Today In Charleston History: August 12

1781 – Births

During a 50+ year career as an architect and engineer, Robert Mills left his legacy across the United States.

Robert Mills

Robert Mills

Robert Mills was born in Charlestown on August 12, 1781, during the British occupation of the city. His father was a tailor, respectable and successful but solidly middle class. Mills is often erroneously referred to as America’s first native-born architect, but Charles Bullfinch of Boston, has a clearer claim to that honor.

When Robert Mills was ten years old, President George Washington visited Charleston for seven days. While in the city Washington inspected the almost completed Charleston County Courthouse and was impressed by its young Irish architect, James Hoban of Philadelphia.

During his time in Charleston (1787-1792) Hoban conducted an “evening school, for the instruction of young men in Architecture.” It is often speculated that Mills attended these classes, but there is no documentation of that fact. If not, then due to the quality of his earliest drawings (1802), certainly Mills would have attended similar classes offered to young men in Charleston. Newspapers at the time advertised that M. Depresseville:

Continues to keep his Drawing School, in different Part of Landscapes, with Pencil or Washed, teaches Architecture, and to draw with method; also the necessary acknowledgements for the Plans.  

Another advertisement claimed that Thomas Walker, a stone cutter and mason from Edinburgh:

opened an evening school for teaching the rules of Architecture from seven to nine in the evening (four nights a week)

In 1800, at age nineteen, Mills moved to Washington, D.C. and was hired by James Hoban. The Irish architect who had so impressed George Washington in Charleston, had won the design competition of the President’s Palace – the White House. In December 1800 Mills was “pursuing studies in the office of the architect of the President’s House.”

Under Hoban, who was also at the same time supervising the construction of the Capital, Mills served as an apprentice or assistant and spent most of his time drawing and sketching wainscot, staircases and doorways, and learning the more rudimentary skills of construction – labor and material management. During the next two years Mills was exposed to more building and design than he could have in any place in America.

Mills also befriended Thomas Jefferson during this time and wrote that Jefferson “offered me the use of his library.” He also wanted drawings of his home, Monticello and he “engaged Mr. Mills to make out drawings of the general plan and elevation of the building.”         

In 1802, Mills submitted designs for the proposed South Carolina College and won the $300 prize, even though none of his designs were ever used. He then spent eight years working for Benjamin Latrobe who had been appointed Surveyor of Public Buildings by President Thomas Jefferson.

Mills wrote that Latrobe was:

Engaged upon the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal and as an architect of the Capitol at Washington, at which time I entered his office as a student under the advice and recommendation of Mr. Jefferson, then President of the United States.

Latrobe later described Mills as possessing:

that valuable substitute for genius – laborious precision – in a very high degree, and is therefore very useful to me, though his professional education has been hitherfor much misdirected.

During this time Mills also submitted plans for two Charleston churches, an alteration of St. Michael’s (never implemented) and a design for the Congregational Church. Dr. David Ramsay presented the idea of a round church in 1803 saying his “wife suggested the idea and sketched a plan.” In February 1804 the church’s building committee thanked Mills:

for his ingenious and elegant drawings which had essentially assisted the Members and Supporters in forming a correct opinion of the form and plan of their proposed building.

Mills plans called for a rotunda eighty-eight feet in diameter and thirty-three feet high, covered by a hemispherical Delorme made of wood and sheathed in copper, capped by a large cupola. His design for the church was severely altered when the church was constructed in 1806, much to Mills’ displeasure

circular ruins 2

Ruins of the Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, circa 1880s. Photograph shows the damage from the 1861 fire that ravaged the city. Courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1819 South Carolina established an Internal Improvements Program for the creation of canals, roads and public buildings. With a budge of $1 million spread out over ten years it was the largest public works improvement project per capita of any state in America. Mills was hired as the Acting Commissioner for Public Buildings. His main task was to design (or redesign) courthouses and jails across the state. However, the state legislature had noted the need for fireproof buildings as repositories throughout the state and appropriated $50,000 for the design and construction.

On May 20, 1822, Charleston City Council voted to pay Mills $200 for a fireproof building on the square behind City Hall to be used for county records. Mills envisioned the building as part of a public square which embraced the park (later named Washington Park), City Hall, the County Courthouse and a proposed Federal courthouse.

In December 1823 Mills lost his post as Superintendent of Public Buildings but was appointed as one of four “Commissioners for completing Fire Proof Buildings.” He was also appointed Commissioner of Public Buildings for Charleston District, even though he was living in the state capital, Columbia.

