Today In Charleston History: April 7

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown

A group of 700 battle-tested veteran Virginia Continentals sent by Gen. George Washington arrived in Charlestown. They crossed the Wando River and landed at Christopher Gadsden’s wharf. They marched through town to the lines to the pealing of church bells. At the lines they were greeted with cheers and a firing of thirteen cannons, one for each of the independent states.

1805 – Francis Pickens Born

Francis Pickens

Francis Wilkinson Pickens was born in Togadoo, St Paul’s Parish, Colleton County, South Carolina. His father was former Gov. Andrew Pickens and his grandfather was Gen. Andrew Pickens, an American Revolutionary soldier at the Battle of Cowpens and later U.S. Congressman.

A cousin of Senator John C. Calhoun, Pickens was born into the culture of States Rights, and became an ardent supporter of nullification (refusal to pay federal import tariffs) when he served in the South Carolina house of representatives, before being elected to Congress and then the state senate.

Pickens served in Congress  from South Carolina from 1834 until 1843 and was a member of the South Carolina state senate from 1844 until 1846.  Under President James Buchanan, Pickens was Minister to Russia from 1858–1860, where he and his wife were befriended by Czar Alexander II. He was Governor when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the U.S.A.

As state governor during the Fort Sumter crisis, he sanctioned the firing on the ship bringing supplies to the beleaguered Union garrison, and to the bombardment of the fort. After the war,  Pickens introduced the motion to repeal South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession, a short speech that was received in silence, in notable contrast with the rejoicing that had first greeted the Ordinance.

 1863 – Battle of Charleston

The First Battle of Charleston Harbor began at noon. Shortly after 3 p.m., they came within range of Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter; and the battle began. Southern obstructions and a strong flood tide made the ironclads virtually unmanageable, while accurate fire from the forts played upon them at will. With the Union formation scrambled, Keokuk was compelled to run ahead of crippled USS Nahant to avoid her in the narrow channel after Nahant ’​s pilot was killed and helmsman wounded by a Confederate shot striking the pilothouse. This brought her less than 600 yards (550 m) from Fort Sumter, where she remained for half an hour receiving the undivided attention of the Confederate guns.


USS Keokuk

USS Keokuk

Robert Smalls, former slave, piloted ironclad USS Keokuk. The attack failed, and Keokuk was badly damaged, struck by about ninety projectiles, many of which hit at or below her waterline. Commander Rhind reported his ship as being hit by a combination of solid shot, bolts, and possibly hot shot. However, she was able to withdraw under her own power and anchor out of range, thanks in part to the skills of Robert Smalls, Her crew kept her afloat through the night, but when a breeze came up on the morning of 8 April 1863, Keokuk began taking on more water, filled rapidly, and sank off Morris Island. She had given one month of commissioned service. One of Keokuk’s sailors, Quartermaster Robert Anderson, was awarded the Medal of Honor in part for his actions during the battle. In all, 14 of Keokuk ’​s crew were injured in the battle, including Captain Rhind with a contusion to his leg. Acting Ensign Mackintosh, one of the gun captains, later died from his wounds.

Guns from the USS Keokuk

Guns from the USS Keokuk

Cannons from the Keokuk are now on display at White Point Garden along South Battery.

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston

In a letter to him mother, Gus Smythe wrote:

You must not feel anxious about me up here, & never fear my falling down the stairs, tho’ there are 170 of them. Oh my, there goes that bell & such a cracking and shaking as this old steeple does get up whenever they ring … the first time you experience it you feel certain that it is going to fall immediately. It seems God’s providence was specially directed toward this vernerable – but shaky – old spire.

Today In Charleston History: April 2

1737- Slavery.

The disproportionate numbers of Negro slaves versus white settlers began to concern some citizens. In a letter to the South Carolina Gazette, a writer called “Mercator” argued about the danger of the “importation of Negroes.” He argued that in the four years past there had been imported 10,447 Negroes and in the four years before only 5153. He suggested that some method to prevent the large importation of Negroes must be speedily adopted or else there would be “the most fatal consequence to the province.”

Seal of South Carolina

Seal of South Carolina

A state seal of South Carolina was authorized to be designed by Arthur Middleton and William Henry Drayton.


