Today In Charleston History: August 12

1781 – Births

During a 50+ year career as an architect and engineer, Robert Mills left his legacy across the United States.

Robert Mills

Robert Mills

Robert Mills was born in Charlestown on August 12, 1781, during the British occupation of the city. His father was a tailor, respectable and successful but solidly middle class. Mills is often erroneously referred to as America’s first native-born architect, but Charles Bullfinch of Boston, has a clearer claim to that honor.

When Robert Mills was ten years old, President George Washington visited Charleston for seven days. While in the city Washington inspected the almost completed Charleston County Courthouse and was impressed by its young Irish architect, James Hoban of Philadelphia.

During his time in Charleston (1787-1792) Hoban conducted an “evening school, for the instruction of young men in Architecture.” It is often speculated that Mills attended these classes, but there is no documentation of that fact. If not, then due to the quality of his earliest drawings (1802), certainly Mills would have attended similar classes offered to young men in Charleston. Newspapers at the time advertised that M. Depresseville:

Continues to keep his Drawing School, in different Part of Landscapes, with Pencil or Washed, teaches Architecture, and to draw with method; also the necessary acknowledgements for the Plans.  

Another advertisement claimed that Thomas Walker, a stone cutter and mason from Edinburgh:

opened an evening school for teaching the rules of Architecture from seven to nine in the evening (four nights a week)

In 1800, at age nineteen, Mills moved to Washington, D.C. and was hired by James Hoban. The Irish architect who had so impressed George Washington in Charleston, had won the design competition of the President’s Palace – the White House. In December 1800 Mills was “pursuing studies in the office of the architect of the President’s House.”

Under Hoban, who was also at the same time supervising the construction of the Capital, Mills served as an apprentice or assistant and spent most of his time drawing and sketching wainscot, staircases and doorways, and learning the more rudimentary skills of construction – labor and material management. During the next two years Mills was exposed to more building and design than he could have in any place in America.

Mills also befriended Thomas Jefferson during this time and wrote that Jefferson “offered me the use of his library.” He also wanted drawings of his home, Monticello and he “engaged Mr. Mills to make out drawings of the general plan and elevation of the building.”         

In 1802, Mills submitted designs for the proposed South Carolina College and won the $300 prize, even though none of his designs were ever used. He then spent eight years working for Benjamin Latrobe who had been appointed Surveyor of Public Buildings by President Thomas Jefferson.

Mills wrote that Latrobe was:

Engaged upon the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal and as an architect of the Capitol at Washington, at which time I entered his office as a student under the advice and recommendation of Mr. Jefferson, then President of the United States.

Latrobe later described Mills as possessing:

that valuable substitute for genius – laborious precision – in a very high degree, and is therefore very useful to me, though his professional education has been hitherfor much misdirected.

During this time Mills also submitted plans for two Charleston churches, an alteration of St. Michael’s (never implemented) and a design for the Congregational Church. Dr. David Ramsay presented the idea of a round church in 1803 saying his “wife suggested the idea and sketched a plan.” In February 1804 the church’s building committee thanked Mills:

for his ingenious and elegant drawings which had essentially assisted the Members and Supporters in forming a correct opinion of the form and plan of their proposed building.

Mills plans called for a rotunda eighty-eight feet in diameter and thirty-three feet high, covered by a hemispherical Delorme made of wood and sheathed in copper, capped by a large cupola. His design for the church was severely altered when the church was constructed in 1806, much to Mills’ displeasure

circular ruins 2

Ruins of the Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, circa 1880s. Photograph shows the damage from the 1861 fire that ravaged the city. Courtesy Library of Congress.

In 1819 South Carolina established an Internal Improvements Program for the creation of canals, roads and public buildings. With a budge of $1 million spread out over ten years it was the largest public works improvement project per capita of any state in America. Mills was hired as the Acting Commissioner for Public Buildings. His main task was to design (or redesign) courthouses and jails across the state. However, the state legislature had noted the need for fireproof buildings as repositories throughout the state and appropriated $50,000 for the design and construction.

On May 20, 1822, Charleston City Council voted to pay Mills $200 for a fireproof building on the square behind City Hall to be used for county records. Mills envisioned the building as part of a public square which embraced the park (later named Washington Park), City Hall, the County Courthouse and a proposed Federal courthouse.

