Today In Charleston History: May 2


In a letter to a friend, Eliza Lucas wrote:

Charles Town … is a polite, agreeable place. The people live very Gentile and very much in the English taste … there is two worthy Ladies in Charles town, Mrs. Pinckney and Mrs. Cleland, who are partial enough to me to be always pleased to have me with them and insist upon my making their houses my home with in town. [Note: the Pinckney house was on Union, (now State) Street.]

1780-The Seige of Charlestown.

Loyalist Maj. Patrick Ferguson and sixty American Volunteers marched to Haddrell’s Point to attack a small fort that stood on a causeway that led to Fort Moultrie. The fort, about 150 yards from the mainland, was defended by Capt. John Williams and twenty soldiers of the South Carolina 1st Regiment. The British took the fort while the cannons from Fort Moultrie fired on them until dark. The British soon fortified the fort for a possible attack.


Monday, May 2, 1791

Washington had breakfast at Snee Farm, the home of Gov. Charles Pinckney. Pinckney apologized for the house, calling the home “a place so indifferently furnished and where your fare will be entirely that of a farm.”

After breakfast Washington crossed into Charleston from Haddrell’s Point which was the eastern terminus of the ferry. Washington was rowed across the river on a large barge by “12 American Captains of Ships, most elegantly dressed.” He noted:

 There were a great number of boats and barges on the river filled with Gentlemen and Ladies, as well as two boats of musicians, all of whom attended Washington across the river.

Washington was greeted at the Point by city recorder John Bee Holmes, and Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and Edward Rutledge. A month after the meeting Washington offered Pinckney and Rutledge a seat on the Supreme Court, a seat that had recently been vacated by Edward’s brother, John Rutledge. Both men declined due to family finances.

Once in Charleston Washington was greeted by Lt. Gov. Isaac Holmes, Charleston intendant (mayor) Arnoldus Vanderhorst, and S. Carolina’s two U.S. Senators – Pierce Butler and Ralph Izard. The president was greeted at the Exchange Building where he stood on the balcony facing East Bay Street and watched a “procession in his honor to whom he politely and gracefully bowed as they passed in review before him.”

Washington was then taken to his lodgings on Church Street (Heyward-Washington House) where he was attended by several of Mr. Heyward’s servants.


Thomas Heyward’s house @ 87 Church Street, where George slept. 

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion.

During a midnight meeting at his house on Bull Street, Denmark Vesey, a free black carpenter, told the gathered crowd that:

we were going to have a war and fight the white people … those that did not join must be regarded as an enemy and put to death. Who made you – God – and then aren’t you just as good as your master, if God made him & you, aren’t you as free?

 During the meeting Vesey set Sunday, July 14 as the date of the revolution. Why Sunday? On Sunday, thousands of people came into Charleston by river for worship services or to sell and purchase goods at the Public Market. The blacks recruited for the revolution were instructed to bring “their hoes, hatchets, axes and spades, which might be used as offensive weapons, or as instruments to break open doors.” The leaders of the Rebellion were:

  • Ned Bennett: A trusted and loved slave in the household of Governor Thomas Bennett who lived at 19 Lynch Street (now Ashley Avenue), less than three blocks from Denmark’s home. On the night of the revolt, Ned’s job was to seize the State Arsenal and distribute the weapons, which included more than 200 muskets, bayonets and swords.
  • Rolla Bennett: Also a slave in service of Governor Bennett. Although Rolla admitted that governor treated him like a son, he volunteered to murder his master and his family on the night of the rebellion.
  • Batteau Bennett: Yet another trusted slave in the house of the governor. Batteau claimed he would rather murder his master or die violently resisting than continue his life as a privileged slave.
  • Monday Gell: Monday’s master, John Gell, owned a livery stable at 127 Church Street and regarded his slave as intelligent and dependable. Monday was an excellent harness maker and his master hired him out to a shop on Meeting street, letting his slave keep a portion of the earnings for himself.
  • Bacchus Hammett: An early and eager convert to Denmark’s vision. He stole a keg of gunpowder which was hidden for weeks at Denmark’s house.
  • Peter Poyas: A ship’s carpenter who “wrote in a good hand” and owned by James Poyas lived at 49 King Street and operated a shipyard on Bay Street. Peter had his own weapons and agreed with Denmark that “we are obliged to revolt.” Poyas may have been more eager than Denmark for the rebellion to take place. He often urged Denmark that “we cannot go on like this.”
Thomas Tudor Tucker

Thomas Tudor Tucker

Thomas Tudor Tucker, a Charleston native, died in office as the Treasurer of the United States, a position he held for 26 years. He also was President James Madison’s personal physician.


