Today In Charleston History: June 3

1812-War of 1812

John C. Calhoun introduced a bill in Congress supporting war against Great Britain. As chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Calhoun wrote, “The honor of a nation is its life. Deliberately to abandon it, is to commit an act of political suicide.” Calhoun was described as “the young Hercules who carried the war on his shoulders.” 

1850-Road to Secession.

One hundred seventy-six delegates from Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, met at McKendree Methodist Church in Nashville for nine days to consider a possible course of action if the United States Congress decided to ban slavery in the new territories being added to the country as a result of Westward Expansion and the Mexican-American War. 

Rhett2-246x300

Robert Barnwell Rhett

With the death of John C. Calhoun in March 1850, radical secessionists, called “fire-eaters” including Robert Barnwell Rhett, Maxcy Gregg, James H. Adams, David F. Jamison, and Daniel Wallace, demanded that South Carolina secede, regardless of the course adopted by other slaveholding states. Cooperationists, meanwhile, professed their willingness to secede but argued that separate secession would leave South Carolina isolated and impotent. The fire-eaters were extreme advocates of southern rights. They walked out on the Nashville convention in 1850.

Most of this was in response to the Wilmot Proviso, a congressional proposal to ban slavery in the territory gained in the Mexican War, and the so-called Compromise of 1850, a series of measures maneuvered through Congress in an attempt to pacify both northern and southern interests. South Carolina secessionists brought their state to the brink of disunion but were disappointed by the growing acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 across the South. Procompromise Whigs and Democrats successfully played on party loyalty to wean southern states away from the notion of a southern party committed solely to the defense of slavery—a goal to which much of South Carolina was committed.

The convention adjourned without taking any action against the Union, and the issue of secession was temporarily tabled.

1864Bombardment of Charleston.

Gus Smythe, a member of the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston, wrote to his sister, Sarah Anne, about the Union shelling from his perch in St. Michael’s Church steeple:

They are now using a very heavy gun, & the roar of the shells as they fly on their path of destruction is really awful. One struck quite close to the Steeple this morning just as I left, in Broad Street, between King and Meeting … Strange that these shells never give me a moments thought now. I hear them coming & they all seem a matter of course, & I pay no attention to them at all.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: January 28

1787 – Marriage

Dr. David Ramsay married Martha Laurens.

Ramsay had been married twice, and tragically lost both wives within a year of being married. Martha was the beloved daughter of Henry Laurens, former President of Continental Congress, and the first American imprisoned in the Tower of London (he was arrested by the British while acting as an agent for Congress raising funds for the Revolution in Europe.) Ramsay met Martha while he was researching his History of the Revolution of South Carolina. 

1861 – Secession 
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

P.G.T. Beauregard was removed as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was the shortest tenure of any superintendent – five days. His orders were revoked when his native Louisiana seceded from the Union. Beauregard protested to the War Department that they had cast “improper reflection upon [his] reputation or position in the Corps of Engineers” by forcing him out as a Southern officer before any hostilities began.

Within a month he resigned his commission and became the first Brigadier General of the Confederate Army. He served in Charleston and ordered the firsts shots of the War be fired at Fort Sumter. 

1866 – Civil War

The melted fragments of St. Michael’s bells were shipped to England by Fraser, Trenholm and Company. 

The bells for St. Michael’s were cast in 1764, by Lester & Pack in London. When the British evacuated Charleston in 1782 as part of their plunder, the eight bells of St. Michael’s were taken back to England. Shortly afterward, a merchant in London secured the bells and returned them to a grateful Charleston. 

 

st. michael's - postcard

St. Michael’s Church

In 1864, when Sherman made his march through the South Carolina, Charleston expected to be in his path, so the bells were sent to Columbia for safe-keeping.  Sherman by passed Charleston and burned Columbia, the state capital. The shed in which the bells were stored was burned and the bells were reduced into molten slag. The metal was salvaged and the bells were sent to London to be recast by Lester & Pack – today in history.The bells were returned in 1868 and resumed their place in the church.

In 1989, the bells were damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They once again were shipped to London for repair. They can be heard chiming in Charleston today on an hourly basis.

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 20

1752

King George II confirmed the charter of the Two-Bit Club at the Court of St. James. Soon afterward, the name was changed to the South Carolina Society and began including non-French members.

1782 – Slavery

Capt. Joseph Vesey returned to Charlestown with his wife, Kezia, their son John and Vesey’s personal servant / cabin boy, sixteen year-old Telemaque.

1783

The first theatrical performance in Charleston after the British evacuation was held in the Exchange Building.

1800 – Slavery

 A law was passed making it more difficult to emancipate slaves. Also passed was “An Act Respecting Slaves, Free Negroes, Mulattoes and Mestizoes” which permitted blacks to gather for religious worship only after the “rising of the sun and before the going down of the same … a majority [of the congregation] shall be white persons.”

Perhaps thinking that the “Christianization [sic] of the city’s black labor force would have a stabilizing effect,”  the white authorities ignored late night church meetings among all black congregations for many years.

1826

The South Carolina Jockey Club was formed.

1860 – Secession

On this day, a secession convention meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, unanimously adopted an ordinance dissolving the connection between South Carolina and the United States of America.

Click here to read the Charleston Mercury’s account of secession. 

The convention had been called by the governor and legislature of South Carolina once Lincoln’s victory was assured. Delegates were elected on December 6, 1860, and the convention convened on December 17. Its action made South Carolina the first state to secede. 

A teenager named Augustus Smythe procured a seat in the balcony of Charleston’s South Carolina Institute Hall on the night of December 20, 1860.  Over the next three hours Smythe watched the members of the South Carolina legislature sign the Ordinance of Secession, officially removing the state of South Carolina from the Union and establishing an independent republic, ultimately called the Confederate States of America. The raucous celebration after that historic event spilled into the Charleston streets, with men whooping, drinking whiskey and shooting pistols in the air. Smythe had the calm foresight to make his way through the crowd to the stage and remove the inkwell and pen which had been used to sign the Ordinance. These items today are in the collection at the Confederate Museum, housed in Market Hall on Meeting Street.

secssion images

Upon the signing of the Ordinance of Secession, all the church bells in Charleston began to ring. James Petigru asked a passerby, “Where’s the fire?” The man responded, “Mr. Petigru, there is no fire; those are the joy bells in honor of the passage of the Ordinance of Secession.”

 Petigru responded, “I tell you there is a fire. They have this day set a blazing torch to the temple of constitutional liberty, and please God, we shall have no more peace forever.” Late in the day, Petigru was again asked about secession and famously remarked, “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”

1842

The Citadel, a military college, was founded in response to the Denmark Vesey rebellion.