Today In Charleston History: June 11

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens returned from his internship London and opened an import and export business. Through his English contacts, Laurens entered into the slave trade with the Grant, Oswald & Company who controlled 18th century British slave castle in the Republic of Sierra Leone, West Africa known as Bunce Castle. Laurens contracted to receive slaves from the “rice coast” of Serra Leone, catalogue and market the human product by conducting public auctions in Charles Town. His company Austin and Laurens, in the 1750s, handled was responsible for the sales of more than eight thousand Africans

1754-Slavery. Executions

Two female slaves of Mr. Childermas Croft were burned alive for setting fire to their master’s main house and several plantation outbuildings in Charleston.

1766- Arrivals

 New royal governor, twenty-five year old Charles Genville Montagu, Duke of Cumberland, arrived. He presented a petition directing the Assembly to pay former Governor Boone’s salary for two and a half years. Montagu Street and Cumberland Street in Charleston are named after him. 

While in Charlestown, Montagu lived in the home owned by Charles and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who were living in England at the time. The Pinckney’s house was located at the present corner of East Bay and Guignard streets (now Molly Darcey’s Irish Pub). It was destroyed by the 1861 fire.  

Ruins of the Pinckney mansion

Ruins of the Pinckney mansion, looking west from East Bay up Guignard Street.


Five men and one woman – Robert Stacy, Josiah Jordan, John George, Edward Hatcher, Thomas Smith, and Ann Connely – were hanged for the robbery and murder of Nicholas John Wightman.

1818 –Slavery. Religion

“Black Priests” appeared before the City Council asking for permission to “allow them to hold their meetings in the way they wished.” The Council denied the request, claiming that the “Missionaries” of the Philadelphia AME church were “fire-brands of discord and destruction.”

They did, however, allow daylight meetings as long as a “single white person” was present to monitor the service.

Today In Charleston History: June 4


During the celebration of King George III’s birthday, Peter Timothy noted that, in comparison to the celebration over the John Wilkes affair and the arrival of the William Pitt statue:

few [houses] were illuminated because the People are not Hypocrites. They will not dissemble Joy, while they feel themselves unkindly treated, and oppressed.


The South Carolina Gazette, ran this advertisement: 

RUN AWAY: Dick, a mulatto fellow . . . a remarkable whistler and plays on the Violin.


Henry Laurens was unhappy with the level of education available in England for his sons. He wrote about Oxford and Cambridge saying:

The two universities are generally, I might say universally censured. Oxford in particular is spoken of as a School of Licentiousness and Debauchery in the most aggravated heights.

1774-American Revolution

The First Provincial Congress adopted the American Bill of Rights and the Articles of Confederation. On that same date, the First Provincial Congress authorized the issue of £1,000,000 in paper currency for military defense of the Province, and appointed thirteen new members to the Council of Safety, with power to command all soldiers and to use all public money in the Province. No military person could now sit on the Council of Safety.

The Congress ordered that 1500 special troops be raised to

go forth and be ready to sacrifice our lives and fortunes against every foe in defense of the liberty outraged in the bloody scene on the 19th of April last near Boston.


The final route of the Charleston & Hamburg Rail Road was confirmed. It was designed with nine turnouts – a parallel track joined to the mainline, an amazing innovation at that time. There were also twelve pumps/watering places for the locomotives.

Map of the rail road route.

Map of the Charleston & Hamburg rail road route.









The Francis Marion Hotel opened for business.  Named for the Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,”, it was built by local investors at a cost of $1.5 million from plans by noted New York architect W.L. Stoddard. when it opened the Francis Marion was the largest and grandest hotel in the Carolinas. The 1920s was the Golden Age of railroads, radio and grand hotels, and the Charleston Renaissance was in full bloom and the Francis Marion Hotel was “the place to be”.

evening post, june 4, 1924

Charleston Evening Post, June 4, 1924

Today In Charleston History: June 2

1670- Slavery

The Three Brothers returned from Virginia with three enslaved Africans on board named John, Sr., Elizabeth and John, Jr.

 1762 – Mepkin Plantation Purchased

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens returned from the war against the Cherokee and purchased the 3000-acre Mepkin Plantation in the Monck’s Corner area on the Cooper River for £8000 currency.  

Today it is Mepkin Abbey, a community of Roman Catholic monks established in 1949. Founded by the monks of Gethsemani in Kentucky, the brothers of Mepkin belong to the worldwide Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance popularly known as Trappist.

