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Today In Charleston History: November 4

1718 – Piracy

After getting reports of mysterious campfires on Sullivan’s Island Rhett searched the western end and discovered Bonnet hiding. During the subsequent battle Herriot was killed and the two slaves wounded. Bonnet surrendered and was returned to Charleston, this time imprisoned in the watch-house.

That same night, Governor Johnson’s fleet sailed out of the harbor to seek Christopher Moody.

col rhett and bonnet

Stede Bonnet stands before Col. William Rhett

1872 – Carpetbagger & Scalawag

Christopher Columbus Bowen was elected sheriff of Charleston. 

Born in Rhode Island, Bowen had worked a series of odd jobs until eventually making his way to Georgia, where he volunteered (after being threatened with conscription) in the Confederate cavalry. After forging a commanding officer’s signature on a furlough pass to gamble in Charleston, Bowen was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged. He then hired a fellow soldier to murder his commanding officer, for which he was arrested and imprisoned in Charleston. While Bowen was awaiting trial, 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.

In 1871 Bowen married Susan Petigru King, daughter of James Louis Petigru. Sue had her own fast reputation as a woman who defied social convention and was the author of several “scandalous novels” about Charleston life. Soon after their marriage Bowen was arrested and tried on charges of bigamy.Tabitha Park, a manager of brothels, brought suit against Bowen claiming she was, in fact, his real wife. According to Park, Bowen left her three-years earlier in order that he might live in “open adultery with another woman.” Bowen offered a settlement of one thousand dollars, but Park suspected a member of the United States Congress could do better than that. A bigamy trial followed and Bowen escaped conviction because one member of the jury would not find him guilty. It was noted “a distinct likelihood” that the juror “had been well rewarded beforehand for agreeing to hang the jury.”

ChristopherCBowen

Christopher Columbus Bowen

Frances Hicks then appeared before a federal grand jury. She claimed (and had evidence) that Bowen had actually married her, in 1852. This time, the jury took only twenty minutes to reach a verdict and Representative Bowen was found guilty as charged. Susan Petigru played a more visible role in the second trial and dramatically offered up herself for sentencing, as a substitute for the person who was claiming to be her current husband. She also informed the court that she could not part with Mr. Bowen because he was “too pure” and “too good.” Bowen was sentenced to two years in the Albany penitentiary and fined two hundred and fifty dollars. 

Susan Petigru King Bowen decided to seek help directly from the White House. When President Grant declined to see her, she took it upon herself, without hesitation, to seek a letter of support from General Sherman. She then followed the Grants to their summer home in Long Branch, New Jersey. There, she managed to get the ear of Grant’s wife, Julia Dent. Less than a month after Representative Bowen’s conviction, President Grant signed a “full and unconditional pardon” for his fellow Republican.

Grant’s clemency warrant stated the Representative was “innocent of any intentional violation of the law” and “acted in good faith believing his former wife to be dead.” The warrant also gave Bowen credit – amazingly enough – for rendering “good service” to “the cause of the Union during the late rebellion and since its termination.” 

Bowen was reelected in 1872, but an investigation by the House of Representatives deemed both his and his opponent’s campaigns too corrupt to be officially recognized. he then was elected sheriff of Charleston County.

 

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