Today In Charleston History: May 23

1788-Constitution Ratified

Presided by Gov. Thomas Pinckney, the South Carolina Legislature ratified the U.S. Constitution by a vote of 149-73, the eighth state to do so. Voting was divided among the lowcountry planters and merchants for ratification and the backcountry farmers against.  Christopher Gadsden was “stuck with amazement” by the document. 


The new Independent Church opened for public worship. Due to demand for pews, a new church was needed at the Meeting Street location. During the two years of demolition (of the old building) and construction, the congregation worshiped at South Carolina Society Hall (72 Meeting Street).

Meeting Street view of the 1806 Circular Church

Meeting Street view of the Circular Church

The new church was opulent, costing $60,000. It featured a round auditorium with a copper roof, a steeple sixty feet high and could seat up to 2000 people. A portico of six columns stood over the sidewalk. The entire church was lit by candles, which took the sexton more than two hours to light and extinguish.

Robert Mills

Robert Mills

The church was designed by local architect, Robert Mills. Church member, Dr. David Ramsay, suggested in his writings that the new church be circular in form, crediting the idea from drawings done by his wife, Martha. Due to its shape, the church acquired the popular title, “Circular Church.” 

       A visiting minister, Rev. Abiel Abott, wrote about the new church:

The most extraordinary building on some accounts, I presume to say, in the United States … It was built of Carolina brick with a flagged pavement, the aisles broad … & carpeted to prevent echo – the Pulpit at the East end … It is beyond all comparison, the most difficult to fill with a human voice that I have ever seen & is said to be the coldest house in the winder in this city & the hottest in the summer.

Detractors of the church also made fun of the undersized steeple for such a magnificent building, creating a popular rhyme:

Charleston is a pious place and full of pious people

They built a house on Meeting Street but could not raise a steeple

In 1838 the rhyme became passe when a New England-style steeple that towered 182 feet above Meeting Street was constructed. 

Photo of  Meeting Street with 1806 version of Circular Church steeple and portico and SC Institute Hall, c  1860.

Photo of Meeting Street of Circular Church steeple and portico and SC Institute Hall, c 1860.


In the case State vs. Rebecca Solomons, Aaron Solomons, Nancy McDowall claimed that Rebecca Solomons, her husband Aaron and her son Shane had attacked her. She claimed that Mr. and Mrs. Solomon threw brickbats at her in her yard, cutting her head. She also claimed that Shane then threw a dead fowl at her and hit her in the face. Mrs. McDowall threw back the fowl and called Mrs. Solomons “a damned Jew bitch.”

The court refused to return an indictment.

Today In Charleston History: May 8

1734 – Culture – Poetry

In a letter in the Gazette, a writer commented on an affair between an elderly gentleman and a young lady with a poem:

In this our Town I’ve heard some Youngsters say

That cold December does make Love to May

This may be true, that warm’d by youthful charms

He thinks of Spring, when melting in her arms

As trees, when crown’d with blossoms white as snow

May feel the heat, and yet no life below

1780-The Siege of Charlestown.

After several weeks under siege, living conditions in Charlestown were becoming grim. Colonel Grimke recorded, “no more Meat served out.” Gen. Lincoln convened the war council within the Horn Work to discuss Sir Clinton’s new summons of surrender. A 24-hour cease fire was ordered for the Americans to consider the offer.

Gen. Moultrie welcomed the cease fire. He wrote that fatigue “was so great, for want of sleep, that many faces were so swelled they could scarcely see out of their eyes.” Many of the militia:

Looked upon all the business as settled, and without orders, took up their baggage and walked into town, leaving the lines quite defenceless.

Sixty-one officers composed the war council that met with Gen. Lincoln. A vote of 49-12 favored offering surrender terms to the British. The twelve dissenters included Col. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Lt. Col. John Laurens, natives of the city. Lincoln ordered the officers to draw up articles for surrender, which was sent to Sir Clinton that night.

1781-American Revolution. 
Francis Marion

Francis Marion

General Nathanael Greene returned to South Carolina with his Continental Army, and reinforced General Francis Marion’s brigade with Lt. Col. Henry “Light Horse” Harry Lee and his Legion. The task of this combined force was to capture and destroy the line of British forts that protected communications and supplies between Charlestown and the interior of South Carolina. Fort Motte was one of those.