Rev.  Daniel Jenkins, who operated the Jenkins Orphanage House, received a telegram from Jules Hurtig that read “Bring with you the best musicians you have of small boys.

Hurtig was a booking agent on Broadway. He had seen a production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in which the Jenkins Orphanage Band played a role. Hurtig was quick to realize the band’s commerical potential. He was also responsible for supplying American acts for Anglo-American Exposition, scheduled to be held in London, and he thought the Jenkins Bands would be a major draw.

Jenkins Orphanage Band "The Pickaninny Bands"

Jenkins Orphanage Band at the Anglo-American Expo in London.

Hurtig offered Rev. Jenkins a contract that paid $100 a week for a ten-week engagement, in addition to new uniforms for the band, all transportation and board for the band and caretakers. Jenkins agreed immediately. He was smart enough to bring more than just “young boys” to the Expo. The band would be performing a rigorous five hour program each day in London, on a regular stage in front of thousands of people, so Jenkins decided to bring several of his older, more accomplished and seasoned players in their late teens. He recognized that this was the most significant opportunity for the Jenkins Band to prove they were a serious musical entity. 

doin' the charlestonFor the entire story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band history, read Doin’ The Charleston.

Today In Charleston History: April 23


King Charles II bestowed upon Anthony Ashley Cooper the titles, Earl of Shaftesbury and Baron Cooper of Paulet.  

1780-The Siege of Charlestown.
Siege of Charlestown

Siege of Charlestown

The British were close enough to “easily throw a stone” into the American line trenches north of Boundary Street.  Rifle fire was added to siege, in addition to the artillery barrage. 


Capt. Joseph Vesey returned to Haiti with another cargo of slaves. He was informed that his former “pet”, Telemaque, was suffering from “epileptic fits” and a doctor had “certified that the lad was unwell.” His sale was “thereupon cancelled,” meaning that Vesey was forced to repurchase the boy, and was surprised to find that within a few months, the boy had become proficient in the French language.

Vesey put Telemaque back to work again as his cabin boy and miraculously, the epileptic fits ceased as soon as they sailed from Haiti. Vesey must have seen this as more proof of the boy’s intelligence and cleverness, and decided he would be more valuable as his personal servant.

1840 – Marriage

Mary Boykin Miller married James Chesnut, Jr., who was from one of the wealthiest families in the South. The Chesnut family owned 448 slaves and plantations totaling nearly five square miles.


Today In Charleston: January 25


Andrew Rutledge married Sarah Hext, widow of Hugh Hext, one of the richest men in South Carolina. Hext left Sarah a plantation in Christ Church on the Wando Neck and twenty-three slaves. His other holdings were left as a legacy for his eight-year daughter, Sarah, to inherit when she turned twenty-one or upon her marriage, whichever came first. They included: two houses in Charlestown, a 550-acre plantation at Stono and a 640-acre plantation at St. Helena (Beaufort).


Major Pierce Butler of the British Army married Mary Middleton. She was heiress to a vast fortune, the orphaned daughter of Thomas Middleton, a South Carolina planter and slave importer. Two years later Butler resigned his commission in the British Army and settled with Mary in South Carolina.

Pierce Butler

Pierce Butler

The War for Independence cost him much of his property, and his finances were so precarious for a time that he was forced to travel to Amsterdam to seek a personal loan. Butler won election to both the Continental Congress (1787-88) and the Constitutional Convention. In the latter assembly, he was an outspoken nationalist who attended practically every session and was a key spokesman for the Madison-Wilson caucus. Butler also supported the interests of southern slaveholders. He served on the Committee on Postponed Matters. He was one of the four signers of the Constitution from South Carolina. 

