Today In Charleston History: February 28

1752 – Births
William Washington

William Washington

William Washington was born in Stafford County, Virginia. He was second cousin to George Washington and would later play an important role during the Revolution in South Carolina.  

Washington was elected a captain of Stafford County Minutemen on September 12, 1775, and became part of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, Continental Line on February 25, 1776, commanding its 7th Company. His lieutenant and second-in-command was future President of the United States James Monroe. 

On November 19, 1779, was transferred to the Southern theatre of war, and marched to join the army of Major General Benjamin Lincoln in Charleston, South Carolina. On March 26, Washington had his first skirmish with the British Legion, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, which resulted in a minor victory near Rantowle’s Bridge on the Stono River in South Carolina. Later that same day, during the fight at Rutledge’s Plantation Lt. Col. Washington again bested a detachment of Tarleton’s dragoons and infantry.

Washington and Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens

Washington and Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens

During the Battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781, Washington’s cavalry was attacked by Tarleton’s forces again. Washington managed to survive this assault and in the process wound Tarleton’s right hand with a sabre blow, while Tarleton creased Washington’s knee with a pistol shot that also wounded his horse. For his valor at Cowpens, Washington received a silver medal awarded by the Continental Congress executed under the direction of Thomas Jefferson.

September 8, 1781, the Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major battle in the Carolinas, and Washington’s final action. Midway through the battle,  Washington charged a portion of the British line positioned in a blackjack thicket along Eutaw Creek. The thicket proved impenetrable and British fire repulsed the mounted charges. During the last charge, Washington’s mount was shot out from under him, and he was pinned beneath his horse. He was bayoneted and taken prisoner, and held under house arrest in the Charleston area for the remainder of the war.

The British commander in the South, Lord Cornwallis, would later comment that “there could be no more formidable antagonist in a charge, at the head of his cavalry, than Colonel William Washington.”

After the war Washington married Jane Elliott of Charleston and for the remainder of his life lived at 8 South Battery and on the Elliott family plantation at Rantowles.

William Washington House, 8 South Battery, Charleston

William Washington House, 8 South Battery, Charleston

1758

A “New Barracks” of pine-timber was constructed for British soldiers on what is now the site of the College of Charleston. Lt. Col. Bouquet again demanded that the Assembly pay the officers’ rents in private homes. The legislature refused, claiming that the traditional right of Englishmen to be free of quartering soldiers was being violated. 

1774

The South Carolina Gazette reported of “a most infamous and dangerous Set of Villains, of whom the Public had entertained very little Suspicion.” Two slaves were arrested as “Principals” in “several of the Burglaries and Robberies, which had been so frequent of late.” After questioning the slaves, authorities also arrested “John Thomson, an Umbrella-maker and Shop-keeper, Richard Thomson, who kept a Livery Stable, and George Vargent, a Coachman.”

The two slaves received a death sentence and were hanged a few days later. The three white men were sentenced to sit twice in the pillory where they were “most severely pelted,” given a whipping of thirty-nine lashes each, and fine from 25 to 500 pounds.

Today In Charleston History: February 27

1719

The Assembly passed an act providing funds to pay the debts incurred by Gov. Johnson and Col. Rhett in their actions against the pirates.

1785-Religion.
asbury

Francis Asbury

Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury and Rev. Jeese Lee held the first service of Methodists in Charleston at the deserted Baptist Meeting House. During the Revolution, the Meeting House had been used by the British army for the storage of provisions.

Due to their rigid morality and their passionate evangelism, Methodists infuriated many people. They were quick to point out to sinners their fiery fate unless they repented. The services continued every evening for fourteen days.

Today In Charleston History: February 26

1670 – Carolina Expedition

The expedition took on several new passengers in Bermuda, including 79-year old William Sayle, the newly appointed Governor of Carolina. They left Bermuda with a plan to settle at Port Royal (current location of Hilton Head, SC.)

1687

Arnold Bruneau, Esq., Paul Bruneau, Esq. and Josias Marviland, Esq. formed a partnership for the construction of a mill (wind or water) to saw timber.

windmills carolina

Illurtration of Dutch-designed windmills used in the Carolinas.

 

Today In Charleston History: February 25

1746 – Births

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a Future signer of the U.S. Constitution, was born in Charles Town. He was the eldest son of Charles and Eliza Pinckney. Seven years later, he accompanied his father, who had been appointed colonial agent for South Carolina, to England. As a result, Cotesworth enjoyed a European education.

