A Short History of Charleston (before 1860)

A Short History of Charleston Before 1860

Note: The city was originally called Charles Town. In 1720, after the Bloodless Revolution, the spelling was changed to one word, “Charlestown.” In 1783, as a new American city, the name changed to Charleston.

The Colony of a Colony. Unlike most earlier settlers to Virginia and Chesapeake, many Carolina settlers came not from England, but from Barbados, an important distinction. During the English Civil War (1642-51) Barbados became an asylum for Royalists seeking to avoid the conflict, and the violent Puritanism of Oliver Cromwell. After the 1649 execution of Charles I, Parliament sought to punish Barbados for their loyalty to the monarchy by restricting their trade, creating an economic crisis for the small island. To sustain their economy, Barbadians began to rely on trade with the Dutch Republic, until Cromwell and Parliament passed the Navigation Act of 1651, which banned the use of non-English ships to carry English goods. This essentially prohibited all trade with the Dutch, but Barbadian merchants carried on illicit privateering until England invaded the island and the Royalist Barbadian House of Assembly surrendered. The Carolina colony would soon become the “promised land” for many Barbadian merchants and planters.

Charles II

In March 1663, Charles II granted the territory called Carolana to the “true and absolute Lords and Proprietors,” eight men who had been instrumental in restoring him to the throne after Cromwell’s death. There was a strong consensus among the Proprietors that the colony could be more easily, and inexpensively, developed by luring experienced settlers from established Caribbean colonies. To accomplish that goal, they offered large land grants in lieu of providing financing. Three months later, John Colleton of Barbados informed the Lord Proprietors that “many citizens were interested in moving to Carolina.”

The Proprietors also adopted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, that, they hoped, would establish a “perfect government.” The Constitutions were “a grand and impractical political framework … that envisioned an orderly, quasi-feudal system under their immediate control.” Although never formally adopted, the Constitutions did become the working blueprint for settling and governing the new colony. It offered “religious freedom for anyone who believed in God,” established the Church of England as the tax-supported religion, forbade Catholicism, and permitted freedom of worship to “every church or profession as long as its followers believed in God.” It specifically mentioned “Jews, heathens, and dissenters,” and that attitude of tolerance would have a profound influence on Charles Town. Unlike Boston and Philadelphia, founded by Puritans and Quakers, Charles Town was a private business venture colony, and the promise of religious freedom brought many persecuted worshippers from Europe.

 It also created a system of government by the landed gentry. To vote a man must own fifty acres and to hold a seat in the Assembly, he must own five hundred. All “free settlers over the age of sixteen” were promised 150 acres, and an additional 100 “for every able-bodied servant.” Servants could include family members and “indentured servants.” Every individual who acquired 3,000 acres “would have all the rights of a lord of the manor established by English law.” The Proprietors forbid the enslavement of the local Natives in Carolina but set out specific and strict laws to accommodate African slavery, based on the Barbadian system which declared “Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves.”

In April 1670, the first English settlement south of Virginia was established in Carolina, called Charles Town. The Barbadians cast a long shadow and influenced much of the Carolina lifestyle, establishing the model for what became romanticized as “the Old South.” They lived with “a combination of old-world elegance and frontier boisterousness. Ostentatious in their dress, dwellings, and furnishings, they liked hunting, guns, dogs, military titles like ‘Captain” and ‘Colonel’ … They enjoyed long hours at their favorite taverns over bowls of rum punch or brandy.”

Charles Town, 1671

They also had little interest in the Proprietors’ lofty notions of a perfect government, and quickly controlled the colony by dominating the Council and the governorship. John Coming, from England, wrote that “the Barbadians endeavor to rule all.” The Council claimed that since the Carolina charter was issued after the Navigation Act, it superseded that Act and that they “totally disclaimed the authority of the British Parliament in which they were not represented.” So, from the beginning, the landed gentry were already at odds with the British authority to regulate their trade, and their lives. Their argument was that since they were governed without representation in Parliament, the Council felt within their rights to ignore the law and trade as they pleased.

The Bloodless Revolution – Proprietors Overthrown. In 1715, the Carolina Assembly officially asked the London Board of Trade to void the Proprietors’ charter. Forty years into the life of Carolina, the Proprietors had become disenchanted with a colony that “failed to produce the great wealth and prestige they had expected.” That disappointment evolved into apathy and soon, the colonists learned to “survive with minimal assistance … from their increasingly passive proprietors.”

The fate of Proprietary Rule was sealed by two events, the devasting, and almost catastrophic Yemassee Indian War (1715-1718), and the battle against pirates (1718-1719.) Both events “provided the colonists with galling evidence that the men in London had placed personal profit above the public welfare.”

Johnson’s return from Yemassee War

At the end of 1719, the Assembly convened “a convention of the people” and denounced the rule of the Proprietors. They vowed “to get rid of the oppressive and arbitrary dealings of the Lords Proprietors” and declared itself “the government until His Majesty’s pleasure be known.” They officially petitioned King George I to purchase the Carolina colony from the Proprietors.

