Today In Charleston History: July 26

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion. Executions

denmark_veseyThis was one the largest days of executions in Charleston history – twenty-two more conspirators hanged just north of “The Lines.” The entire city turned out for the Friday morning spectacle. There was such a large crowd and so much excitement that a small black boy was trampled to death.

The bodies of the convicted were given to the Medical College of South Carolina for dissection. The executed were:

  • Smart Anderson: Smart was a drayman who stole two muskets, hiding them on his cart to be used when the occasion arose. He claimed he was in the rebellion “as much as possible.”
  • Charles Billings: Worked in a commercial stables and planned to steal horses on the night of the rebellion. Claimed that he was “ready and willing” to do what needed to be done.
  • Jemmy Clement: Member of the A. M. E. Church
  • Jerry Cohen: One of the last arrested but claimed that if everyone involved was killed, he was “still willing to go on.”
  • Polydore Faber: Good friend of Gullah Jack. Faber was convicted of hiding at least twenty pike poles which were to be fitted with blades and used as weapons on the night of rebellion.
  • Julius Forrest: Claimed to have been “charmed” by Gullah Jack into joining the rebellion.
  • Lot Forrester: One of the most active of Denmark’s recruits. Worked at the State Arsenal and was able to steal a slow fuse to be used in setting fires throughout the city.
  • Jack Glenn: Although he was lame in both feet, he told Vesey he would serve as a horseman on the night of rebellion. He collected money about town to finance the plot.
  • Bacchus Hammett: Stole a keg of black powder, a sword and pistol for the rebellion. ON his way to gallows he shocked the white crowd by laughing and shouting good-byes to his acquaintance. Upon his execution, the mechanism failed, and he did not drop. According to a witness, Bacchus “threw himself forward, and as he swung back he lifted his feet, so that his knees might not touch the Board.” He was shot with a pistol by Captain Dove because he was taking so long to die dangling from the gallows.
  • Mingo Harth: He was a skilled laborer and worked at a lumberyard. Mingo hosted Bible study classes in his quarters in order to discuss the rebellion.
  • Joe Jore: Considered an invalid, Joe pledged to take a sword and fight on the night of rebellion.
  • Dean Mitchell: Assisted in collecting money to make spears and pikes.
  • Jack Purcell: One of Denmark’s first recruits. However, on the gallows he stated that “if it had not been for the cunning of that old villain, Vesey, I should not now be in my present situation.”
  • Adam Robertson: Participated in the ceremony where a chicken was eaten bloody by all present as a sign of their commitment to the rebellion.
  • John Robertson: Also participated in the chicken ceremony.
  • Robert Robertson: Helped conceal pikes and spears. Also, stole a pistol from his master.
  • Tom Russell: A blacksmith who forged pikeheads and spears as long as the group took up a collection to pay for the materials. Russell was also trained by Gullah Jack to be a sorcerer.
  • Dick Simms: Property of the family William Gilmore Simms, famous novelist of the time. Dick stole a pistol from his master for use during the rebellion.
  • Pharo Thompson: Pharo possessed a sword fashioned out of a scythe.
  • Adam Yates: Adam had the responsibility of leading the rural blacks into the city on the night of rebellion.
  • Bellisle Yates: Responsible for hiding some of the plantation blacks in the city during the night of rebellion.
  • Naphur Yates: Yates took an oath and swore that his “heart was in this business.” He claimed that his name had ordained him to be part of the rebellion since the word naphur is defined in the Bible as “purification fire”.

Charleston City Council urged restraint from anymore executions, due to the expense. Constable Belknap complained the city had spent $2284 “confining the accused in the Workhouse, erecting a Gallows and obtaining carts to carry the criminals to the place of execution.”

James Louis Petigru, also advised restraint stating,

“I am afraid you will hang half the country. You must take care and save negroes enough for the Rice crop.”

1831-Nullification

John C. Calhoun wrote a letter to the Pendleton Messenger openly avowing his nullification philosophy. 

1864-Bombardment of Charleston
Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones received a telegram from General Winder at Andersonville Prison in Georgia that 600 Union officers and soldiers were being sent to Charleston and that it would “continue … to all are sent.”

Today in Charleston History: July 12

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

Gullah Jack Prichard and John Horry were executed. Gullah Jack was accused of not only planning to massacre white Charlestonians, but also to have “endeavored to enlist on your behalf all the powers of darkness.”

