Today In Charleston History: July 8

1779-American Revolution. Slavery

The legislature rejected “with horror” a Congressional recommendation that South Carolina “raise three thousand black soldiers.” Christopher Gadsden wrote that this “dangerous and impolitic Step … much disgusted us.” 

1781-British Occupation
Issac Hayne

Issac Hayne

Col. Issac Hayne was arrested by the British who came to rescue General Williamson. Lord Rawdon, living at Miles Brewton’s house on King Street, decided to make an example out of Hayne – to send the message to other men who swore allegiance to the British, but continued to fight for the Patriots. Without an official court martial, Rawdon ordered Hayne’s execution.

Hayne was held prisoner in the Provost dungeon of the Exchange building.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston   

Gus Smythe wrote to his mother:

The shells that are coming to us are the large ones, & they do make a pretty noise when they burst. Not every close to the Steeple however. The nearest have been in Chalmers St. This [St. Michael’s Church] is quite a lion now of the city, & every young lady who comes to town, must go up the Steeple. The view up here is beautiful, besides the interest one naturally takes in looking at the various batteries.


 The Board of Park Commissioners approved the name of the new park on the site of the Exposition. It was to be named in honor of Wade Hampton, former Civil War general and South Carolina governor.

Today In Charleston History: June 27


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     By the order of the Lords Justices the “Act for the Good Government of Charles Town” was repealed.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 9


“A Exact Prospect of Charlestown” an engraving based on a watercolor by Bishop Roberts, was printed in London and published in London Magazine.

An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, by Bishop Roberts

An Exact Prospect of Charlestown, by Bishop Roberts

1776-Battle of Ft. Sullivan-American Revolution

Learning of the construction of Ft. Sullivan, and the fact that the back (land) side of the fort was not completed, Sir Henry Clinton and 500 British soldiers landed on Long Island (present-day Isle of Palms) just north of Sullivan’s Island. Over the following days, Clinton increased his force on Long Island. His plan was to cross The Breach, an inlet between Long Island and Sullivan’s and attack the fort from its unfinished rear while Sir Peter Parker’s ships assaulted it from the sea.

 1818 – Religion-Slavery

Rev. Richard Allen, black minister from Philadelphia, conducted a service on Wednesday evening at the AME Church. The city guard was called out to break up the service. One hundred and forty black congregants were arrested – including Denmark Vesey, Peter Poyas, Monday Gell and Gullah Jack – and spent the night in jail. The next morning a judge lectured them on the particulars of the 1800 law that prohibited black religious meetings after dark with a black majority.

 1864-Bombardment of Charleston  

Gus Smythe, serving in the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston, wrote to his mother:

Well the Yankees have succeeded at last in hitting St. Michael’s Church. NOT the steeple, just the base of it. The shell entered the South roof of the church on Tuesday, but did not burst nor do much damage … I do not consider the charm as broken now even until the Steeple itself receives a scratch

Today In Charleston History: June 6

1713-Port Statistics

The leading exports of the year were:

  • 73,790 deerskins
  • 75 Indian slaves
  • 12,677 barrels of rice
  • 6617 barrels of pitch and tar
  • 661 barrels of turpentine
  • 1965 sides of leather
  • 1963 barrels of beef
1770 – Hurricane

A hurricane made landfall south of Charleston. According to the South Carolina Gazette: 

On Wednesday night last we had a most violent gale of wind … with heavy rains, which has done more damage to the shipping and wharfs (sic) of any that has happened here in the memory of oldest man living. (The hurricane in 1752 only excepted.) Mr. Lamboll’s bridge is destroyed, and the bathing house also; all the fortifications from thence to Craven’s is one continuous scene of ruins.  


Rev. John Tunnel was appointed by Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury to the Charleston Circuit. He continued to lead services in the Baptist Meeting House until one Sunday when they found the church boarded up and the benches tossed into the street.


The South Carolina Jockey Club purchased the sixty-three acres of the Washington Race Course for $5000.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston.  