Fearing that British reinforcements were on the way, Marion and Lee decided to attack at once. Ft. Motte was put under siege. Rebecca and her family were ordered to the nearby overseer’s cottage for safety.


May 8, 1791
Gen. William Moultrie

Gen. William Moultrie

 President Washington spent the Sunday in Charleston attending crowded churches” in the morning (St. Michael’s) and evening (St. Philip’s).

His evening meal was with Gen. William Moultrie.


Dr. David Ramsay died at 7 a.m. from his wounds at the hand of William Linnen. He was buried at the Circular Congregational Church next to his wife, Martha.

Ramsay grave, Circular Church graveyard

Ramsay grave, Circular Church graveyard

Today In Charleston History: May 6

1766-Stamp Act. American Revolution – Foundations.

News reached Charlestown that Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act. The city celebrated by ringing church bells and burning bonfires. Lt. Gov. Bull hosted “a very elegant entertainment” at Dillon’s Tavern for the Council and Assembly.

The Assembly voted £1000 sterling for a marble statue of William Pitt in gratitude of his exertions for the repeal of the Stamp Act. They also voted to appropriate funds for portraits of Gadsden, John Rutledge and Thomas Lynch to be displayed in the Assembly room in recognition of their service during the Stamp Act Congress.

Liberty Tree marker on Alexander Street

Liberty Tree marker on Alexander Street

They also learned that Parliament passed the Declaratory Act which stated that Parliament’s authority was the same in America as in Britain – their laws were as binding on the American colonies as in England. That night, Christopher Gadsden gave a speech under the great oak tree in Mr. Mazyck’s cow pasture. He:

harangued them at considerable length on the folly of relaxing their opposition and vigilance, or of indulging in the fallacious hope that Great Britain would relinquish their designs and pretensions.

Gadsden cautioned not to rejoice in the repeal of the Stamp Act, because the Declaratory Act was a threat to the liberty of all Americans. From that night onward, the oak was called the Liberty Tree. At the end of the meeting the men gathered hands around the tree and swore resistance to future tyranny. 

1780-The Seige of Charlestown

Knowing of the extreme conditions within the city, Sir Clinton was frustrated by the American resistance. He wrote, “I begin to think these people will be Blockheads enough to wait the assault.”


May 6, 1791

Washington toured the town on horseback for most of the day, riding up and down most of the principal streets. Sometime during the day Washington stopped to observe the work on rebuilding of the State House and talk with the supervising architect, James Hoban.

Charleston  courthouse- Old  _large

Charleston County Courthouse, formerly the State House.

Washington had recently been given the duty by Congress to build “the President’s House” (later called the White House) in D.C. Hoban was given the job by Washington to design and supervise the construction of the White House. 

The evening meal was at Sen. Pierce Butler’s home and then a party at Gov. Pinckney’s home.

the alstons

Joseph Alston and Theodsia Burr Alston

Vice-president Aaron Burr arrived in Charleston for the birth of his grandson. His daughter, Theodosia, was married to Joseph Alston. His carriage was floated across the Cooper River from Mt. Pleasant to Charleston. The Charleston Times wrote,

“The Vice-President of the United States is expected in town, this evening. The Federalist Artillery Company have orders to salute him on his landing.”


On a Saturday afternoon, David Ramsay strolled down Broad Street, on his way home. He passed William Linnen who was standing behind the columns of St. Michael’s Church. Linnen stepped out and “took a large horseman’s pistol … and shot the doctor in the back.”

According to one source:

Having been carried home, and being surrounded by a crowd of anxious citizens, after first calling their attention to what he was about to utter, he said ‘I know not if these wounds be mortal; I am not afraid to die; but should that be my fate, I call on all here present to bear witness, that I consider the unfortunate perpetrator of this deed a lunatic, and free from guilt.’

Dr. David Ramsay

Dr. David Ramsay

One month previously, Dr. David Ramsay had been appointed by the court to examine William Linnen, a tailor known for serial litigation and nuisance suits against lawyers, judges and juries.  After Linnen had attempted to murder his attorney Ramsay examined Linnen and reported to the court that he was “deranged and that it would be dangerous to let him go at large.” After apparently regaining his sanity, Linnen was released. Though he had threatened Ramsay, the doctor did not take the threat seriously.

