Today In Charleston History: March 19

1778 – Politics
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Rawllins Lowndes

South Carolina President Rawlings Lowndes approved changes to the state constitution that changed the title of South Carolina’s chief executive’s office from president to governor, although he was called “president” until the end of his term. It also disestablished the Church of England in South Carolina.

1785 – Education

The Legislature granted a charter for College of Charleston to “encourage and institute youth in the several branches of liberal education.” The founders of the College include three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward, Jr.) and three future signers of the United States Constitution (John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney).

The Act also granted the college almost 9 acres of land bounded by present-day Calhoun, St. Philip, Coming and George streets; three-fourths of the land was soon sold to pay debts,  In 1837 CofC became America’s first municipal college in the country.

Randolph Hall, College of Charleston main campus

Randolph Hall, College of Charleston main campus

Today In Charleston History: February 25

1746 – Births

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a Future signer of the U.S. Constitution, was born in Charles Town. He was the eldest son of Charles and Eliza Pinckney. Seven years later, he accompanied his father, who had been appointed colonial agent for South Carolina, to England. As a result, Cotesworth enjoyed a European education.

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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, age 6

He received tutoring in London, attended several preparatory schools, and went on to Christ Church College, Oxford, and graduated in 1764. Pinckney next pursued legal training at London’s Middle Temple. He was accepted for admission into the English bar in 1769. He then spent part of a year touring Europe and studying chemistry, military science, and botany under leading authorities.

In late 1769 Pinckney sailed home. He entered private practice in South Carolina and was elected to the provincial assembly. In 1773 he acted as attorney general in the colony. In 1775 he was a supporter of the patriot cause and was elected to the provincial congress. The next year he was elected to the local committee of safety and made chairman of a committee that drew up a plan for the interim government of South Carolina.

When hostilities broke out, Pinckney, who had been a royal militia officer since 1769, pursued a full-time military calling and joined the First South Carolina Regiment as a captain. He rose to the rank of colonel and fought in the South in defense of Charleston and at the Battles of Brandywine, PA, and Germantown, PA. He commanded a regiment in the campaign against the British in the Floridas in 1778 and at the siege of Savannah. When Charleston fell in 1780, he was taken prisoner and held until 1782. The following year, he was discharged as a brevet brigadier general.

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Pinckney, military officer for Continental Army

After the war, Pinckney resumed his legal practice and the management of estates in the Charleston area but found time to continue his public service, which during the war had included tours in the lower house of the state legislature (1778 and 1782) and the senate (1779).

Pinckney was one of the leaders at the Constitutional Convention. He was present at all the sessions, and strongly advocated for a powerful national government. He proposed that senators should serve without pay, but that idea was not adopted, but he exerted influence in such matters as the power of the Senate to ratify treaties and the compromise that was reached concerning abolition of the international slave trade. 

Pinckney became a devoted Federalist. Between 1789 and 1795, he declined presidential offers to command the U.S. Army, to serve on the Supreme Court and as Secretary of War and Secretary of State. In 1796, he accepted the post of Minister to France, but the revolutionary regime refused to receive him and he was forced to proceed to the Netherlands. The next year, however, he returned to France when he was appointed to a special mission to restore relations with that country. During the ensuing XYZ affair, refusing to pay a bribe suggested by a French agent to facilitate negotiations, he was said to have replied “No! No! Not a sixpence!”

When Pinckney arrived back in the United States in 1798, he found the country preparing for war with France. That year, he was appointed as a major general in command of American forces in the South and served in that capacity until 1800, when the threat of war ended. That year, he represented the Federalists as Vice-Presidential candidate, and in 1804 and 1808 as the Presidential nominee, but was defeated on all three occasions.

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An elderly Cotesworth Pinckney

For the rest of his life, Pinckney engaged in legal practice, served in the legislature, and was active in many philanthropic activities. He was:

  • a charter member of the board of trustees of South Carolina College (later the University of South Carolina)
  • first president of the Charleston Bible Society
  • chief executive of the Charleston Library Society

During the later period of his life, Pinckney enjoyed his Belmont estate and Charleston high society. He was twice married; first to Sarah Middleton in 1773 and after her death to Mary Stead in 1786. He died in Charleston in 1825 at the age of 79 and was interred there in the cemetery at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

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Grave of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, St. Michael’s Church

1807

George Alfred Trenholm  was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Due to his father’s deaths, George left school at age 16 to work for a major cotton broker, John Fraser and Company in Charleston. By 1853 he was head of the company, and by 1860 he was one of the wealthiest men in the United States with financial interests in steamships, hotels, cotton, plantations, and slaves. His fortune including owning real estate worth $90,000 and personal property (including slaves) valued at about $35,000.  About 39 enslaved persons lived with Trenholm’s family as domestic staff in Charleston.