Throughout 1825-26, under the supervision of contractor John Spindle, the construction of the Fireproof Building continued. All materials were non-flammable – granite, brownstone, flagstone, brick, metal and copper. On December 11, 1826, it was finished and “ready for occupancy.” Final cost of the project was $53,803.81.


Bottom: Fireproof Building, Charleston. Courtesy Library of Congress

In 1836, Robert Mills won a private design competition conducted by the Washington National Monument Committee for a permanent memorial to George Washington in the nation’s capital. His original design called for a 600-foot-tall square shaft rising from a Greco-Roman circular colonnade of thirty Doric columns, 45 feet high and 12 feet in diameter.

By the time the cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848, the design of the monument had changed considerably to the more stream-lined, elegant structure that is one of the most famous landmarks in the United States. 

washington monument - design and completed

Mills died on March 3, 1855 with more than 50 projects to his credit, which include more than thirty county courthouses and jail buildings in South Carolina. Some of Mills’ most important projects include: 


  • Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, S.C.


  • South Carolina Penitentiary, Columbia, S.C.


  • Franklin Row, Philadelphia, Pa
  • State House (Independence Hall) Wings, Philadelphia, Pa.


  • First Unitarian (Octagon) Church, Philadelphia, Pa


  • Washington Monument, Baltimore, Md.


  • Winchester Monument, Baltimore, Md.
  • First Baptist Church, Baltimore, Md.


  • John’s Episcopal Church, Baltimore, Md.


  • First Baptist Church, Charleston S.C.


  • Colleton County Courthouse; Colleton County Jail, Walterboro, S.C.
  • Columbia Canal, Columbia, S.C.


  • Charleston County Jail (addition), Charleston, S.C.
  • County Records Office – Fireproof Building, Charleston, S.C.
  • Powder Magazine Complex, Charleston, S.C.
  • South Carolina Asylum, Columbia, S.C


  • Horry County Courthouse and Jail, Conway, S.C.
  • Union County Courthouse, Union, S.C.


  • Peter’s Church, Columbia, S.C.
  • Maxcy Monument, Columbia, S.C.


  • Atlas of the State of South Carolina
  • Edgefield County Courthouse, Edgefield, S.C.


  • Elevated railroad, Washington, D.C. to New Orleans
  • Newberry County Jail, Newberry, S.C.


  • U.S. Senate (renovation), Washington, D.C.


  • Marine Hospital, Charleston, S.C.
  • Washington Canal, Washington, D.C.


  • Executive Offices and White House (water systems), Washington, D.C.
  • House of Representatives (alterations), Washington, D.C.


  • Customs House, New London, Ct.
  • Customs House, New Bedford, Ma.


  • U.S. Capital (water system), Washington, D.C.


  • U.S. Patent Office, Washington, D.C.
  • South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, S.C.
  • U.S. Treasury Building, Washington, D.C.

patent office - mills


  • Library and Science Building, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
  • U.S. Post Office, Washington, D.C.


  • Washington National Monument, Washington, D.C.


  • Smithsonian Institution (supervising architect), Washington, D.C.


  • University of Virginia Library (addition, renovation), Charlottesville, Va.
1863 – Civil War. H.L. Hunley Arrives

The Hunley submarine arrived  in Charleston. James McClintock, one of the designers and builders of the Hunley was offered $100,000 ($1.6. million in current currency) to sink either the New Ironsides or the Wabash, two of the Federal ships in the blockade. With a crew of volunteers, the McClintock conducted a week of safe tests in the harbor between Ft. Johnson and Fort Moultrie, away from the eyes of the Federal blockade. Gen. Beauregard quickly became frustrated by McClintock’s caution. He asked that a Confederate Navy man sail on the submarine. When McClintock refused, Beauregard ordered the submarine seized by the Confederate Navy and a crew of volunteers take over its operation.

McClintock was so disgusted he left Charleston.


Sketch of the Hunley at the direction of William Alexander, depicting the interior design, for his 1902 article “Hunley.” Courtesy Naval Historical Center.

Today In Charleston History: August 6


In failing health and constant pain, and suffering from depression, Theodosia Burr Alston wrote her last will and testament. The birth of her son had resulted in debilitating medical problems which were untreatable in her time. It left Theodosia to live out the rest of her married life infertile and battling recurring bouts of illness. She made trips to Saratoga, New York and Ballston Spa in an effort to restore her health, but with no lasting effects.

