Today In Charleston History: December 25


SouthCarolinaRR_Schedule1841The first regularly scheduled passenger train in America pulled away from the Line Street station, Charleston, South Carolina at 8:00 a.m. Nicholas W. Darrell operated the locomotive as engineer for the 10-mile round trip from Charleston to San Souci and back. The trip was described a writer, Jockey of York.

Away we flew on the wings of the wind at the speed of 15 to 25 miles per hour, annihilating time and space … leaving all the world behind. It was nine minutes, five and one fourth seconds since we started and we have discovered ourselves beyond the forks of the State and Dorchester Roads … We came to San Souci in quick time. Here we stopped to take up a recruiting party, darted forth like a live rocket, scattering sparks and flames on either side, passed over three saltwater creeks, hop, step and jump and landed us all at the Lines before any of us had time to determine whether or not it was prudent to be scared.

More than 140 passengers took the first trip, riding in two cars. During the first day, the Best Friend carried more than 500 people. Truly, it was one of the most wondrous Christmases in Charleston history.

1860 – Secession.

The “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” written by Christopher Memminger was adopted.  The Declaration began:

The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.

And ended with this paragraph:

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.


19a. jabbo smith (author's collection)Jabbo Smith was born in Pembroke, Georgia. He grew up at the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston and became one of the major figures in the Jenkins Band. By age 17 he was playing with the Paradise Orchestra at Smalls Paradise and being called “the hottest trumpet player in New York.”  Due to excessive living, his career burned out by the time he was thirty, but to this day, his 1920 / 30s recordings are considered ground-breaking jazz music. 

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. Robert Smalls later became one of the first black Congressmen in 1865. 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. 

Both stories are 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