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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, age 6

He received tutoring in London, attended several preparatory schools, and went on to Christ Church College, Oxford, and graduated in 1764. Pinckney next pursued legal training at London’s Middle Temple. He was accepted for admission into the English bar in 1769. He then spent part of a year touring Europe and studying chemistry, military science, and botany under leading authorities.

In late 1769 Pinckney sailed home. He entered private practice in South Carolina and was elected to the provincial assembly. In 1773 he acted as attorney general in the colony. In 1775 he was a supporter of the patriot cause and was elected to the provincial congress. The next year he was elected to the local committee of safety and made chairman of a committee that drew up a plan for the interim government of South Carolina.

When hostilities broke out, Pinckney, who had been a royal militia officer since 1769, pursued a full-time military calling and joined the First South Carolina Regiment as a captain. He rose to the rank of colonel and fought in the South in defense of Charleston and at the Battles of Brandywine, PA, and Germantown, PA. He commanded a regiment in the campaign against the British in the Floridas in 1778 and at the siege of Savannah. When Charleston fell in 1780, he was taken prisoner and held until 1782. The following year, he was discharged as a brevet brigadier general.

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Pinckney, military officer for Continental Army

After the war, Pinckney resumed his legal practice and the management of estates in the Charleston area but found time to continue his public service, which during the war had included tours in the lower house of the state legislature (1778 and 1782) and the senate (1779).

Pinckney was one of the leaders at the Constitutional Convention. He was present at all the sessions, and strongly advocated for a powerful national government. He proposed that senators should serve without pay, but that idea was not adopted, but he exerted influence in such matters as the power of the Senate to ratify treaties and the compromise that was reached concerning abolition of the international slave trade. 

Pinckney became a devoted Federalist. Between 1789 and 1795, he declined presidential offers to command the U.S. Army, to serve on the Supreme Court and as Secretary of War and Secretary of State. In 1796, he accepted the post of Minister to France, but the revolutionary regime refused to receive him and he was forced to proceed to the Netherlands. The next year, however, he returned to France when he was appointed to a special mission to restore relations with that country. During the ensuing XYZ affair, refusing to pay a bribe suggested by a French agent to facilitate negotiations, he was said to have replied “No! No! Not a sixpence!”

When Pinckney arrived back in the United States in 1798, he found the country preparing for war with France. That year, he was appointed as a major general in command of American forces in the South and served in that capacity until 1800, when the threat of war ended. That year, he represented the Federalists as Vice-Presidential candidate, and in 1804 and 1808 as the Presidential nominee, but was defeated on all three occasions.

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An elderly Cotesworth Pinckney

For the rest of his life, Pinckney engaged in legal practice, served in the legislature, and was active in many philanthropic activities. He was:

  • a charter member of the board of trustees of South Carolina College (later the University of South Carolina)
  • first president of the Charleston Bible Society
  • chief executive of the Charleston Library Society

During the later period of his life, Pinckney enjoyed his Belmont estate and Charleston high society. He was twice married; first to Sarah Middleton in 1773 and after her death to Mary Stead in 1786. He died in Charleston in 1825 at the age of 79 and was interred there in the cemetery at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

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Grave of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, St. Michael’s Church

 

Today In Charleston History: February 24

1698 – Disaster

A devastating fire destroyed about one-third of Charles Town, burning the “dwellings, stores and outhouses of at least fifty families … the value of £30,000 sterling.”

1819

President James Monroe visited the Charleston Orphan House and in the evening attended the Charleston Theater.

orphan house postcard

Charleston Orphan House

 

1828 – Charleston & Hamburg Rail Road

Charles Parker and Robert K. Payne, at the direction of William Aiken, left Charleston by carriage to examine a potential route for the C&HRR. They

“arrived at the Six Mile House at one o’clock, where Mr. Arnot, the keeper, was requested to provide dinner as soon as possible.”

They paid $1.62 for the meals. Later that afternoon they crossed the Ashley Ferry (later known as Bee’s Ferry).

Over the next several weeks, they traveled west toward Hamburg, South Carolina, using Ashley River Road (passing Drayton Hall, Mangolia Planation, Runnymede, Millbrook and Middleton Place) to Bacon’s Bridge. They crossed the Edisto River at Givhan’s Ferry.