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn - New York Historical Society

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn – New York Historical Society

Today In Charleston History: August 5

1749 – Births.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.  was born in Georgetown. He would later sign the Declaration of Independence for South Carolina.

1776 – American Revolution.

The Declaration of Independence arrived in Charleston. Maj. Barnard Elliot read it to a large, enthusiastic crowd under the Liberty Tree.

Liberty Tree marker on Alexander Street

Today In Charleston History: August 4

 1781 – British Occupation.Issac Hayne Executed

At 5:00 p.m. Col. Issac Hayne “was escorted by a party of soldiers to a gallows erected within the lines of the town with his hands tied behind, and there hung up till he was dead.” David Ramsay reported:

The military escort consisted of three hundred men. The place of execution was just without the city-lines, near Radcliffe’s Garden, nearly in front, and within a stone’s throw of the present Orphan House building. The troops formed a hollow square around the scaffold, the British troops occupying the front and rear, the Hessians on the right and left.

During the march through the city “the streets were crowded with thousands of anxious spectators.” Someone in the crowd called to Hayne “Exhibit the example of how an American can die!” Hayne replied, “I will endeavor to do so.”


Today In Charleston History: August 2


From Emma Holmes diary: 

Two young men, members of the W.[ashington] L.[ight] I.[nfantry, Horsey & Walker, have been lately shot for insubordination. The former wrote and published a very mutinous and very improper letter in regard to the alleged treatment of the officers of the [Hampton] Legion. Col. Hampton ordered him arrested & he drew a pistol on him. 


From Emma Holmes diary: 

I walked this afternoon amidst whole streets in ruin to visit our old home; found some soldiers encamped on the spot, so did not go quite to it. But sat for some time on the foundation of Mr. Bull’s iron fencing sadly recalling the memories of the past … The pillars and tall iron steps of Mr. Bulls’s porch still remained, with vines climbing here & there, bringing vividly to mind our pleasant tableaux & oyster parties & the many many changes in the merry girls and youths there and them assembled.

Emma Holmes

Emma Holmes

Emma Holmes was born in 1838 in Charleston, South Carolina, to a plantation owner. During the Civil War, from February 1861 until March 1866, Emma kept a diary of her life in Charleston, the affairs of her family and history as she observed it. A true Confederate, like many others, she believed the war would be over within a few months.

Four of Emma’s five brothers served in the Confederate Army. Her oldest brother Henry was a doctor. Fortunately, all of her brothers survived, although many of her friends and relatives did not.

Today In Charleston History: August 1

1714 – England

George I became King of Great Britain.

1736 – Slavery. Religion

John Wesley

John Wesley

John Wesley, at the request of Reverend Alexander Garden, preached the Sunday sermon at St. Philip’s Church with

about three hundred present for Morning Service … about fifty for the holy communion. I was glad to see several Negroes at church; one of whom told me, she was there constantly; and that her old mistress (now dead) had many times instructed her in the Christian religion.

1776 – American RevolutionReligion.

Rev. Robert Cooper, who supported the King, was removed as minister of St. Michael’s Church, and ordered out of the parsonage.


Theodosia Burr Alston wrote to her father, Aaron Burr, living in self-imposed exile in Europe:

I witness your extraordinary fortitude with new wonder at every new misfortune. Often, after reflecting on this subject, you appear to me so superior, so elevated above other men, I contemplate you with such a strange mixture of humility, admiration, love and pride, that very little superstition would be necessary to make me worship you as a superior being …


A “riot” occurred at the Charleston Orphan House. According to the commissioners’ minutes, some boys created a “tumultuous uproar in the year and house.” After leaving the dinner table the boys:

commenced a great noise … they ran about the yard hooping and hurrahing with a most tumultuous clamor. One boy beat a kettle with a stick, and others raced past him shouting at the top of their lungs. Boys climbed over the pump near the Boundary Street gate and vigorously forced water into the yard.

orphan house postcard

Charleston Orphan House, postcard.

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gus Smythe wrote about the new Charleston commander, Samuel Jones:

We have not very much confidence in Jones. They say he was sent here as this was the easiest place, the work being done, & they had no place else to send him.

Today In Charleston History: July 31

1736 – Religion 

John and Charles Wesley arrived in Charlestown from Savannah where they had been serving as missionaries. Charles was returning to England due to ill health.

wesley brothers

John Wesley; Charles Wesley

1776 – Deaths. Charleston First.

Francis Salvador, part of the Ninety-Six militia, fell in battle against the Cherokee, and an Indian took his scalp. He died “within three-quarters of an hour” at the age of 29. He was the first Jew to die in the cause of America liberty. 

