Today In Charleston History: December 21

1800 – Birth.

Robert Barnwell Smith (Rhett) was born. 

Rhett2-246x300After entering public life Robert Smith changed his last name for that of his prominent colonial ancestor Colonel William Rhett.  He studied law and became a member of the South Carolina legislature in 1826 and also served as South Carolina attorney general (1832), U.S. representative (1837–1849), and U.S. senator (1850–1852). He was pro-Southern extremist he split (1844) and one of the leading fire-eaters at the Nashville Convention of 1850, which failed to endorse his aim of secession for the whole South.

One of the original “Fire-Eaters” Rhett was was dubbed the ‘Father of Secession’ and called the ‘Lone Star of Disunion’ by his enemies in the Whig Party. In her famous diary, Mary Chesnut called Rhett “the greatest of seceders.”  During the War Rhett continued to express his radical views  through editorials in the Charleston Mercury newspaper, edited by his son. After the other Southern secession in 1861, Rhett was considered one of the leading candidates for President of the Confederate States. bit In the end, he was viewed as too radical for the position and the more conservative Jefferson Davis was selected as chief executive. 

Robert-Barnwell-Rhetts-grave-300x225Rhett was critical of the Confederate Government for many reasons, including government intervention in the economy. He had previously envisioned a Confederacy that also included the Caribbean and even Brazil, but the Confederate States didn’t live up to Rhett’s dream and criticized Jefferson Davis’ adminstration as strongly as he had once criticized Washington, DC. After the War Rhett refused to apply for a Federal pardon. He died of cancer in 1876 and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.

1842

The Citadel, a military college, was founded in response to the Denmark Vesey rebellion. Charleston City Council established a “municipal force of 150 men … for an arsenal, or a ‘Citadel’ to protect the preserve the public property and safety.”

1891  – Jenkins Orphanage  

Daniel Jenkins preached a sermon at the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church titled “The Harvest is Great by the Laborers Are Few.” It was an appeal to the congregation to “to help these and other unfortunate children.” The congregation was just a poor as Jenkins. The donated money did not last long; it paid for some food and clothing and the rental of a small shack at 660 King Street.

Today In Charleston History: December 20

1752

King George II confirmed the charter of the Two-Bit Club at the Court of St. James. Soon afterward, the name was changed to the South Carolina Society and began including non-French members.

1782 – Slavery

Capt. Joseph Vesey returned to Charlestown with his wife, Kezia, their son John and Vesey’s personal servant / cabin boy, sixteen year-old Telemaque.

1783

The first theatrical performance in Charleston after the British evacuation was held in the Exchange Building.

1800 – Slavery

 A law was passed making it more difficult to emancipate slaves. Also passed was “An Act Respecting Slaves, Free Negroes, Mulattoes and Mestizoes” which permitted blacks to gather for religious worship only after the “rising of the sun and before the going down of the same … a majority [of the congregation] shall be white persons.”

Perhaps thinking that the “Christianization [sic] of the city’s black labor force would have a stabilizing effect,”  the white authorities ignored late night church meetings among all black congregations for many years.

1826

The South Carolina Jockey Club was formed.

1860 – Secession

On this day, a secession convention meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, unanimously adopted an ordinance dissolving the connection between South Carolina and the United States of America.

Click here to read the Charleston Mercury’s account of secession. 

The convention had been called by the governor and legislature of South Carolina once Lincoln’s victory was assured. Delegates were elected on December 6, 1860,  and on December 17 at noon, 169 delegates gathered at the First Baptist Church in the South Carolina capital, Columbia. Included among the delegates were four former governors, four former U.S. Senators, judges, and more than 100 planters.

first baptist columbia

First Baptist Church, Columbia SC Courtesy of Library Of Congress

David J. Jamison was chosen chairman of the convention. Jamison, a planter of 2,000 acres and seventy slaves opened the convention by quoting Georges-Jacques Danton, leader of the French Revolution, urging the delegates “To dare! And dare again! And without end dare!” The fact that Danton was beheaded for his radical leadership went unacknowledged by the delegates.

A resolution was agreed upon that “South Carolina should forthwith secede” and an ordinance be drafted “to accomplish this purpose” was passed. After that, the members began to clamor for adjournment and move the convention to Charleston. Historically, the reason given has always been of a small pox outbreak in Columbia. However, many of the delegates complained about the “meager accommodations in Columbia.” Charleston, however, offered luxurious hotels and the opulent homes of friends. As John A. Inglis, a delegate from Chesterfield County exclaimed, “Is there any spot in South Carolina more fit for political agitation?”

