Today in Charleston History: June 23  

1663 – Early Exploration

Capt. William Hilton exploring the coast for Sir John Yeamans, landed on either present-day Kiawah or Seabrook Island and officially took formal possession of Carolina for England and the Proprietors.

Dr. Henry Woodward, 20-year old ship’s surgeon under Sanford, agreed to stay behind and live with the Port Royal Indians in order to study their culture and language and lay the diplomatic groundwork for the future English settlers. The nephew of the tribal Cassique (chief) returned to London with Sanford.

1734-Religion.

First service was held at the Scots Meeting House at 53 Meeting Street. It was a simple frame structure southeast of the present-day First Scots Presbyterian Church building.

1809

Theodosia Burr Alston wrote her old friend Dolley Madison, now the First Lady of the United States, asking for her assistance to help her father return to America.

You may perhaps be surprised at receiving a letter from one with whom you have had little intercourse for the last few years, but your surprise will cease when you recollect that my father, once your friend, is now in exile; and that the President only can restore him to me and to his country.

1914 – Jenkins Orphanage

 Rev. Daniel Jenkins, in England with the Jenkins Band who were performing at the Anglo-American Expo, sent a letter on

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

his orphanage stationary (deleting “Charleston, S.C.” and replacing it with a typed “London, England”) to South Carolina Governor Coleman Blease. Some of the text of the letter included:

… the salvation of the South between the white and the black man lies in the careful training of the little negro boys and girls to become honest, upright and industrious citizens … Teaching the Negro to read, to write and to work is not going to do the white man any harm … Nine of the Councilmen of London called on me yesterday and congratulated me on the work I am doing for my race. If were able to gain the respect of the people of England, how much more can be done if the Governor and Lawmakers of South Carolina would simply co-operate with me?

coleman blease (library of congress)Blease had been elected governor in 1910, because he “knew how to play on race, religious, and class prejudices to obtain votes.”  He was one of the most racist politicians ever elected in South Carolina. He favored complete white supremacy in all matters. He encouraged the practice of lynching, and was opposed to the education of blacks. He even once buried the severed finger of a black lynching victim in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden.

In light of Blease’s racist attitude, Jenkins’s letter to the governor is an indication of the reverend’s fierce determination to raise money, no matter how remote the success.

Today In Charleston History: April 1

1766-Stamp Act. 

South Carolina courts shut down, due to lack of stamped paper. Lawyers presented a petition to hold court without stamped paper. They stated:

We claim our rights under Magna Carter, the Petition of Rights, etc … We cannot think ourselves bound by the Stamp Act, which annihilates our natural as well as constitutional rights.

Chief Justice Skinner held that the court had no power to question the authority of an act of Parliament and the fact that there was no stamped paper because of unlawful demonstrations by the people was no excuse not to follow the law.

1780 –The Seige of Charlestown.

Under cover of darkness, 3000 men marched from the British camp at Gibb’s Landing toward Charlestown. – including 1500 laborers. They stopped 1000 yards from the city’s fortifications and began construction of their seigeworks. Due to the sandy soil “the work went quickly” and within one night Gen. Clinton was amazed they “completed 3 Redoubts and a communication without a single shot.”

The following morning, Samuel Baldwin of Charlestown wrote: “We were surprised … at the sight of the works thrown up by our neighbors during the night.”

1844 – Politics

john C. Calhoun became Secretary of State in John Tyler’s Cabinet.

1927 – Doin’ the Charleston

Herbert Wright of the Jenkins Orphanage pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to ten to fifteen years in the Massachusetts State Penitentiary. He was paroled eight years later on April 1, 1935 – April Fool’s Day.

Harlem Hellfighters Band

Harlem Hellfighters Band

Wright had committed a murder that shocked the nation. He had murdered band leader, James Reese Europe, backstage at Mechanics Hall in Boston. Europe was the leader of the Harlem Hellfighters Band, an outfit which had performed across Europe during World War I and has been credited in introducing jazz music to France. The Hellfighters Band was also the first black group to record music. The band included four members of the Jenkins Orphanage Band – Steve and Herbert Wright (the Percussive Twins), Amos Gaillard (trombone) and Gene Mikell (asst. director).

