Charleston Firsts: America’s 1st Public Golf Course

From the book Charleston Firsts. 


In 1743 David Deas received the first documented shipment of golf equipment to arrive in the American colonies – 432 balls and 96 clubs sent from the Scottish port Leith to Charleston. The sheer number of clubs and balls is intriguing. During this time in Europe most golfers only carried 5-8 clubs with them, so this would have been enough to outfit more than a dozen local players, which would lead to the logical assumption the equipment was for more than just Deas’ use. That would support the idea that there was some sort of organized golfing culture in the lowcountry.

Fifteen years later, Charleston merchant Andrew Johnston returned from trip to Scotland in 1759 with golfing equipment for use on his planation. When he died five years later the inventory of his estate listed “twelve goof [golf] sticks and balls.”

Golf_caddy

Golfer and caddy, 18th century

On May 28, 1788, an advertisement in the Charleston City Gazette requested that members of the South Carolina Golf Club meet on “Harleston’s Green, this day, the 28th.” After which they adjourned to “Williams’ Coffee House.” Also in 1788 there was an announcement of the formation of the South Carolina Golf Club was also listed in The Southern States Emphemris: The North and South Carolina and Georgia Almanac.

Harleston’s Green was a parcel of undeveloped pastureland on the Charleston peninsula, between Calhoun and Beaufain Streets, stretching from Rutledge Ave to the Ashley River. The Green was often used by locals as a public “pleasure ground” – a park.

In 1795 a newspaper notice announced that “The anniversary of the GOLF CLUB will be held on Saturday next at the Club house on Harleston’s Green.” The last known announcement of a meeting of the South Carolina Golf Club appeared on October 19, 1799.

Some historians suggest that early golf games were played without a set number of holes, no greens and no designated teeing areas. The players dug crude holes in the ground and, since they were not marked, they sent “finders” (in Charleston they were usually slaves) to stand next to the hole to mark its location and to alert others of an approaching shot by hollering “Be forewarned!” After completion of a hole, the player would “tee off at a distance of two club-lengths away from that hole.”

The equipment used by these earlier golfers was rudimentary, to say the least. Wooden clubs were hand-made, some crude and some more refined – many looking like modern day hockey sticks. The golf balls of the 1700s would have been a round piece of cowhide stuffed with goose feathers. Called a “Feathery” they were manufactured while the leather and feathers were wet, so, as the leather shrunk during drying, the feathers expanded to create a hard, compact ball. The Feathery was often painted and sold for as much as 5 shillings – the equivalent of $20 dollars in current currency. At most a Feathery would have lasted two rounds of golf before having to be replaced.

Charleston legend also states, that part of Harleston Green’s membership fee requirement was used to “maintain the Green,” now called “green fees.”

harleston green - 1788 map

Ichnography of Charleston, South-Carolina: at the request of Adam Tunno, Esq., for the use of the Phoenix Fire-Company of London, taken from actual survey, 2d August 1788 / by Edmund Petrie. “Harleston Green” highlight added by the author. Courtesy Library of Congress

Today In Charleston History: July 31

1736 – Religion 

John and Charles Wesley arrived in Charlestown from Savannah where they had been serving as missionaries. Charles was returning to England due to ill health.

wesley brothers

John Wesley; Charles Wesley

1776 – Deaths. Charleston First.

Francis Salvador, part of the Ninety-Six militia, fell in battle against the Cherokee, and an Indian took his scalp. He died “within three-quarters of an hour” at the age of 29. He was the first Jew to die in the cause of America liberty. 

1852 –Crime.Prostitution
11 Fulton Street, commonly called "The Big Brick" by Charleston locals. Owned and operated by the infamous Grace Piexotto.

11 Fulton Street, commonly called “The Big Brick” by Charleston locals. Owned and operated by the infamous Grace Piexotto.

Grace Peixotto, a “mother of crime” appeared before the city council and asked them to pave the lot in front of her brick house (Gentleman’s Club – House of Negotiated Affection – Brothel) at 11 Beresford Street.

Read more about Grace in the book Wicked Charleston, Vol. II: Prostitutes, Politics & Prohibition. 

1902 
Grounds of the Expo

Grounds of the Expo

A public auction was held for the Exposition property. Eighty-nine bidders showed up, including “three small boys and one decrepit old negro.” Entire buildings were sold for as little as $7 to $115. Most of the bidders were building contractors who purchased for the materials. In less than a week, most of the buildings were being dismantled and were gone by the end of the year. In an article titled “Going! Going! Gone!” the News and Courier wrote:

So the work of demolition will be prosecuted now with all possible speed. In a few days the beautiful Ivory City will be a heap of lumber and debris and every vestige of its splendor will be blotted from the things that be.