Charles Pinckney returned to Charlestown and lived at 2 Orange Street, and helped his mother with his father’s estate. The will reserved property valued at £53, 000 and stipulated that “sixty of the worst of my plantation slaves” be sold to pay his debts. He left his mansion on Queen Street to his son, Charles. The remainder of his estate – three plantations, Fee Farm and Drainfield in St. Bartholomew’s Parish and Snee Farm in Christ Church – were to be divided equally among his wife and children.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston.

In a letter to his Aunt Janey, Gus Smythe wrote:

I have got the most responsible post in the Signal corps here & the most dangerous when they are shelling, for they avowedly make this steeple their mark when firing & have made some very close shots. To look down on them from here, all around the foot of the Steeple, in the grave yard, Streets, City Hall, Court House, Guard House & houses, it seems & is miraculous that so far they have missed. I only hope they continue to do so, for tho’ there may be some “glory” there will be little pleasure in tumbling down with the Steeple.

roosevelt, expo

Pres. Roosevelt at the Expo

President’s Day at the South Carolina West Indian Exposition with President Teddy Roosevelt visiting the Ivory City. Thousands of people lined the streets while a parade of three thousand representing all branches of the military marched to the Exposition. The president gave a speech and attended a luncheon at the Woman’s Building.

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: February 19


A 100-gun salute fired by the Union fleet off the harbor and a 38-gun salute from a land battery celebrated the capture of Charleston. Union photographer began to take pictures of the ruins across the city while Federal troops began a systematic looting spree throughout the city, stealing furniture, pictures, mirrors, statues, pianos, books and silverware. The black population of Charleston freely paraded through the streets carrying a coffin which read “Slavery Is Dead.”

Lt. Colonel Augustus G. Bennett had accepted the city’s surrender the day before. His troops were met at the intersection of Broad and East Bay Streets by  city councilman, George W. William who handed the colonel a note to from Mayor Macbeth which read:

The military authorities of the Confederate States have evacuated the City. I have remained to enforce law and preserve order until you take such steps as you think best.

exchange 1865

Exchange Building (c. 1866.) View from East Bay Street. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Today In Charleston History: February 17

1627 – Founding

Barbados was settled by Englishman Henry Powell, who arrived with 80 settlers and 10 slaves who were kidnapped, lower class English or Irish youth. The island was established as a proprietary colony, funded by Sir William Courten, a London merchant who owned the title to Barbados. The first colonists were technically tenants and much of the profits were returned to Courten.  

1748 – Weather

The temperature fell to ten degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest day in Charlestown in the 18th century. The cold killed the orange trees in the area.


H.L. Hunley Submarine Sinks U.S.S. Housatonic (CLICK HERE For Entire  Hunley Story)

1865 – Civil War

Sherman’s troops burned Columbia, South Carolina. The bells of St. Michael’s Church, hidden beneath the floorboards of a shed next to the construction site of the new State House, were “melted and calcinated from a state of former beauty to little more than lumps.”


Today In Charleston History: January 31

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown

Continental Army General Benjamin Lincoln requested that Governor John Rutledge “order 1500 Negroes to assemble in the vicinity of this town with the necessary tools for throwing up lines immediately.”


Charles Pinckney delivered a speech in the U.S. Senate on the subject of trial by jury.

Viewing as I do impartial juries as among the most indispensable ingredients of a free government, it is my duty to declare … that in those states in which the federal marshals have a right to summon jurors as they please, the people are not free!

 1864 – Civil War   

 Colonel W.W.H. Davis took in three Confederate Irish deserters from Charleston who complained they were “much pinched for food.” From the deserters accounts Davis reported that:

Our shells have done considerable damage in Charleston. Most of the shells explode, but as yet few people have been injured by them. Charleston is depopulated, except by the very poorest class of people, and they have moved as fat uptown as they can get. Beauregard’s headquarters and all the public offices have been removed to the upper part of the city. 


Charleston, Meeting Street, circa 1865 – Ruins of the Circular Church after the 1861 fire and Federal Bombardment.