While the argument about moving the convention was being held, Charleston delegates had already wired home, and given orders to secure Institute Hall, and as many rooms at the Mills House that could be procured. William Porcher Miles, however, thought that moving after a day was a mistake. He told the delegates, “We would be sneered at. It would be asked … is this chivalry of South Carolina? They are prepared to face the world, but they run away from the smallpox.”

 However, the delegates voted to adjourn and make the seven-and-one-half hour train trip to Charleston together. The Columbia-based newspaper, South Carolinian, the next day published this story:

CHARLESTON POLICE LOOK OUT!

By a letter from New York, there is reason to apprehend that the Lincoln men have been gathering up all the rags they can find from the small-pox hospital, and intend an incursion in the South, to chase the secession conventions and legislature from place to place until they are made powerless.   

In the late morning hours, the exhausted, red-eyed delegates arrived at the Charleston rail depot, greeted by the sound of drums, and a fifteen-gun salute from the Washington Light Infantry. They were led down Meeting Street into town by a military escort. Crowds lined the street, “ladies wore white cotton ‘secession bonnets’ with streamers decorated by … palmetto trees and a lone gold star.” The Palmetto Flag flew from almost every house and business. They marched past the Secession Pole in front of the Charleston Hotel. A “Secession Gun” had already been erected on East Bay, “to be fired on ratification of the ordinance. The gunpowder had been stored by a Charleston lady since the nullification crisis three decades before.”

secssion hall - frank leslie

South Carolina Institute Hall on Meeting Street. Harper’s Weekly illustration

Word passed through the city that the convention would reconvene at 4:00 P.M. at Institute Hall, now being called by the locals as “Secession Hall.” With this festive atmosphere as the background, Rhett, Jr. paid a call to the British consul Robert Bunch to discuss how the English government would treat a Southern Confederacy. Bunch wondered if the confederacy would reopen the African slave trade which, he claimed, the English government “views with horror.” Rhett, Jr., filled with the powerful excitement of the moment, replied:

No Southern State or Confederacy will ever be brought to negotiate upon such a subject. To prohibit the Slave Trade would be virtually to admit the institution of slavery is an evil and a wrong, instead of, as the South believes, a blessing of the African Race and a system of labor appointed by God.

 At 4:00 p.m., Rev. Richard Furman re-opened the convention with a prayer. The only business conducted that afternoon was a motion by Barnwell Rhett that “a committee be formed to prepare an address to the people of the Southern States.” The delegates, however, felt the hall was “too commodious … to debate intelligently.” The presence of several thousand rowdy spectators obviously changed the atmosphere of the hall from solemnity to celebratory. They decided to meet the next morning, delegates only, at St. Andrews Hall on Broad Street.  

 The Mercury’s front page exclaimed:

The excitement here is a deep, calm feeling … [the city] may be said to swarm with armed men [but] we are not a mobocracy here, and believe in law, order, and obedience to authority, civil and military.          

Issac W. Hayne, the state’s attorney general, called for secession commissioners to be sent to other states, to urge them to join South Carolina. He called for each commissioner to carry a copy of South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession, before it was even approved.

While the whites were celebrating, among the free blacks in Charleston, the exodus, which had started in September, continued. James D. Johnson, on Coming Street, was preparing his two houses for sale. He wrote, “I only want to beautify the exterior so as to attract Capitalists.” His son wrote, “It is now a fixed fact that we must go.”

 At 11:00 a.m. the delegates met at St Andrew’s Hall. A delegate proposed that should “sit with closed doors,” and Sen. James Chesnut protested. He claimed that “a popular body should sit with the eyes of the people upon them.” He then suggested they move back to Institute Hall. John Richardson argued to Chesnut:

I protest. If there is one sentiment predominant over all others, and truly the mind of the people of Charleston, it is that this Convention should proceed! 

The days were shut, locked and guarded by Charleston police. All the citizens could do was wait with the patience of a child on Christmas eve. An afternoon parade by the Vigilant Rifles and the Washington Light Infantry occupied some of the afternoon. They stopped in front of South Carolina Society Hall on Meeting Street, where Mayor Charles Macbeth presented a flag to Captain S. Y. Tipper “sewn by a number of the fair daughters of Carolina.” Capt. Tipper toasted Fort Moultrie:

It is ours by inheritance. It stands upon the sacred soil of Carolina, and the spirit of our patriotic fathers hover about it. Infamy to the mercenaries [Federal troops] that fire the first gun against the children of its revolutionary defenders.     

 The day ended, and no news from the convention. No ordinance yet.

August 20, 1860: Thursday morning, forty-five days after Lincoln’s election.

Nina Glover, in Charleston, wrote to her daughter, Mrs. C. J. Bowen, “The Union is being dissolved in tears. The feeling exhibited was intense; each man, through the day, as he met his neighbor, anxiously asked if the Ordinance had yet passed.”