In December 1823 Mills lost his post as Superintendent of Public Buildings but was appointed as one of four “Commissioners for completing Fire Proof Buildings.” He was also appointed Commissioner of Public Buildings for Charleston District, even though he was living in the state capital, Columbia.

Throughout 1825-26, under the supervision of contractor John Spindle, the construction of the Fireproof Building continued. All materials were non-flammable – granite, brownstone, flagstone, brick, metal and copper. On December 11, 1826, it was finished and “ready for occupancy.” Final cost of the project was $53,803.81.

fireproof

Bottom: Fireproof Building, Charleston. Courtesy Library of Congress

In 1836, Robert Mills won a private design competition conducted by the Washington National Monument Committee for a permanent memorial to George Washington in the nation’s capital. His original design called for a 600-foot-tall square shaft rising from a Greco-Roman circular colonnade of thirty Doric columns, 45 feet high and 12 feet in diameter.

By the time the cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1848, the design of the monument had changed considerably to the more stream-lined, elegant structure that is one of the most famous landmarks in the United States. 

Washingtonmonumentsketch - national archives

Robert Mills’ original design for the Washington Monument. Courtesy National Archives.

washington monument

Washington Monument completed. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Mills died on March 3, 1855 with more than 50 projects to his credit, which include more than thirty county courthouses and jail buildings in South Carolina. Some of Mills’ most important projects include: 

1804

  • Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, S.C.

1806

  • South Carolina Penitentiary, Columbia, S.C.

1809

  • Franklin Row, Philadelphia, Pa
  • State House (Independence Hall) Wings, Philadelphia, Pa.

1812

  • First Unitarian (Octagon) Church, Philadelphia, Pa

1813

  • Washington Monument, Baltimore, Md.

1816

  • Winchester Monument, Baltimore, Md.
  • First Baptist Church, Baltimore, Md.

1817

  • John’s Episcopal Church, Baltimore, Md.

1818

  • First Baptist Church, Charleston S.C.

1821

  • Colleton County Courthouse; Colleton County Jail, Walterboro, S.C.
  • Columbia Canal, Columbia, S.C.

1822

  • Charleston County Jail (addition), Charleston, S.C.
  • County Records Office – Fireproof Building, Charleston, S.C.
  • Powder Magazine Complex, Charleston, S.C.
  • South Carolina Asylum, Columbia, S.C

1823

  • Horry County Courthouse and Jail, Conway, S.C.
  • Union County Courthouse, Union, S.C.

1824

  • Peter’s Church, Columbia, S.C.
  • Maxcy Monument, Columbia, S.C.

1825

  • Atlas of the State of South Carolina
  • Edgefield County Courthouse, Edgefield, S.C.

1826

  • Elevated railroad, Washington, D.C. to New Orleans
  • Newberry County Jail, Newberry, S.C.

1830

  • U.S. Senate (renovation), Washington, D.C.

1831

  • Marine Hospital, Charleston, S.C.
  • Washington Canal, Washington, D.C.

1832

  • Executive Offices and White House (water systems), Washington, D.C.
  • House of Representatives (alterations), Washington, D.C.

1833

  • Customs House, New London, Ct.
  • Customs House, New Bedford, Ma.

1834

  • U.S. Capital (water system), Washington, D.C.

1836

  • U.S. Patent Office, Washington, D.C.
  • South Caroliniana Library, Columbia, S.C.
  • U.S. Treasury Building, Washington, D.C.

1839

  • Library and Science Building, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y.
  • U.S. Post Office, Washington, D.C.

1845

  • Washington National Monument, Washington, D.C.

1847

  • Smithsonian Institution (supervising architect), Washington, D.C.

1852

  • University of Virginia Library (addition, renovation), Charlottesville, Va.
1863 – Civil War. H.L. Hunley Arrives

The Hunley submarine arrived  in Charleston. James McClintock, one of the designers and builders of the Hunley was offered $100,000 ($1.6. million in current currency) to sink either the New Ironsides or the Wabash, two of the Federal ships in the blockade. With a crew of volunteers, the McClintock conducted a week of safe tests in the harbor between Ft. Johnson and Fort Moultrie, away from the eyes of the Federal blockade. Gen. Beauregard quickly became frustrated by McClintock’s caution. He asked that a Confederate Navy man sail on the submarine. When McClintock refused, Beauregard ordered the submarine seized by the Confederate Navy and a crew of volunteers take over its operation.