1937-Deaths.Jenkins Orphanage

Rev. Daniel Jenkins’ obituary ran in the News and Courier. In part it read:

REV. JENKINS DIES; KEPT ORPHANAGE

Negro Institution Founder Sent Brass Bands to Europe Three Times

The Rev. D.J. Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage, whose brass bands have toured the United States and crossed the ocean three times to Europe, died last night after a long illness. He was seventy-four years old.

Jenkins founded the orphanage December 16, 1891, and built it into an institution which has taken care of 5000 Negro boys and girls in the intervening forty-five years.  The orphanage has its main building in Franklin Street, maintains two farms and publishes a newspaper (The Messenger). Boys learn printing, carpentry, shoe making, chair caning and automobile mechanics. Girls are taught to do housework.

In Charleston the orphanage is known best for its bands. There are two now, frequently there have been four, which play at street corners to the energetic directions of a diminutive conductor. These bands have been familiar sights in cities all over the United States, going as far west as Los Angeles. Charlestonians have reported seeking them in many out-of-the-way places. Their silver donations go to the orphanage fund.

In 1914, the Rev. Jenkins took the band to England to represent the negro race at the Anglo-American exposition in London celebrating a century of peace between the nations. The band played before the Queen of England.

The war broke out and Jenkins was able to assist several prominent Charlestonians stranded by the money confusion. They were unable to cash checks but he was paid in gold and loaned money for them to get out of the country.

The Jenkins band marched in the inaugural parade when President Taft was inaugurated and at the St. Louis Exposition. Seventy children in the three groups, now are on the road, playing and singing in Boston, Saratoga (for the races) and New York city.

Jenkins had a flow of language both oral and written calculated to wring the hearts of prospective donors, and he received contributions from some of the most eminent people in the United States. His letters to the newspapers asked alms for his “Little Black Lambs” were powerful pleas that were read by generations of Charlestonians.

Besides being president of the orphan society, Jenkins was pastor of the Fourth Baptist church for forty-six years. 

Today In Charleston History: June 17 … Charleston First.

1831

The boiler of the Best Friend exploded while picking up lumber cars at the “forks in the road”, where Dorchester and State Roads merged, near the Eight Mile House. Engineer Nicholas Darrell wrote:

When I ran the Best Friend, I had a Negro fireman to fire, clean and grease the engine. This Negro, annoyed at the noise occasioned by the blowing off the steam, fastened the valve-lever down and sat upon it which caused the explosion, badly injuring him.

This nameless Negro fireman was killed by his injuries, and was the first fatality on an America railroad. This explosion ended all train service on the C&HRR for a month.

Best Friend of Charleston

Best Friend of Charleston

1862-Civil War    

Mr. Frederick Paturzo finished removing seven of St. Michael’s bells, as well as the bells of St. Philip’s and First Scots. The eighth bell in St. Michael’s remained to be as the Municipal Alarm and became known as “Great Michael.” The bells of St. Philip’s and First Scots were donated to the Confederate cause. The bells of St. Michael’s were ultimately taken to Columbia for safekeeping.

Today In Charleston History: May 31 – Charleston First

On May 31, 1801, the first Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree, the Mother Council of the World organized in Charleston, with the motto “Ordo ab Chao” (Order from Chaos). Although it is the “Mother Council” for Scottish Rite, it was not the first Masonic activity in Charles Town.

The first Masonic Lodge in Charles Town was established on October 28, 1736. The South Carolina Gazette announced:

Last night a Lodge of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, was held, for the first time, at Mr. Charles Shepheard’s, in Broad Street, when John Hammerton, Esq., Secretary and Receiver General for this Province, was unanimously chosen Master, who was pleased to appoint Mr. Thomas Denne, Senior Warden, Mr. Tho. Harbin, Junior Warden, and Mr. James Gordon, Secretary.

sheapheard's tavern2

Shepheard’s Tavern, corner of Broad and Church Streets

By 1765 there were four active Lodges in Charlestown, under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Grand Lodge, and through it, the Grand Lodge of England. They were: Solomon’s Lodge, Union Lodge, Master’s Lodge and Marine Lodge.

The Scottish Rite is one of the two branches of Freemasonry in which a Master Mason may proceed after he had completed the three degrees of Blue Lodge Masonry – the other branch being the York Rite, which includes the Royal Arch and Knights Templar. The Scottish Rite included degrees from 4 to 32.

scottish rite

The word “Scottish” has led many to believe the Rite originated in Scotland, which is not true. During the late 1600s many Scots fled to France during the English Civil Wars. The Scots in France who practiced their Masonic interests were referred as “Ecossais,” which translates to “Scottish Master.”

In 1732 the first “Ecossais” or Scottish Lodge was established in Bordeaux, which included Scottish and English members. In 1763, a Masonic patent was given to Stephen Morin to carry their advanced degrees to America. Morin established his degrees in Jamaica.