By mid-morning a large crowd of thousands had gathered on Broad Street in front of St. Andrew’s Hall. The Charleston police guard stood in front of the closed and locked doors. 

st-andrews-hall-1

St. Andrews Hall, 118 Broad Street. Courtesy of Library of Congress

The ordinance, written by Christopher Memminger, was a simple, but direct statement. John Ingliss claimed that it meant: “in the fewest and simplest words possible to be uses … all that is necessary to effect the end proposed and no more.”

 The call of the roll started at 1:07 P.M. and ended at 1:15, with every delegate voting “yea,” a unanimous vote – eight minutes to vote to “dissolve” the Union. From a window at St. Andrew’s a signal was flashed to the crowd. Then, according to Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter:

 A mighty shout arose. It rose higher and higher until it was the roar of a tempest. It spread from end to end of the city, for all were of one mind. No man living could have stood the excitement.

The Mercury had received a draft copy of the ordinance, by 1:20 P.M., five minutes after the vote concluded, the “extra” was on the streets. During the day, tens of thousands of copies of the “extra” were printed.  Perry O’Bryan’s telegraph office wired the news to the rest of the nation.

dissolved

Upon the signing of the Ordinance, all the church bells in the city began to ring. James Petigru asked a passerby, “Where’s the fire?” The man responded, “Mr. Petigru, there is no fire; those are the joy bells in honor of the passage of the Ordinance of Secession.”

 Petigru responded, “I tell you there is a fire. They have this day set a blazing torch to the temple of constitutional liberty, and please God, we shall have no more peace forever.”    

Across the city, celebrations continued through the day. Elderly men donned the uniforms of their volunteer units and marched, shouting the news to all the neighborhoods. A man in a golden helmet trotted a horse around the city, a copy of the ordinance held aloft. Men gathered around Calhoun’s grave and vowed to “devote their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, to the cause of South Carolina independence.”

The text of the Ordinance:

The State of South Carolina

At a Convention of the People of the State of South Carolina, begun and holden at Columbia on the Seventeenth day of December in the year or our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty and thence continued by adjournment to Charleston, and there by divers adjournments to the Twentieth day of December in the same year –

An Ordinance To dissolve the Union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled “The Constitution of the United States of America.”

We, the People of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention, on the twenty-third day of May in the year of our Lord One Thousand Seven hundred and eight-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United State of America was ratified, and also all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendment of the said Constitution, are here by repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of “The United States of America,” is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston, the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.

Jacob Shirmer, a Union man like Petigru, prophetically wrote in his diary:

This is the commencement of the dissolution of the Union that has been the pride and glory of the whole world, and after a few years, we will find the beautiful structure broke up into as many pieces as there are now States, and jealously and discord will be all over the land.

Robert Gourdin wrote to John W. Ellis, governor of North Carolina:

Before the sun sets this day, South Carolina will have assumed the powers delegated to the federal government and taken her place among the nations as an independent power. God save the State.

We may, if possible, avoid collision with the general government, while we negotiate the dissolution of our situation with the Union. I apologize for the brevity of this … It is written at the dinner table amid conversation, wine and rejoicing.     

At 6:30 p.m. the secession delegates lined up on Broad Street in front of St. Andrew’s Hall, and through the gas lamp glow, marched east to Meeting Street, turned left and marched past Hibernian Hall, the Mills House and arrived at the front doors of Institute (Secession) Hall. The delegates entered the hall, to the roar of applause and cheers from more than 3,000 Charlestonians, packed into the building.  One of the attendants was eighteen-year old Augustine Smythe, the son of Presbyterian minister, Rev. Thomas Smythe, who was crammed into the corner of the upper gallery. Also in the gallery was Virginian Edmund Ruffin and British consul Robert Bunch.

circular church - teetotal

Photo of Meeting Street with 1806 version of Circular Church steeple and portico and SC Institute Hall, c 1860.

 On the stage was a lone table, flanked by two potted palmetto trees. A banner on the stage read “Built from The Ruins.” After the delegates were seated, Rev. John Bachman offered a prayer where he asked God for “wisdom on high for the leaders … forced by fanaticism, injustice, and oppression” to secede. Then a copy of the ordinance, or, as the Mercury called it, “the consecrated parchment,” was read aloud and, as the Mercury breathlessly reported:

On the last word – “dissolved” – those assembled could contain themselves no longer, and a shout that shook the very building, reverberating, long-continued, rose to Heaven, and ceased on with the loss of breath.

