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.

1820 – Execution

 John and Lavinia Fisher 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.  


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.

Today In Charleston History: February 3 – Charleston First

FEBRUARY 3, 1736

The “Friendly Society for the Mutual Insuring of Houses Against Fire” was organized in Charlestown,by Charles and William Pinckney.  but was short lived. Four years later, the devastating Great Fire of 1740, destroyed over 300 buildings and bankrupted the company. However, the “Friendly Society” was the first fire insurance company established in the American colonies. 

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin brought together a group of Philadelphians to create the first North American property insurance company. Franklin named the company The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire. Franklin’s company was more successful, and is often cited as the first fire insurance company, but it was sixteen years later than Charlestown’s ill-fated, short-livef Friendly Society.

At one point Charlestown had more than a dozen Fire Insurance Companies that issued metal fire markers to policyholders which signified their property was insured against fire damage. For owners the markers served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. For insurance companies it served as a form of advertising, and alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured.

Local legend will tell you that a fire company would not extinguish the fire of a building without a marker since they would not be paid. That is false. Charlestown ordinances required all fire companies to respond to any conflagration. There was, however, a reward system for the first company on the scene of a fire, paid by the city.

Today you will see “fire mark plaques” on buildings throughout the city. Most of them are reproductions.

Fire markers on various Charleston buildings.

Fire markers on various Charleston buildings.


The tracks of the Charleston & Hamburg Rail Road crossed the Edisto River at a station called Midway, half the distance to Hamburg – sixty-five miles from Charleston.


Henry Laurens Pinckney died, and was buried in Circular Congregational church yard.


Henry Laurens Pinckney. From Abbeville Institute

The son of Charles Pinckney (signer of the U.S. Consititution) and Eleanor Laurens Pinckney, he attended South Carolina College (Univ. of South Carolina and practiced law in Charleston. Pinckney served as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives (1816–1832). He founded the Charleston Mercury in 1819 and was its sole editor for fifteen years. Between 1829 and 1840, he served six terms as intendant (mayor) of Charleston.


Today In Charleston History: December 25


SouthCarolinaRR_Schedule1841The first regularly scheduled passenger train in America pulled away from the Line Street station, Charleston, South Carolina at 8:00 a.m. Nicholas W. Darrell operated the locomotive as engineer for the 10-mile round trip from Charleston to San Souci and back. The trip was described a writer, Jockey of York.

Away we flew on the wings of the wind at the speed of 15 to 25 miles per hour, annihilating time and space … leaving all the world behind. It was nine minutes, five and one fourth seconds since we started and we have discovered ourselves beyond the forks of the State and Dorchester Roads … We came to San Souci in quick time. Here we stopped to take up a recruiting party, darted forth like a live rocket, scattering sparks and flames on either side, passed over three saltwater creeks, hop, step and jump and landed us all at the Lines before any of us had time to determine whether or not it was prudent to be scared.

More than 140 passengers took the first trip, riding in two cars. During the first day, the Best Friend carried more than 500 people. Truly, it was one of the most wondrous Christmases in Charleston history.

1860 – Secession.

The “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” written by Christopher Memminger was adopted.  The Declaration began:

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.

And ended with this paragraph:

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.


19a. jabbo smith (author's collection)Jabbo Smith was born in Pembroke, Georgia. He grew up at the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston and became one of the major figures in the Jenkins Band. By age 17 he was playing with the Paradise Orchestra at Smalls Paradise and being called “the hottest trumpet player in New York.”  Due to excessive living, his career burned out by the time he was thirty, but to this day, his 1920 / 30s recordings are considered ground-breaking jazz music.