1834 – Test Oath Case

The South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on the “test oath” case, M’Cready v. Hunt. The “test oath” pledged that the state militia must pledge “faithful and true allegiance” to the State of South Carolina. Attorney Robert Barnwell Rhett, argued for the test oath with the support of state Governor Robert Y. Hayne. He was opposed Charleston Unionist attorneys, James L. Petigru and Thomas S. Grimké.

The “Nullifiers” immediately called for the impeachment of the two jurists who voted against the oath. “Nullifier” legislators responded to the decision by calling for a constitutional amendment to legalize the test oath and assert the primacy of allegiance to South Carolina.

1866 – St. Michael’s Bells

The bells of St. Michael’s arrived at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry to be recast by Messrs. Mears and Stainbank in London. The bells had been taken out of the church and sent to Columbia for safekeeping, but were damaged during the burning of Columbia by Sherman’s troops. 

Today In Charleston History: March 26

1726 – Ansonborough
Lord Anson, 1755

Lord Anson, 1755

Capt. George Anson purchased a tract of land which later would bear his name – Ansonborough – from his winnings at cards. According to local legend, Anson won the entire tract in a single game from Thomas Gadsden. In fact, Gadsden conveyed this tract to Capt. George Anson for £300 sterling. This was an unusually large sum for such a young naval officer to possess, so it is quite possible that Anson’s winnings at cards was the source of his money. 

Anson later led a British expedition that circumnavigated the world and served as Admiral as the British Fleet from 1756-62.

1737 – Crime & Punishment

Alexander Forbes was convicted of “stealing Cloathes and other things.” He was sentenced to “be whipped on the bare back at the cart’s tails through the town.”

1776 – American Revolution. Charleston First

Four months before the Declaration of Independence was signed, South Carolina adopted a state constitution, drafted by the Provincial Congress and the Republic of South Carolina was born. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was chosen to chair the Constitutional Committee. This was the first plan for an independent government in the American colonies. 

South Carolina President (later govenor)  John Rutledge

South Carolina President (later govenor) John Rutledge

John Rutledge was elected as the state’s president, Henry Laurens its vice-president and William Henry Drayton, Chief Justice. The 1776 Constitution was considered a temporary measure until “an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America can be obtained.” It gave the president “absolute veto power” over the acts of the legislature. Due to his power, Rutledge picked up the nickname “Dictator.”

For the second time in its history, South Carolina had forced a change in its government – in 1719 they had overthrown the Proprietors and now they had replaced British rule with a local government.

1820 – Scandal

Charles Pinckney, in Washington, D.C., was caught in an abandoned house with a “mulatto wench.” A butcher who had been robbed saw Pinckney go into the house and thought it was the robber. A group of men surrounded the house and began to holler for the “thief to come out!” Pinckney, panicked, jumped out of window and attempted to run away. Due to his age, he was unable to outrun his pursuers, who released him when they realized their mistake.

1861. Lincoln’s Spies In Charleston. 

Col. Ward Lamon, former law partner to President Lincoln,arrived in Charleston to meet with Gov. Pickens who told Lamon that “nothing can prevent war except acquiescence of the President of the United States of secession.” Any attempt to reinforce the Southern forts would mean war. Lamon responded that no attempt to reinforce Sumter would happen, and that the fort would most likely be abandoned.

Rev. Anthony Toomer Porter met James Chesnut on the street. Toomer expressed his dismay that war was now inevitable. Chesnut, however, was more optimistic. He told Toomer, “There will be no war, it will be all arranged. I will drink all the blood shed in the war.” Henry Gourdin, however, agreed with Porter that “nothing now but a miracle can arrest the onward course towards destruction and war.”


The first Shakespearean play of the 20th century in Charleston was The Taming of the Shrew, at the Academy of Music. “Despite the fact that it was Lent” there was a “very large crowd …. in this most decorous and conventional of cities.”

academy of music

Academy of Music, Market and King Street (present site of the Riveria Theater.