Institute-hall-secession

South Carolina Institute Hall, street view, (Harper’s Weekly)

Upon the signing of the Ordinance of Secession, all the church bells in Charleston began to ring. James Petigru asked a passerby, “Where’s the fire?” The man responded, “Mr. Petigru, there is no fire; those are the joy bells in honor of the passage of the Ordinance of Secession.”

 Petigru responded, “I tell you there is a fire. They have this day set a blazing torch to the temple of constitutional liberty, and please God, we shall have no more peace forever.” Late in the day, Petigru was again asked about secession and famously remarked, “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”

secession

Inside South Carolina Institute (Secession) Hall. From Frank Leslie’s Newspaper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The ordinance was then placed on the stage table, and one-by-one, the delegates stepped forward to sign. Over the next two hours the delegates signed the Ordinance of Secession, and as politicians are apt to do, offered a few remarks on the “monumental occasion.” Ruffin wrote, “no one was weary, and no one left.”

After the last signature, Chairmen Jamison held the document above his head and exclaimed, “I proclaim the State of South Carolina an Independent Com-monwealth!” At that, the crowd rushed the stage, and frantically removed souvenir fronds from the palmetto trees. Augustine Smythe, slid down a pillar to the main floor, joined the scrum. He managed to not only get a palmetto frond souvenir, but also removed the pen and blotter used to sign the document. These items today are in the collection at the Confederate Museum, housed in Market Hall on Meeting Street.

The raucous celebration spilled into the Charleston streets, with men whooping and shooting pistols in the air. Bonfires in tar barrels, were lit on street corners across the city. Edmund Ruffin wrote, “The bands played on and on, as if there were no thought of ceasing.”

A teenager named Augustus Smythe procured a seat in the balcony of Charleston’s South Carolina Institute Hall on the night of December 20, 1860.  Over the next three hours Smythe watched the members of the South Carolina legislature sign the Ordinance of Secession, officially removing the state of South Carolina from the Union and establishing an independent republic, ultimately called the Confederate States of America. The raucous celebration after that historic event spilled into the Charleston streets, with men whooping, drinking whiskey and shooting pistols in the air. Smythe had the calm foresight to make his way through the crowd to the stage and remove the inkwell and pen which had been used to sign the Ordinance. These items today are in the collection at the Confederate Museum, housed in Market Hall on Meeting Street.

secssion, mills house

Rally on Meeting Street, in front of Mills House, 1861. From Frank Leslie’s Newspaper. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Today In Charleston History: December 19

1774

During the elections Francis Salvador was elected to the First Provincial Congress from the Ninety-six district – the first Jew elected to office in the American colonies.

1801

The legislature chartered South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina.

1827

The Charleston & Hamburg Rail Road was chartered by Alexander Black and William Aiken. Black proposed to build and operate a railed road from Charleston to Hamburg Columbia and Camden.

Map of route for the Charleston & Hamburg line.

Map of route for the Charleston & Hamburg line.

Charleston’s economy heavily depending on the shipping of three staples: cotton to England, rice to southern Europe and lumber to the West Indies. The development of steamers that sailed the Savannah River that brought Georgia and South Carolina crops and goods from August to the port of Savannah, severely cutting into Charleston’s trade.

The proposed railed road from Hamburg (on the Savannah River across from Augusta) was considered the best solution – goods could be transported by rail 136 miles to Charleston. 

1828 – Nullification Crisis. State’s Rights.
John_C_Calhoun_by_Mathew_Brady,_1849

John C. Calhoun (by Matthew Brady, 1849)

The South Carolina legislature adopted the Exposition and Protest (secretly written by Vice-President John C. Calhoun) which argued about the unconstitutionality of the Tariff of Abominations because it favored manufacturing over commerce and agriculture. Calhoun believed the tariff power could only be used to generate revenue, not to provide protection from foreign competition for American industries. He believed that the people of a state or acting in a democratically elected convention, had the retained power to veto any act of the federal government which violated the Constitution.

Today In Charleston History: December 18

1775 – American Revolution. Slavery.  

The South Carolina General Gazette reported that:

the Company of Foot Rangers…made a descent on that Island [Sullivan’s] burnt the House in which the Banditti were often lodged brought off four Negroes killed three or four & also took White prisoners four Men three Women & three Children destroyed many things which had been useful to those wretches.

1797 – Slavery.

Two slaves – Jean Louis and Figaro – and a free black were hanged, accused of planning “to set fire to the city as they had formerly done in St. Domingo.” They were “led to the place of execution at the bottom of Tradd Street facing the Lower Market between the Hours of Twelve and One o’Clock and hanged by the Neck.”

Too Young To Die—The Execution of George Stinney Jr. (1944)

This is the sad saga of the youngest person ever executed in the United States. It was the inspiration for the 1989 Edgar Award–winning book for Best First Novel, Carolina Skeletons, by David Stout. The book became the basis for the 1992 movie of the same name starring Lou Gossett Jr. and Bruce Dern.

