Charleston Firsts: America’s 1st Public Golf Course

From the book Charleston Firsts. 

In 1743 David Deas received the first documented shipment of golf equipment to arrive in the American colonies – 432 balls and 96 clubs sent from the Scottish port Leith to Charleston. The sheer number of clubs and balls is intriguing. During this time in Europe most golfers only carried 5-8 clubs with them, so this would have been enough to outfit more than a dozen local players, which would lead to the logical assumption the equipment was for more than just Deas’ use. That would support the idea that there was some sort of organized golfing culture in the lowcountry.

Fifteen years later, Charleston merchant Andrew Johnston returned from trip to Scotland in 1759 with golfing equipment for use on his planation. When he died five years later the inventory of his estate listed “twelve goof [golf] sticks and balls.”


Golfer and caddy, 18th century

On May 28, 1788, an advertisement in the Charleston City Gazette requested that members of the South Carolina Golf Club meet on “Harleston’s Green, this day, the 28th.” After which they adjourned to “Williams’ Coffee House.” Also in 1788 there was an announcement of the formation of the South Carolina Golf Club was also listed in The Southern States Emphemris: The North and South Carolina and Georgia Almanac.

Harleston’s Green was a parcel of undeveloped pastureland on the Charleston peninsula, between Calhoun and Beaufain Streets, stretching from Rutledge Ave to the Ashley River. The Green was often used by locals as a public “pleasure ground” – a park.

In 1795 a newspaper notice announced that “The anniversary of the GOLF CLUB will be held on Saturday next at the Club house on Harleston’s Green.” The last known announcement of a meeting of the South Carolina Golf Club appeared on October 19, 1799.

Some historians suggest that early golf games were played without a set number of holes, no greens and no designated teeing areas. The players dug crude holes in the ground and, since they were not marked, they sent “finders” (in Charleston they were usually slaves) to stand next to the hole to mark its location and to alert others of an approaching shot by hollering “Be forewarned!” After completion of a hole, the player would “tee off at a distance of two club-lengths away from that hole.”

The equipment used by these earlier golfers was rudimentary, to say the least. Wooden clubs were hand-made, some crude and some more refined – many looking like modern day hockey sticks. The golf balls of the 1700s would have been a round piece of cowhide stuffed with goose feathers. Called a “Feathery” they were manufactured while the leather and feathers were wet, so, as the leather shrunk during drying, the feathers expanded to create a hard, compact ball. The Feathery was often painted and sold for as much as 5 shillings – the equivalent of $20 dollars in current currency. At most a Feathery would have lasted two rounds of golf before having to be replaced.

Charleston legend also states, that part of Harleston Green’s membership fee requirement was used to “maintain the Green,” now called “green fees.”

harleston green - 1788 map

Ichnography of Charleston, South-Carolina: at the request of Adam Tunno, Esq., for the use of the Phoenix Fire-Company of London, taken from actual survey, 2d August 1788 / by Edmund Petrie. “Harleston Green” highlight added by the author. Courtesy Library of Congress

Today In Charleston History: April 12 – Charleston First, Fort Sumter

 1861 – Civil War – Firing on Fort Sumter – Charleston First

After contacting his superiors in Montgomery, Beauregard wrote another dispatch and about midnight, his aides rowed out to Fort Sumter again flying a white flag. His response to Anderson was:

MAJOR: In consequence of the verbal observation made by you to my aides, Messrs. Chesnut and Lee, in relation to the condition of your supplies, and that you would in a few days be starved out if our guns did not batter you to pieces, or words to that effect, and desiring no useless effusion of blood, I communicated both the verbal observations and your written answer to my communications to my Government.

If you will state the time at which you will evacuate Fort Sumter, and agree that in the mean time you will not use your guns against us unless ours shall be employed against Fort Sumter, we will abstain from opening fire upon you. Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee are authorized by me to enter into such an agreement with you. You are, therefore, requested to communicate to them an open answer.

I remain, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. T. BEAUREGARD, Brigadier-General, Commanding.