Governor Robert Johnson, appointed by the Proprietors, refused to acknowledge this new government. In response the Assembly elected General James Moore Jr. as “provisional governor.” During the swearing in ceremony Gov. Johnson arrived and ordered the militia to disperse and the illegal Assembly to desist. The militia “leveled their muskets at Governor Johnson,” which created a standoff. Johnson soon departed for England and for all intents and purposes, the proprietary government of Carolina ended. Even though the first royal governor did not appear for eighteen months, the Provisional Government maintained power and steered the colony into a sound economy. At its heart was the concept that the “Bloodless Revolution,” as locals called it, was to protect the “incontestable right” of Englishmen to be governed “by noe laws made here, but what are consented to by them.”

On August 11, 1720, the Lord Justices of Great Britain declared that the colony “shall be forthwith taken provisionally into the hands of the Crown.” South Carolina’s first rebellion was a polite coup d’état. They did not grab the reins of power by force, nor did they imprison their opponents. Rather, it was a “polite and passive-aggressive course of action that reflected a very British sense of honor and decorum.”

Slave Trade. Carolina lowcountry is often called the “Ellis Island for Africans” due to the number of slaves imported into the state. The main economic reason for the trade was rice, the most profitable crop Carolina produced. The first slave arrived on August 23, 1670, and very quickly, more enslaved Africans flooded the port. Eventually half the population of Charleston was black. With their knowledge of rice cultivation, slaves were needed on the plantations and their labor became essential to the Carolina economy. Between 1670 and 1808, 1,000 cargos of enslaved Africans, about 200,000, entered the port of Charleston, about 40% of the slaves brought into North America. According to According to the International African American Museum, “Nearly 80 percent of African Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in Charleston.”

In 1690, the first slave code was enacted, based on the Barbadian code which included a provision of punishment for anyone killed a slave. Eight years later, they passed an act that encouraged the “Importation of White Servants.” The fear was that “the great number of Negroes which of late have been imported … may endanger the safety thereof.”

Most slaves who arrived in Charleston were sent to the plantations, to toil in the fields, day after day, year after year, a monotonous, often brutal life. Many Charleston slaves worked as domestics in the homes, with better food, clothing and living conditions, yet had to be on-call twenty-four hours a day, subject to the whims and moods of their owners, some benevolent, some not. Others were hired-out laborers involved in at least various occupations:  bricklayers, blacksmiths, carpenters, tailors, coopers, and manufacturing.

Charleston slave sale

Amid this shared experience in bondage, a new culture was born. In the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, the Gullah became known as people who clung to aspects of their African heritage, including their crafts and folktales. Their language was English infused with words from their former homes, which some people describe as creole. It survives to this day.

     From 1803 – 1807, South Carolina, alone among the southern states, legalized the reopening of the African slave trade. Almost 40,000 Africans were imported into Charleston during those four years. The United States ended the international slave trade in 1808, but a thriving domestic slave trade grew to meet the demand for labor. Before the Civil War Charleston was the center of urban slave trading with more than two million slaves were sold.

Stamp Act – Townsend Acts. To pay the debt incurred in the colonies during the French and Indian War, in 1765 Parliament passed the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act. The Stamp Act required that most printed materials in the colonies be printed on “stamped paper [an embossed revenue mark] from London.” That included newspapers, legal documents, playing cards and magazines.

Carolina’s response was quick and passionate. John Rutledge, representing the Assembly, wrote to Charles Garth, the South Carolina agent in London (a lobbyist), to oppose the “stamp tax and any other tax by Parliament.” Rutledge claimed the taxes were “inconsistent with that inherent right of every British subject, not to be taxed but by his own consent, or that of his representatives.”

In Charlestown, forty-foot-high gallows were constructed at Broad and Church Streets in front of Dillon’s Tavern and an effigy of Caleb Lloyd, British stamp officer, was hanged. Two thousand people paraded the streets at night and ransacked the house of the British stamp officer, George Saxby, looking for the stamps. Lloyd and Saxby both were forced to resign in fear of their lives. They promised not to perform their duties “until Parliament had addressed colonial grievances.”

Most citizens vowed to not use stamped paper, and for the next few months business in Charlestown ground to a halt. The harbor became clogged with ships which could not get official clearance to leave the harbor. Courts shut down, due to lack of stamped paper, and publisher Peter Timothy announced, “the publication of the South Carolina Gazette … will be suspended.” The Assembly stated: “Sincerely as we are attached to his Majesty, we insist that we are entitled to all inherent rights and liberties of his natural born subjects within the Kingdom of Great Britain.”

Fourteen months after it was passed, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, and Peter Manigault wrote that the news was received with “joy, jollity and mirth.” Charlestown celebrated with ringing church bells, street bonfires, parties, and public celebrations. Despite the colonists’ victory over Parliament, Christopher Gadsden gave a speech under the great oak tree in Mr. Mazyck’s cow pasture north of the city where he warned of “the folly of relaxing their opposition and vigilance, or of indulging in the fallacious hope that Great Britain would relinquish their designs and pretensions.” Hundreds of men gathered hands around the tree and swore resistance to future tyranny. From that moment forward, the oak was called the Liberty Tree.

The next year Parliament passed the Townsend Acts, which placed new taxes on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea, and any other items that were not produced in North America. It also stipulated colonists were only allowed to purchase goods from Great Britain. Peter Manigault, speaker of Carolina Assembly, wrote to his Massachusetts counterpart, Thomas Cushing, that South Carolina would “join with the agents of the other provinces in obtaining a repeal of the acts of Parliament.”