Recently a judge vacated Stinney’s conviction – 70 years too late. For those unfamiliar with the story, here is my version from my 2007 book, South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion. 

1944 

Clarendon County, South Carolina can claim to be the home of some notable Americans. Althea Gibson, the first African American woman to play tennis at Wimbledon, Peggy Parish, author of the famous Amelia Bedelia children’s books, and the birthplace to five South Carolina governors. It was also the location of the small town of Alcolu where most of the residents, black and white, worked at the Alderman Lumber Company Mill,  were farmers or both.

In 1944, most people in the tiny mill town were just trying to get by and hoping the few local boys who were serving in the war would make it back home. The most recent American casualty totals for World War II had just recently been released—19,499 killed, 45,545 wounded, 26,339 missing and 26,754 captured. Every day the newspaper was filled with death tolls and descriptions of war horrors, and though no one knew it, the worst was yet to come. The D-Day invasion of Normandy was two and a half months away.

March 24, 1944.

Betty June Binnicker, age eleven, and Mary Emma Thames, age eight, went to pick flowers that afternoon. Betty June asked permission to take a pair of scissors and then told her family, “We’ll be back in about thirty minutes.” The girls rode off together on one bicycle. No one was concerned. The girls often played on this side of town, and several people saw the familiar scene of the two girls riding double. They passed by the Stinney house. Even though the Stinneys were black, both girls knew the Stinney kids. Katherine Stinney and her older brother, George Jr., were in the front yard. “We’re looking for maypops,” Betty June said. “Do you know where they are?”

   Katherine told them no, and the two girls rode off on their bikes.

   When the two girls didn’t return by dark, the Binnicker family was panicked. Soon a town-wide search was launched, with hundreds of volunteers. They searched through the entire night. About 7:30 a.m. the next morning, some men found several small footprints in the soft ground and followed the footprints along a narrow path on the edge of town, where they found the pair of scissors lying in the grass nearby. Following the path with more urgency, the searchers discovered a large ditch filled with muddy water. They could see the outline of a bicycle beneath the murky surface. Scott Lowden jumped into the water, and the bodies of the two girls were dragged out. Both girls had severe head wounds—Mary Emma’s skull was fractured in five different places and the back of Betty June’s skull was smashed.

   Within a few hours, local sheriff’s deputies arrested George Stinney Jr. His youngest sister, Katherine Stinney Robinson, later recalled, “And all I remember is the people coming to our house and taking my brother. And no police officers with hats or anything—these were men in suits or whatever that came. I don’t know how they knew to come to that house and pick up my brother.”

   George was taken to the sheriff’s office, where he was interrogated. In 1944, there were no Miranda rights to be read to the accused. George was locked in a room with several white officers. Neither of George’s parents were allowed to see him. Within an hour, Deputy H.S. Newman announced that Stinney had confessed to the murders. Stinney told police that he wanted to have sex with Betty June, but the only way to get her alone was to get rid of Mary Emma. But Betty June fought him, so he killed her too. Stinney then led the police to the scene, where they found a fourteen-inch-long railroad spike. Deputy Newman wrote a statement on March 26, 1944, and described the events.

 George_Stinney_1944

I was notified that the bodies had been found. I went down to where the bodies were at. I found Mary Emma she was rite [sic] at the edge of the ditch with four or five wounds on her head, on the other side of the ditch the Binnicker girl, were [sic] laying there with 4 or 5 wounds in her head, the bicycle which the little girls had were beside of the little Binnicker girl. By information I received I arrested a boy by the name of George Stinney, he then made a confession and told me where a piece of iron about 15 inches long were, he said he put it in a ditch about 6 feet from the bicycle which was lying in the ditch.

   The town was horrified by the crime and overwhelmed with grief. Both girls’ parents worked at the Alderman Lumber Mill, as did Mr. George Stinney Sr. Within a few hours, the grief among the millworkers had quickly transformed into a seething anger.

March 26, 1944.

About forty angry white men headed for the Clarendon County Jail and demanded mob justice, but sheriff’s deputies were one step ahead of the folks. They had moved Stinney fifty miles away to Columbia.

   B.G. Alderman, owner of Alderman’s Lumber Mill, fired George’s father. The Stinney family lived in such fear for their lives that they moved from town in the middle of the night, abandoning their son to his fate.

   George Stinney Jr. was fourteen years, five months old when he went on trial. The first recorded execution of a juvenile in America was Thomas Graungery, age sixteen, of Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, who was hanged for bestiality. On March 14, 1794, two young slave girls, “Bett, age 12” and “Dean, age 14,” were executed for starting a fire that burned down a portion of Albany, New York. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court passed a ruling that “prohibits the death penalty for juvenile offenders whose crimes were committed before they were 16.” Prior to 1988, there was no age limit for executions.