His later career was spent as a wealthy planter. In his last years, he moved to Philadelphia, apparently to be near a daughter who had married a local physician. Butler died there in 1822 at the age of 77 and was buried in the yard of Christ Church.


Today In Charleston History: January 22


The Columbian Herald called for drastic measures to prevent burglaries and robberies:

The danger which threatens the inhabitants from a gang of villains who now actually invest this city [Charleston], calls loudly for an extraordinary exertion of the police, but also of the inhabitants themselves. – It were to be wished that voluntary associations might be entered into to patrol the streets, guard the property of citizens, detect the villains, and bring them to condign punishment.

1800 – Slavery.

 The newly freed slave, Telemaque, now called Denmark, chose his former owner’s surname as his own, Vesey. Most freedmen chose a name that cut their ties with their former owners. Denmark, however, knew that making his living in Charleston would be hard enough and the linguistic association with a prominent white man’s name would give him a better chance to make his way in the city. 

He was unable to purchase freedom for his wife, Beck and their three children. He was also not allowed as a free black to live in the home of his wife’s master. Due to Charleston’s growth, city expansion and ship building Denmark began to make his living as a carpenter in Charleston. A Freeman carpenter could earn a respectable $1.50 per day so Vesey apprenticed himself to a “free black” carpenter named Saby Gaillard, who lived at 2 Wentworth Street.

Vesey “soon became much respected and esteem’d by de white folks … distinguished for his great strength and activity.”

vesey statue copy

Denmark Vesey statue @ Hampton Park, Charleston


Today In Charleston History: December 31


By the end of the year the city had completed a hospital on “an acre of … Land called the old Burying Ground, lying on the back Part of Charles Town” – along Mazyck Street (now Logan). The hospital would also serve as a “Workhouse and House of Correction.”  

1781 –England, Tower of London

Henry Laurens was released from the Tower, in exchange for Lord Cornwallis and the payment of £12,000. Edward Rutledge had forcefully argued against Cornwallis’ release. Most South Carolina patriots blamed Cornwallis for the wholesale murder and plundering across the state. Rutledge wrote that Cornwallis should be “held a Prisoner for Life … because he was a Monster and an Enemy to Humanity.”

On the day of his release Laurens wrote:

On the 31st of December, being, as I had long been, in an extreme ill state of health, unable to rise from my bed, I was carried out of the Tower to the presence of the Lord Chief Justice of England, and admitted to bail “to appear at the court of king’s bench on the first day of Easter term, and not to depart thence without leave of the court.

Laurens immediately sent for his daughters to join him from France in London. He then went for several weeks to recuperate with the waters of Bath. 

Tower of London; Laurens marker. Photo by author.

Tower of London; Laurens marker. Photos by Mark R. Jones.

1799 – Slavery, Denmark Vesey Rebellion

On the last day of the 18th century, Denmark Vesey handed over one-third of his earnings from the lottery. In return he was handed his manumission papers, signed by Capt. Joseph Vesey. To Denmark the future looked bright. As Archibald Grimke, a Charleston mulatto and Denmark’s first biographer, wrote, Vesey was:

In possession of a fairly good education – was able to read and write, and to speak with fluency the French and English languages … [and had] obtained a wealth of valuable experience.  

At that time, the total free black population in South Carolina was 3,185, the majority of them being of mixed race ancestry – called Browns.  After being a dark-skinned slave for seventeen years in Charleston, Denmark, at thirty-three years of age, entered the 19th century as a free black man.

1864 – Civil War    
pgt beaureard

P.G.T. Beauregard

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard left Charleston to inspect what was left of Gen. Hood’s army in Georgia. Gen. Hardee’s Georgia troops withdrew into South Carolina. Beauregard ordered:

You will apply to the defense of Charleston the same principle applied to that of Savannah – that is, defend it as long as compatible with the safety of your forces … The fall of Charleston would necessarily be a terrible blow to the Confederacy, but its fall with the loss of its brave garrison would be still more fatal to our cause.