Read more about James Reese Europe’s life here. 

To learn the complete story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band, the Harlem Hellfighters and the murder of James Reese Europe, read Doin’ the Charleston.

doin' the charleston

Today In Charleston History: March 21

1917 – Music

From the Musical News, London: 

A song, “How Sweet Is Life” by a student, Mr. Edmund T. Jenkins, showed the composer to be possessed of a vein of melody, not original as yet, and of a style which needs unifying, but his effort was full of promise, especially in the matter of orchestration. The song was well rendered by Miss Marjorie Perkins.

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.     

1921 – Music

Ethel Waters had her first recording session for the Pace & Handy Music Company. She recorded two songs –  “Down Home Blues” and “At The Jump Steady Ball.” The songs were composed by her Charleston friend, Tom Delaney, formerly a member of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Also, two other former members of the Jenkins Band, brothers Bud (trombone) and Gus Aiken (trumpet), were part of the recording.  A twenty-three-year-old former chemistry student named Fletcher Henderson played the piano for the session.

“Down Home Blues” became a hit so Pace & Handy paired Waters and Delaney together and sent them out on tour, Waters on vocals and Delaney on piano.   

To learn more about Charleston’s role in American music … read Doin’ the Charleston. 

doin' the charleston

Today In Charleston History: December 21

1800 – Birth.

Robert Barnwell Smith (Rhett) was born. 

Rhett2-246x300After entering public life Robert Smith changed his last name for that of his prominent colonial ancestor Colonel William Rhett.  He studied law and became a member of the South Carolina legislature in 1826 and also served as South Carolina attorney general (1832), U.S. representative (1837–1849), and U.S. senator (1850–1852). He was pro-Southern extremist he split (1844) and one of the leading fire-eaters at the Nashville Convention of 1850, which failed to endorse his aim of secession for the whole South.

One of the original “Fire-Eaters” Rhett was was dubbed the ‘Father of Secession’ and called the ‘Lone Star of Disunion’ by his enemies in the Whig Party. In her famous diary, Mary Chesnut called Rhett “the greatest of seceders.”  During the War Rhett continued to express his radical views  through editorials in the Charleston Mercury newspaper, edited by his son. After the other Southern secession in 1861, Rhett was considered one of the leading candidates for President of the Confederate States. bit In the end, he was viewed as too radical for the position and the more conservative Jefferson Davis was selected as chief executive. 

Robert-Barnwell-Rhetts-grave-300x225Rhett was critical of the Confederate Government for many reasons, including government intervention in the economy. He had previously envisioned a Confederacy that also included the Caribbean and even Brazil, but the Confederate States didn’t live up to Rhett’s dream and criticized Jefferson Davis’ adminstration as strongly as he had once criticized Washington, DC. After the War Rhett refused to apply for a Federal pardon. He died of cancer in 1876 and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston.

1891  – Jenkins Orphanage  

Daniel Jenkins preached a sermon at the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church titled “The Harvest is Great by the Laborers Are Few.” It was an appeal to the congregation to “to help these and other unfortunate children.” The congregation was just a poor as Jenkins. The donated money did not last long; it paid for some food and clothing and the rental of a small shack at 660 King Street.

Today In Charleston History: December 13

1770 – American Revolution – Foundations.

Henry Laurens and Charles Pinckney, Junior presided over a meeting at the Liberty Tree in which the continuation of the Association was discussed. Thomas Lynch: “rode fifty miles to Charles Town and exerted all his eloquence and even the trope of Rhetorical Tears for the expiring liberties of his dear country, which the Merchants would sell like any other merchandise.” They then voted to discontinue the boycott on all items except tea, and “send a bitter letter to the northern colonies” about their conduct in breaking the Association.

