Today In Charleston History: October 31

1769 – Slavery

 The Sally brought slaves to Charlestown. Henry Laurens wrote:

A third poor pining creature hanged herself with a piece of small vine which shows her carcass was not very weighty … who that views the above Picture can love the African trade?

Laurens rationalized his role as a slave trader using what was to become a tried and true Charleston excuse – tradition.

These Negroes were first enslaved by the English … I was born in a Country where Slavery had been established  by the British Kings & Parliaments … I found the Christian Religion & Slavery growing under the same authority … I am not the Man who enslaved them, they are indebted to English men for that …

African American History Slave Ships



Today In Charleston History: October 30


Sir_Robert_Heath_(State_2)Charles I granted the American territory between the thirty-one and thirty-six degrees north latitude to Sir Robert Heath. This land included everything from Florida to the present Cape Fear River and included the Bahamas. The charter was never used. Heath was impeached by Parliament for high treason in 1644. He fled England, and died in Calais.


Today In History: October 29

1717 -Bloodless Revolution

Governor Robert Johnson met with the Assembly for the first time. As the representative of the Proprietors, he was not warmly received. The lack of assistance the Proprietors offered during the Yemassee War had soured the people’s opinion. Judge Nicholas Trott and Col. William Rhett, Speaker of the Assembly, were the two most powerful men in colony, more respected than the Proprietors.  Johnson, however, knew that former Governor Craven was in London seeking a path to make South Carolina a Royal Colony. During his address to the Assembly Johnson said:

I am obliged for your sakes to give you my opinion touching the disrespectful behavior that has of late been shown to the Lords Proprietors … very unjustifiable and impolitic. If it be supposed their character is a bar to your relief, it is a mistake. His Majesty and his Parliament are too just to divest their Lordships of their properties without a valuable consideration.

1824 – Deaths

Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney died. In his will, Pinckney stated that his body be laid out until decomposition began – a common practice to avoid the possibility of being buried alive. However, against his wishes, the funeral was held the next day and he was buried at St. Philip’s graveyard.

His will also freed eight slaves, Primus, Cate, Betty, and Dinah, as well as Dinah’s children –Anthony, John, Peneta and Carlos. He directed that the four children be “suitably maintained and bound out for trades.” Dinah was a “washerwoman” who seemed special to Pinckney. It was openly speculated that the freed children were Pinckney’s own with Dinah. Particularly in the light of Pinckney’s service in Spain and two of the children having Spanish names, including one named Carlos, the Spanish version of Charles, that speculation seems likely. 

1924 – The “Charleston” Debuts on Broadway

16. charleston (runnin' wild)_edited-1Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles introduced their second Broadway show Runnin’ Wild with songs by James P. Johnson and Cecil Mack. The choreographer, Elida Webb, later falsely claimed to have invented the “Charleston” dance. Yet, the first act of Runnin’ Wild ended with the “Charleston” performed by Elizabeth Welsh, backed by a group of chorus boys called the “Dancing Redcaps.”

James Weldon Johnson wrote when the dance was introduced in Runnin’ Wild:

They did not wholly depend upon the orchestra – an extraordinary jazz band – but had the major part of the chorus supplement it with hand and foot patting. The effect was electrical and contagious. It was the best demonstrating of beating out complex rhythms I have ever witnessed; and, I do not believe New York ever before witnessed anything of just its sort.

Roger Pryor Dodge, in his book Hot Jazz and Jazz Dance says:

The famous single-step, the Charleston, suggests the rhythm 4/4 but does not explicitly state it. The Charleston rhythm … pervades all music, and for our purposes is predominant in ragtime. Nevertheless the Charleston rhythm had not, up to the time of James P. Johnson’s composition “Charleston” become unmistakably identified. While ragtime sheet music and piano rolls are records of the past, the elusive elements of the dance are lost. Whether the dancers actually used a Charleston rhythm before James P.’s piece I do not know. Since that time and with the help of a music strongly accenting this rhythm, the dancers still do not actually follow it, but give the impression that they do only because we associate the step with a music having this rhythm. Maybe James P. made point of constantly holding to this rhythm because of the impression he got from the dancers, or very likely with the music in a slower tempo some dancers did more than just give an impression of the rhythm and did accent it. Certainly the dance was not evolved to fit James P.’s composition; rather, James P. derived his music from his impression of the dancers, with the possibility that some of them actually may have followed the musical rhythm. Thus our visual impression of the step is influenced by the Charleston rhythm in the music so that whatever the dancer is doing we assume he is still following the musical rhythm.

The Charleston dance step may have a longer history than most think. The Branle of 1520 is presumed by most dance scholars to be similar to the Charleston. Dance historians speculate the Ashanti People of Africa were the originators since some of their tribal dances incorporated what could be viewed as Charleston-style steps and movements.

But Willie “the Lion” Smith in his autobiography mentions a black Charleston dancer named Russell Brown:

His dance was a Geechie step like those I had seen in “The Jungles” [a name often used in the 1910s for the San Juan Hill District of New York]. He was given a nickname by the people of Harlem . . . they would holler at him, “Hey Charleston, do your Geechie dance!” Some folks say that is how the dance known as the Charleston got its name. I’m a tough man for facts, and I say the Geechie dance had been around New York for many years before Brown showed up. The kids from the Jenkins Orphanage Band of Charleston used to do Geechie steps when they were in New York on their yearly tour.

It can safely be accepted that the origins of “the Charleston” are most likely a combination of all of the above, particularly the line that runs from the Ashanti African tribal dances directly to the southern plantations of the 18th and 19th centuries. What cannot be denied is that by the end of 1923, everybody in the country was doin’ the Charleston.