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George Trenholm

When the War broke out, Trenholm immediately moved his company’s head office from New York to the Bahamas, Bermuda and Liverpool. He was appointed to South Carolina’s State Marine Battery Commission, where he oversaw construction of the Confederate ironclad Chicora. Trenholm also personally financed construction of a twelve-vessel flotilla for Charleston’s defense. During the War, his company – now called Fraser, Trenholm and Company – became the Confederate government’s overseas banker. From their Liverpool office, they arranged cotton sales and financed its own fleet of blockade runners, profiting more than $9 million.

Confederate Secretary of the Treasury, Christopher Memminger, used Trenholm as an unofficial adviser. When Memminger resigned, Trenholm was appointed to that post on July 18, 1864.

When Richmond fell to Federal troops, Trenholm fled with the rest of the government in April 1865 and reached Fort Mill, South Carolina. Due to illness he asked President Jefferson Davis to accept his resignation, which Davis accepted with his thanks on April 27, 1865. Trenholm was later briefly imprisoned at Fort Pulaski near Savannah, Georgia. He was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson and ordered released on October 11, 1865. 

E. Lee Spence wrote a book in 1995, Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The ‘Real Rhett Butler’ & Other Revelations, which effectively argued the case that Trenholm was the inspiration for the character of Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

1910

The South Carolina Military Academy officially changed its name name to “The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.” The word “Academy” had become synonymous with secondary schools and the public had the misconception that the South Carolina Military Academy was a preparatory school.

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The South Carolina Military Academy, c. 1861. 

Today In Charleston History: February 8

1671 – Arrivals  

Forty-two settlers arrived in Charles Town from Barbados on the ship John and Thomas, named for the two men who outfitted the vessel, John Strode and Thomas Colleton.

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown

Colonel Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, commander of Ft. Moultrie, complained to Gen. Lincoln he was short both men and ammunition. He requested 1215 troops to man the walls, artillery and defensive works. He only had 200. He wrote:

“If half cannot be obtained, I shall make the best defense in my power with the number that may be allowed me.”

1824 – Births

Barnard Elliott Bee Jr.  was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Barnard Elliott Bee, Sr., and Ann Wragg Fayssoux, in his grandfather’s house on Tradd Street.  Bee graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1845, thirty-third in his class and assigned to the 3rd U.S. Infantry. He accumulated many demerits while at West Point, including several for chewing tobacco while on duty.

Bee became a career United States Army officer and a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. Bee was appointed brigadier general and given command of the third brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, under Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

During the subsequent battle, known as the First Battle of Bull Run, or Manassas. Bee used the term “stone wall” in reference to Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson and his men, giving rise to the name “Stonewall Jackson” and his Stonewall Brigade. There has been debate over whether this nickname was meant in admiration or as an insult due to Jackson’s men not advancing –  “stone wall’ symbolizing being immobile.

Bee was mortally wounded as the Confederates began to gain the upper hand in the battle. He died the following day – one of the first general officers to be killed in the war. As a result, it could not be determined whether his naming of Stonewall Jackson was intended as praise, a condemnation. He is buried in Pendleton, South Carolina. 

Bernard Bee; Peter Fayssoux House, Tradd Street, Charleston

L: Bernard Bee. R: Peter Fayssoux House, Tradd Street, Charleston

 

Today In Charleston History: September 17

1669

The three ships of the Carolina expedition – the Carolina, the Albermarle and the Port Royal – left Ireland for the trans-Atlantic crossing. 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. 

1739 – Births

j. rutledgeJohn Rutledge, son of Dr. John and Sarah Rutledge was born. He would become the most prominent lawyer in Charles Town, the first governor of South Carolina and a signer of the U.S. Constitution.  

1787 -Constitutional Convention.

South Carolina delegates John Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney and Pierce Butler signed the new Constitution of the United States.

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Howard Christy’s “Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States.” The South Carolina delegation is pictured in the lower left hand corner.