In 1801, the Supreme Council was established in Charleston to unify competing groups of “Ecossais.” Their membership consisted of eleven Grand Inspectors General:

  • John Mitchell
  • Frederick Dalcho
  • Abraham Alexander
  • Emanuel De La Motta
  • Thomas Bartholomew Bowen
  • Israel De Lieben
  • Issac Auld
  • Le Comte Alexandre Francois
  • Auguste de Grasse
  • Jean Baptiste Marie Delahogue
  • Moses Clava Levy
  • James Moultrie

They announced control of high-degree Masonry in America by introducing a new system that incorporated all 25 of the Order of the Royal Secret, and added eight more, including that of 33 degree – Sovereign Grand Inspector General.

It was a diverse group of men, with only Auld and Moultrie being native-born South Carolinians. Four of the founders were Jews, five were Protestants and two were Catholics. Under the leadership of Grand Commander Albert Pike, in 1859 the Supreme Council expanded its membership to the mystical number of thirty-three members.

Pike also wrote the Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, published by the Supreme Council, Thirty-third Degree, a collection of thirty-two essays which provide a philosophical rationale for the degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. The lectures provided a backdrop for each degree with lessons in comparative religion, history and philosophy.

640px-Albert_Pike_-_Brady-Handy

Albert Pike

Pike served as a general for the Confederacy during the War and his writings have influenced Masonic practices for 150 years. He is the only Confederate soldier to have a statue in Washington, D.C., at Judiciary Square.

 From this beginning in Charleston, the Scottish Rite has spread throughout the world. Currently there are approximately 170,000 Scottish Rite Masons, with about 4000 of them attaining the Thirty-third degree. All regular Supreme Councils of the world today descend from the Charleston Lodge.

Today In History: May 1 – Charleston First – First Memorial Day

A number of towns around the nation claim holding the first Memorial Day. The distinction generally goes to the town of Waterloo New York. Not so fast.

On May 1, 1865, more than 10,000 people gathered for a parade, to hear speeches and dedicate the graves of Union dead in what is now Hampton Park in Charleston. The group consisted of several thousand black freedmen, northern missionaries and teachers who had arrived in Charleston to teach in freedmen schools post-War.

memorial day - club house

Club House of the Planters Race Course where Union soldiers were imprisoned.

Hampton Park was originally the Planters Race Course and, during the final months of the Civil War, it was a hellish open-air Confederate prison. A total of 257 Union troops died at the camp, some of whom had been transferred from the infamously horrific Andersonville in Georgia before it was liberated.

The dead were originally buried in an unmarked, hastily-dug mass grave by the Confederates. After the war in April 1865, twenty-eight members of local black churches buried the soldiers in individual graves at the site of the camp. They built a fence around the cemetery and an arch over the entrance which read “The Martyrs of the Race Course.”

On May Day, 1865 the large assembly marched to the burial site. Nearly everyone brought flowers to place on the burial field. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, described as “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

David Blight, a history professor at Yale, wrote about the event:

The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy’s horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freed people.

The procession began at 9:00 a.m., led by 3000 black children carrying roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” They were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers and crosses. Black men marched in cadence next, followed Union soldiers which included the famous 54th Massachusetts (made famous in the movie Glory) and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops. 

Inside the cemetery a children’s choir sang several spirituals, “We’ll Rally Around the Flag” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Several black ministers read from Bible scriptures. After the service, the crowd gathered for a picnic, watched the soldiers drill and listened to speeches.

Burial site of soldiers on the race course.

Burial site of soldiers on the race course.

They called it Decoration Day, an annual ritual of remembrance. David Blight wrote:

This was the first Memorial Day. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.

In 1876 former confederate general Wade Hampton declared that it was time for white Southerners to “dedicate themselves to the redemption of the South.” Hampton was elected South Carolina governor that year in one of the most volatile elections in the state’s history, filled with riots, murders, intimidations and blatant voter fraud.

Hampton, running on his white-supremacy program, narrowly defeated Republican governor Daniel Chamberlain, despite the presence of Federal troops under General William T. Sherman in an attempt to stop violent mob action at the polls. On election night, the voter count in Laurens and Edgefield counties exceeded the total population – with most of the votes going to Hampton and the Democrats.

640px-WadeHamptonp274crop

Gen. Wade Hampton

Hampton won the election by less than 1200 votes and each side claimed victory, accusing the other of fraud. To make matters worse, the Democrats won control of the South Carolina House and the Republicans won the Senate. Both parties moved into the State House and refused to leave, sleeping on the floor of their chambers and attempting to conduct legislative business. Outside, supporters of each side gathered as police and militia tried to keep the crowds from turning into mobs

After the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Republicans Chamberlain, with the support of Federal troops, was inaugurated as the governor on December 6, 1876. Hampton claimed that “the people of South Carolina have elected me Governor, and by the Eternal God, I will be the Governor!”