Today In Charleston History: January 14


Congress ratifies the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the American Revolutionary War. The treaty was negotiated in 1783 by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Adams and Charleston’s own Henry Laurens, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London as a traitor to the King. The secretary for the American delegation was Lauren’s teenage daughter, Martha Laurens (later Ramsay).

treaty of paris

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens returned to Charleston. He had been absent for more than five years as a prisoner of the British.

In 1780, the Continental Congress appointed Laurens as American minister to the Netherlands, in order to procure financial support for the Revolution. Laurens was captured by the British on the open sea, declared a traitor and imprisoned in the Tower of London for 16 months, where his health steadily deteriorated. 

After his release, Laurens spent the next two years recuperating in Europe. Upon his return to South Carolina,  he wrote that he had “become a stranger in my native land.” He estimated that damage to his property exceeded £40,000.

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston  

Gen. Beauregard wired the Confederate government in Richmond, Va.:

Fire of enemy on city for last two days has been almost continuous … Although averaging over 100 shots a day, only one person wounded … enemy threw yesterday 273 shells at city; over one fourth fell short; some ranged nearly five miles. Two fires occurred; not much damage; nobody hurt.

bombardment illustration

Today In Charleston History: January 7

Sir John Yeamans

Sir John Yeamans

The Concessions and Agreements between the Lords Proprietors and Sir John and William Yeamans was finalized. This document provided the guidelines for governing and distributing land in Carolina. John became a governor of the fledgling colony and one of its most vital founding fathers. 

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston

The chief commissary gave Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard a report on the availability of meat:

My report of stores on hand made this day shows the stock of meats. The results are not encouraging, and future prospects are bad. Cattle are very scarce. It is said many hogs have died of an epidemic … I respectfully suggest that an order be promptly issued restricting the shipment of all subsistence out of the state … without an early remedy it will be very difficult to get bread before the year closes.

    1865 – Bombardment of Charleston

Five shells were thrown into Charleston, the first since December 20.

Today In Charleston History: January 6

1740 – Religion

George Whitefield

Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Charlestown for the second time, to visit his brother, the captain of ship. By this time, Whitefield was one of the most famous recognized public figures in colonial America, drawing massive, passionate crowds (10,000+) to his open air services and field services in New York and Philadelphia. His radical methods made traditional clergy uncomfortable.

He preached from the pulpit of Josiah smith’s Independent Meeting House and accused the people in attendance of “sin and worldliness” and being “polite and unaffected.” He called upon their sins of “affected finery, gaiety of dress … and balls and assemblies.” He promised them that “God intended to visit some in Charlestown with His salvation.”


A workman at Ft. Sumter brought a Northern newspaper with the news that the Star of the West was en route to Charleston. Maj. Robert Anderson and Capt. Abner Doubleday, ranking officers at Sumter, not having received official confirmation, concluded the story was false, since Washington would send a warship, not a civilian steamer.  

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston  

Maj. Henry Bryan, Confederate assistant inspector-general, reported that the damage from Federal Bombardment included:

  • 145 houses
  • Five people killed
  • Eight wounded

Thomas Hale, Confederate military observer in the steeple of St. Michael’s, wrote that:

The enemy’s principal line of fire upon the city has been St. Michael’s church steeple, radiating north-eastward as far as St. Phillips church … their shells usually landing no further west than Archdale St.

Archdale Street - damage from 1861 fire and Federal bombardment. St. Johns Lutheran & Unitarian Churches.

Archdale Street – damage from 1861 fire and Federal bombardment. St. Johns Lutheran & Unitarian Churches.


South Carolina representative Robert B. Elliott delivers a passionate speech in favor of Charles Sumner’s Civil Rights Act in the House of Representatives. The Act, which guaranteed equal treatment in all places of public accommodation to all people regardless of their “nativity, race, color, or persuasion, religious or political,” was passed on March 1, 1875. 

elliott_robert loc

Robert Elliott. Library of Congress

Elliott’s speech gained national attention as he rebuffed opponents of the bill, who argued that federal enforcement of civil rights was unconstitutional. Responding to former Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia, who had been re–elected to the House, Elliott reaffirmed his belief in the right and duty of Congress to legislate against discrimination. He concluded by evoking the sacrifices made during the Civil War and asserting that its true purpose was to obtain civil rights for all Americans, including women, who experienced discrimination. 

