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 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.”

Today In Charleston History: October 25

1718 –Piracy  
col rhett and bonnet

Col. Rhett and Stede Bonnet

Some local merchants were nervous about the recently captured pirate, Stede Bonnet. They were afraid his testimony at his trial may link them to the buccaneer’s trade. Due to the lax security (and most likely a bribery of gold by merchant Richard Tookerman) at Capt. Partridge’s home, Stede Bonnet and David Herriot escaped. Bonnet disguised himself as a woman to escape undetected.

Accompanied by a slave and an Indian, they stole a small boat and planned to leave the harbor under cover of night and rendezvous with Moody’s ship, Cape Fear.  However, foul winds and lack of supplies forced the four of them onto Sullivan’s Island., where they cowered. Gov. Johnson at once placed a £700 bounty on Bonnet’s head and dispatched search teams to track him down, led by Col. William Rhett.



Charles Pinckney, son of Charles Pinckney, Junior and Francis Brewton Pickney, and cousin to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, was born in Charlestown. He would later sign the U.S. Constitution with his cousin.

Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney

Today In Charleston History: October 21

1718 – Piracy

 Governor Johnson wrote to the Commissioners of trade and expressed his apprehension that “the pirates who infest the coast in great numbers would be much irritated” at the actions of Col. Rhett. (Rhett had recently captured the pirate Stede Bonnet who had blockaded Charles Town harbor with Blackbeard.) Johnson again asked for a permanent vessel be sent for the protection of the Carolina coast.

col rhett and bonnet

Col. Rhett’s capture of Stede Bonnet

Almost immediately, word arrived that a pirate ship named Cape Fear, captained by Christopher Moody, was off the bar with a vessel carrying fifty guns and 200 men. Moody was infamous for giving “no quarter” (sparing of lives). The news spread across the city like wildfire.

The Council approved Johnson’s request to outfit four ships – the Mediterranean (twenty-four guns), the King William (thirty guns), the Sea Nymph (six guns) and, ironically, Stede Bonnet’s former pirate vessel, the Royal James, was outfitted to hunt down pirates. The Council asked for volunteers, promising them a share of all the booty that might be taken.

1779 – American Revolution

Henry Laurens was elected Minister to Holland by the Continental Congress. He was to procure a $10,000,000 loan to finance the war effort.

Today In Charleston History: September 12

1718 – Pirates!

Charles Town had been thrown into terror at reports of pirate ships off the coast. Governor Johnson Colonel gave a commission to Colonel William Rhett to organize an expedition to protect Charles Town against  Charles Vane, rumored to be in the area. Two sloops were pressed into service, the Sea Nymph (eight guns and seventy men) and the Henry (eight guns and sixty men.)

1743 – Religion. Slavery. 

Dr. Alexander Garden opened a free school for “educating Negro children,” with more than sixty pupils.


1766 – Backcountry

woodmason journalRev. Charles Woodmason returned from England, and was assigned to St. Mark’s Parish on the South Carolina frontier. It was rough country. The parish had a growing population, yet had few roads and even no amenities. Woodmason’s circuit included 26 regular, periodic stops in the parish. In two years he traveled 6,000 miles. He found very little in backcountry life to his liking. The people lived in open cabins “with hardly a Blanket to cover them, or Cloathing to cover their Nakedness.” Their diet consisted of “what in England is given to Hogs and Dogs” and he was forced to live likewise. He wrote:

They are very Poor – owing their extreme Indolence for they possess the finest Country in America, and could raise by ev’ry thing. They delight in their present low, lazy, sluttish, heathenish hellish Life and seem not desirous of changing it. Both Men and Women will do any thing to come at Liquor … rather than work for it – Hence their many Vices – their gross Licentiousness, Wantonness, Lasciviousness, Rudeness, Lewdness and Profligacy. They will commit the grossest Enormities, before my face, and laugh at all Admonition.

1925 – Culture

porgy_dustjacketDubose Heyward’s novel Porgy was published. The story of a crippled beggar on the streets of Charleston was notable because it was one of the first major novels written by a white Southerner through the viewpoint of black characters.  

During a dice game, Porgy witnesses a murder committed by a rough, sadistic man named Crown, who runs away from the police. During the next weeks, Porgy gives shelter to the murderer’s woman, the haunted Bess, in the rear courtyard of Catfish Row, a rundown tenement on the Charleston waterfront. Porgy and Bess fall in love. However, when Crown arrives to take Bess away Porgy kills him. He is taken in by police for questioning for ten days. He is released because the police do not believe a crippled beggar could have killed the powerful Crown. When Porgy returns to the Row, he discovers that while he was away Bess fell under the spell of the drug dealer Sportin’ Life and his “happy dus’.  She has followed Sportin’ Life to a new future in Savannah and Porgy is left alone brokenhearted.

1926 – Death. Culture. 

jenks001Edmond Thornton Jenkins died in Paris at age 32 from pnemonia, due to complications from surgery. The son of Rev. Daniel Jenkins, founder of the Jenkins Orphanage, Jenks (as he was called) had graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, was living in Paris as a musician, playing in jazz clubs and working as a composer.

Jenks’ former music professor at Morehouse College Benjamin Brawley stated:

Let us remember this: he not only knew music but at all times insisted on its integrity. For him there was no short cut to excellence. He wanted the classic and he was willing to work for it. He felt, moreover … that there was little creative work in the mere transcribing of Negro melodies. For him it was the business of a composer to compose, and he did so … The music of the Negro and of the world suffered signal loss in the early death of Edmund T. Jenkins of Charleston, South Carolina.