During the trial Gullah Jack played the fool so much that some of the judges could not believe he was part of the rebellion.  However, as the trial progressed and six witnesses testified against him, Jack’s demeanor changed. He scowled and gave his accusers hard looks. He made motions and designs with his fingers until the judges admonished him for trying to bewitch the witnesses. From the Negro Plot, Gullah Jack was admonished.

In the prosecution of your wicked designed, you were not satisfied with resorting to natural and ordinary means, but endeavored to enlist on your behalf, all the powers of darkness, and employed for that purpose the most disgusting mummery and superstition. You represented yourself as invulnerable; that you could neither be taken nor destroyed, and all who fought under your banners would be invincible. Your boasted charms have not protected yourself, and of course could not protect others … You will shortly be consigned to the cold and silent grave, and all the powers of darkness cannot rescue you from your approaching fate.

Jack had to be “dragged forth to the scaffold … and gave his spirit up without firmness or composure.” Despite this second round of executions, the authorities saw no end in sight. Each new arrest led to more evidence “that the Conspiracy had spread wider and wider.”

1833

On his way for a tour of the Northeast, James Petigru met with Pres. Jackson at the White House and commented that “the old gentleman looked better than I expected.”

1923 – Jenkins Orphanage
Rev. Daniel Jenkins

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

Because he was a black man traveling across the country during the Jim Crow Era of America, Rev. Daniel Jenkins was forced to carry with him copies of a letter from the Charleston mayor as proof of his honorable character and intentions. The last sentence in the letter is particularly illustrative of the attitude most whites held toward blacks of this time.    

City of Charleston Executive Department, July 12, 1923 

To the Mayor, Board of Alderman and the Officials of any City in the United States

This is to certify that Rev. D. J. Jenkins, President and Founder of the Jenkins Orphanage of this city, has been conducting an orphanage for over thirty-two years, having since connected with it a reform school and industrial farm and a rescue home for girls only. Reports show that he had handled and trained over three thousand little Negro boys and girls. They have been sent here from all portions of the country to be reformed. This he had done practically entirely on voluntary contributions.

There are four brass bands connected with the work, known as the Jenkins Orphanage Bands. We would appreciate anything you may do for him in letting his boys give entertainments and play upon the public streets of your city. It is raising money for a purely charitable work on a small basis, and I will assure you that he has ever managed to keep the order and conduct of his bands so that they have not become a nuisance, but rather a pleasure for the citizens to hear them play.

Rev. Jenkins has a Board of leading white citizens to keep up with the accounts and advise whenever necessary.

Very respectfully,

JOHN P. GRACE

Mayor

Jenkins Orphanage Band, Author's Collection

Jenkins Orphanage Band postcard, Author’s Collection

Today In Charleston History: June 27

1712-Epidemic.

The Assembly passed an act “for the more effectual Preventing the Spreading of Contagious Distempers” and appointed Gilbert Guttery the first health commissioner. He was empowered to board any ship coming into the harbor and order anyone quarantined in the “pest house” on Sullivan’s Island, under penalty of fine or whipping for leaving.

1723 – Politics. 

     By the order of the Lords Justices the “Act for the Good Government of Charles Town” was repealed. Some folks say “good government” never returned.  

1767 – Revolutionary War.

The sloop Active was seized by Capt. James Hawker of HMS Sardoine. This was the initial incident that sparked a major contest between British authorities and the Carolina merchants – all because of the Townshend Acts and the sugar tax levied against the colonies.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

Monday Gell was arrested at his harness shop.

1864- Bombardment of Charleston

Gus Smythe wrote:

The Yankees are shelling as usual but nearly all their shells have fallen short. Yesterday, only two or three came in & they burst on the Bay.  There was also considerable firing at Sumter … the Yankee prisoners are in Mr. O’Conner’s house at the corner of Broad & Rutledge Sts. It is a splendid house & a delightful situation. They have a large yard & empty lot to walk in & the other day the Govt. sent round & had gas fixtures put up so that they might have light all at the expense of the Confederacy. Have plenty of money which they spend for coffee & sugar etc. It seems a shame to treat them so well.

 

O'Conner House, Broad Street

O’Conner House, Broad Street

 

Today In Charleston History: June 22

1663-Founding of Carolina

Capt. Robert Sandford, exploring the Carolina coast for Sir John Yeamans, sailed five miles up a “fair river” and came across “a canoe with two Indians.” They informed Sandford that this was the country of “Edistoh.”