Gus Smythe, on duty in St. Michael’s steeple for the Confederate Signal Corps, wrote to his sister Sue:

Yesterday they aimed at the Steeple & the shells flew round here thick & fast. Thirteen fell between Queen St. & St. Michael’s Alley yesterday after 12 … Two of these struck Hibernian Hall, one the Mills House, one the Court House, two fell here at the corner of Broad, two in the City Hall Square, & one in the Sunday School Union … It is miraculous that this Steeple has not yet been hit.

Hibernian Hall, cannon damage

Hibernian Hall, cannon damage

Court house and City Hall, across the street from St. Michael's Church

Court house and City Hall, across the street from St. Michael’s Church

Today In Charleston History: June 3

1812-War of 1812

John C. Calhoun introduced a bill in Congress supporting war against Great Britain. As chairmen of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Calhoun wrote, “The honor of a nation is its life. Deliberately to abandon it, is to commit an act of political suicide.” Calhoun was described as “the young Hercules who carried the war on his shoulders.” 

1850-Road to Secession.

One hundred seventy-six delegates from Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee, met at McKendree Methodist Church in Nashville for nine days to consider a possible course of action if the United States Congress decided to ban slavery in the new territories being added to the country as a result of Westward Expansion and the Mexican-American War. 


Robert Barnwell Rhett

With the death of John C. Calhoun in March 1850, radical secessionists, called “fire-eaters” including Robert Barnwell Rhett, Maxcy Gregg, James H. Adams, David F. Jamison, and Daniel Wallace, demanded that South Carolina secede, regardless of the course adopted by other slaveholding states. Cooperationists, meanwhile, professed their willingness to secede but argued that separate secession would leave South Carolina isolated and impotent. The fire-eaters were extreme advocates of southern rights. They walked out on the Nashville convention in 1850.

Most of this was in response to the Wilmot Proviso, a congressional proposal to ban slavery in the territory gained in the Mexican War, and the so-called Compromise of 1850, a series of measures maneuvered through Congress in an attempt to pacify both northern and southern interests. South Carolina secessionists brought their state to the brink of disunion but were disappointed by the growing acceptance of the Compromise of 1850 across the South. Procompromise Whigs and Democrats successfully played on party loyalty to wean southern states away from the notion of a southern party committed solely to the defense of slavery—a goal to which much of South Carolina was committed.

The convention adjourned without taking any action against the Union, and the issue of secession was temporarily tabled.

1864Bombardment of Charleston.

Gus Smythe, a member of the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston, wrote to his sister, Sarah Anne, about the Union shelling from his perch in St. Michael’s Church steeple:

They are now using a very heavy gun, & the roar of the shells as they fly on their path of destruction is really awful. One struck quite close to the Steeple this morning just as I left, in Broad Street, between King and Meeting … Strange that these shells never give me a moments thought now. I hear them coming & they all seem a matter of course, & I pay no attention to them at all.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: May 15


  Angelina Grimke Weld gave the closing speech at the convention of the American Anti-Slavery Society titled “Address to the Soldiers of our Second Revolution” in which she said:

This war is not, as the South falsely pretends, a war of races, not of sections, nor of political parties, but a war of Principles; a war upon the working classes, whether white or black, a war against Man, the world over … The nation is in a death-struggle. It must either become one vast slaveocracy of petty tyrants, or wholly the land of the free …

1864-Bombardment of Charleston.  

Gus Smythe, serving in the Confederate Signal Corps in Charleston wrote:

Just at the corner of Tradd & the Bay, as I was going to step on one end of a cellar door, a shell fell thro’ the other end, not three ft. from me, & burst down in the cellar, covering me with dirt & smoke, but leaving me unharmed.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: March 31

1850 – Death

John C. Calhoun, at the age of 68, died of tuberculosis at the Old Brick Capitol boarding house in Washington, D.C. He was buried at St. Philip’s Cemetery in Charleston. 

Calhoun served in South Carolina’s legislature and was elected to the United States House of Representatives serving three terms. In 1812, Calhoun and Henry Clay, two famous “warhawks”, who preferred war to the “putrescent pool of ignominous peace”, convinced the House to declare war on Great Britian.