McClintock was so disgusted he left Charleston.

Hunley-1

Sketch of the Hunley at the direction of William Alexander, depicting the interior design, for his 1902 article “Hunley.” Courtesy Naval Historical Center.

BORN TODAY: Countess Elisabeth Bathory – Serial Killer

Bathory was born in Transylvania in 1560 to a distinguished family. One of her    uncles instructed her in Satanism, while her aunt taught her all about sadomasochism. At the age of 15, Bathory was married to Count Nadady, and the couple   settled into Csejthe Castle. To please his wife, her husband reportedly built a torture chamber to her specifications.

Elisabeth Bathory, the Bloody Countess

Elisabeth Bathory, the Bloody Countess

Although the count participated in his wife’s cruelties, he may have also restrained her impulses; when he died in the early 1600s, she became much worse. With the help of her former nurse, Ilona Joo, and local witch Dorotta Szentes, Bathory began abducting peasant girls to torture and kill. She often bit chunks of flesh from her victims, and one unfortunate girl was even forced to cook and eat her own flesh. Bathory reportedly believed that human blood would keep her looking young and healthy.

Since her family headed the local government, Bathory’s crimes were ignored until 1610. But King Matthias finally intervened because Bathory had begun finding victims among the daughters of local nobles.

On December 29, 1610, a garrison of soldiers stormed the Hungarian castle of Cachtice and arrested Elisabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory. According to the surviving testimonials, she and/or her closest servant/confidants:

  • Kept her victims chained up every night so tight their hands turned blue and they spurted blood.
  • Beat them to the point where there was so much blood on the walls and beds that they had to use ashes and cinders to soak it up.
  • Burned her victims with metal sticks, red-hot keys, and coins; ironed the soles of their feet; and stuck burning iron rods into their vaginas.
  • Stabbed them, pricked them in their mouths and fingernails with needles, and cut their hands, lips, and noses with scissors.
  • Stitched their lips and tongues together.
  • Had them stand in tubs of ice water up to their necks outside until they died.
  • Smeared a naked girl with honey and left her outside to be bitten by ants, wasps, bees, and flies.
  • Kept them from eating for a week at a time, and, if they got thirsty, made them drink their own urine.
  • Stuffed five servants’ corpses underneath a bed and continued to feed them as if they were still alive.

In January 1611, Bathory and her cohorts were put on trial for 80 counts of murder. All were convicted, but only Bathory escaped execution. Instead, she was confined to a room of the castle that only had slits for air and food. She survived for three years but was found dead in August 1614.

Today In Charleston History: July 27

1669-Carolina Expedition

Mr. Joseph West was appointed Governor and Commander-in-chief of the Carolina expedition until its arrival at Barbados, or until another Governor was appointed.

1772 – American Revolution – Foundations

Governor Montagu, in attempt to break the stalemate in the Assembly over the Wilkes Fund appropriation, announced that in October, the Assembly would meet in Beaufort, not Charleston. He hoped that the distance might keep some of the more radical Charlestown members from attending, so some necessary legislation could be passed. He also hoped the implied threat of moving the capital from Charlestown would intimidate some of the members to moderate their views. It backfired.

1781-British Occupation – Issac Hayne

The British issued an official statement:

The adjutant of the town will be so good as to go to Colonel Hayne in Provost Prison and inform him that in consequence of the court of enquiry held yesterday and the preceding evening Lord Rawdon and the commandant Lieutenant Colonel Nisbet Balfour have resolved upon his execution on Tuesday the thirty-first instant at six o’clock, for having been found under arms raising a regiment to oppose the British government, though he had become a subject and had accepted the protection of that government after the reduction of Charleston.

1880-Births
Judge Waties Waring

Judge Waties Waring

 Waties Waring was born in Charleston. He was the scion of the prominent Waring and Waties families and a son of a Confederate veteran. he would later become a leader in Democrat politics and a Federal judge. He became a controversial figure in South Carolina when he divorced his Southern wife in 1945 and almost immediately married a twice-divorced “Northern” woman, Elizabeth. When Judge Waring began issuing court rulings against South Carolina’s segregationist policies, Waring and Elizabeth became hated figures in the state. Congressman Mendel Rivers (D-SC) led a campaign for Waring’s impeachment which was unsuccessful.   