1722

The city of Charlestown was incorporated by Governor Nicholson.

1769

In the Gazette, Christopher Gadsden wrote:

It seems amazing, and altogether unaccountable, that our mother country should take almost every means in her power, to drive her colonies to some desperate act; for what else could be the motive (besides oppressing them) of treating them with that contempt she upon all occasions affects to do?

1781-American Revolution

The American prisoners in the British ships in Charlestown harbor were exchanged, and sent to Philadelphia.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Frederick Wesner and Capt. William Dove arrested Denmark Vesey at the “house of one of his wives,” most likely his former wife Beck.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston
Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Samuel Jones

Gen. Sam Jones (CSA) angrily replied to Gen. Schimmelfenneg’s assertions that the bombardment was aimed at military targets:

The fire has been so singularly wild and inaccurate that no one who has ever witnessed it would suspect its object … the shells have been thrown at random, at any and all hours, day and night …

1917

 

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thorton Jenkins

Edmund Thornton Jenkins (Jenks) composition for grand organ and orchestra, Prelude Religieuse, was performed at the Queen’s Hall at the Royal Academy.  In a mere two years, Jenks had progressed to the point where his compositions were being performed at one of London’s leading concert halls. As the war raged across Europe, Jenks had something more important on his mind – his musical future.

Listen to one of Jenkins’ compositions, “Charlestonia: A Folk Rhapsody.” 

Today In Charleston History: June 20

1672

Lord Ashley Cooper wrote to Sir John Yeaman:

The Distinction of the Governor from the rest of our deputies is a thing rather of order than of overruling power, and he hath no more freedom thereby than any one of the council to swerve from these rules.

1695-Religion

Governor Joseph Blake gave £1000 sterling to the Independent (Congregationalist) Church.

1776-American Revolution. Battle of Ft. Sullivan

Gen. Clinton sent a brigade under Maj. Gen. Charles Cornwallis to pitch camp within sight of The Breach on Long Island (Isle of Palms). Cornwallis reported that the depth of The Breach at low tide, initially thought to be only half-a-yard, was in reality seven feet. Col. Willliam Moultrie had already stationed an Advance Guard of 400 men on the other side of the Breach to defend against the crossing, effectively stranding Cornwallis’s force.

1779-American Revolution. Battle of Stono Ferry

Under Lt. Col. John Maitland, the British had established their defenses at Stono Ferry, located on the Stono River. British troops were camped on one side with a detachment of Hessians camped on the other side.

The British rear guard force was attacked by Patriot forces under the command of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. Within a hour the Patriots had taken the British redoubts and the British and Hessian troops were falling back, with many causalities. The Patriots were on the verge of victory when fresh British reinforcements came up.

The Patriots attacked the Hessian camp and  immediately came under fire from a British galley in the Stono River. The Patriots returned fire on the ship, forcing it to withdraw from the fight. The South Carolina Navy schooner Rattlesnake came down the river and began to fire into the rear of the British and Hessian forces. They both turned from the Patriot force and fired upon the Rattlesnake. The Rattlesnake was able to repulse the attack, however, incurring heavy losses.

The American loss in the battle was 34 killed, 113 wounded and 155 missing. Among the dead was Hugh Jackson, brother of future President Andrew Jackson. The British casualties were 26 killed, 93 wounded and 1 missing.

Map drawn by British officer, 1780.

Map drawn by British officer, 1780.

1794-Slavery.

A writer named “Rusticus” wrote a letter to the editor about white anxiety over the presence Haitian slaves:

The circumstances which occasion’d their introduction gave new ideas to our slaves which the opportunities of conversation with the new comers could not fail to ripen into mischief. It may be perhaps true that the generality of those admitted were not immediately concerned in the revolt  – their hands were free from blood but they witnessed [sic] all the horrors of the scene – they saw the dawning hope of their countrymen to be free – the rapidity with which the flame of liberty spread among them …

1822-Slavery. Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

One of the incarcerated conspirators, most likely William Paul, finally broke down and identified Denmark Vesey as the “instigator and chief of the plot.” This set off an intense, frantic two-day long search of Charleston, from wharfs to streets and buildings.