From 1808 to 1810 an economic recession hit the United States and Calhoun realized that British policies were ruining the economy.

Calhoun's tomb in St. Philip's cemetery

Calhoun’s tomb in St. Philip’s cemetery

Calhoun served as Secretary of War under President James Monroe from 1817 to 1825 and ran for president in the 1824 election along with four others, John Q. Adams, Henry Clay, Crawford, and Andrew Jackson. However, Calhoun withdrew from the race, due to Jackson’s support, and ran for vice president unopposed.
Calhoun was vice president of the United States in 1824 under John Quincy Adams and was re-elected in 1828 under Andrew Jackson.

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Jackson supported the Tariff of 1828 which caused fierce opposition between the president and vice president. Because the tariffs benefited  the industrial North and hurt the slave-holding South, John C. Calhoun became the first vice president to resign. (On October 10, 1973 Vice President of the United States Spiro Agnew resigned after being charged with federal income tax evasion.)

Calhoun wrote an essay about this conflict, “The South Carolina Exposition and Protest”, in which he asserted nullification of federal laws, and in 1832 the South Carolina legislature did just that. The next year in the Senate Calhoun and Daniel Webster opposed each other over slavery and states’ rights in a famous debate. In 1844 President John Tyler appointed Calhoun secretary of state. In later years he was reelected to the Senate, where he supported the Texas Annexation and defeated the Wilmot Proviso.

In 1957, United States Senators honored Calhoun as one of the five greatest senators of all time.

1864-Bombardment of Charleston 

In a letter to his mother, Gus Smythe, look-out for the Confederate Signal Corps, wrote from the steeple of St. Michael’s Church:

Here am I on my lofty perch, behind a big telescope , looking out for any movements of the Yankees which may be of sufficient importance to send up to Gen. Jordan … My tour of duty to-night is from 1:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. & I have been on duty half the day … The worst difficulty is the trouble of getting up here, for it is no joke climbing up 150 feet … our place is in the upper piazza, above the clock. We have boarded it in, & bunks put in for us to sleep in so that we are tolerably comfortable, except when the wind blows thro’ the cracks  of the boards at a great & there is always a wind up here.

Gus Smythe

Gus Smythe

Today In Charleston History: October 22


Henry Middleton served as second president of the Continental Congress.

1862 – Civil War

Gus Smythe enlisted in the Signal Corps in Charleston and reported to Capt. Joseph Manigault. He wrote to his Aunt Janey:

I have not yet been assigned to any station, but trust to be kept at the Bathing House [South Battery] … As to accommodations, they are MUCH better than in camp, as we (in town) all stay in houses …


View of Charleston from Ft. Wagner

View of Charleston from Ft. Wagner

1925 – Doin’ the Charleston

One of the clubs that challenged the Cotton Club in popularity was Small’s Paradise. Ed Smalls was born in Charleston and moved to New York as a young man. Charleston legend claims that he was kin to the legendary Robert Smalls, an African slave who, during the Civil War, stole a steamer in Charleston harbor and delivered it to the Union navy. Untrue.

Another legend states that Ed Smalls was also related to the notorious Sammy Smalls, “Goat Cart Sam,” a crippled beggar who was often seen drunk on the streets of Charleston being pulled around in a goat cart. Sam usually frequented gambling saloons and whorehouses. “Goat Cart Sam” was about to become a legendary and universal character known as Porgy, the title character of Dubose Heyward’s lyrical novel of black life in Charleston. Also untrue.

Ed Smalls opened Small’s Paradise on October 22, 1925. It was housed in a large basement at 2294½ Seventh Avenue at 135th Street and could accommodate 1500 patrons. It offered extravagant floor shows and the Charlie Johnson Orchestra played the hottest jazz music in Harlem. The Paradise also featured a slew of flamboyant, Charleston-dancing gay waiters who served Chinese food and bootleg liquor to the small tables. During those early years, the Charlie Johnson Orchestra featured two former Jenkins Orphanage trumpet players: Gus Aiken and Jabbo Smith, who had just recently “escaped” from the orphanage.


Smalls Paradise, New York City. Author’s Collection