      Gen. Willliam T. Sherman communicated with Admiral Porter off the North Carolina coast, “The President’s anxiety to take Charleston may induce Grant to order me to operate on Charleston.”


Today In Charleston History: November 9

1799 – Slavery

The Charleston City Gazette announced that the “Thirteenth Day’s Drawing” of the East Bay Lottery was ticket #1884. The top prize was $1500. The holder of the wining ticket was a slave named Denmark Vesey, who presented the ticket to his master, Capt. Joseph Vesey. Capt. Vesey agreed to allow Denmark to purchase his freedom for $600.

vesey statue copy

Today In Charleston History: October 9


Capt. Joseph Vesey imported “3000 Gallons of rum and 1 Negroe Woman from Guadaloupe on the brig Le Vigilant.”

By this time Vesey’s manservant, Telemaque, as he was known in the African population, had been taught to read by his master and was an important part of Vesey’s business. Telemaque realized city slaves had larger freedom of movement than those living on plantations. More than half of Telemaque days were spent apart from his Master’s house and business, a freedom of movement enjoyed by a majority of the slaves in Charlestown.  As Frederick Douglass wrote, “A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation.”

Through the years Telemaque became fluent in French, English, and Gullah, the common language among the slaves, born out of a diverse linguistic pool. His formal name was difficult for most Africans to pronounce, so it had been simply shortened to a nickname, “Telmak.” 

1886, Natural Disaster – Charleston Earthquake

Forty days after the earthquake, mass food distribution by the Earthquake Relief Committee (ERC) to the citizens of Charleston ended. There were less than 300 people in need, who were cared for by other charities.

eq - harpers illustrations

Harper’s Weekly – images of Charleston relief efforts

Today In Charleston History: September 30

1745 – Weather Obersvations

Dr. John Lining noted in a letter that “in the summer the shaded air of about 2 or 3 in the afternoon is frequently between 90 and 95 degrees.”

1799 – Slavery

Capt. Joseph Vesey’s manservant Telemaque (Telmak, or “Denmark” as he now preferred to be called) purchased an East Bay Lottery ticket #1884. 

1926 – Deaths

The funeral for Edmund Thornton Jenkins was held in Charleston on a Thursday at the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church on Palmetto Street. The Jenkins Orphanage Band marched through the Humane Friendly Cemetery and played a dirge at the gravesite. Jenks was buried next to his mother, Lena Jenkins.

In July Jenks had undergone surgery for appendicitis. After being returned to his bed he fell onto the floor sometime during the night where he remained undiscovered for several hours. He contracted pneumonia and his condition worsened. For some reason he had been released from the hospital and died at home on September 12.  The American consul in Paris cabled Rev. Jenkins to inform him of his son’s death. The six hundred dollar cost of having his body embalmed and shipped to America was paid by Rev. Jenkins.

jenks cemetery


The world premiere performance Porgy and Bess took place at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. This was the traditional out-of-town performance for any show headed for Broadway.

17b. porgy and bess (loc) blank pg. 170

Original Broadway cast of “Porgy and Bess.”

Today In Charleston History: September 16

1706 – Queen Anne’s War.

A joint French and Spanish attack upon Charles Town during Queen Anne’s War was repulsed when Colonial forces capture a French vessel and it crew. Governor Nathaniel Johnson and Lieutenant Colonel William Rhett lead the successful defense of Charles Town against a combined force of Spanish, French, and Native American combatants who sailed into Charleston harbor from St. Augustine.

1781 – Slavery. Denmark Vesey.

Capt. Joseph Vesey of Charles Town purchased 390 slaves in St. Domingue. One of the slaves he purchased was a young boy “about 14 years old” named Telemaque. Vesey also noted the boy had a “beauty, alertness and intelligence.”  Instead of keeping the boy chained below decks Vesey”adopted the boy as the “ship’s pet and plaything.” Vesey gave the boy a new set of clothes and used him as his cabin boy.

vesey statue copyWhen the ship arrived at Cap Francois, Haiti, Vesey decided he “had no use of the boy” and turned him over to the slave agents Lory, Plomard and Compagnie. Little did he know that young boy would become a constant feature of his life for the next 30 years, and ultimately … for the next 200 years.