Today In Charleston History: June 15

1737-Births
Rebecca Brewton Motte

Rebecca Brewton Motte

Rebecca Brewton, daughter of Robert Brewton, was born at her father’s house, 21 Church Street. She married Jacob Motte and later lived in her brother’s house at 27 King Street and live there with the British occupying force in 1780. 

1786-Natural Disasters

Fire swept down Broad Street, destroying fourteen buildings, including the state house.

1818-Slavery. Religion. Denmark Vesey Rebellion

In direct defiance of the City Council, Rev. Richard Allen (of Philadelpha) conducted a Sunday service in a private home for a blacks-only congregation. The city guard once again disrupted the service. Allen and his Philadelphia delegation were arrested and sentenced to “one month’s imprisonment, or to give security and leave the state.”

Allen and his group returned to Philadelphia under the threat of his arrest, but black religious services continued to be conducted in private homes at night, often conducted by Denmark Vesey.  Gullah Jack, however, was angered by what he called “the desecration of sacred ground” (the disruption of religious services), and claimed he “wanted to begin” to organize against the whites. 

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Watching the increased militia activity on the streets, and hearing of the arrests, Denmark Vesey and Monday Gell destroyed all incriminating letters and documents they had in their possession. Gullah Jack buried a small cache of gunpowder and weapons on the Buckley farm in the Charleston Neck. All three men then went into hiding.

Thomas_Bennett_JrGov. Bennett signed a General Order calling out Col. Croft’s 16th Regiment, the Washington Light Infantry, the Republican Artillery and the Charleston Neck Rangers. Bennett also requested the assistance of the federal government. He wrote to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native, about his “State of alarm and his inability to defend his city.” Bennett wrote that a show of federal force:

would tend not only to tranquilize the public mind, but produce the happiest effects upon that class of persons who have caused the present excitement.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston   

Gen. Foster notified General Henry Halleck, Army Chief of Staff, that:

The fire upon the city of Charleston had been somewhat increased, and had been continued night and day, at irregular intervals, the number of shots varying from 30 to 60 in ordinary firing.

Today In Charleston History: June 14

1751-Religion

Charlestown was divided into two Anglican parishes: St. Michael’s, south of Broad Street and St. Philip’s, north of Broad.

1774-American Revolution

Christopher Gadsden wrote to Sam Adams in Boston, assuring him that South Carolina would stand firm with Massachusetts, reminding him that South Carolina was the last to desert the non-importation agreement in 1770. He wrote:

For my part I would rather see my own family reduced to the utmost Extremity and half cut to pieces than to submit to their damned Machinations. 

(L) - Sam Adams. (R) - Christopher Gadsden

(L) – Sam Adams. (R) – Christopher Gadsden

1775-American Revolution – Continental Congress 

Edward Rutledge was appointed to a three-member committee to draft George Washington’s commission and instructions as commander of the Continental Army.  

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

George Wilson informed his master, Major John Wilson of 106 Broad Street, about the plot to kill whites, related to him by Rolla Bennett.

8:00 p.m.

Major Wilson informed Intendent (mayor) Hamilton that the governor’s slaves were involved in an insurrection planned for two nights hence – Sunday June 16. The story Wilson told was so similar to that of William Paul and Peter Prioleau that Hamilton and Governor Bennett had no choice but to believe it.

Just before midnight, Gov. Bennett ordered the arrest of ten slaves including Peter Poyas, Mingo Harth, and his own personal slaves, Rolla and Ned Bennett.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston  

Captured Union officers purposely placed in range of Federal guns at 180 Broad Street in an attempt to stop the bombardment of Charleston. The Charleston Mercury announced:

 For some time it has been known that a batch of Yankee prisoners, comprising the highest in rank now in our hands, were soon to be brought hither to share in the pleasures of the bombardment. These prisoners we understand will be furnished with comfortable quarters in that portion of the city most exposed to enemy fire. The commanding officer on Morris Island will be duly notified of the fact of their presence in the shelled district and if his batteries still continue at their wanton and barbarous work, it will be at the peril of the captive officers.’ 

The Charleston Daily Courier wrote:

We do not confine these prisoners in a fortress or a walled town or city, or thrust them forward in our battle as the Yankees do with the unfortunate negro … We place them in our city of Charleston, among and near our own wives and children …

Two views of the O'Conner House, 180 Broad Street, where Union officers were imprisoned within range of Federal guns.

Two views of the O’Conner House, 180 Broad Street, where Union officers were imprisoned within range of Federal guns.