About 1:30 a.m. Anderson assembled his officers and read the Confederacy’s latest offer. For the next ninety minutes they discussed their response. They all considered the condition that they would not fire unless Sumter was shot at to be unacceptable. If the Federal supply ship arrived no doubt Confederate batteries would open fire upon it. The Federal officers were determined not repeat their lack of response during the Star of the West episode. But they were unsure of when (or even if) the supply ship would arrive. The officers agreed they could hold out four more days. Anderson composed his next reply to Beauregard:

GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt by Colonel Chesnut of your second communication of the 11th instant, and to state in reply that, cordially uniting with you in the desire to avoid the useless effusion of blood, I will, if provided with the proper and necessary means of transportation, evacuate Fort Sumter by noon on the 15th instant, and that I will not in the mean time open my fires upon your forces unless compelled to do so by some hostile act against this fort or the flag of my Government by the forces under your command, or by some portion of them, or by the perpetration of some act showing a hostile intention on your part against this fort or the flag it bears, should I not receive prior to that time controlling instructions from my Government or additional supplies.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

ROBERT ANDERSON, Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

The Confederate aides, Chesnut, Chisholm and Lee, read the reply immediately. Chesnut, following Beauregard’s orders, composed the following note:

SIR: By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.

We have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servants.

JAMES CHESNUT, JR., Aide-de-Camp.
STEPHEN D. LEE, Captain, C. S. Army, Aide-de-Camp.

Chesnut delivered the message to Anderson. After reading it, Anderson pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time – it was 3:20 a.m. He asked Chesnut, “I understand you, sir, then, that your batteries will open in an hour from this time?”

Chesnut replied, “Yes, sir. In one hour.”

Anderson walked the Confederate officers to their boat. It was beginning to rain. He shook hands with each of them. “Gentlemen, if we do not meet again in this world, I hope we may meet in a better one,” he told them.  

Inside Fort Sumter Anderson ordered his men to prepare to receive an attack within the hour. He urged them to sleep if possible, that they would be returning fire at dawn.

The Confederate officers made the one-mile journey from Fort Sumter to Fort Johnson within half an hour. Col. Chesnut told Captain George James, battery commander at Johnson, they had given Anderson a deadline, and it was to be met. He as to fire a signal shot at 4:30 a.m.  

Chestnut, James and Chisholm, anxious to return to Beauregard as soon as possible, then got back in their boat and began to row across the harbor to Charleston. Out in the middle of the water, in the drizzling rain, not a single star was visible against the dark forbidding sky.  At exactly 4:30, Lt. Henry S. Farley pulled a lanyard on one of the cannons at the beach battery on James Island. A mortal shell arced high across the water, heading for Ft. Sumter, its glowing fuse leaving a glowing contrail, illuminating the sky. It exploded just above the fort like Fourth of July fireworks, spreading an orange-red glow across the horizon.

firing on sumter

 Confederate batteries at Fort Johnson fire on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861. Courtesy Library of Congress

Within a minute of the signal shot, another shell screamed across the harbor and exploded within Fort Sumter. Beauregard had given precise orders on the firing rhythm. The forty-three guns that faced Sumter were each to fire in turn, in a counterclockwise circle, with two minutes between each shot, in order to save shot and powder.

In Charleston, Chesnut’s wife, Mary, was having a restless night. As she wrote in her diary:

I do not pretend to sleep. How can I? If Anderson does not accept terms at four, the orders are he shall be fired upon. I count four, St. Michael’s bells chime out and I begin to hope. At half-past four the heavy booming of a cannon. I sprang out of bed, and on my knees prostrate  prayed as I have never prayed before … I knew my husband was rowing about in a boat somewhere in that dark bay, and that the shells were roofing it over, bursting toward the fort. The women were wild out there on the housetop. 


Watching the bombardment from Charleston rooftops. Courtesy Library of Congress

In Charleston, the bombardment was a spectacle. As dawn broke, the streets were filled with people rushing in the rain to find a vantage point to watch the battle. The sea wall along the Battery was quickly crammed with ladies and gentlemen in their finest clothes. Boys scampered around, climbing on anything in an attempt to have a better view of the harbor.

There was not a single person who believed the Yankees would win.

14. battery party

TOP: Watching the bombardment from the Battery. Courtesy Library of Congress

 Anna Brackett, a school teacher, described the scene in Charleston:

Women of all ages and ranks of life look eagerly out with spyglasses and opera glasses. Children talk and laugh and walk back and forth in the small moving place as if they were at a public show.