Before a packed House, Elliott stated his universal support for civil rights,

“I regret, sir, that the dark hue of my skin may lend a color to the imputation that I am controlled by motives personal to myself in my advocacy of this great measure of national justice. The motive that impels me is restricted to no such boundary, but is as broad as your Constitution. I advocate it because it is right.”

Elliott’s youthful appearance and the “harmony of his delivery” contrasted sharply with those of the elderly Stephens, who, confined to a wheelchair, dryly read a prepared speech. The Chicago Tribune published a glowing review, noting that “fair–skinned men in Congress … might learn something from this black man.”

With a legislative style more flamboyant and aggressive than his predecessors’, and considerable oratorical skills, young, talented Robert Elliott regularly dazzled audiences. Possessing a strong, clear voice “suggestive of large experience in outdoor speaking,” Elliott fought passionately to pass a comprehensive civil rights bill in his two terms in Congress. However, his fealty to the South Carolina Republican Party led him to resign his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to serve the state government in Columbia. Elliott’s classical education, photographic memory, and obsession with politics impressed contemporary observers.

Today In Charleston History: December 28


Affra Harleston’s will, divided her estate between her nephew, John Harleston, and her husband’s half-nephew, Elias Ball.

1723 – Births

Elizabeth Lucas (known as “Eliza) was born in Antigua, West Indies at Cabbage Tree Plantation. It was customary for elite colonists to send boys to England for their education. Her father, Lieut.-Colonel George Lucas, recognized Eliza’s intelligence and against the custom of the time, sent her to boarding school in London at age eight. Her favorite subject was botany.  She wrote to her father that she felt her “education, which I esteem a more valuable fortune than any you could have given me, will make me happy through my future.”


The Charlestown Library Society was organized by seventeen young gentlemen of various trades and professions who wished to avail themselves of the latest publications from Great Britain. At first, the elected librarians safeguarded the Library’s materials in their homes. From 1765 until 1778, it resided in the upstairs of Gabriel Manigault’s liquor warehouse.

In 1792, the collection was transferred to the upper floor of the Statehouse, currently the County Courthouse at Broad and Meeting. From 1835 until its 1914 move to the current King Street location, the Charleston Library Society occupied the Bank of South Carolina building at the corner of Church and Broad Streets. That building was paid for with “Brick” memberships, a permanent membership for a one-time lump sum: several of these memberships are still in use, generations later, by Charleston families.


Surveyor for the Southern District of North America, William Gerard de Brahm, sent a report to his Majesty which said:

The city of Charlestown is in every respect the most eminent and by far the richest city in the Southern District of North America; it contains about 1500, and most of them big houses, arrayed by straight, broad and regular streets; the principal of them is seventy-two feet wide call’d Broad Street, is decorated, besides many fine houses, with a State house near the centre of said street, constructed to contain two rooms, one of the Governor and Council, th’ other for the Representative of the people, the Secretary’s office, and a Court room; opposite the state House is the Armory-house, item St. Michael’s Church, whose steeple is 192 foot high, and seen by vessels at sea before they make any land; also with a new Exchange on the east end of said street upon the bay; all four buildings have been rais’d since the year 1752, an no expense spared to make them solide, convenient and elegant.

The city is inhabited by above 12,000 souls, more than half are Negroes and Mulattoes; the city is divided in two parishes, has two churches, St. Michaels and St. Philips, and six meeting-houses, vid, an Independent, a Presbyterian, a French, a German and two Baptists. There is also an assembly for Quakers, and another for Jews, all which are composed of several nations.

Charleston, circa 1780

Charleston, circa 1780

1832 – Nullification Crisis

John C. Calhoun resigned as Vice President to take Sen. Robert Hayne’s vacated seat in the U.S. Senate. It was a coordinated political move as a response to the Nullification Crisis and perceived heavy Federal hand of Pres. Andrew Jackson. 

1864 – Civil War    

Gen Henry Halleck, Army chief of staff wrote to Gen. William Sherman, who was in Savannah after burning through Georgia:

 … should you capture Charleston, I hope by some accident that the place be destroyed, and if a little salt should be sown on the site it may prevent the future growth of nullification and secession.