   Lorraine Binniker Bailey was Betty June’s older sister. She recalled that “everybody knew that he done it—even before they had the trial they knew he done it. But, I don’t think they had too much of a trial.”

   Katherine Stinney Robinson later recalled, “I remember my mother cried so. She cried her little eyes all swollen. I would hear her praying. She said, ‘I just want you to change the minds of men. Because my son didn’t do this.’ But it wasn’t long after that that they just did it. He was gone.”

   The court appointed thirty-year-old Charles Plowden as George’s attorney. Plowden had political aspirations, and the trial was a high-wire act for him. His dilemma was how to provide enough defense so that he could not be accused of incompetence, but not be so passionate that he would anger the local whites who may one day vote for him.

April 24, 1944.

More than 1,500 people crammed into the Clarendon County Courthouse. Jury selection began at 10:00 a.m. and was finished just after noon. The jury contained twelve white men. Due to the nature of the crime and the passion of the community, it certainly would have been in George Stinney’s favor to have a change in venue. But defense attorney Plowden made no motion.

   After a lunch break, the case was heard before Judge Stoll. Plowden did not cross-examine any of the prosecuting witnesses. His defense consisted of claiming that Stinney was too young to be held responsible for the crimes by law. In response, the prosecution presented Stinney’s birth certificate stating that he was born on October 21, 1959, which made him fourteen years and five months old. Under South Carolina law in 1944, an adult was anyone over the age of fourteen.

   The case had begun at 2:30 p.m. and closing arguments were finished by 4:30. The jury retired just before 5:00 p.m. and deliberated for ten minutes. They returned with the verdict “guilty, with no recommendation for mercy.” The case took less than three hours to decide. Judge Stoll sentenced Stinney to die in the electric chair at the Central Correctional Institute in Columbia.

   When asked about an appeal, Defense Attorney Plowden stated that there was nothing to appeal and the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuance of the case.

   Several local churches, in conjunction with the NAACCP, appealed to Governor Olin D. Johnston to stop the execution. The governor’s office received letters for mercy. Most cited Stinney’s age as the mitigating factor why the execution should be dropped. One message was as direct as could be in 1944 by stating “child execution is only for Hitler.” The Tobacco Worker’s Union, the National Maritime Union and the White and Negro Ministerial Unions of Charleston asked Governor Johnston to commute the sentence to life imprisonment.

   However, there were just as many, if not more, in favor of the execution who encouraged the governor to be strong. One of the more blunt letters to the governor stated, “Sure glad to hear of your decision regarding the nigger Stinney.”

   The governor decided to do nothing. He let the execution proceed.

June 16, 1944.

At 7:30 p.m., George Stinney Jr. was fitted into the electric chair. It had been designed for grown men, not children. He was five feet, one inch tall and weighed ninety pounds. The guards had a hard time strapping him into the seat. The mask over his face did not fit properly. When the switch was thrown, the force of the electricity jerked the too-large mask from his face, and for the final four minutes of his life, the spectators in the gallery had a full view of Stinney’s horrified face as he was executed.

   Stinney’s sister, Katherine Stinney Robinson, was interviewed on the fiftieth anniversary of her brother’s execution and said

He was like my idol, you know. He was very smart in school, very artistic. He could draw all kinds of things. We had a good family. Small house, but there was a lot of love. It took my mother a long time to get over it. And maybe she never got over it.

   The time span of the entire episode, from the girls’ death to Stinney’s execution, was eighty-one days.

2730688

Novel based on the Stinney case.

 

Today In Charleston History: December 17

1677

The Grand Council voted that Charles Town should move to Oyster Point.

1679
Joel Gascoyne map 1682

Joel Gascoyne map 1682

Governor West and the Grand Council wrote the Proprietors:

We are informed that this Oyster Point is not only a more convenient place to build a town on than that formerly pitched on by the first settlers, but that the people’s inclinations turn thither; we let you know that Oyster Point is the place we do appoint for the port town of which you are to take notice and call it Charles Town.

1765 – SLAVERY.

A possible slave revolt was suspected when slaves were heard on the streets shouting “Liberty!” Henry Laurens thought the threat was exaggerated. In his opinion he believed the slaves merely “had mimck’d their betters by crying out ‘Liberty!’”