Today In Charleston History: March 6

1724 – Births.
Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens

Henry Laurens was born in Charlestown, son of John Laurens a French Huguenot. The young Henry became friends with Christopher Gadsden during childhood, creating an alliance between two powerful men during the Revolution. Lauren’s son-in-law, Dr. David Ramsay wrote that they were:

…. Attached in their early youth to each other by the strongest ties of ardent friendship. They made a common cause to support and encourage each other in every virtuous pursuit, to shun every path of vice and folly, to leave company whenever it tended to licentiousness … and acquired an energy of character which fitted them for acting a distinguished part in the trying scenes of a revolution …


Senate confirmed the appointment of Joel R. Poinsett as Secretary of War by President Martin Van Buren, and presided over the continuing removal of Indians west of the Mississippi and over the Seminole War.

To read more about Poinsett’s life … click here. 

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: December 13

1770 – American Revolution – Foundations.

Henry Laurens and Charles Pinckney, Junior presided over a meeting at the Liberty Tree in which the continuation of the Association was discussed. Thomas Lynch: “rode fifty miles to Charles Town and exerted all his eloquence and even the trope of Rhetorical Tears for the expiring liberties of his dear country, which the Merchants would sell like any other merchandise.” They then voted to discontinue the boycott on all items except tea, and “send a bitter letter to the northern colonies” about their conduct in breaking the Association.

The non-importation crisis had a severe economic impact on the American colonies, with a dramatic drop in imports from 1768 to 1769.

  • New York: £490, 673 to £75,930
  • Philadelphia: £441,829 to £204,978
  • New England (Boston and Rhode Island): £430,806 to £223,694
  • Carolina: £306,600 to £146,273

The stage was now set for Charlestown, and the rest of the American colonies, to shrug off their ties with the British motherland.


daniel_jenkinsDaniel Jenkins discovered four small black children huddled in a railroad box car. Despite the fact that he lived in a two-room house, with his wife and four children, Jenkins brought the orphaned children to his small home. This was the incident that led to the formation of the Orphan Aid Society of Charleston, the founding of the Jenkins Orphanage, the establishment of the Jenkins Orphanage Band. Within ten years, the Jenkins Band had performed in Europe and for Pres. Teddy Roosevelt’s inauguration. They later appeared on Broadway in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Porgy, performed for Pres. William Howard Taft and at the Anglo-American Expo in London. They also had a hand in introducing jazz music to small towns up and down the east coast and helping to popularize a dance that became known as “the Charleston.” 

1. doin book cover (create space) official - frontFor the entire story, read my 2013 book, Doin the Charleston.

Today In Charleston History: December 9

1773 – Charleston Firsts. Chamber of Commerce

On December 9, 1773, the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce was organized at Mrs. Swallows’ Tavern on Broad Street.

The formation of the Chamber can be traced back to the economic stress the British Empire suffered after the Seven Years’ War (the French and Indian War). The victory over the French had come at a high cost, so Parliament passed the 1764 Sugar Acts and the 1765 Stamp Act in an attempt to pay the debt run up during the war. The Stamp Act required that most printed materials in the colonies be produced on “stamped paper” – an embossed revenue mark. Those included newspapers, legal documents, playing cards and magazines.

It was within this volatile atmosphere of political upheaval and business uncertainty that a group of Charleston businessmen met at Mrs. Swallows Tavern and organized the Chamber of Commerce. Today it is called the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

1777 – American Revolution.

Henry Laurens’ term as President of the Continental Congress ended. He was elected after John Hancock’s retirement due to ill health. During his term, Laurens dealt with the conspiracy to replace George Washington as commander-in-chief, perpetuated by several members of Congress and the military.

1806 – Elections

Charles Pinckney was elected to his third term as governor.


John Olmsted delivered a set of plans for Hampton Park.

John Charles Olmsted was the nephew and adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted, was an American landscape architect. With his brother, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., he founded Olmsted Brothers, a landscape design firm in Brookline, Massachusetts. The firm is famous for designing many urban parks, college campuses, and other public places. John Olmsted’s body of work from over 40 years

John Olmsted

John Olmsted

as a landscape architect has left its mark on the American urban landscape, carrying his design philosophy of integrated park systems into new cities such as Portland, Maine; Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Spokane, Dayton, and, f course, Charleston. In these cities, he pioneered his comprehensive planning philosophy of integrating civic buildings, roads, parks, and greenspaces into livable urban areas.

Olmsted also designed individual parks in New Orleans; Watertown, New York; and Chicago. His work in park design led to commissions for numerous institutions such as school campuses, civic buildings, and state capitols, as well as designs for large residential areas, including roads and schools. His work in comprehensive planning for the communities surrounding industrial plants and factories is considered especially noteworthy.

Today In Charleston History: December 1

1773 – American Revolution – Foundations.