In the spring of 1769, a group of Carolina men formed an “Association” and pledged to stand against the importation of any product from Great Britain. They threatened to denounce anyone who did not “sign with us.” Their rally cry became “Sign or die!” Many of the gentry leaders were upset by this move, since the leaders of the Association tended to be mechanics, lower born laborers, not gentlemen, who tended to be lawyers and planters.

On July 29, 1769, thirteen merchants, thirteen planters and thirteen mechanics met at the Liberty Tree and created a unified Association, encouraging American manufacturing and prohibited the importation of any European or East Indian goods. They also banned slave importation starting in 1770 and pledged to boycott anyone who did not sign within a month. The Association was to remain active until the Townsend Acts were repealed. Anyone who broke the agreement was to “treated with the upmost contempt.” Anyone who did not join would have their names published in the Gazette. By the end of the year, Peter Manigault reported that only thirty-one merchants had refused to sign with the Association, and many who signed only did so “from fear of communal retaliation rather than conviction.”

The Next Rebellion – Tea Act – American Revolution. In April 1770, Parliament repealed the Townsend Acts. But, to avoid the appearance of weakness, the tea tax was left in place. Merchants in New York, Georgia, Boston, Philadelphia, and Rhode Island abandoned their commitment to the non-importation Association. In a meeting at the Liberty Tree, South Carolina vowed to remain in support of the Association until the tea tax was repealed.

In late 1773 Parliament passed the Tea Act which repealed all duties on tea that was handled by the East India Trading Company but kept the tax on those who purchased the tea. News arrived that “300 chests of tea were on their way to Charlestown” and Peter Timothy in the Gazette urged citizens to “band together to take the necessary steps to prevent the landing.” A group called “Club Forty-Five” met at the Liberty Tree and swore to “defend against the tyranny of Great Britain.” Forty-five skyrockets were fired; forty-five men marched to Dillon’s Tavern where forty-five rum punch bowls and forty-five bottles of wine were consumed.

Exchange Building

On December 1 the tea arrived on the ship called London, and a “mass meeting of all South Carolinians, without exception” was held at the Exchange Building. This marked the beginning of the first of the extra-legal Assemblies that would govern South Carolina until the end of the Revolutionary War. They demanded that merchants stop importing tea, which was then secretly offloaded the tea in the middle of the night and stored in the basement of the Exchange under British guard. A few days later, Charlestown received word that Boston had tossed 342 chests of tea into the harbor, leaving Club Forty-five embarrassed that the local tea had been safely stored away, while Boston had taken decisive action.

Over the next two years, the Association did manage to toss the cargo of several British ships into the harbor, including tea. South Carolina’s extra-legal Provincial Congress recommended that all citizens “diligently train themselves in the use of arms,” and by April 1775, they had seized “800 guns, 200 cutlasses and 1,600 pounds of gunpowder” from British armories in the region.

On March 26, 1776, four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, South Carolina adopted a new state constitution creating the Republic of South Carolina, which kept the power firmly in the hands of the land-owning gentry class. For the second time in its one-hundred-year-old history, South Carolina had forced a change in their government. By the end of the Revolutionary War, there would be more than 200 battles and skirmishes in South Carolina alone.

Idle and Easily Agitated. In 1800, Charleston was the fifth largest city in America behind New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston, with population of 18,924, which included 10,104 blacks and 8,820 whites. Henry Adams described Charleston that year:

Nowhere in the Union was intelligence, wealth, and education greater in proportion to numbers that in the little society of cotton and rice planters who ruled South Carolina … the society of Charleston compared well in refinement with that of any city of its size in the world, and travelers long thought it the most agreeable in America … Before the Revolution large numbers of young men had been educated in England, and their influence was still strong in the society of Charleston. The younger generation inherited similar tastes.

As the infant United States entered the 19th century, South Carolina was an odd balance of despotism, in their passionate defense of slavery, and staunch proponents of democracy. William W. Freehling described the elites as a” snob not quite at ease with his own snobbishness.” The city physically grew as marshes and creeks on the peninsula were filled and turned into fashionable boroughs. The city began to take on the Federal architectural influence that it still retains in the 21st century. A major construction project filled in the southeastern part of the city, and the subsequent construction of the seawall led to the construction of dozens of fashionable mansions on the Battery overlooking the harbor. Although magnificent structures were being built, a pervasive stench hovered over the city. Most streets were unpaved and unlit, and were fouled with stray animals, dead carcasses, and clogged drains. Garbage piled on the city’s wharves. Hastily buried bodies in the overcrowded graveyards and cemeteries often refused to stay underground.

Eli Whitney’s cotton gin drastically improved the efficiency and profitability, and cotton began to challenge rice as the major crop. Although slave labor had cleaned up the lowcountry marshes, and turned them into arable land, “but the swamp diseases remained.” With malaria so prevalent, most white families fled the area during the warmer months. John C. Calhoun, South Carolina’s leading politician of the antebellum period, held no love of Charleston. He commented that the prevalence of the fever was “a curse for their intemperance and debaucheries.” Thus, large numbers of lowcountry plantations were owned by “absentee planters, managed by white overseers, and worked by many Negroes.” Meanwhile, the ratio of Negroes to whites reached “unsettling proportions.” Eighty-seven per cent of the white households in Charleston owned slaves, while across the rest of South Carolina, that ownership rate was about forty-five percent.

During the antebellum era most slaves lived on plantations and were largely concentrated in places such as the rice regions of the lowcountry and fertile cotton regions of the midlands.