Today In Charleston History: April 18

1780-The Siege of Charlestown

Gen. Clinton ordered 2300 British troops to Mt. Pleasant, in order to control the eastern side of the Cooper River. He named Lt. General Cornwallis commander of that force.

Dr. David Ramsay

Dr. David Ramsay

Dr. David Ramsay was appointed by the court to examine William Linnen, a tailor known for serial litigation and nuisance suits against lawyers, judges and juries.  After Linnen had attempted to murder his attorney Ramsay examined Linnen and reported to the court that he was “deranged and that it would be dangerous to let him go at large.”After apparently regaining his sanity, Linnen was released and threatened Ramsay. The doctor did not take the threat seriously.


The first professional baseball game in Charleston took place on the new baseball field at Hampton Park.


The City of Charleston paid $75,000 for the forty-three acre West Point Rice Mill site.  The property became the heart of a series of projects to be funded by the federal government. Each of these schemes proposed reuse of the main mill building, and it was preserved from demolition.


West Point Mill

Today In Charleston History: January 28

1787 – Marriage

Dr. David Ramsay married Martha Laurens.

Ramsay had been married twice, and tragically lost both wives within a year of being married. Martha was the beloved daughter of Henry Laurens, former President of Continental Congress, and the first American imprisoned in the Tower of London (he was arrested by the British while acting as an agent for Congress raising funds for the Revolution in Europe.) Ramsay met Martha while he was researching his History of the Revolution of South Carolina. 

1861 – Secession 
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

P.G.T. Beauregard was removed as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was the shortest tenure of any superintendent – five days. His orders were revoked when his native Louisiana seceded from the Union. Beauregard protested to the War Department that they had cast “improper reflection upon [his] reputation or position in the Corps of Engineers” by forcing him out as a Southern officer before any hostilities began.

Within a month he resigned his commission and became the first Brigadier General of the Confederate Army. He served in Charleston and ordered the firsts shots of the War be fired at Fort Sumter. 

1866 – Civil War

The melted fragments of St. Michael’s bells were shipped to England by Fraser, Trenholm and Company. 

The bells for St. Michael’s were cast in 1764, by Lester & Pack in London. When the British evacuated Charleston in 1782 as part of their plunder, the eight bells of St. Michael’s were taken back to England. Shortly afterward, a merchant in London secured the bells and returned them to a grateful Charleston. 


st. michael's - postcard

St. Michael’s Church

In 1864, when Sherman made his march through the South Carolina, Charleston expected to be in his path, so the bells were sent to Columbia for safe-keeping.  Sherman by passed Charleston and burned Columbia, the state capital. The shed in which the bells were stored was burned and the bells were reduced into molten slag. The metal was salvaged and the bells were sent to London to be recast by Lester & Pack – today in history.The bells were returned in 1868 and resumed their place in the church.

In 1989, the bells were damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They once again were shipped to London for repair. They can be heard chiming in Charleston today on an hourly basis.

Today In Charleston History: October 1

1768 – American Revolution – Foundations.

The mechanics in Charles Town nominated candidates for election who opposed the Quartering Act, Stamp Act and Sugar Act. Led by Christopher Gadsden they met at the Liberty Tree “where many loyal, patriotic, and constitutional toasts were drank.” In honor of John Wilkes’ North Briton No. 45 the Liberty Tree was decorated with forty-five lights and forty-five rockets were fired. The company marched to Dillon’s Tavern where there were:

45 lights … upon the table, with 45 bowls of punch, 45 bottles of wine, and 92 glasses.  They spent a few hours in a new round of toasts.

map 1762, bishop

Charles Town, circa 1762


 The South Carolina Legislature voted 51-47 against West Indian slave trade ban. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney argued that South Carolina was not suited for supporting small white farmers because the land “was not capable of being cultivated by white men” – a reference to the unhealthy swamp lands of the low country. 

Alexander Gillon, Edward Rutledge and David Ramsay voted for the trade ban. Ramsay stated “that every man [who] went to church last Sunday, and said his prayers, was bound by a spiritual obligation to refuse the importation of slaves.”