The non-importation crisis had a severe economic impact on the American colonies, with a dramatic drop in imports from 1768 to 1769.

  • New York: £490, 673 to £75,930
  • Philadelphia: £441,829 to £204,978
  • New England (Boston and Rhode Island): £430,806 to £223,694
  • Carolina: £306,600 to £146,273

The stage was now set for Charlestown, and the rest of the American colonies, to shrug off their ties with the British motherland.

1891

daniel_jenkinsDaniel Jenkins discovered four small black children huddled in a railroad box car. Despite the fact that he lived in a two-room house, with his wife and four children, Jenkins brought the orphaned children to his small home. This was the incident that led to the formation of the Orphan Aid Society of Charleston, the founding of the Jenkins Orphanage, the establishment of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Within ten years, the Jenkins Band had performed in Europe and for Pres. Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration. They later appeared on Broadway in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Porgy, performed for Pres. William Howard Taft and at the Anglo-American Expo in London. They also had a hand in introducing jazz music to small towns up and down the east coast and helping to popularize a dance that became known as “the Charleston.” 

1. doin book cover (create space) official - frontFor the entire story, read my 2013 book, Doin the Charleston.

Jazz Me Blues – Story of an American Standard (Essentials – Music)

tom delaney_edited-1Tom Delaney was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1889 and raised at the Jenkins Orphanage. Founded in 1891 by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, it became one of the most successful orphanages for black children in the South. One of the most famous features of the orphanage was the Jenkins Band, which performed military marching music on street corners and “passed-the-hat” for donations. Delaney performed with the band until 1910. At age 21 he was living in New York City and working as a “whorehouse professor,” playing piano, writing songs and singing in saloons, gin joints and whorehouses in the seedy sections of Manhattan. 

His first big break came when he was thirty-two years old, in 1921. Delaney’s song “Jazz Me Blues” attracted the attention of professional musicians and, more importantly, people who owned recording studios. They were always looking for songs to record, especially now that there was money to be made with “black” songs. “Jazz Me Blues” combined risqué lyrics about sex with a swinging ragtime feel.

The year before, 1920, Perry Bradford convinced a New York record company to record a “black blues” song. Mamie Smith recorded Bradford’s “Crazy Blues.” It sold more than a million copies in less than a year. Suddenly, “black blues” songs were hot. Delaney had written hundreds of blues songs by then, so he began to peddle them to record companies.

tom delaney - blues singers of the 20sDuring this time he met a young singer named Ethel Waters. She performed in vaudeville shows for years as a dancer billed as “Sweet Mama Stringbean.” Waters, however, preferred singing to dancing, and on March 21, 1921, she recorded two of Delaney’s songs for the Pace & Handy Music Company, “Down Home Blues” and “At The Jump Steady Ball.” A twenty-three year old former chemistry student named Fletcher Henderson played the piano for the session. “Down Home Blues” became a hit. Pace & Handy paired Waters and Delaney together and sent them out on tour, Waters on vocals and Delaney on piano.   

Two months later an act called Lillyn Brown and Her Jazz-Bo Syncopaters recorded “Jazz Me Blues.”  That was followed quickly by an instrumental version of the song by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Both versions sold thousands of copies. Through the years more than 100 of Delaney’s songs were recorded by the most popular artists of the day. “Jazz Me Blues” became a standard recorded by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Count Basie, Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman.

“Jazz Me Blues” lyrics

Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime, 
They play a class of music that is super fine, 
And it makes no difference if it’s rain or shine, 
You can hear that jazzin’ music playin’ all the time.

It sounds so peculiar ’cause it’s really queer, 
How its sweet vibrations seems to fill the air, 
Then to you the whole world seems to be in rhyme; 
You’ll want nothin’ else but jazzin’, jazzin’ all the time.