Charleston was considered the “most European of American cities.” It was filled with narrow cobblestone and bricked streets, elegant courtyards, formal gardens, Spanish and French balconies, bookstores, European-style coffeehouses, and planters’ townhouse mansions. It was an enchanting place in which the idle gentry could while away their days, and evenings. Unfortunately, ten blocks away, there was another Charleston of “sordid poverty and unpaved streets, of filthy hovel and crumbing walls.” This was the slums packed with slaves, free Negroes, white mechanics, and rough transient sailors. 

Furthermore, the gentry also knew firsthand the anxiety of slave conspiracy and incessantly guarded against it. Every night curfew bells in St. Michael’s Church warned Negroes without passes to get off the streets. Every night the town guard marched “while planters who left their plantations to escape the dangers of malaria, sat politely in their elegant drawing rooms, listening to the bells that reminded them of other dangers.”

Lowcountry gentry lived by a rigid social code of cultivated gentility. They “despised manual labor, detested moneygrubbers, and hated penny-pinching.” Before the Revolution, many planters had also been merchants, but more foreigners moved to South Carolina from Europe and the North, and they quickly took over the counting houses and mercantile firms. They may have become wealthy, but they were rarely able to break into the Carolina social hierarchy. Established planters looked down their noses at the “new money.”

In an 1808 letter M.I. Manigault wrote, “Idleness is the order of the day here … There is William Heyward, with a fine disposition and an excellent capacity – lounging away his morning … drinking away his afternoons.” This was typical of the lowcountry leisure class which was “dedicated to achieving the exclusiveness and refinement displayed by English country gentlemen.” Expensive Madeira wine and Spanish cigars were the usual accompaniments to horse races, hunting with hounds, and grand dancing balls. It was a life “of taste, of polish, of elegance,” where ladies of dignity and refinement played chess, held elegant tea parties, performed on the piano, and lounged in the “richly furnished library.” The city had an overwhelming number of dram shops, taverns, and tippling houses, used by sailors, workers, and slaves. Many elite citizens complained about these activities as “destructive to the morals of youth.” However, intemperance was not only widely ignored, but often embraced. During the 19th century it was customary for the host to lock the doors of his home and refuse to permit any guest to leave the table until he was drunk. 

William Freehling, in Prelude to Civil War, wrote: “For some gentlemen planters, contempt for work extended to agricultural endeavor … [and] had time to engage in politics, to study, to write.”  Unfortunately, the books in a planter’s library were “more often displayed than read,” except for one notable exception: the medieval tales of Sir Walter Scott, the most famous being Rob Roy and Ivanhoe. The planters delighted in Scott’s tales of “chivalric knights, with their exalted principals, their princely deportment, and their unswerving courage,” and sought to live up those ideals. They also embraced the hero’s passion to defend his honor against any “imagined insult,” no matter how slight.

Denmark Vesey. In 1822, a free black man, Denmark Vesey, was arrested as the ringleader of organized slave rebellion. In trial transcripts he was quoted as saying “we were going to have a war and fight the white people … those that did not join must be regarded as an enemy and put to death.” The blacks recruited for the revolution were instructed to bring “their hoes, hatchets, axes and spades, which might be used as offensive weapons, or as instruments to break open doors.”

His plan was to attack the Meeting Street Arsenal and once these weapons were secured, they planned to kill white slave owners and liberate as many slaves as possible. The last step was to commandeer ships from the harbor and sail to Haiti.

However, the rebellion was discovered by white leaders and over the next seven days, 131 blacks were arrested. Thirty-eight others were sentenced to a prison and whippings. Forty-three were “transported” to another state, and thirty-four were hanged.

The rebellion roiled Charleston society. The discovery that their slaves were willing to murder them while they were asleep in their beds was at first unfathomable, and then horrific. In response to the mounting fears a permanent municipal guard of 150 men was formed and at night, Charleston became virtual armed camp.

Vesey Rebellion

The bells of St. Michael tolled at 9:00 p.m.- a signal for all slaves to return to their master’s homes. Any slave found on the street after that hour without a pass was taken to the guard house “with strong probability of a whipping in the following morning.” South Carolina legislature passed the Negro Seamen Acts. Any free Negro that came into the state on a vessel would be lodged in the jail during the stay of the vessel in port. If the captain would not pay for the cost of board and lodging, the Negro would be sold into slavery.

Calhoun and Nullification.  Nationally, South Carolina’s political power was deeply invested in one man, John C. Calhoun. As one of the Congressional “War Hawks,” he advocated for the War of 1812 and became Secretary of War afterward. He was then elected vice president in 1824 (John Quincy Adams, president), and 1828 (Andrew Jackson).

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Calhoun assumed the mantle of the “leader of the Southern cause” when the Tariff of 1828 was passed by Congress. It became known as the Tariff of Abominations due to the negative effects it had on the Southern economy. Designed to protect industry in the north, the tariff so enraged the South Carolina legislature they denounced it by formal resolution. They also published the “Exposition and Protest,” secretly written by Vice-President John C. Calhoun, which espoused that the States were sovereign before they entered the Union, so therefore retained the power to veto, or nullify, any act of the federal government which violated the Constitution. The States’ Right argument was born and continues to this day.

