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Today In Charleston History: October 24

1671

 The Grand Council appointed a group of citizens to “examine the banks of the Ashley and the Wando, or Cooper River, and to make a return of what places might be most convenient to situate towns upon.” It was an order to begin the surveying of Oyster Point.

1808

The cornerstone of the Charleston Homespun Company was laid at the west end of Wentworth Street – the first manufacturing company incorporated in Charleston. 

1824 – Births

 Susan Dupont Petigru was born, the youngest of four children. She was raised in her family’s Broad Street house, at the center of Charleston’s elite business and social district. Sue attended school first at Madame Talvande’s French School for Young Ladies in Charleston, along with classmate Mary Boykin Chesnut, and later at Madame Binsse’s in Philadelphia. At Talvande’s in particular she received a heavy dosage of French, the required language for both instructional and social dialogues, but she also studied chemistry, botany, astronomy, literature, rhetoric, German, art, dancing and music. 

Her marriage to Henry King was unhappy and in 1861 the couple was separated. Due to laws at the time, divorce was not an option. When Henry was killed in 1862 at the Battle of Secessionville, Sue donned “widow’s weeds”  but her cousin Carey North that Sue had to “act considerably in doing so.”

She became a fiction writer and novelist. Her work, which included Busy Moments of an Idle Woman (1853), Lily: A Novel (1855), Sylvia’s World: Crimes Which the Law Does Not Reach (1859), and Gerald Gray’s Wife (1864), focused on subversive portrayals of South Carolina aristocracy, in which men toyed with women’s affections, women plotted against one another’s best interests, and mothers forced daughters to choose wealth over romance.

In December 1863 Sue moved to Columbia, S.C. where she was determined “to make herself notorious during the sitting of the Legislature,” at which she succeeded.Sue dressed in lavish outfits of bright coloring, equipped with the finest accoutrements her meager estate could provide. Her flirty behavior attracted the attention of a number of young soldiers and married officers from the Confederate army. Later in 1865, Sue was seen cavorting with victorious Yankees in Charleston, to which one gentleman responded “There goes Mrs K driven by a Yankee thief in my uncles Stolen Buggy.”

However, it was in 1870, while working as a foreign-language clerk in Washington’s Post Office Department, that Sue committed her most scandalous and damning public affair – her marriage to Radical Republican and carpetbagger Christopher Columbus Bowen. Eight years her junior, Bowen was even more notorious than Sue.  Born in Rhode Island, Bowen eventually moved to Georgia, where he volunteered for the Confederate cavalry, after being threatened with conscription. He  was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged for forging a commanding officer’s signature on a furlough pass to gamble in Charleston and Savannah, Bowen hired a fellow soldier to murder the officer, for which he was arrested and imprisoned in Charleston. While Bowen was awaiting trial, the city of Charleston was successfully invaded by Union forces and Bowen, among other prisoners, was released. He then began working for the Freedmen’s Bureau, which he was fired from shortly thereafter for “irregularities in his accounts.” Afterwards he began acting as a pro-bono lawyer for newly freed slaves, and the connections he developed allowed him to become first a Republican delegate to South Carolina’s 1868 constitutional convention, and later the elected representative of its first congressional district.

sue king

In 1871, after marrying Sue, Bowen was arrested and tried on charges of bigamy brought by two former wives, one of which owned several brothels and was later convicted as a serial killer. Sue deftly and adamantly defended her husband both in court and in public, writing to one Washington newspaper that she knew

“that he had been an orphan boy, without relations or friends; had drifted into the company of gamblers and prostitutes, and had lived their life until it had pleased the good god to lift him from the mire.”

Bowen received a two-year prison sentence and a $250 fine, but Sue appealed to President Ulysses S. Grant, who eventually offered Bowen a full pardon. Bowen was reelected to Congress in 1872, but an investigation by the House of Representatives deemed both his and his opponent’s campaigns too corrupt to be officially recognized. Yet Bowen had also been elected as sheriff of Charleston County, a position he would hold through Sue’s death in 1875.

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