As dawn broke just after six, the Federal garrison at Sumter mustered for roll call and breakfast, which consisted mainly of salt pork. Private Joe Thompson wrote, “Our supply of foodstuffs are fast giving out. Yesterday our allowance was one biscuit.”

At 6:30 Capt. Doubleday ordered the first Federal shot in reply aimed at the Iron Battery at Cummings Point. It landed beyond the battery and into the marsh.  

James Petigru, while sitting in his office at 8 St. Michael’s Alley wrote:

All the world is gone to witness the bombardment of Fort Sumter by the collective forces of South Carolina. Our politicians have succeeded in evoking the spirit of hostility on both sides.

By full light the rain had stopped and for the next two days, Fort Sumter was hammered from three sides by Confederate batteries, with more than 2,500 shots fired the first day. Overnight the bombardment slackened but resumed in full force the next morning.

Charleston (and America) would never be the same again. 

Today In Charleston History: February 12 – Charleston Firsts

1736 – Dock Street Theater

Constructed on the corner of Church Street and Dock Street (now known as Queen Street), the Dock Street Theatre was the first building in America built exclusively to be used for theatrical performances. On February 12, 1736 the Dock Street Theatre opened with a performance of The Recruiting Officer, a 1706 comedic play by Irish writer George Farquhar. The second work featured in the theater was the ballad opera, Flora, or Hob in the Well after its successful performance the year before at Shepheard’s Tavern.

The Great Fire of 1740 destroyed the original Dock Street which was replaced in 1809 by the Planter’s Hotel on the same site. In 1835 the wrought iron balcony and sandstone columns of the Church Street facade were added. The Planter’s became one of the finest hotels in the South. Most histories of Charleston claim that the famous drink, Planter’s Punch, was first served here, but that is not true, as is common among many Charleston “legends.”  

After the War (Between the States), the Planter’s Hotel fell into disrepair and was slated for demolition. But in 1935, the original building became a Depression Era WPA (Works Progress Administration) project. The hotel’s grand foyer became the foyer of the new theater and the hotel’s dining room now serves as the box office lobby.

On March 18, 2010, the Dock Street Theater reopened for the third time after a three year, $19 million dollar renovation by the City of Charleston which included state-of-the-art lighting and sound, modern heating and air conditioning.

dock street = two views

Dock Street Theater: TOP: view of the building circa 1835 as the Planters Hotel. BOTTOM: Modern view of the theater.



Today In Charleston History: January 12


colonel-william-rhettCol. William Rhett died of apoplexy in Charlestown. He was described as “greedy, violent, vulgar, lawless, brave, impulsive, generous … greedily violating law and propriety for bigger profits, insulting the noble and courteous Gov. Craven.” He was also one of the most important citizens of early Charles Town. Rhett served as colonel of the Provincial Militia, receiver general of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, surveyor and comptroller of customs for Carolina and the Bahama Islands. 

In 1706 Rhett commanded a flotilla that fought off a Franco-Spanish attack on Charles Town.Ten years later, he outfitted two ships as pirate hunters – the Henry and the Sea Nymph, each with eight guns and a crew of between 60 and 70 men. Rhett assumed the position of captain of this small flotilla and led it to victory in the 1718 Battle of Cape Fear River, capturing the infamous Stede Bonnet, the so-called “gentleman pirate.”

1760 – Epidemics

One of the most severe small pox outbreaks in colonial America started, most likely brought to the city by returning soldiers from the Cherokee Indian expedition.  More than 6000 people contracted the disease, resulting in 380 deaths among whites and about 350 blacks. This led to the first mass inoculation of the Charlestown population, with more than 2000 people taking the shot within a few weeks, more than 600 in one day according to Dr. Alexander Garden.

Three month old Martha Ramsay was pronounced dead of smallpox. Her body was laid out in preparation for a funeral and placed next to an open window. Dr. John Moultrie arrived and pronounced her still alive, speculating she had been revived by the fresh breeze.

Eliza Pinckney wrote: “Many poor wretches … died for want of proper nursing … smallpox rages the city so that it almost puts a stop to all business.”

1773 – Charleston First

Charleston Museum was established – 1st natural history museum in America.