In October 1832 the Nullifiers won a majority in the state legislature and called a Nullification Convention to resist the Federal tariff. Robert Hayne resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate and was elected governor of South Carolina. Three weeks later Calhoun resigned as Vice-President, and Hayne promptly nominated Calhoun to take over his just-vacated Senate seat. 

Congress passed the Force Act, which authorized the use of military force against any state that resisted the tariff acts. U.S. Navy ships began to intercept Charleston inbound ships to collect customs duties. South Carolina and the United States were on the brink of military engagement when Sen. Henry Clay brokered a compromise bill with Calhoun that slowly lowered tariffs over the next decade. The compromise was accepted by South Carolina legislature and ended the nullification crisis, but not the resentment. The next generation of South Carolina men were baptized with the bitter waters of the Nullification Crisis. Their distrust of the Federal government grew as they realized their interpretation of the Union did not match their Northern counterparts. 

Pushed To Civil War. In May 1856, Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass), called for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state and denounced “Slave Power” as the political arm of the slave owners. He specifically called out South Carolina senator Andrew Butler (D-SC), who was not attendance, recovering from a stroke.

The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course, he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows … I mean the harlot, slavery.

Mr. Butler’s cousin, Congressman Preston Brooks (D-SC) was enraged, and claimed that he intended to challenge Sumner to a duel. His fellow representative, Lawrence Keitt, advised Brooks that “dueling was for gentlemen of equal statue. Sumner is lower than a drunkard. Dueling with him would only be an insult to yourself.” They decided the most appropriate punishment was to humiliate Sumner with a public caning.

Two days later Brooks strode into the Senate chamber and approached Sumner at his desk while Keitt held the other senators at bay with a pistol. Brooks said, “Mr. Sumner I have read your speech … it is a libel on South Carolina and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” He then struck Sumner repeatedly with a cane until it broke into five pieces. Several men in the Senate finally overpowered Brooks and disarmed Keitt. Sumner’s injuries were so severe he was out of the Senate for three years recuperating.

Various editorial illustrations of the Preston Brooks’ attack on Sen. Charles Sumner

Keitt was censured and a motion to expel Brooks from the House failed, but he resigned to give his constituents the opportunity to ratify or condemn his conduct. They demonstrated their approval by returning him to office in the special election held on August 1.

South Carolina held Brooks and Keitt up as heroes while Sumner was portrayed as a martyr for the cause of abolition. The event inflamed sectional tensions between northern and southern members of Congress to the point they began to arm themselves while session. The pieces of Brooks’ cane were “begged as sacred relics.” The city of Charleston presented him with a new cane which bore the inscription, “Hit him again!”

Historian Stephen Puleo wrote that, “The caning had an enormous impact on the events that followed over the next four years. … As a result of the caning, the country was pushed, inexorably and unstoppably, to civil war.”

Today In Charleston History: July 26

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion. Executions

denmark_veseyThis was one the largest days of executions in Charleston history – twenty-two more conspirators hanged just north of “The Lines.” The entire city turned out for the Friday morning spectacle. There was such a large crowd and so much excitement that a small black boy was trampled to death.

The bodies of the convicted were given to the Medical College of South Carolina for dissection. The executed were:

  • Smart Anderson: Smart was a drayman who stole two muskets, hiding them on his cart to be used when the occasion arose. He claimed he was in the rebellion “as much as possible.”
  • Charles Billings: Worked in a commercial stables and planned to steal horses on the night of the rebellion. Claimed that he was “ready and willing” to do what needed to be done.
  • Jemmy Clement: Member of the A. M. E. Church
  • Jerry Cohen: One of the last arrested but claimed that if everyone involved was killed, he was “still willing to go on.”
  • Polydore Faber: Good friend of Gullah Jack. Faber was convicted of hiding at least twenty pike poles which were to be fitted with blades and used as weapons on the night of rebellion.
  • Julius Forrest: Claimed to have been “charmed” by Gullah Jack into joining the rebellion.
  • Lot Forrester: One of the most active of Denmark’s recruits. Worked at the State Arsenal and was able to steal a slow fuse to be used in setting fires throughout the city.
  • Jack Glenn: Although he was lame in both feet, he told Vesey he would serve as a horseman on the night of rebellion. He collected money about town to finance the plot.
  • Bacchus Hammett: Stole a keg of black powder, a sword and pistol for the rebellion. ON his way to gallows he shocked the white crowd by laughing and shouting good-byes to his acquaintance. Upon his execution, the mechanism failed, and he did not drop. According to a witness, Bacchus “threw himself forward, and as he swung back he lifted his feet, so that his knees might not touch the Board.” He was shot with a pistol by Captain Dove because he was taking so long to die dangling from the gallows.
  • Mingo Harth: He was a skilled laborer and worked at a lumberyard. Mingo hosted Bible study classes in his quarters in order to discuss the rebellion.
  • Joe Jore: Considered an invalid, Joe pledged to take a sword and fight on the night of rebellion.
  • Dean Mitchell: Assisted in collecting money to make spears and pikes.
  • Jack Purcell: One of Denmark’s first recruits. However, on the gallows he stated that “if it had not been for the cunning of that old villain, Vesey, I should not now be in my present situation.”
  • Adam Robertson: Participated in the ceremony where a chicken was eaten bloody by all present as a sign of their commitment to the rebellion.
  • John Robertson: Also participated in the chicken ceremony.
  • Robert Robertson: Helped conceal pikes and spears. Also, stole a pistol from his master.
  • Tom Russell: A blacksmith who forged pikeheads and spears as long as the group took up a collection to pay for the materials. Russell was also trained by Gullah Jack to be a sorcerer.
  • Dick Simms: Property of the family William Gilmore Simms, famous novelist of the time. Dick stole a pistol from his master for use during the rebellion.
  • Pharo Thompson: Pharo possessed a sword fashioned out of a scythe.
  • Adam Yates: Adam had the responsibility of leading the rural blacks into the city on the night of rebellion.
  • Bellisle Yates: Responsible for hiding some of the plantation blacks in the city during the night of rebellion.
  • Naphur Yates: Yates took an oath and swore that his “heart was in this business.” He claimed that his name had ordained him to be part of the rebellion since the word naphur is defined in the Bible as “purification fire”.