Lt. Gov. Bull ordered 100 militia out “to guard the city” and for sailors to stand nightly sentinel duty on the wharves during the holiday season. Whether the slave revolt threat was real or not, it did act as a calming influence on Gadsden and Timothy, as leaders of the mob actions. As Henry Laurens wrote, the hotheads:

did not slacken in their opposition to the introduction of Stamps, but except for a little Private cruising along the Waterside at Nights to see if anything is moving among the Shipping they are pretty quiet & I have been assur’d that more than a few of their Brethren declare their repentance …

1803 – SLAVERY.

Foreign trade was reopened; more than 40,000 slaves would be imported into South Carolina during the next four years.

1817

Moultrieville on Sullivan’s Island was incorporated.

1831

The Medical College of South Carolina was chartered.

1860,  Secession Convention Opens. And Adjourns.  

At noon, 169 delegates gathered at the First Baptist Church in the South Carolina capital, Columbia. Included among the delegates were four former governors, four former U.S. Senators, judges, and more than 100 planters.

first baptist columbia

First Baptist Church, Columbia. Library of Congress

To the disappointment of Barnwell Rhett, David J. Jamison was chosen chairman of the convention. Jamison, a planter of 2,000 acres and seventy slaves opened the convention by quoting Georges-Jacques Danton, leader of the French Revolution, urging the delegates “To dare! And dare again! And without end dare!” The fact that Danton was beheaded for his radical leadership went unacknowledged by the delegates.

A resolution was agreed upon that “South Carolina should forthwith secede” and an ordinance be drafted “to accomplish this purpose” was passed. After that, the members began to clamor for adjournment and move the convention to Charleston. Historically, the reason given has always been of a small pox outbreak in Columbia. However, many of the delegates complained about the “meager accommodations in Columbia.” Charleston, however, offered luxurious hotels and the opulent homes of friends. As John A. Inglis, a delegate from Chesterfield County exclaimed, “Is there any spot in South Carolina more fit for political agitation?”

John Archer Elmore, the Alabama Secession Commissioner, told the crowd:

There should be no hesitation – no faltering and no delay upon the part of this Convention. [South Carolina’s] Ordinance of Secession should take effect at once! … [giving] strength not only to Alabama, but in other states united with her in sentiment.

Charles Hooker, Mississippi’s Commissioner followed Elmore to the podium and declared that South Carolina should:

Snatch her star from the galaxy in which it has hitherto mingled and plant her flag earliest in the breech of battle, sustaining revolution by the bold hearts and willing arms of her people.

While the argument about moving the convention was being held, Charleston delegates had already wired home, and given orders to secure Institute Hall, and as many rooms at the Mills House that could be procured. William Porcher Miles, however, thought that moving after a day was a mistake. He told the delegates, “We would be sneered at. It would be asked … is this chivalry of South Carolina? They are prepared to face the world, but they run away from the smallpox.”

However, the delegates voted to adjourn and make the seven-and-one-half hour train trip to Charleston together. The Columbia-based newspaper, South Carolinian, the next day published this story:

Charleston Police Look Out!

By a letter from New York, there is reason to apprehend that the Lincoln men have been gathering up all the rags they can find from the small-pox hospital, and intend an incursion in the South, to chase the secession conventions and legislature from place to place until they are made powerless.   

1919

The Coterie of Friends at the London Academy of Music performed a concert at Wigmore Hall in London. The publication West Africa described the concert as a tribute to the greatest musical composer of the African race, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Mr. Edmund T. Jenkins will be the first coloured conductor, other than Coleridge-Taylor himself, to render his work before a British audience. Miss Coleridge-Taylor, the late composer’s daughter, will contribute a musical monologue, set to music by her father.

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Jenkins was the son of Rev. Daniel Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston. Jenks (as Edmund was called) had grown up playing with the Jenkins Band and attended Morehouse College in Atlanta to study music. He had traveled to London in 1914 with the Jenkins Band to perform at the Anglo-American Expo. When the Expo was shut down by the events that led to World War I, Jenks convinced his father to allow him to remain in England and enroll in the Royal Academy.

 

Today In Charleston History: December 16

1762

The Assembly voted 24-6 to suspend all other business until Governor Thomas Boone apologized for violating the rights and privilege of the House. They also sent a full account to London, asking British officials to decide the issue. They also suspended the governor’s salary. From now on, the Assembly would become more assertive in their relationship with British officials.

1891

Rev. Daniel Jenkins founded the Orphan Aid Society for black children in Charleston. 

1901

WashRaceCourse1864_650x650The first horse race was held at the South Carolina West Indian Exposition. A smaller (half mile), private track had been built on the former Washington Race Course. A stable for more than 500 horses were constructed. Races were offered daily. An admission price was levied so that “undesirable characters may be discouraged from entering.” However, a “blind tiger” (illegal saloon) operated near the race course. Ultimately, the race course failed, and by the end of the Exposition it was closed.

