Today In Charleston History: March 31

1850 – Death

John C. Calhoun, at the age of 68, died of tuberculosis at the Old Brick Capitol boarding house in Washington, D.C. He was buried at St. Philip’s Cemetery in Charleston. 

Calhoun served in South Carolina’s legislature and was elected to the United States House of Representatives serving three terms. In 1812, Calhoun and Henry Clay, two famous “warhawks”, who preferred war to the “putrescent pool of ignominous peace”, convinced the House to declare war on Great Britian.

From 1808 to 1810 an economic recession hit the United States and Calhoun realized that British policies were ruining the economy.

Calhoun's tomb in St. Philip's cemetery

Calhoun’s tomb in St. Philip’s cemetery

Calhoun served as Secretary of War under President James Monroe from 1817 to 1825 and ran for president in the 1824 election along with four others, John Q. Adams, Henry Clay, Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. However, Calhoun withdrew from the race, due to Jackson’s support, and ran for vice president unopposed.
Calhoun was vice president of the United States in 1824 under John Quincy Adams and was re-elected in 1828 under Andrew Jackson.

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Jackson supported the Tariff of 1828 which caused fierce opposition between the president and vice president. Because the tariffs benefited  the industrial North and hurt the slave-holding South, John C. Calhoun became the first vice president to resign. (On October 10, 1973 Vice President of the United States Spiro Agnew resigned after being charged with federal income tax evasion.)

Calhoun wrote an essay about this conflict, “The South Carolina Exposition and Protest”, in which he asserted nullification of federal laws, and in 1832 the South Carolina legislature did just that. The next year in the Senate Calhoun and Daniel Webster opposed each other over slavery and states’ rights in a famous debate. In 1844 President John Tyler appointed Calhoun secretary of state. In later years he was reelected to the Senate, where he supported the Texas Annexation and defeated the Wilmot Proviso.

 

In 1957, United States Senators honored Calhoun as one of the five greatest senators of all time.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston 

In a letter to his mother, Gus Smythe, look-out for the Confederate Signal Corps, wrote from the steeple of St. Michael’s Church:

Here am I on my lofty perch, behind a big telescope , looking out for any movements of the Yankees which may be of sufficient importance to send up to Gen. Jordan … My tour of duty to-night is from 1:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. & I have been on duty half the day … The worst difficulty is the trouble of getting up here, for it is no joke climbing up 150 feet … our place is in the upper piazza, above the clock. We have boarded it in, & bunks put in for us to sleep in so that we are tolerably comfortable, except when the wind blows thro’ the cracks  of the boards at a great & there is always a wind up here.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: March 30

 1780 – The Seige of Charlestown.

John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

John Laurens, 1780 (by Charles Willson Peale)

First action that morning was led by Col. John Laurens’ unit against the advancing British light infantry. After several hours of scattered battle, Lauren’s men retreated back behind the city’s fortifications at dark. Laurens described it as “a frolicking skirmish for our young soldiers.” It was the first engagement fought within sight of the city, or as one officer noted, “in view of … many ladies.”

The British set up camp at Gibbes Landing (present-day Lownde’s Grove), which was a perfect staging area from which to lay siege to Charlestown.

Three principal types of artillery used during the Revolution: field guns, howitzers and mortars.

  • Field Guns: mounted on large-wheeled carriages and fixed to fir at low angles. Varied in size from three-pound (weight of solid shot fired) to forty-two pounds. Larger guns weighed appx. 5000 pounds (2½ tons).
  • Howizters: Similar to field buns, but with shorter and stockier barrels. Could be fired at a low or high angle. Range: 1300-2000 yards.
  • Mortars: a useful weapon because of its small size and ease of movement.  It usually had a fixed trajectory (around 45 degrees), and the distance the shot traveled was adjusted by varying the powder charge.  Just like the howitzer, the use of the exploding shell was popular to reach troops inside fortifications. Range: 2000 yards.

 1843 – Marriage.

Susan Petigru King Bowen, in later life

Susan Petigru King Bowen, in later life

Susan Petigru, 19, married Henry Campbell King, “short, stout, and physically unattractive.” Henry was the son of a prominent Charleston lawyer, Mitchell King, and friend of Susan’s father.  

Susan, the daughter of another prominent Charleston lawyer, James Petigru, was something of a rebel so the marriage to King was considered the best the Petigrus could do for her. Susan herself wrote that she would “probably get no better offer.” She had been a rambunctious child who grew to be a quick-tempered woman who never bothered to conform to the role of a society belle. She moved into her husband’s family mansion at 24 George Street.

Today In Charleston History: March 29

1722 – Religion.
St. Philips Church, 1723

St. Philips Church, 1722

On Easter Sunday, the congregation of St. Philip’s worshipped for the first time in their new church. The structure was described as a

work of … Magnitude Regularity Beauty … not paralleled in his majesty’s Dominions in America … lofty arches and massive pillars, an octagonal tower topped by a dome and a quadrangular Lantern and weathervane soared eighty feet above the church.

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown.

The British army crossed the Ashley River and landed on the Charlestown peninsula, two miles north of the Continental lines, approximately near the present-day site of the Citadel. 

Due to lack of men the Continental army could not stop the British crossing. Gen. Lincoln was so determined to save Charlestown that he gambled by keeping the bulk of the Southern Army within the city. However, he did order a light infantry unit led by Col. John Laurens to take post outside the city’s fortifications “to watch the motions of the Enemy and prevent too sudden an approach.” He also wrote to the Continental Congress:

We have to lament that, from the want of Men, we are denied the advantages of opposing them with any considerable force in crossing this river.