Charleston City Council urged restraint from anymore executions, due to the expense. Constable Belknap complained the city had spent $2284 “confining the accused in the Workhouse, erecting a Gallows and obtaining carts to carry the criminals to the place of execution.”

James Louis Petigru, also advised restraint stating,

“I am afraid you will hang half the country. You must take care and save negroes enough for the Rice crop.”


John C. Calhoun wrote a letter to the Pendleton Messenger openly avowing his nullification philosophy. 

1864-Bombardment of Charleston

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones received a telegram from General Winder at Andersonville Prison in Georgia that 600 Union officers and soldiers were being sent to Charleston and that it would “continue … to all are sent.”

Today in Charleston History: July 12

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

Gullah Jack Prichard and John Horry were executed. Gullah Jack was accused of not only planning to massacre white Charlestonians, but also to have “endeavored to enlist on your behalf all the powers of darkness.”

During the trial Gullah Jack played the fool so much that some of the judges could not believe he was part of the rebellion.  However, as the trial progressed and six witnesses testified against him, Jack’s demeanor changed. He scowled and gave his accusers hard looks. He made motions and designs with his fingers until the judges admonished him for trying to bewitch the witnesses. From the Negro Plot, Gullah Jack was admonished.

In the prosecution of your wicked designed, you were not satisfied with resorting to natural and ordinary means, but endeavored to enlist on your behalf, all the powers of darkness, and employed for that purpose the most disgusting mummery and superstition. You represented yourself as invulnerable; that you could neither be taken nor destroyed, and all who fought under your banners would be invincible. Your boasted charms have not protected yourself, and of course could not protect others … You will shortly be consigned to the cold and silent grave, and all the powers of darkness cannot rescue you from your approaching fate.

Jack had to be “dragged forth to the scaffold … and gave his spirit up without firmness or composure.” Despite this second round of executions, the authorities saw no end in sight. Each new arrest led to more evidence “that the Conspiracy had spread wider and wider.”


On his way for a tour of the Northeast, James Petigru met with Pres. Jackson at the White House and commented that “the old gentleman looked better than I expected.”

1923 – Jenkins Orphanage
Rev. Daniel Jenkins

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

By this time, the Jenkins Orphanage Bands were spread out across the eastern United States every year, bringing in more than $10,000 annual income for the Orphan Aid Society. Each band traveled with a male chaperone, often a minister, a cook and a valet to care for the uniforms and instruments. Because they were blacks traveling across the country during the Jim Crow Era of America, the chaperone also carried a letter of introduction from the mayor of Charleston to be given to the mayor or police chief of each town at which they stopped, as proof of their honorable character and intentions. In 1923, the letter read:    

City of Charleston Executive Department, July 12, 1923 

To the Mayor, Board of Alderman and the Officials of any City in the United States

This is to certify that Rev. D. J. Jenkins, President and Founder of the Jenkins Orphanage of this city, has been conducting an orphanage for over thirty-two years, having since connected with it a reform school and industrial farm and a rescue home for girls only. Reports show that he had handled and trained over three thousand little Negro boys and girls. They have been sent here from all portions of the country to be reformed. This he had done practically entirely on voluntary contributions.

There are four brass bands connected with the work, known as the Jenkins Orphanage Bands. We would appreciate anything you may do for him in letting his boys give entertainments and play upon the public streets of your city. It is raising money for a purely charitable work on a small basis, and I will assure you that he has ever managed to keep the order and conduct of his bands so that they have not become a nuisance, but rather a pleasure for the citizens to hear them play.

Rev. Jenkins has a Board of leading white citizens to keep up with the accounts and advise whenever necessary.

Very respectfully,



The above Jenkins letterhead, 1923, reflected the Jim Crow attitude of the time. The implied racist message of the letterhead is: The Jenkins Orphanage was run by a black man, but there were responsible white citizens monitoring the Orphan Aid Society, assuring donations were used properly. Even after thirty years of success, Rev. Jenkins was still not fully trusted by the white citizens of Charleston.

Today In Charleston History: June 27


The Assembly passed an act “for the more effectual Preventing the Spreading of Contagious Distempers” and appointed Gilbert Guttery the first health commissioner. He was empowered to board any ship coming into the harbor and order anyone quarantined in the “pest house” on Sullivan’s Island, under penalty of fine or whipping for leaving.

1723 – Politics. 

     By the order of the Lords Justices the “Act for the Good Government of Charles Town” was repealed. Some folks say “good government” never returned.  

1767 – Revolutionary War.