Today In Charleston History: December 15

1730

Robert Johnson arrived and took office as the Royal Governor of South Carolina.  Also on board his ship were the six Cherokee chiefs who had negotiated the treaty with the king.

Gov. Johnson's Return.

Gov. Johnson’s return with Cherokee Indian chiefs.

Johnson had also served as the last Proprietary governor of South Carolina from 1717–1719. The most important event of his first administration was the suppression of the pirates who were preying upon the commerce of South Carolina and neighboring colonies. Fitting out an expedition, he personally commanded a victorious engagement with them off the bar of Charleston, and carried on the campaign until they were exterminated and their leader. Stede Bonnet was captured.

During his second term, Governor Johnson aided General Oglethorpe and the first settlers of Georgia by giving them food and escort, and during his term the settlement of Purrysburgh, by the Swiss under Colonel Peter Purry, was made. The Commons House of Assembly erected a monument to his memory in St. Philip’s church, Charles Town.

1860, Pickens Becomes Governor.
Francis_Wilkinson_Pickens

Francis Pickens

Francis Pickens became South Carolina governor, replacing William Henry Gist. Robert Barnwell Rhett was third on the first ballot. By the fifth ballot, Rhett was off the ballot altogether. It was a fatal blow to his political aspirations to lead a Southern Confederacy.

 Pickens, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, managed to win over the Charleston radicals by pledging a “secession now” platform.

Today In Charleston History: December 14

1743

George Lucas was named Lt. Royal Governor of Antigua. He realized that he would never live in Carolina again. He sent his oldest son, George, to Carolina to bring his family back to the island. His daughter, Eliza, who was running her father’s plantation in his absence wrote to a friend, “We expect my brother George very shortly … His arrival will, I suppose, determine how long we shall continue here.”

Eliza was horrified about leaving Carolina. She had built a successful life and did not want to leave.

1782 – British Occupation.

The British Army evacuated Charlestown.

Wholesale looting by British troops began weeks before the withdrawal, private property from houses. More than 5000 slaves were taken by enterprising British officers, who contracted transport to the West Indies where the slaves were re-sold. Major Traile of the Royal Artillery, took down the church bells of St. Michael’s and carried them away as being British property.

As significant as the material losses were, perhaps the loss of people was more devastating in the long run. Approximately, 3800 whites and 5300 blacks joined the British exodus, resettling in Jamaica, Bermuda, England and St. Lucia. However, hundreds of British soldiers deserted and remained in South Carolina.

The Continental Army entered the city that afternoon. At Gov. Rutledge’s invitation, Gen. Green made his headquarters on Rutledge’s house on Broad Street. The thirty-month nightmare occupation was over, with bitterness lingering between both sides.

british evacuate

British evacuate Charlestown

1830

The Best Friend locomotive pulled two fourteen-foot coaches with forty men at twenty miles per hour.

Best Friend of Charleston

Best Friend of Charleston

1839 – Births.

Angelina Grimke Weld gave birth to a son, Charles Stuart.

Today In Charleston History: December 13

1770 – American Revolution – Foundations.

Henry Laurens and Charles Pinckney, Junior presided over a meeting at the Liberty Tree in which the continuation of the Association was discussed. Thomas Lynch: “rode fifty miles to Charles Town and exerted all his eloquence and even the trope of Rhetorical Tears for the expiring liberties of his dear country, which the Merchants would sell like any other merchandise.” They then voted to discontinue the boycott on all items except tea, and “send a bitter letter to the northern colonies” about their conduct in breaking the Association.

The non-importation crisis had a severe economic impact on the American colonies, with a dramatic drop in imports from 1768 to 1769.

  • New York: £490, 673 to £75,930
  • Philadelphia: £441,829 to £204,978
  • New England (Boston and Rhode Island): £430,806 to £223,694
  • Carolina: £306,600 to £146,273

The stage was now set for Charlestown, and the rest of the American colonies, to shrug off their ties with the British motherland.

1891

daniel_jenkinsDaniel Jenkins discovered four small black children huddled in a railroad box car. Despite the fact that he lived in a two-room house, with his wife and four children, Jenkins brought the orphaned children to his small home. This was the incident that led to the formation of the Orphan Aid Society of Charleston, the founding of the Jenkins Orphanage, the establishment of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Within ten years, the Jenkins Band had performed in Europe and for Pres. Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration. They later appeared on Broadway in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Porgy, performed for Pres. William Howard Taft and at the Anglo-American Expo in London. They also had a hand in introducing jazz music to small towns up and down the east coast and helping to popularize a dance that became known as “the Charleston.” 

1. doin book cover (create space) official - frontFor the entire story, read my 2013 book, Doin the Charleston.