1900     

Mayor J. Adger Smyth and the Charleston City Council endorsed the plans for an Exposition in Charleston. The newly organized South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition Co. had already raised more than $40,000 and chosen Captain F.W. Wagner as the company’s chairman.

Not everyone was confident of the Exposition’s success. W.D. Parsons wrote in the Inter-State Journal, “The audacity of this little town in sandwiching in an exposition between the great fairs of Buffalo and St. Louis is truly great.”

Today In Charleston History: March 28

1683   
aerial-photo-of-middleton

Aerial photo of Middleton Place

Arthur Middleton received 800 acres from the Proprietors. Arthur was active in public life and became president of the convention that overthrew the Lords Proprietors in 1719. His son, Henry, married Mary Williams whose dowry included the property which is now called Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark. 

Henry’s son, Arthur was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

1769

In a public letter in the South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, Rev. Charles Woodmason expressed the outrage of the back country people of the most recent election. He publically ridiculed Christopher Gadsden as the “Scriblerus of the Libertine” and claimed he and the Sons of Liberty were hypocrites – protesting British taxation without representation yet turning around and taxing the back country without allowing them fair representation. Woodmason wrote:

Lo! Such are the Men who bounce and make such Noise about Liberty! Liberty! Freedom! Freedom! Rights! Privileges! and what not … and these very Scribblers and Assembly Orators … keep under the lowest Subjection half the Inhabitants of this Province … These are the Sons of Liberty!

1778 – American Revolution

The Legislature passed legislation ordering all males sixteen or older to swear allegiance to South Carolina and agree to defend the state against George III. This precipitated the first mass exodus of Tories from Charlestown, making the city a predominant Patriot stronghold.

1818- Births

Wade Hampton III was born in Charleston, in the William Rhett house. His grandfather had created one of America’s largest fortunes from cotton. Although opposed to secession, Hampton remained loyal to his state and rose to the ran of Lt. General during the Civil War, seeing action at the First Battle of Bulls Run, the Peninsula Campaign and Gettysburg. After the War Hampton became one of the most prominent men who popularized the “Lost Cause” movement across the South. He was elected governor in 1876.

wade hampton illustration

LEFT: Wade Hampton. RIGHT: 54 Hasell Street (William Rhett House, 1712), Hampton’s birthplace. Currently a private residence in Charleston

Today In Charleston History: March 27

1780 – The Siege of Charlestown.

From St. Michael’s steeple, Peter Timothy reported over thirty British flatboats along the Wappoo Cut “skulking in the marsh.”

St. Michael's Church

St. Michael’s Church

During the months leading up to the British siege of Charlestown, St. Michael’s steeple was used as a lookout tower to report on troop movements outside the city. Peter Timothy, editor/publisher of the South Carolina Gazette was a Revolutionary and published passionate pro-Patriot stories. After the British successfully captured Charlestown, Timothy was one of thirty-three patriots arrested and placed in the provost dungeon of the Exchange Building.

During their passage to exile in St. Augustine, Timothy was “lost at sea” according to British reports. 

Today In Charleston History: March 26

1726 – Ansonborough
Lord Anson, 1755

Lord Anson, 1755

Capt. George Anson purchased a tract of land which later would bear his name – Ansonborough – from his winnings at cards. According to local legend, Anson won the entire tract in a single game from Thomas Gadsden. In fact, Gadsden conveyed this tract to Capt. George Anson for £300 sterling. This was an unusually large sum for such a young naval officer to possess, so it is quite possible that Anson’s winnings at cards was the source of his money. 

Anson later led a British expedition that circumnavigated the world and served as Admiral as the British Fleet from 1756-62.

1737 – Crime & Punishment

Alexander Forbes was convicted of “stealing Cloathes and other things.” He was sentenced to “be whipped on the bare back at the cart’s tails through the town.”

1776 – American Revolution. Charleston First

Four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, South Carolina adopted a state constitution, drafted by the Provincial Congress and the Republic of South Carolina was born. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was chosen to chair the Constitutional Committee. This was the first plan for an independent government in the American colonies. 

South Carolina President (later govenor)  John Rutledge

South Carolina President (later govenor) John Rutledge

John Rutledge was elected as the state’s president, Henry Laurens its vice-president and William Henry Drayton, Chief Justice. The 1776 Constitution was considered a temporary measure until “an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America can be obtained.” It gave the president “absolute veto power” over the acts of the legislature. Due to his power, Rutledge picked up the nickname “Dictator.”

For the second time in its history, South Carolina had forced a change in its government – in 1719 they had overthrown the Proprietors and now they had replaced British rule with a local government.

1820 – Scandal

Charles Pinckney, in Washington, D.C., was caught in an abandoned house with a “mulatto wench.” A butcher who had been robbed saw Pinckney go into the house and thought it was the robber. A group of men surrounded the house and began to holler for the “thief to come out!” Pinckney, panicked, jumped out of window and attempted to run away. Due to his age, he was unable to outrun his pursuers, who released him when they realized their mistake.

Today In Charleston History: March 25

1781 – British Occupation.

Lord Rawdon, British commander in the South after Cornwallis was posted to Virginia, decreed that all jobs in Charlestown were closed to any but Loyalists to the King.  Many men who were sympathetic to the rebel cause were forced to pledge British allegiance out of the necessity of feeding their family.

Francis Edward Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings

Francis Edward Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings