Today In Charleston History: July 7



Henry Laurens left Charlestown with his three sons for Philadelphia, on his way to England to establish his children in school.


Sabina Ellis Ramsay died, age nineteen, leaving Dr. David Ramsay widowed for the first time.


The pardoned Charlestown prisoners arrived in Philadelphia from St. Augustine, where they had been held by British authorities. Charles Pinckney took a room at Mrs. McFunn’s boardinghouse on Second Street with Arthur Middleton.

1849-Religion. Slavery

A riot broke out at the Work House – the Negro Jail – just around the corner, and thirty prisoners escaped.  They were quickly recaptured, tried, and imprisoned.  One of them, Nicholas was hanged.  


During his national speaking tour, Oscar Wilde appeared at the Academy of Music.


Oscar Wilde, 1882

Academy of Music, Market and King Street (present site of the Riveria Theater.

Academy of Music, Market and King Street (present site of the Riveria Theater.



The last hanging in South Carolina took place at Charleston’s Old City Jail on Magazine Street of Daniel Duncan, a Black man who was accused of killing Max Lubelsky on King Street.

Lubelsky had been killed a year before, in the summer of 1910, and a few weeks later his widow was attacked. A mob grabbed a nearby Black man named Daniel Duncan and Duncan was accused of both acts. Many thought that Duncan was innocent, but since African Americans were not allowed on juries in those days and he was pronounced guilty within less than an hour, and was sentenced to hang.

The day of his execution, Duncan gave a note to his pastor, Rev. L. Ruffin Nichols of Mother Emanuel AME Church. It said in part, “Tell them that I am at rest, because I am innocent and the Lord knows that I am today.”

Read the entire story in my book SOUTH CAROLINA KILLERS.

Today In Charleston History: May 29


Charles II was born at St. James’s Palace in London. He was to become the namesake of Charleston, SC. 


Charles II

Charles II

Charles II arrived in London on his 30th birthday and restored the English monarchy. He granted amnesty to most of Cromwell’s former supporters, including Baron Anthony Ashley Cooper. Fifty people, however, were excluded from the King’s amnesty; nine were hanged, drawn and quartered, and the rest were given life imprisonment. Charles II extended baronages to thirteen loyal gentlemen of Barbados, including Sir John Colleton and Sir John Yeamans, who became early leaders of the Carolina colony.

1787-Constitutional Convention-Pinckney’s Draught

Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney

At the Convention, Charles Pinckney presented a complete outline of a constitution. James Madison wrote in his diary:

Mr. Charles Pinkney [sic] laid before the house the draught of federal Government which he had prepared to be agreed upon between the free and independent States of America.

Pinckney’s Draught (as it came to be known) included thirty-one of the provisions of the Constitution as finally adopted. They included:

  • A strong central government consisting of three separate and distinct branches
  • Legislative branch divided into a Senate and a House of Delegates, elected proportionate to the white population; blacks would be counted as three-fifths.
  • Control of the President over the military
  • Federal power to order militia into any State
  • House with powers of Impeachment.
  • “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the United States.”
  • The president should annually report on the “condition of the United States” – a state of the union address.

Pinckney reminded the delegates that the citizens were watching the Convention:

From your deliberations much is expected. The eyes, as well as hopes of your constituents are turned upon the convention; let their expectations be gratified. Be assured, that, however unfashionable for the moment your sentiments may be, yet, if your system is accommodated to the situation of the Union, and founded in wise and liberal principals, it will, in time, be consented.

Albert Herter's painting of the Constitutional Convention.

Albert Herter’s painting of the Constitutional Convention. Charles Pinckney is seated to the left of the table, pointing.  John Rutledge (SC) is standing to the left in green coat, next to Benjamin Franklin.

Today In Charleston History: May 20


Charles and Eliza Pinckney returned to Charlestown from London, with their ten-year old daughter Harriot. Their sons, Charles Cotesworth and Thomas, remained in England to attend school. Charles contracted malaria soon after their arrival.


Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens sent his schooner, Wambaw, loaded with provisions, to his Georgia plantation without clearing Charlestown customs. The Wambaw offloaded her cargo and took on 50,000 cypress shingles as ballast and sailed back to Charlestown. Customs Collector Moore refused to allow the ship legal clearance of the harbor and seized the vessel.

1780-British Occupation. 

Most of the American militia were given parole and allowed to return to their homes. Many of the important men, stripped of their property, had little recourse than to pledge loyalty to the Crown.

John Wells of the South Carolina and American General Gazette quickly swore allegiance to the King to save his property. He was allowed to resume publication in July.

Peter Timothy’s paper, the South Carolina Gazette, was seized by the British and given to the Tory Robert Wells.

miles brewton house

Miles Brewton House, 27 King Street

The Miles Brewton home at 27 King Street was made headquarters for Gen. Henry Clinton, and later Lt. Col. Nisbit Balfour, commandant of Charlestown, and Lord Rawdon, supreme commander of British troops in South Carolina.

Rebecca Brewton Motte, with a sick and invalid husband, refused to give up her brother’s home to the occupying force. Although she was at the mercy of her “guests”, she always “sat at the head of her table in the large drawing-room and commanded the respect, at least, of his lordship and followers.” The officers “showed her the greatest courtesy and referred to themselves as ‘her guests’.”

Rebecca’s main concern was the safety of her three daughters and the care of her husband. The Motte family was crowded into a small area of the house on the third floor while the British lived in comfort in the large rooms on the lower floors.


Capt. Joseph Vesey died at the age of eighty-eight. Vesey was a notorious figure in Charleston. His former slave, Denmark Vesey, had been executed in 1822 as the leader of a large slave insurrection. 

Today In Charleston History: May 17


South Carolina Society

South Carolina Society

The South Carolina Society was incorporated by the Assembly, making it one of the most important organizations in the colony.

In 1732, a French Huguenot named Elisha Poinsett opened a tavern in Charleston.  Several friends agreed to help him out his business by spending an evening or two each week in his tavern. They began to collect two bits (sixteen pence) a week for a fund to help any of their members with a need; they soon became known as the “two-bit society.” When Poinsett’s business no longer needed their help, they formalized their association with the idea that education would be their main charity.

1781 – British Occupation

In violation of Gen. Lincoln’s terms of surrender, Charles Pinckney and other militiamen on parole were arrested and placed aboard two British prison ships in the Charlestown harbor – the Pack Horse and the Torbay. Conditions on the ships were horrendous. More than one third of the prisoners held in Charlestown by the British died in captivity.

Charles Pinckney wrote a letter to Colonel Balfour complaining about:

a most injurious and disagreeable confinement … the idea of detaining in close custody as hostages a number of men fairly taken in arms … is so repugnant to the laws of war and the usage of civilized nations …

1787-Constitutional Convention

Indian Queen Tavern, Philadelphia

Indian Queen Tavern, Philadelphia

John Rutledge arrived in Philadelphia and found lodgings at the Indian Queen Tavern on Third Street, which he described as having “sixteen rooms for lodgers, plus four garret rooms … greeted by a liveried servant in coat, waistcoat, and ruffled shirt.” Other delegates who stayed at the Tavern included George Mason and Alexander Hamilton.

Charles Pinckney stayed at the home of Mrs. Mary House, at the corner of Fifth and Market Street, with James Madison.


Horatio Allen, chief engineer of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, met with officials of the South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company and discussed the type of road to build and recommended using a steam locomotive. Allen had studied steam locomotives in England and was positive that steam locomotives were the future.


John Reeks aka ... Francis Dawson

Austin John Reeks (Francis Dawson)

Austin John Reeks was born in London. The Reeks were one of the oldest Catholic families in England and traced their roots back to the War of Roses. He would later join the Confederacy under the name Francis Warrington Dawson and re-locate to Charleston where he would become publisher of the News and Courier.

Today In Charleston History: April 27


Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney

At Mepkin Plantation, Charles Pinckney married eighteen-year old Mary Eleanor (Polly) Laurens, with the blessing of her father, Henry. Pinckney’s friend, John Sanford Dart sarcastically wrote that he had “entered Hymen’s shackles with Miss Laurens.”


At 9:00 p.m., Friday evening, a fire started in shed behind Mrs. Babson’s house near the corner of King Street and Beresford Alley. It spread eastward, destroying about 560 houses and 598 other structures, or as the Daily Courier  reported: “at least one-fourth of the centre of our beautiful and flourishing city”

By 10:00 PM, it had crossed to the east side of King Street, and structures were being demolished to create firebreaks. At midnight, blazes raged down the south side of Market Street toward Meeting Street, and at 2:30 Saturday morning

“the Public Markets as far as Church Street were gone…, all the buildings on the south side of Market, the new Stores on the Burnt Lands, the splendid new hotel, …both sides of Meeting as far as Hasell Street – all, all are in ruins.”