Nothing else epitomizes the spirit and joyous exuberance of one the most tumultuous decades in American history as the Charleston dance. Other dance crazes have had their fifteen minutes of fame: the Waltz, Tango, Hokey-pokey, Twist, Hustle, Macarena, and Breakdancing. None of them, however, managed to influence and infect an entire generation so thoroughly the way the Charleston did. Almost 100 years later, the image of the Jazz Age is always a Flapper doing the Charleston. No other American decade can be so neatly summed up in one simple image.

blogue-charleston - Copy

From the book Doin’ the Charleston: Black Roots of American Popular Music & the Jenkins Orphanage Legacy

doin' the charleston

Today In Charleston History: October 28


First Masonic Lodge in Charlestown was organized under a warrant issued by Lord Weymouth of England, Grand Master of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons. An announcement in the Gazette said:

Last night a Lodge of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, was held, for the first time, at Mr. Charles Shepheard’s, in Broad Street, when John Hammerton, Esq., Secretary and Receiver General for this Province was unanimously chosen Master, who was pleased to appoint Mr. Thomas Denne, Senior Warden, Mr. Tho. Harbin, Junior Warden, and Mr. James Gordon, Secretary.

sheapheard's tavern2

Shepheard’s Tavern (corner of Broad & Church Streets), circa 1740s; In the distance on the left hand corner can be seen St. Philip’s Church


Gov. Glen proposed a plan for repairing and improving the city’s fortifications. He claimed the defenses were “piece-meal” and suggested the hiring of a “regular Engineer.” Without consulting the Assembly, Glen hired German-born engineer William De Brahm.

1765 – Stamp Act

Due to political pressure and threats of violence, George Saxby and Caleb Lloyd, stamp officer and stamp distributor, publically promised not to perform their duties.

Lt. Gov. Bull called the Gazette the “Conduit Pipe of northern propaganda … poisoning the minds … against the Stamp Act.” In an effort not “to directly support and engage in the most violent Opposition” Peter Timothy temporarily suspended the publication of the South Carolina Gazette.


Charleston City Council passed an ordinance that established the Charleston Orphan House. Until a structure could be built Mrs. Elizabeth Pinckney provided a building on Market Street, close to the Sailors’ Homes, for children too young to be bound out.

Today In History: Volstead Act Passed By Congress

October 28, 1919

Congress enacted legislation called the National Prohibition Act, better known as the Volstead Act, It was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson on October 27, 1919. Later that day, the veto was overridden by the House on October 27, 1919 (175–55) and by the Senate (65-20). It became law on October 28 and was one of the most disastrous Acts ever passed by Congress.

volstead act

The three distinct purposes of the Act were:

  1. to prohibit intoxicating beverages,
  2. to regulate the manufacture, sale, or transport of intoxicating liquor (but not consumption), and
  3. to ensure an ample supply of alcohol and promote its use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye and other lawful industries and practices, such as religious rituals.

It provided further that “no person shall manufacture, sell, barter, transport, import, export, deliver, or furnish any intoxicating liquor except as authorized by this act.” It did not specifically prohibit the use of intoxicating liquors. The act defined intoxicating liquor as any beverage containing more than 0.5% alcohol by volume and superseded all existing prohibition laws in effect in states that had such legislation.

Prohibition came into force at midnight on January 17, 1920. The first documented infringement of the Volstead Act occurred in Chicago on January 17 at 12:59 a.m. Six armed men stole $100,000 worth of “medicinal” whiskey from two freight train cars. This trend in bootlegging liquor created a domino effect, with criminals across the United States. In fact, some gang leaders were stashing liquor months before the Volstead Act was enforced. The ability to sustain a lucrative business in bootlegging liquor was largely helped by the minimal police surveillance at the time. There were only 134 agents designated by the Prohibition Unit to cover all of Illinois, Iowa, and parts of Wisconsin. According to Charles C. Fitzmorris, Chicago’s Chief of Police during the beginning of the Prohibition period: “Sixty percent of my police [were] in the bootleg business.”

5 Prohibition Disposal(9)Section 29 of the Act allowed 200 gallons (the equivalent of about 1000 750 ml bottles) of “non-intoxicating cider and fruit juice” to be made each year at home. “Intoxicating” was defined as anything more than 0.5%, but the Bureau of Internal Revenue soon struck that down and this effectively legalized home wine-making. For beer, however, the 0.5% limit remained until 1933.

The Act contained a number of exceptions and exemptions. Many of these were used to evade the law’s intended purpose. For example, the Act allowed a physician to prescribe whiskey for his patients, but limited the amount that could be prescribed. Subsequently, the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association voted to submit to Congress a bill to remove the limit on the amount of whiskey that could be prescribed and questioning the ability of a legislature to determine the therapeutic value of any substance. 

The Act called for trials for anyone charged with an alcohol-related offense, but juries often failed to convict their fellow citizens of a “crime” of which they were also guilty. 

Today In Charleston History: October 27


King George III declares the American colonies to be in open rebellion, due to traitorous behavior. He stated:

Many of these unhappy people may still remain their loyalty, and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequence of this usurpation, and wish to resist it, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence, till a sufficient force shall appear to support them.


Today In Charleston History: October 26

1759 – French and Indian War.

Governor Lyttleton left Charlestown, marching for Fort Prince George (present-day Pickens County, South Carolina) with 1500 troops (including Christopher Gadsden) to put down the Cherokee rebellion.

Fort Prince George

Fort Prince George


1765 – Stamp Act.

A mob of citizens marched the streets threatening to kill the two stamp agents, George Saxby and Caleb Lloyd, unless they resign.

Stamp Act Rioting

Stamp Act Rioting