Today In Charleston History: February 23

1915 – Deaths

Robert Smalls died, ending an extraordinary life. 

smallsSmalls was born on April 5, 1839, behind his owner’s city house at 511 Prince Street in Beaufort, S.C. His mother, Lydia, served in the house but grew up in the fields, where, at the age of nine, she was taken from her own family on the Sea Islands.  The McKee family favored Robert Smalls over the other slave children, so much so that his mother worried he would reach manhood without grasping the horrors of the institution into which he was born. To educate him, she arranged for him to be sent into the fields to work and watch slaves at “the whipping post.”

By the time Smalls turned 19, he was in Charleston, working. He was allowed to keep one dollar of his wages a week (his owner took the rest). Far more valuable was the education he received on the water; few knew Charleston harbor better than Robert Smalls.

It’s where he earned his job on the Planter. It’s also where he met his wife, Hannah, a slave of the Kingman family working at a Charleston hotel. With their owners’ permission, the two moved into an apartment together and had two children: Elizabeth and Robert Jr. Well aware this was no guarantee of a permanent union, Smalls asked his wife’s owner if he could purchase his family outright; they agreed but at a steep price: $800. Smalls only had $100.

By 1862, the Union ships blockade of the Charleston harbor was a tantalizing promise of freedom. Under orders from Secretary Gideon Welles in Washington, Navy commanders had been accepting runaways as contraband since the previous September. While Smalls couldn’t afford to buy his family on shore, he knew he could win their freedom by sea — and so he told his wife to be ready for whenever opportunity dawned.

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The Planter

Just before dawn on May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls and a crew of fellow slaves, slipped a cotton steamer off the dock, picked up family members at a rendezvous point, then slowly navigated their way through the harbor. Smalls, doubling as the captain donned the captain’s wide-brimmed straw hat to help to hide his face. As they sailed out of the harbor Smalls responded with the proper coded signals at two Confederate checkpoints and sailed into the open seas. Once outside of Confederate waters, he had his crew raise a white flag and surrendered his ship to the blockading Union fleet.

In less than four hours, Smalls had accomplished an amazing feat: commandeering a heavily armed Confederate ship and delivered its 17 black passengers (nine men, five women and three children) from slavery to freedom.

On May 30, 1862, the U.S. Congress, passed a private bill authorizing the Navy to appraise the Planter and award Smalls and his crew half the proceeds for “rescuing her from the enemies of the Government.” Smalls received $1,500 personally, enough to purchase his former owner’s house in Beaufort off the tax rolls following the war, though according to the later Naval Affairs Committee report, his pay should have been substantially higher.

In the North, Smalls was hailed as a hero. He lobbied Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to begin enlisting black soldiers and a few months later after President Lincoln ordered black troops raised, Smalls recruited 5,000 soldiers himself. In October 1862, he returned to the Planter as pilot as part of Admiral Du Pont’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. According to the 1883 Naval Affairs Committee report, Smalls was engaged in approximately 17 military actions, including the April 7, 1863, assault on Fort Sumter and the attack at Folly Island Creek, S.C.

Two months later he assumed command of the Planter when, under “very hot fire,” its white captain became so “demoralized” he hid in the “coal-bunker.” Smalls was promoted to the rank of captain, and starting in December 1863 on, he earned $150 a month, making him one of the highest paid black soldiers of the war. When the war ended in April 1865, Smalls was on board the Planter in a ceremony in Charleston Harbor at Fort Sumter.

Following the war, Smalls served in the South Carolina state assembly and senate, and for five nonconsecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1874-1886).

He died in Beaufort on February 23 1915, in the same house behind which he had been born a slave and is buried behind a bust at the Tabernacle Baptist Church. “My race needs no special defense for the past history of them and this country. It proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.” — Robert Smalls

Today In Charleston History: February 22

1752

The cornerstone of St. Michael’s Church was laid.

1934 – Porgy and Bess
heywardand gershwin

George Gershwin and Dubose Heyward

In a letter to Dubose Heyward, George Gershwin reported that “I have begun composing music for the first act, and I am starting with the songs and spirituals first.” He then asked Heyward to join him in New York so the work could be expedited.

Over the next two months, while living in a guest suite of Gershwin’s famous fourteen-room house at 132 East Seventy-second Street, Heyward wrote the lyrics for almost a dozen Gershwin compositions, including “Summertime,” “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” “Buzzard Song,” “It Take A Long Pull to Get There,” “My Man’s Gone,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’.”