For the next four months South Carolina had rival houses and governors, each claiming to be the legitimate government. White citizens refused to pay their taxes to the Republican administration, but voluntarily contributed 10 percent of their money to the Democrat government. If a state agency wanted money to operate, they had to ask Hampton for funds. Soon there were defections from the Republican administration and Chamberlain’s power base faltered.

When Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated as the President of the United States both governors appeared before him. Hayes announced that “the whole army of United States would be inadequate to enforce the authority of Governor Chamberlain.” He ordered the evacuation of the Federal troops from South Carolina and in the first week of April 1877, Chamberlain and the Republicans vacated their offices.

Despite the chaos, the election accomplished Hampton’s goal; it wrenched control from post-War Republicans, many from the North, and back into the hands of the white Democrats. They began to institute a series of laws and reforms which removed tens of thousands of blacks from voter’s rolls. They also established a Confederate Memorial Day designed to help smother the memory of the annual Decoration Day for fallen Union soldiers.

David Blight wrote about the loss of Decoration Day:

As the Lost Cause tradition set in — the Confederate version of the meaning and memory of the war — no one in white Charleston or the state was interested in remembering the war through this event. 

hampton park locBy this time the race course cemetery was suffering from neglect, and the soldiers were reinterred at the Beaufort and Florence National Cemeteries. In 1902 the site of the race course and former cemetery became part of the fair grounds for the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition. At the conclusion of the Expo, the city of Charleston acquired the land for a park, which they ironically named in honor of General (and governor) Wade Hampton.

Through the years Memorial Day was generally celebrated May 30. Beginning in 1971, the federal holiday was designated as the last Monday in May.

memorial day marker

Marker honoring the first Memorial Day and Union cemetery.

Today In Charleston History: April 13 – Charleston First

1832 – Passenger Train Wreck – Charleston First

The first passenger train wreck in the United States occurred on the C&HRR. Pulled by the West Point, the axle of the lead car snapped and was destroyed, tossing passengers out of the open car into a “low swampy place filled with mud and water.” Five of the passengers were seriously injured, but recovered.

west point

Today In Charleston History: February 18 – Charleston Firsts

1735 – Charleston Firsts

The first public presentation of an opera in the colonies is performed at Broad and Church – Shepherd’s Tavern. The opera was titled Flora or Hob In The Well.  Local musicians provided the musical accompaniment on organ and fiddle.

1819-Execution

 John and Lavinia Fisher was were executed. Contrary to what everyone seems to believe (due to lazy tour guides and myth perpetuating web pages)  they were NOT convicted of murder. Their crime was highway robbery. And also contrary to what everyone seems to believe, she was NOT hanged in her wedding dress. Also, contrary to what everyone seems to believe, she was NOT the first female serial killer. Enough said, let’s move on. 

For more accurate info, refer to my book, Wicked Charleston: The Dark Side of the Holy City (pg. 77-84), or James Caskey’s Charleston Ghosts: Hauntings in the Holy City, (pg. 37-44) or Six Miles From Charleston by Bruce Orr.  

1850

James Petigru’s wife, Adele, attempted suicide by chloroform.

1865 – Civil War

Early in the morning, the Northeastern Railroad Depot accidently blew up, killing and wounding hundreds of evacuating civilians.The Confederates had stored a large quantity of gunpowder there prior to abandoning the city. Children playing with a candle ignited the powder, and over 150 people died in the explosion. Fires started by the rain of flaming debris destroyed more buildings.

railroad depot

Ruins of the depot

Later that morning Union Lt. Col. Augustus Bennett landed at Mills Wharf (East Bay and Broad Streets) with a small party of twenty-two men. They raised a regimental flag over the post office (Old Exchange Building) – the first U.S. flag to fly over Charleston since 1860 on the same pole on which the first secession flag was raised on December 1860.

At 10 o’clock, Bennett’s troops were supplemented by the Fifty-second Pennsylvania and the Third Rhode Island artillery. They moved through the city and established headquarters at the Citadel building on Marion Square. He immediately dispatched troops “with instructions to impress negroes whereever found and to make them work the fire apparatus until all fires were extinguished.”

Bennett secured the arsenal and guarded the largest stores of cotton, tobacco, rice and other foodstuffs in the city.  Later that day Gen. Gillmore wired Army chief of staff Halleck in Washington, D.C.:

The city of Charleston and its defenses came into our possession this morning, with over 200 pieces of good artillery and a supply of fine ammunition. The enemy commenced evacuating all the works last night, and Mayor MacBeth surrendered the city to the troops of Gen. Schimmelfenneg at 9 o’clock this morning, at which time it was occupied by our forces … Nearly all the inhabitants remaining in the city belong to the poorer classes.