The sloop Active was seized by Capt. James Hawker of HMS Sardoine. This was the initial incident that sparked a major contest between British authorities and the Carolina merchants – all because of the Townshend Acts and the sugar tax levied against the colonies.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

Monday Gell was arrested at his harness shop.

1864- Bombardment of Charleston

Gus Smythe wrote:

The Yankees are shelling as usual but nearly all their shells have fallen short. Yesterday, only two or three came in & they burst on the Bay.  There was also considerable firing at Sumter … the Yankee prisoners are in Mr. O’Conner’s house at the corner of Broad & Rutledge Sts. It is a splendid house & a delightful situation. They have a large yard & empty lot to walk in & the other day the Govt. sent round & had gas fixtures put up so that they might have light all at the expense of the Confederacy. Have plenty of money which they spend for coffee & sugar etc. It seems a shame to treat them so well.


O'Conner House, Broad Street

O’Conner House, Broad Street


Today In Charleston History: June 22

1663-Founding of Carolina

Capt. Robert Sandford, exploring the Carolina coast for Sir John Yeamans, sailed five miles up a “fair river” and came across “a canoe with two Indians.” They informed Sandford that this was the country of “Edistoh.”


The city of Charlestown was incorporated by Governor Nicholson.


In the Gazette, Christopher Gadsden wrote:

It seems amazing, and altogether unaccountable, that our mother country should take almost every means in her power, to drive her colonies to some desperate act; for what else could be the motive (besides oppressing them) of treating them with that contempt she upon all occasions affects to do?

1781-American Revolution

The American prisoners in the British ships in Charlestown harbor were exchanged, and sent to Philadelphia.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Frederick Wesner and Capt. William Dove arrested Denmark Vesey at the “house of one of his wives,” most likely his former wife Beck.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Sam Jones (CSA) angrily replied to Gen. Schimmelfenneg’s assertions that the bombardment was aimed at military targets:

The fire has been so singularly wild and inaccurate that no one who has ever witnessed it would suspect its object … the shells have been thrown at random, at any and all hours, day and night …



Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thornton Jenkins (Jenks) composition for grand organ and orchestra, Prelude Religieuse, was performed at the Queen’s Hall at the Royal Academy.  In a mere two years, Jenks had progressed to the point where his compositions were being performed at one of London’s leading concert halls. As the war raged across Europe, Jenks had something more important on his mind – his musical future.

Listen to one of Jenkins’ compositions, “Charlestonia: A Folk Rhapsody.” 

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 15


Rebecca Brewton Motte

Rebecca Brewton Motte

Rebecca Brewton, daughter of Robert Brewton, was born at her father’s house, 21 Church Street. She married Jacob Motte and later lived in her brother’s house at 27 King Street and live there with the British occupying force in 1780. 

1786-Natural Disasters

Fire swept down Broad Street, destroying fourteen buildings, including the state house.

1818-Slavery. Religion. Denmark Vesey Rebellion

In direct defiance of the City Council, Rev. Richard Allen (of Philadelpha) conducted a Sunday service in a private home for a blacks-only congregation. The city guard once again disrupted the service. Allen and his Philadelphia delegation were arrested and sentenced to “one month’s imprisonment, or to give security and leave the state.”

Allen and his group returned to Philadelphia under the threat of his arrest, but black religious services continued to be conducted in private homes at night, often conducted by Denmark Vesey.  Gullah Jack, however, was angered by what he called “the desecration of sacred ground” (the disruption of religious services), and claimed he “wanted to begin” to organize against the whites. 

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Watching the increased militia activity on the streets, and hearing of the arrests, Denmark Vesey and Monday Gell destroyed all incriminating letters and documents they had in their possession. Gullah Jack buried a small cache of gunpowder and weapons on the Buckley farm in the Charleston Neck. All three men then went into hiding.

Thomas_Bennett_JrGov. Bennett signed a General Order calling out Col. Croft’s 16th Regiment, the Washington Light Infantry, the Republican Artillery and the Charleston Neck Rangers. Bennett also requested the assistance of the federal government. He wrote to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native, about his “State of alarm and his inability to defend his city.” Bennett wrote that a show of federal force:

would tend not only to tranquilize the public mind, but produce the happiest effects upon that class of persons who have caused the present excitement.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston   

Gen. Foster notified General Henry Halleck, Army Chief of Staff, that:

The fire upon the city of Charleston had been somewhat increased, and had been continued night and day, at irregular intervals, the number of shots varying from 30 to 60 in ordinary firing.

Today In Charleston History: June 14


Charlestown was divided into two Anglican parishes: St. Michael’s, south of Broad Street and St. Philip’s, north of Broad.

1774-American Revolution

Christopher Gadsden wrote to Sam Adams in Boston, assuring him that South Carolina would stand firm with Massachusetts, reminding him that South Carolina was the last to desert the non-importation agreement in 1770. He wrote:

For my part I would rather see my own family reduced to the utmost Extremity and half cut to pieces than to submit to their damned Machinations. 

(L) - Sam Adams. (R) - Christopher Gadsden

(L) – Sam Adams. (R) – Christopher Gadsden

1775-American Revolution – Continental Congress 

Edward Rutledge was appointed to a three-member committee to draft George Washington’s commission and instructions as commander of the Continental Army.  

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

George Wilson informed his master, Major John Wilson of 106 Broad Street, about the plot to kill whites, related to him by Rolla Bennett.