Beth Elohim, 1818. Destoryed by the 1838 fire.

Beth Elohim, 1818. Destoryed by the 1838 fire.

The fire roared down Hasell, Society, and Wentworth streets, all the way to the Cooper River wharves. Most of Ansonborough was consumed, including Beth Elohim Synogogue. Moses C. Levy, however, rushed into the building to save the sacred scrolls.

The Citadel, Orphan House, Medical College, St. Andrew’s Society, Hebrew Orphan House and the German Friendly Society opened their buildings for housing of the displaced people.

1864-Civil War

George Trenholm

George Trenholm

After the fall of Richmond, Confederate Treasurer George Trenholm took flight southward with the rest of the Cabinet, but due to his ill health, was unable to continue running.  He resigned with the approval of President Jefferson Davis but was captured by Union troops and imprisoned at Fort Pulaski, near Savannah, Georgia.


Mayor William Ashmead Courtney agreed to take a leave of absence due to his health. He planned to take a European vacation and return home in the fall. Courtney asked to be released from serving the rest of his term, citing exhaustion. City council advised for him to take a leave of absence “for as long as necessary to regain his health.

Today In Charleston History: March 26

1726 – Ansonborough

Lord Anson, 1755

Lord Anson, 1755

Capt. George Anson purchased a tract of land which later would bear his name – Ansonborough – from his winnings at cards. According to local legend, Anson won the entire tract in a single game from Thomas Gadsden. In fact, Gadsden conveyed this tract to Capt. George Anson for £300 sterling. This was an unusually large sum for such a young naval officer to possess, so it is quite possible that Anson’s winnings at cards was the source of his money. 

Anson later led a British expedition that circumnavigated the world and served as Admiral as the British Fleet from 1756-62.

1737 – Crime & Punishment

Alexander Forbes was convicted of “stealing Cloathes and other things.” He was sentenced to “be whipped on the bare back at the cart’s tails through the town.”

1776 – American Revolution. Charleston First

Four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, South Carolina adopted a state constitution, drafted by the Provincial Congress and the Republic of South Carolina was born. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was chosen to chair the Constitutional Committee. This was the first plan for an independent government in the American colonies. 

South Carolina President (later govenor)  John Rutledge

South Carolina President (later govenor) John Rutledge

John Rutledge was elected as the state’s president, Henry Laurens its vice-president and William Henry Drayton, Chief Justice. The 1776 Constitution was considered a temporary measure until “an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America can be obtained.” It gave the president “absolute veto power” over the acts of the legislature. Due to his power, Rutledge picked up the nickname “Dictator.”

For the second time in its history, South Carolina had forced a change in its government – in 1719 they had overthrown the Proprietors and now they had replaced British rule with a local government.

1820 – Scandal

Charles Pinckney, in Washington, D.C., was caught in an abandoned house with a “mulatto wench.” A butcher who had been robbed saw Pinckney go into the house and thought it was the robber. A group of men surrounded the house and began to holler for the “thief to come out!” Pinckney, panicked, jumped out of window and attempted to run away. Due to his age, he was unable to outrun his pursuers, who released him when they realized their mistake.

1861. Lincoln’s Spies In Charleston. 

Col. Ward Lamon, former law partner to President Lincoln,arrived in Charleston to meet with Gov. Pickens who told Lamon that “nothing can prevent war except acquiescence of the President of the United States of secession.” Any attempt to reinforce the Southern forts would mean war. Lamon responded that no attempt to reinforce Sumter would happen, and that the fort would most likely be abandoned.

Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter met James Chesnut on the street. Toomer expressed his dismay that war was now inevitable. Chesnut, however, was more optimistic. He told Toomer, “There will be no war, it will be all arranged. I will drink all the blood shed in the war.” Henry Gourdin, however, agreed with Porter that “nothing now but a miracle can arrest the onward course towards destruction and war.”


The first Shakespearean play of the 20th century in Charleston was The Taming of the Shrew, at the Academy of Music. “Despite the fact that it was Lent” there was a “very large crowd …. in this most decorous and conventional of cities.”

academy of music

Academy of Music, Market and King Street (present site of the Riveria Theater.