1852 –Crime.Prostitution

11 Fulton Street, commonly called "The Big Brick" by Charleston locals. Owned and operated by the infamous Grace Piexotto.

11 Fulton Street, commonly called “The Big Brick” by Charleston locals. Owned and operated by the infamous Grace Piexotto.

Grace Piexotto, a “mother of crime” appeared before the city council and asked them to pave the lot in front of her brick house (Gentleman’s Club – House of Negotiated Affection – Brothel) at 11 Beresford Street.

Read more about Grace in the book Wicked Charleston, Vol. II: Prostitutes, Politics & Prohibition. 


Grounds of the Expo

Grounds of the Expo

A public auction was held for the Exposition property. Eighty-nine bidders showed up, including “three small boys and one decrepit old negro.” Entire buildings were sold for as little as $7 to $115. Most of the bidders were building contractors who purchased for the materials. In less than a week, most of the buildings were being dismantled and were gone by the end of the year. In an article titled “Going! Going! Gone!” the News and Courier wrote:

So the work of demolition will be prosecuted now with all possible speed. In a few days the beautiful Ivory City will be a heap of lumber and debris and every vestige of its splendor will be blotted from the things that be.

1937-Deaths.Jenkins Orphanage

Rev. Daniel Jenkins’ obituary ran in the News and Courier. In part it read:


Negro Institution Founder Sent Brass Bands to Europe Three Times

The Rev. D.J. Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage, whose brass bands have toured the United States and crossed the ocean three times to Europe, died last night after a long illness. He was seventy-four years old.

Jenkins founded the orphanage December 16, 1891, and built it into an institution which has taken care of 5000 Negro boys and girls in the intervening forty-five years.  The orphanage has its main building in Franklin Street, maintains two farms and publishes a newspaper (The Messenger). Boys learn printing, carpentry, shoe making, chair caning and automobile mechanics. Girls are taught to do housework.

In Charleston the orphanage is known best for its bands. There are two now, frequently there have been four, which play at street corners to the energetic directions of a diminutive conductor. These bands have been familiar sights in cities all over the United States, going as far west as Los Angeles. Charlestonians have reported seeking them in many out-of-the-way places. Their silver donations go to the orphanage fund.

In 1914, the Rev. Jenkins took the band to England to represent the negro race at the Anglo-American exposition in London celebrating a century of peace between the nations. The band played before the Queen of England.

The war broke out and Jenkins was able to assist several prominent Charlestonians stranded by the money confusion. They were unable to cash checks but he was paid in gold and loaned money for them to get out of the country.

The Jenkins band marched in the inaugural parade when President Taft was inaugurated and at the St. Louis Exposition. Seventy children in the three groups, now are on the road, playing and singing in Boston, Saratoga (for the races) and New York city.

Jenkins had a flow of language both oral and written calculated to wring the hearts of prospective donors, and he received contributions from some of the most eminent people in the United States. His letters to the newspapers asked alms for his “Little Black Lambs” were powerful pleas that were read by generations of Charlestonians.

Besides being president of the orphan society, Jenkins was pastor of the Fourth Baptist church for forty-six years. 

Today In Charleston History: July 30

1781 – American Revolution

The St. Augustine exiles arrived in Philadelphia. Edward Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Thomas Pinckney, and their families rented a brick mansion in Germantown. The Pinckney brothers were met by their cousin, Charles. Over the next few months Charles became friends with Pierce Butler, leader of his Charleston militia unit. Both men would later play major roles during the Constitutional Congress six years later.

rutledge and pinckneys

TOP: Charles Cotesworth Pinckney; Thomas Pinckney (brothers) BOTTOM: Edward Rutledge; Charles Pinckney (their cousin)

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Four more slaves were executed associated with the Vesey Rebellion.

  • Jack McNeil: One of the youngest killed, perhaps still in his teens.
  • Tom Scott: A member of the A.M. E. Church.
  • Caesar Smith: He possessed a sword and was a member of the A.M. E. Church.
  • Jacob Stagg: A housepainter, Stagg claimed “he was tired of paying wages” to his master.  He also claimed to have fashioned a sword out of a scythe.
1835 – Slavery

 Overnight, a mob raided the Charleston post office to prevent the circulation of abolitionist pamphlets that had arrived by ship from the north.