8:00 p.m.

Major Wilson informed Intendent (mayor) Hamilton that the governor’s slaves were involved in an insurrection planned for two nights hence – Sunday June 16. The story Wilson told was so similar to that of William Paul and Peter Prioleau that Hamilton and Governor Bennett had no choice but to believe it.

Just before midnight, Gov. Bennett ordered the arrest of ten slaves including Peter Poyas, Mingo Harth, and his own personal slaves, Rolla and Ned Bennett.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston  

Captured Union officers purposely placed in range of Federal guns at 180 Broad Street in an attempt to stop the bombardment of Charleston. The Charleston Mercury announced:

 For some time it has been known that a batch of Yankee prisoners, comprising the highest in rank now in our hands, were soon to be brought hither to share in the pleasures of the bombardment. These prisoners we understand will be furnished with comfortable quarters in that portion of the city most exposed to enemy fire. The commanding officer on Morris Island will be duly notified of the fact of their presence in the shelled district and if his batteries still continue at their wanton and barbarous work, it will be at the peril of the captive officers.’ 

The Charleston Daily Courier wrote:

We do not confine these prisoners in a fortress or a walled town or city, or thrust them forward in our battle as the Yankees do with the unfortunate negro … We place them in our city of Charleston, among and near our own wives and children …

Two views of the O'Conner House, 180 Broad Street, where Union officers were imprisoned within range of Federal guns.

Two views of the O’Conner House, 180 Broad Street, where Union officers were imprisoned within range of Federal guns.

Today In Charleston History: June 13

1713-Yemassee War.

The Cherokee war party returned north. That left the remaining Catawba force to face a rapidly-assembled militia under the command of George Chicken from Goose Creek.  In the Battle of the Ponds, the Chicken militia routed the Catawba, who returned to their villages and decided on peace.

1777-American Revolution

The Marquis de Lafayette and the Baron de Kalb arrived in America on North Island in Winyah Bay. They proceeded to Benjamin Huger’s house in Georgetown to join the American military cause. 


A fire broke out in Lodge Alley. Winds blew it westward, toward the center of the city where it burned “a vast Number of Houses and … left many Citizens without the Means of being otherwise accommodated.” St. Philip’s Church was also in the path of the fire, but was saved by the heroic actions of a slave called Boney. The fire:

would have destroyed that venerable building but for the heroic intrepidity of a negro, who, at the risk of his life, climbed to the very summit of the belfry, and tore off the burning shingles.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Ned Bennett turned himself in to the authorities at the Work House. He told the wardens that he learned his name had been mentioned in association with a planned rebellion and he wished to clear his name. He was questioned for several hours, cleared and released.

He then walked the five blocks from the Work House to Denmark Vesey’s house on Bull Street to attend a meeting to finalize plans for the rebellion.       


The steamship Pulaski exploded and sank just off the Charleston harbor. It was owned by the Savannah and Charleston Steam Packet Company to safely and speedily carry freight and passengers between Savannah to Baltimore with stops in Charleston.

The sinking of the Pulaski

The sinking of the Pulaski

That night, after taking on about sixty-five passengers in Charleston the Pulaski steamed to about thirty miles off the North Carolina coast through a dark night and moderate weather. Around ten o’clock the Pulaski’s starboard boiler suddenly exploded and swept some passengers into the sea and scalded others to death. Panicked passengers, most of them wearing their night clothes, sought refuge on the promenade deck. The bow of the Pulaski rose out of the water and eventually she ripped apart.

Passengers clung to furniture and pieces of wreckage. As the Pulaski sank, the crew lowered four life boats but two of them capsizing while the other two filled with frantic passengers.

Three days later the Henry Camerdon, schooner bound for Wilmington, North Carolina, rescued the 30 survivors. There were more than 100 deaths. Passengers rescued were:
MRS. P. M. NIGHTINGALE, servant and child.
MRS. W. FREHER and child, St. Simons, Geo.
J. H. COOPER, Glynn, Georgia.
F. W. POOLER, Savannah, Georgia.
Capt. POOLER, son.
WILLIAM ROBERTSON, Savannah, Georgia.
SOLOMON ________
S. HIBBERD, 1st mate Pulaski.
W. C. N. SWIFT, New Bedford.
GIDEON WEST, New Bedford, boatswain.
B. BRAGG, Norfolk, steward.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston 
Gen. Samuel Jones
Gen. Samuel Jones

Confederate Gen. Samuel Jones, in an effort to stop or reduce the bombardment of the city, notified Union Gen. John G. Foster that

five Union generals and forty-five field officers had arrived in the city for safe keeping … in commodious quarters in a part of the city occupied by non-combatants, the majority of whom are women and children. It is proper, however, that I should inform you it is a part of the city which has been for many months exposed day and night to the fire of your guns.

Gen. John Foster

Gen. John Foster

      Union Gen. Schimmelfenneg, before forwarding the letter to Gen. Foster added a note:

Charleston must be considered a place “of arms.” It contains a large arsenal, military foundries … and has already furnished three iron-clads to the enemy. It is our duty to destroy these resources. In reference to the women and children of the bombarded city, I therefore can only say the same situation occurs wherever a weak and strong party are at war … In my opinion the endeavor of the enemy to force us to give up the bombardment should be the reason for its continuation … as a means to force him to give up his barbarous practices.

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.