Greek and be of the Church of England.”

1753 – Politics

Former Chief Justice Charles Pinckney was appointed Agent for South Carolina in England. His entire family accompanied him to Britain – wife Eliza, sons Charles Cotesworth and Thomas and daughter Harriot. The sons were educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford and France. The sons’ friend, William Henry Drayton, accompanied the family and also entered school in Britain.

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown

John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

American workers were “employed in closing the Horn Work” behind the lines. Gen. Lincoln informed his officers “that he intended the Horn Work as a place of retreat for the whole army” if the British drove them from the main line. Lt. Colonel John Laurens and his light infantry was assigned in front of the Horn Work to cover any retreat into it.

Remnants of the "horn work" at Marion Square.

Remnants of the “horn work” at Marion Square.