The pamphlets were burned by 8 p.m. the next evening opposite the main guard house, 3000 persons being present. The effigies of Arthur Tappan, Dr. Cox and W.L. Garrison were at the same time suspended. A 9 o’clock a balloon was let off, and the effigies were consumed by the neck, with the offensive documents at their feet. 

1937-Jenkins Orphanage. Deaths

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

Rev. Daniel Joseph Jenkins died, eleven days after he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was seventy-five years old and had been the head of the Orphan Aid Society for forty-five years. Ironically, both of the bands were away on tour in New York and Boston and could not return to Charleston in time for the funeral.

1967- Martin Luther King Speaks In Charleston

Dr. King gives a speech before a packed house at Charleston County Hall.

mlk - county hall 1967

Left: King’s Car Pulls Up To County Hall. Right: King Delivers Speech

County Hall, at 1000 King Street, was originally built as a cotton mill in 1902 and later converted to a community auditorium. Some of the entertainment acts who appeared were:

  • Tommy Dorsey
  • Count Basie
  • Elvis Presley
  • James Brown
  • The Beach Boys
  • Bob Dylan
  • Herman’s Hermits
  • The Doors
  • Badfinger
  • Buffalo Springfield
  • Ozzy Osbourne

The Hall also served as host to dances, graduations, sporting events, and even welcomed such American icons as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Harlem Globetrotters. The Hall became one of the most popular venues for professional wrestling from the 1960s well into the 1980s.

Currently, the Hall is the Palace Apartments.


Palace Apartments, 1000 King Street

Today In Charleston History: July 28


Christopher Gadsden married Jenny Godfrey in Charlestown. During this time he also owned a store on Shute’s Wharf.

1769Slavery. Executions

Dolly, belonging to James Sands, and Liverpoole, a slave doctor belonging to William Price, were burned at the stake on the green in front of the workhouse. Dolly was convicted of poisoning her master and his child, while Liverpoole was convicted of providing the poison.

Dick, a former slave who had been freed, was “accused as instigator of these horrid crimes.” He initially escaped but was eventually retaken and given “twenty-five Lashes…at four different Corners and the same Number last Tuesday, in all 100 each Day, and to lose his Right Ear.”

1856 – Duelling

 Col. Cunningham and editor Hatch met on the Washington Race Course to settle their differences with a duel.

On July 21 the Charleston Evening News published an editorial by Col. John Cunningham, which prompted a response from L.M. Hatch, the editor of the Standard. Cunningham charged Hatch with a “studied and wanton personal insult” and demanded satisfaction. He appointed his friend William Taber, editor of the Charleston Mercury, as his second – to negotiate the details of the duel.

The two exchanged shots with no injury to either man.

Washington Race Track - 1857. A one-mile loop around what is present day Hampton Park. Library of Congress

Washington Race Track – 1857. A one-mile loop around what is present day Hampton Park. Library of Congress

Today In Charleston History: July 27

1669-Carolina Expedition

Mr. Joseph West was appointed Governor and Commander-in-chief of the Carolina expedition until its arrival at Barbados, or until another Governor was appointed.

1772 – American Revolution – Foundations

Governor Montagu, in attempt to break the stalemate in the Assembly over the Wilkes Fund appropriation, announced that in October, the Assembly would meet in Beaufort, not Charleston. He hoped that the distance might keep some of the more radical Charlestown members from attending, so some necessary legislation could be passed. He also hoped the implied threat of moving the capital from Charlestown would intimidate some of the members to moderate their views. It backfired.

1781-British Occupation – Issac Hayne

The British issued an official statement:

The adjutant of the town will be so good as to go to Colonel Hayne in Provost Prison and inform him that in consequence of the court of enquiry held yesterday and the preceding evening Lord Rawdon and the commandant Lieutenant Colonel Nisbet Balfour have resolved upon his execution on Tuesday the thirty-first instant at six o’clock, for having been found under arms raising a regiment to oppose the British government, though he had become a subject and had accepted the protection of that government after the reduction of Charleston.


Judge Waties Waring

Judge Waties Waring

 Waties Waring was born in Charleston. He was the scion of the prominent Waring and Waties families and a son of a Confederate veteran. he would later become a leader in Democrat politics and a Federal judge. He became a controversial figure in South Carolina when he divorced his Southern wife in 1945 and almost immediately married a twice-divorced “Northern” woman, Elizabeth. When Judge Waring began issuing court rulings against South Carolina’s segregationist policies, Waring and Elizabeth became hated figures in the state. Congressman Mendel Rivers (D-SC) led a campaign for Waring’s impeachment which was unsuccessful.