Today In Charleston History: March 19

1778 – Politics


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: January 2

1813 – Deaths

Most scholars agree that the sometime today, the Patriot  wrecked off Cape Hatteras. Lost with the ship was South Carolina first lady, Theodosia Burr Alston. 

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn - New York Historical Society

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn –      New York Historical Society

On December 31, 1812, Theodosia sailed aboard the schooner Patriot from Georgetown, South Carolina to visit her father, former vice president Aaron Burr in New York. The Patriot was a famously fast sailer, which had originally been built as a pilot boat, and served as a privateer during the War of 1812, when it was commissioned by the United States government to prey on English shipping. The schooner’s captain, William Overstocks, desired to make a rapid run to New York with his cargo; it is likely that the ship was laden with the proceeds from her privateering raids.

Logbooks from the British warships report a severe storm of the Carolina coast on January 2, 1813. The Patriot would have been just north of Hatteras when the storm was at its fiercest, facing hurricane-force winds on the early morning hours of Sunday. The Patriot was never heard from again. Despite many romantic conspiracy stories that Theodosia survived the wreck, or was captured by pirate, she most likely was lost at sea with the rest of the passengers and crew.

Today In Charleston History: December 9

1773 – Charleston Firsts. Chamber of Commerce

On December 9, 1773, the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce was organized at Mrs. Swallows’ Tavern on Broad Street.

The formation of the Chamber can be traced back to the economic stress the British Empire suffered after the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War). The victory over the French had come at a high cost, so Parliament passed the 1764 Sugar Acts and the 1765 Stamp Act in an attempt to pay the debt run up during the war. The Stamp Act required that most printed materials in the colonies be produced on “stamped paper” – an embossed revenue mark. Those included newspapers, legal documents, playing cards and magazines.

It was within this volatile atmosphere of political upheaval and business uncertainty that a group of Charleston businessmen met at Mrs. Swallows Tavern and organized the Chamber of Commerce. Today it is called the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

1777 – American Revolution.

Henry Laurens’ term as President of the Continental Congress ended. He was elected after John Hancock’s retirement due to ill health. During his term, Laurens dealt with the conspiracy to replace George Washington as commander-in-chief, perpetuated by several members of Congress and the military.

1806 – Elections

Charles Pinckney was elected to his third term as governor.


John Olmsted delivered a set of plans for Hampton Park.

John Charles Olmsted was the nephew and adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted, was an American landscape architect. With his brother, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., he founded Olmsted Brothers, a landscape design firm in Brookline, Massachusetts. The firm is famous for designing many urban parks, college campuses, and other public places. John Olmsted’s body of work from over 40 years

John Olmsted

John Olmsted

as a landscape architect has left its mark on the American urban landscape, carrying his design philosophy of integrated park systems into new cities such as Portland, Maine; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Spokane, Dayton, and, f course, Charleston. In these cities, he pioneered his comprehensive planning philosophy of integrating civic buildings, roads, parks, and greenspaces into livable urban areas.

Olmsted also designed individual parks in New Orleans; Watertown, New York; and Chicago. His work in park design led to commissions for numerous institutions such as school campuses, civic buildings, and state capitols, as well as designs for large residential areas, including roads and schools. His work in comprehensive planning for the communities surrounding industrial plants and factories is considered especially noteworthy.

Today In Charleston History: December 6

1765 – American Revolution – Foundations, The Stamp Act

The Sons of Liberty was organized in Charlestown, directed by Christopher Gadsden. Many of “the richer folks were terrified at the spirit which themselves had conjurered up.” To restore order, the “Liberty Boys … suppressed them [the stamp mob] instantly and committed the leaders to Gaol.”


John Gaillard was elected to the U.S. Senate where he served until his death in 1826.He was elected to the United States Senate in place of Pierce Butler, who resigned.  He served as President pro tempore of the Senate in the part of the 11th Congress and at least part of every Congress from the 13th to the 18th. He was also the “Acting Vice President”, or next in line to the presidency, from November 25, 1814, two days after the death of Vice President Elbridge Gerry, to March 4, 1817.

John Gaillard

John Gaillard


Sixty-one year old Charles Pinckney was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.


A new headstone for Charles Pinckney was dedicated at St. Philip’s Church. Donated by novelist Dr. Thornwell Jacobs, the ceremony was attended by Emma Pinckney (great-great-granddaughter) and Charles Pinckney Roberts (great-great-great grandson.)

pinckney headstone