The Charleston Library Society provided the core collection of natural history artifacts for the founding of the Charleston Museum (the first in America) in 1773. Residents were encouraged to donate objects for the new museum on Chalmers Street. Some of initial acquisitions included “a drawing of the head of a bird, an Indian hatchet, a Hawaiian woven helmet, and a Cassava basket from Surinam.”

The museum also acquired “a Rittenhouse orrery, a Manigault telescope, a Camera obscura, a hydrostatic balance, and a pair of elegant globes.”


A camera obscura box with mirror, with an upright projected image at the top

Today In Charleston History: January 4


First issue of the South Carolina Gazette, edited by Elizabeth Timothy was published. The masthead said “Printed by Peter Timothy.”


Masthead of the first edition of the South Carolina Gazette edited and published by Elizabeth Timothy.

In the first issue, at the bottom of the front page Elizabeth announced that she was now publishing the newspaper, under the name of her son, making her made her the first female editor and publisher of a newspaper in America and the first female franchisee in America.

Whereas the late Printer of this Gazette hath been deprived of his life by an unhappy accident. I take this Opportunity of informing the Public, that I shall contain the said paper as usual; and hope, by the Assistance of my Friends, to make it as entertaining and correct as may be reasonable expected. Wherefore I flatter myself, that all those Persons, who, by Subscription or otherwise, assisted my late Husband, on the prosecution of the Said Undertaking, will be kindly pleased to continue their Favours and good Offices to this poor afflicted Widow and six small children and another hourly expected.

Over the next seven years, Elizabeth Timothy increased the quality of the newspaper. She not only included local news, but news from Boston, Newport, and Philadelphia and European news from London, Paris, and Constantinople. Many times she dedicated at least a full page of her four-page newspaper to advertising.

Benjamin Franklin praised her, stating that she was a better business manager and accountant than her late husband had been. He remarked in his Autobiography that while her husband was “a man of learning and honest, but ignorant in matters of account,” Mrs. Timothy:

not only sent me as clear a state as she could find of the transactions past, but continued to account with the greatest regularity and exactness every quarter afterwards, and managed the business with such success, that she not only brought up reputably a family of children, but, at the expiration of the term, was able to purchase of me the printing-house, and establish her son in it.

Elizabeth Timothy also took over her husband’s position as the official “public printer” for the colony of South Carolina. She printed acts, laws, and other proceedings for the Assembly of the colony of South Carolina. In addition to publishing the South-Carolina Gazette and government documents pretty much as her late husband did, she printed sermons and religious materials. She also published some 20 historical books and pamphlets between 1739 and 1745. She also was the postmaster for Charlestown, in charge of the postal deliveries of letters, packages, and newspapers.

1815 – Religion. Arrivals.  

Rev. John Bachman arrived in Charleston as minister of St. John’s Lutheran church, a position he held for the next fifty-six years.

Prior to his arrival, the church had been without a pastor for four years, and had depended on other protestant ministers to conduct services. The church totaled sixty-two members. Ailing from tuberculosis, Bachman had taken the position to live in the warmer, climate for his health. For the first year in Charleston, Bachman lived in the house of Col. Jacob Sass and joined the German Friendly Society.   

As a child, Bachman had been fascinated in the birds and mammals in his rural home, and had considered studying science in college, until the ministry called him. As he journeyed deeper into the lush semi-tropical landscape of the low-country, his scientific mind was instantly engaged. Next to his religious ministry, the study of the lowcountry’s natural history became Bachman’s lifelong obsession.

Today In Charleston History: December 30

1820 – Religion


Bishop John England

The Catholic Church in Rome created a new diocese out of the Carolinas and Georgia. The newly consecrated Bishop John England arrived in Charleston.  He discovered that conditions were most uninviting and unpromising in the new diocese, with Catholics scattered in little groups over these states. Most of the few in Charleston were very poor immigrants from Ireland or ruined refugees from San Domingo and their servants.

1874 – Births

Future mayor John Patrick Grace was born in Charleston. He grew up on Society Street and attended the High School of Charleston. All four of his grandparents were natives of Ireland.

mayor grace

John P. Grace

His most lasting accomplishment as mayor was the construction of the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, which spanned the Cooper River to connect Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. It replaced the ferry system had been used to that point and opened in 1929.

John P. Grace Memorial Bridge

John P. Grace Memorial Bridge