Two hundred and fifty-seven chests of tea arrived in Charlestown on the ship London. Consigned by the East India Company, the arrival of the tea set off a crisis. Handbills were passed out, calling for a mass meeting of all South Carolinians at the great hall in the Exchange Building.

1781 American Revolution

Henry Laurens, Charleston diplomat, and the first American imprisoned in the Tower of London, wrote a bitter note which was smuggled out of the Tower and sent to Congress:

Almost fifteen months I have been closely confined and inhumanely treated. The treaty for exchange is abortive. There has been languor, and there is neglect somewhere. If I merit your attention, you will not longer delay speedy and efficacious means for my deliverance.

laurens, tower

Tower of London; Henry Laurens’ cell. Photos by Mark R. Jones


Dr. Thomas Tudor Tucker

Dr. Thomas Tudor Tucker of Charleston was appointed as Treasurer of the United States by President Thomas Jefferson. He would hold the position for twenty-six years under four different presidents: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams, and died while holding the office in 1828. From 1809 to 1817, Tucker managed to hold the treasurer’s post while also serving as President James Madison’s personal physician.

Tucker was the longest serving Treasurer in American history.


Thomas Bennett was elected governor of South Carolina.

1822 – Slavery

As a result of the Vesey Conspiracy, SC Legislature passed a law requiring all free black males over fifteen years old either take a white guardian, or be sold into slavery.  Any free black who left South Carolina and returned could be enslaved.

1832 – Nullification Crisis

In a coordinated effort with V-P Calhoun, Robert Hayne resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate.


On December 1, the Planter was caught in a crossfire between Union and Confederate forces. The ship’s commander, Captain Nickerson, decided to surrender. The ship’s pilot, Robert Smalls refused, fearing that the black crewmen would not be treated as prisoners of war and might be summarily killed. The Planter was a former Confederate vessel that was piloted out of Charleston harbor by an enslaved pilot, Robert Smalls, who surrendered the vessel to the United States navy. Smalls and his family were given their freedom and Smalls later met with Pres. Lincoln. 

Taking command of the Planter from Nickerson, Smalls piloted the ship out of range of the Confederate guns. For his bravery, Smalls was named to replace Nickerson as the Planter’s captain – the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the United States.


The Planter

Today In Charleston History: November 1


Ashley Cooper wrote to Captain West and Governor Sayle ordering that the settlement, Albemarle Point, be renamed “Charles Town.”

1765 – Stamp Act.

The Stamp Act went to effect. Ships could not get clearances to leave Charlestown harbor and courts could not conduct any legal business without stamped paper.


Jacob Ramos was convicted of inciting a slave to commit a robbery of Mr. William Sommerfall. The Negro slave was hanged, and Ramos was sentenced to “stand in the pillory for an hour, pay a fine of $350, and receive 39 lashes.” During the time in the pillory Ramos was “most severel & incessantly pelted by an enraged Populace; who nevertheless were so orderly, as to not use any other Materials than rotten eggs, Apples & Onions.”

1775 – American Revolution.

Second Provisional Congress was hastily called into session in to deal with the threat the two British war ships in Charlestown harbor. William Henry Drayton was voted President of the Congress. In anticipation of Lord Campbell sailing up the Cooper River to meet with Loyalists living in the back country, Drayton ordered the blocking of Hog Island Channel by the sinking of four hulks.

1777 – American Revolution

 Upon John Hancock’s retirement due to ill health, Henry Laurens was elected President of the Congress and served until December 9, 1778. During his term, Laurens dealt with the conspiracy to replace George Washington as commander-in-chief, perpetuated by several members of Congress and the military.

dayton and laurens

William Henry Drayton and Henry Laurens


 The South Carolina Institute Fair opened. It was open to all – white and black – from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets were twenty-five cents, with more than 12,000 visitors in one day. Inside the hall visitors could see exhibits featuring the most modern agricultural equipment, sewing machines and steam engines. The main building for the South Carolina Institute Fair was on the site of the present day Citadel softball stadium. The building was 300 feet long by 80 feet wide by forty feet tall, had 154 windows and fourteen doors.The Charleston Daily News wrote:

Charleston will do her part in the grand work of building up South Carolina, and extends a cordial welcome to all her visitors, whether they come from North or West or South. There is no sectionalism in commerce, and we can promise to all who now pay our city a visit a hearty and generous reception.