Every one that I ever came to spy, hear them loudly cry: 
Oh, jazz me! 
Come on, Professor, and jazz me! 
Jazz me! 
You know I like my dancing both day and night, 
And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, 
Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick,  play it in jazz time, 
Jazz time! 
Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; 
Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! 
I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me jazz-me blues!

Jazz me! 
Come on, Professor, and jazz me! 
Jazz me! 
You know I like my dancing both day and night, 
And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, 
Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick, play it in jazz time, 
Jazz time! 
Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; 
Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! 
I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me, jazz-me blues! 

To read the entire story of “Jazz Me Blues” and the beginning of American popular music read Mark’s book, Doin’ The Charleston: Black Roots of American Popular Music & the Jenkins Orpahange Legacy.

doin' the charleston

Today In Charleston History: September 12

1718 – Pirates!

Charles Town had been thrown into terror at reports of pirate ships off the coast. Governor Johnson Colonel gave a commission to Colonel William Rhett to organize an expedition to protect Charles Town against  Charles Vane, rumored to be in the area. Two sloops were pressed into service, the Sea Nymph (eight guns and seventy men) and the Henry (eight guns and sixty men.)

1743 – Religion. Slavery. 

Dr. Alexander Garden opened a free school for “educating Negro children,” with more than sixty pupils.

 

1766 – Backcountry

woodmason journalRev. Charles Woodmason returned from England, and was assigned to St. Mark’s Parish on the South Carolina frontier. It was rough country. The parish had a growing population, yet had few roads and even no amenities. Woodmason’s circuit included 26 regular, periodic stops in the parish. In two years he traveled 6,000 miles. He found very little in backcountry life to his liking. The people lived in open cabins “with hardly a Blanket to cover them, or Cloathing to cover their Nakedness.” Their diet consisted of “what in England is given to Hogs and Dogs” and he was forced to live likewise. He wrote:

They are very Poor – owing their extreme Indolence for they possess the finest Country in America, and could raise by ev’ry thing. They delight in their present low, lazy, sluttish, heathenish hellish Life and seem not desirous of changing it. Both Men and Women will do any thing to come at Liquor … rather than work for it – Hence their many Vices – their gross Licentiousness, Wantonness, Lasciviousness, Rudeness, Lewdness and Profligacy. They will commit the grossest Enormities, before my face, and laugh at all Admonition.

1925 – Culture

porgy_dustjacketDubose Heyward’s novel Porgy was published. The story of a crippled beggar on the streets of Charleston was notable because it was one of the first major novels written by a white Southerner through the viewpoint of black characters.  

During a dice game, Porgy witnesses a murder committed by a rough, sadistic man named Crown, who runs away from the police. During the next weeks, Porgy gives shelter to the murderer’s woman, the haunted Bess, in the rear courtyard of Catfish Row, a rundown tenement on the Charleston waterfront. Porgy and Bess fall in love. However, when Crown arrives to take Bess away Porgy kills him. He is taken in by police for questioning for ten days. He is released because the police do not believe a crippled beggar could have killed the powerful Crown. When Porgy returns to the Row, he discovers that while he was away Bess fell under the spell of the drug dealer Sportin’ Life and his “happy dus’.  She has followed Sportin’ Life to a new future in Savannah and Porgy is left alone brokenhearted.

1926 – Death. Culture. 

jenks001Edmond Thornton Jenkins died in Paris at age 32 from pnemonia, due to complications from surgery. The son of Rev. Daniel Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage, Jenks (as he was called) had graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, was living in Paris as a musician, playing in jazz clubs and working as a composer.

Jenks’ former music professor at Morehouse College Benjamin Brawley stated:

Let us remember this: he not only knew music but at all times insisted on its integrity. For him there was no short cut to excellence. He wanted the classic and he was willing to work for it. He felt, moreover … that there was little creative work in the mere transcribing of Negro melodies. For him it was the business of a composer to compose, and he did so … The music of the Negro and of the world suffered signal loss in the early death of Edmund T. Jenkins of Charleston, South Carolina.