Today In Charleston History: June 21

1692

The Grand Council issued an order for:

  • “The better observance of the Lord’s Day by prohibiting the haunting of punch houses during the time of divine service” and

  • “that the French ministers and officers of their church be advised that they begin their divine service at 9 o’clock in the morning and about 2 in the afternoon of which they are to take due notice and pay obedience thereunto.”

This second order was directed at the Huguenots – “the church of the tides.”

1775-American Revolution

Charles Pinckney led a group of citizens to call on Royal Governor William Campbell. They presented a list of grievances and explained why they formed the Provincial Congress. They claimed:

Conscious of the Justice of our cause, and the Integrity of our Views, we readily profess our loyal Attachment to our Sovereign, his Crown and Dignity: And trusting the Event to Providence, we prefer Death to Slavery.

1783-Births

Theodosia Burr was born in Albany, New York, daughter of Aaron Burr. She would marry Joseph Alston of Charleston and become first lady of South Carolina when Alston was elected governor. 

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn - New York Historical Society

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn – New York Historical Society

 

Today In Charleston History: June 15

1713-Births
Rebecca Brewton Motte

Rebecca Brewton Motte

Rebecca Brewton, daughter of Robert Brewton, was born at her father’s house, 21 Church Street. She married Jacob Motte and later lived in her brother’s house at 27 King Street and live there with the British occupying force in 1780. 

1786-Natural Disasters

Fire swept down Broad Street, destroying fourteen buildings, including the state house.

1818-Slavery. Religion. Denmark Vesey Rebellion

In direct defiance of the City Council, Rev. Richard Allen (of Philadelpha) conducted a Sunday service in a private home for a blacks-only congregation. The city guard once again disrupted the service. Allen and his Philadelphia delegation were arrested and sentenced to “one month’s imprisonment, or to give security and leave the state.”

Allen and his group returned to Philadelphia under the threat of his arrest, but black religious services continued to be conducted in private homes at night, often conducted by Denmark Vesey.  Gullah Jack, however, was angered by what he called “the desecration of sacred ground” (the disruption of religious services), and claimed he “wanted to begin” to organize against the whites. 

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Watching the increased militia activity on the streets, and hearing of the arrests, Denmark Vesey and Monday Gell destroyed all incriminating letters and documents they had in their possession. Gullah Jack buried a small cache of gunpowder and weapons on the Buckley farm in the Charleston Neck. All three men then went into hiding.

Thomas_Bennett_JrGov. Bennett signed a General Order calling out Col. Croft’s 16th Regiment, the Washington Light Infantry, the Republican Artillery and the Charleston Neck Rangers. Bennett also requested the assistance of the federal government. He wrote to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native, about his “State of alarm and his inability to defend his city.” Bennett wrote that a show of federal force:

would tend not only to tranquilize the public mind, but produce the happiest effects upon that class of persons who have caused the present excitement.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston   

Gen. Foster notified General Henry Halleck, Army Chief of Staff, that:

The fire upon the city of Charleston had been somewhat increased, and had been continued night and day, at irregular intervals, the number of shots varying from 30 to 60 in ordinary firing.

Today In Charleston History: April 17

1763 – Marriage

Lord William Campbell, a captain on the HMS Nightingale stationed in Charlestown, married a South Carolina heiress, Sarah Izard. Campbell would later serve a short term as South Carolina’s last Royal governor before being unceremoniously run out of town in 1775.

1775

The “Secret Committee of Five,” organized by the First Provincial Congress, headed by William Henry Drayton and Arthur Middleton, seized the mail arrived from England on the Swallow. The official British dispatches made it clear that British authorities would not hesitate to use force to keep and restore order in the colonies.

1806 – Births
WGSimms

William Gilmore Simms

William Gilmore Simms was born in Charleston. His mother died soon afterward and his father joined Coffee’s Indian Fighters so Simms was raised by his grandmother, Jane Miller Singleton Gates, who told him stories of Indians, pirates, the colonial era, and the American Revolution, thereby stimulating his imagination and furnishing him with a vast fund of material on which he would draw for his later writing.

His writings achieved great prominence during the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe declared Simms to be “The best novelist which this country has, on the whole, produced” and “immeasurably the greatest writer of fiction in America”.  His short story collection, The Wigwam and the Cabin, was singled out by Poe as “decidedly the most American of American books.”  He is also remembered for his strong support of slavery and for his opposition to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in response to which he wrote reviews and a pro-slavery novel, The Sword and the Distaff.

At first, Southern readers, especially those in his home town of Charleston, did not support Simms’s work because he lacked an aristocratic background. Eventually, however, he was referred to as the Southern version of James Fenimore Cooper, and Charleston residents then invited him into their prestigious St. Cecilia Society.

1937 – Eleanor Roosevelt in Charleston

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a series of newspaper columns. Here is the column of her day in Charleston.

eleanor roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

CHARLESTON, S.C., Friday—We had tea yesterday afternoon with my friend Mrs. Huntington. The only other guests were the Mayor and Mrs. Maybank, Miss Pinckney, Mrs. Camman, and Dr. Canby. It was a nice, leisurely tea, served in an exquisite old china tea set, and everyone went at intervals to look at the changing light in the garden. Charleston is a leisurely place, and it was seriously suggested that I remain over a few days in order to see the vine at the back of the house in full bloom. It would be a lovely sight, but I receive the Children of the Revolution next Monday in Washington.

It was cloudy in the evening and rained hard during the night, but this morning brilliant sunshine greeted us again. Mrs. Huntington came for us, and we have visited houses and gardens to our heart’s content all morning. I have never seen a greater wealth of carved woodwork and panelling and more beautiful mantelpieces. The houses which have been restored seem on the whole to have been done with extraordinary taste and feeling, and the gardens, with their high walls and careful planting, give one a sense of complete privacy. One gentleman pointed out some interesting facts. As we looked back from one corner of his garden, we seemed to get a vista of an endless number of tree tops going on into a far distance, and he remarked: “That has been done so cleverly in Charleston. You get a sense of infinite space, even in small gardens.”

We ended up our morning by a look at Catfish Row, which, they tell me, was originally called “Cabbage Row,” and a rather hurried visit to the Heywood House. Now we are off in a few minutes to lunch with an old friend, Mrs. Victor Meyrowitz, and this afternoon we will visit St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s churches and the City Hall, where they have a museum and some historic portraits after which we are to have tea with the Mayor and Mrs. Maybank. There seem to be an endless number of trips, so that we are sorry we have to leave early tomorrow morning. It will be a long run tomorrow, for we have to be in Washington by noon on Sunday.

I am taking back with me a most interesting looking book called A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties. It contains some lovely reproductions of water colors by Alice R. Huger Smith and the tale at the end of life as it was lived in the old plantation days, given in combination apparently by Herbert Ravenel Sass and D. E. Huger Smith.

People have been endlessly kind and have invited us to do so many things that I wish we could forget that there is such a thing as work, even when one is on a vacation. We have, however, devoted our evenings to doing the mail and such other pieces of work as we had brought with us. I am not going back with a clean slate, but I have done a few things.

Sometime this Summer I must spend several days in the kitchen, for I’ve been given Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, a superlative cook book, and the call to try some of these delicious sounding dishes is going to be more than I can withstand.

Today In Charleston History: April 9

1894 – Births.

Lena Jenkins gave birth to a son, Edmund Thornton.

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Jenkins (who was called “Jenks”) was the son of Rev. Daniel Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston. He grew up playing with the Jenkins Orphanage Band, but longed to play “serious music.” He took piano lessons in Charleston and attended Morehouse College in Atlanta.

In 1914 the Jenkins Band was invited to perform at the Anglo-American Expo in London and Jenks performed with the band until the outbreak of World War I closed down the Expo. Jenks was admitted to the Royal Academy of Music in London where he studied composition. 

His piece, “Charlestonia” was written while he was a student, and later expanded into a finished piece before his death. To learn the entire story of Jenks’ life and the Jenkins Orphanage Band, read my book Doin’ the Charleston.

1906 – Hampton Park

  John Olmsted, the nephew and adopted son of Frederick Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City, arrived in Charleston to work on the design of Hampton Park.  He immediately noted that the bandstand, leftover from the South Carolina Exposition that was still in place in the formal garden, should be the most notable presence in the park.

Scene in Hampton Park Charleston, SC