Today In Charleston History: June 1

1734 – Culture

A billiard table was advertised for sale at Ashley Ferry in the Gazette.

1738 – Treatment for Pox

The Gazette published Dr. Pitcarn’s treatment for small pox to help stop its spread. It consisted of bloodletting and the use of a syrup of white poppies. By the end of the summer 2112 people had come down with the disease, killing more than 400.  It was reported that there were not:

sufficient number of persons in health to attend the sick, and many persons perished from neglect and want. There was scarcely a house in which there had not been one of more deaths. Inoculation was at this time first attempted with some success and the disease soon after abated. 

1756-Arrivals

William Henry Lyttelton arrived in Charlestown as the Governor on the HMS Winchelsea. Crowds of citizens gathered to toast the new governor but Lyttelton’s term would be riddled with controversies. 

1775-American Revolution – Foundations.

 The Secret Committee of Five ordered the tarring and feathering of James Dealy and Laughlin Martin for rejoicing (supposedly) that Catholics, Negroes and Indians were going to be armed in an uprising against the people.  The two men were carted about the streets and banished from town.

1776-American Revolution
Lord William Campbell

Lord William Campbell

Lord William Campbell, who, several months before, had left Charleston in the middle of the night in fear of being attacked, had been urging a major expedition against South Carolina to crush the rebellion in the South. On June 1, the British fleet, commanded by Sir Peter Parker and Sir Henry Clinton, appeared and “displayed about fifty sail before the town, on the outside of the bar.”

Col.  Moultrie described their effect on Charlestonians:

The sight of these vessels alarmed us very much, all was hurry and confusion, the president with his council busy in sending expresses to every part of the country, to hasten down the militia; men running about the town looking for horses, carriages and boats to send their families into the country; and as they were going out through the town gates to go into the country, they met the militia from the country marching into town…

1782 – Culture

Hamilton Stevenson advertised his services as a “painter of miniatures or a hair sylist.”

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Mingo Harth and Peter Poyas were interrogated by city officials. Another Slave, William Paul, had named them as part of a “conspiracy” against the whites.  Poyas laughed and called William Paul a young fool. Intendent (mayor)Hamilton was impressed that “these fellows behaved with so much composure and coolness.”

1825 – Politics

Joel Roberts Poinsett was appointed the first United States minister to Mexico.

1832 – Death
Statue of Gen. Sumter on the courthouse lawn, Sumter S.C.

Statue of Gen. Sumter on the courthouse lawn, Sumter S.C.

Thomas Sumter died, the last surviving Revolutionary War generals.

In February 1776, Sumter was elected lieutenant colonel of the Second Regiment of the South Carolina Line. He subsequently was appointed brigadier general, a post he held until the end of the war. Perhaps his greatest military achievement was his partisan campaigning, which contributed to Lord Cornwallis’ decision to leave the Carolinas for Virginia.

Sumter acquired the nickname, “Carolina Gamecock,” during the American Revolution for his fierce fighting tactics. After the Battle of Blackstock’s Farm, British General Banastre Tarleton commented that Sumter “fought like a gamecock”, and Cornwallis paid him the finest tribute when he described the Gamecock as his greatest plague.

1865 –  Reconstruction

By this time, more than 30,000 cartloads of material and debris had been removed out of the city under the U.S. Army’s supervision, using more than 200 laborers and 50 teams of animals. The debris was dumped in the marshes as landfill.

One visitor described the city as:

The splendid houses are all deserted, the glass in the windows broken, the walls dilapidated, the columns toppled over … arches demolished, mantels shattered, while fragments, great and small, of every description strew the floors … but where are the owners of these estates – where are they?

Charleston, after the War and fire destruction. Looking  west at St. John's Lutheran and Unitarian Churches

Charleston, after the War and fire destruction.

1882 – Politics 

The “Eight Box Law, written by Charlestonian Edward McCrady, Jr. and passed by the state assembly went into effect. The law got its name from the requirement that, on Election Day, there were to be eight separate ballot boxes for different offices. A voter had to be able to read in order to know where to place his ballot. At this time illiteracy rate among blacks was five times greater than whites. Another provision of the law was that every voter must re-register before June 1, 1882, or be forever banned from voting.

Within four years, tens of thousands of black voters in South Carolina were disenfranchised. Voting districts were redrawn, leaving only one majority black district. The state’s last 19th century black congressman was defeated for re-election in 1896

Today In Charleston History: April 25

1660 – Restoration
Charles II

Charles II

Parliament meets and votes to restore Charles II to the English throne, ending 20 years of turmoil that started with the English Civil Wars.  The era of “Eat, Drink & Be Merry” began. 

1716Bloodless Revolution

Governor Craven returned to London. The Assembly asked Craven to plead their case of grievances against the Proprietors before the King, asking to become a Royal colony. Rev. Gideon Johnston accompanied Craven in a sloop out to the harbor to bid him farewell. During the return trip the sloop was swept over by a storm. Johnston drowned, and several days later his body washed up on the same bank of sand on which he had been marooned on the day he arrived in 1708.

1817
Joel Roberts Poinsett

Joel Roberts Poinsett

Joel Roberts Poinsett was offered the position of special commissioner to South America. Secretary of State Robert Rush stated, “No one has better qualifications for this trust than yourself.”  

Poinsett declined the honor explaining to President James Monroe that he had recently accepted a seat in the legislature of South Carolina and could not resign it “without some more important motive than this commission presents.”

1850 – Burial of Calhoun

John C Calhoun was buried in the western cemetery of St. Phillip’s Church in an elaborate funeral ceremony.

Calhoun's tomb in St. Philip's cemetery

Calhoun’s tomb in St. Philip’s cemetery

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 …

1837

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: March 2

1696 – Fortifications.

The Assembly passed a second act appropriating money for the construction of a brick wall along Charles Town’s eastern edge. It became known as the “wharf wall,” or the “curtain line upon the Bay.” The legislature also considered plans for building a brick “fort” at the east end of Broad Street.

1779 – Births.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, future American statesman and botanist, was born in Charleston. As the American minister to Mexico in 1828 Poinsett discovered a beautiful shrub which the locals called “Flor de Noche Buena” (Christmas Eve flower). Poinsett sent samples of the plant home to his plantations in Charleston and Greenville.  

Most botanists dismissed the plant as nothing more that a weed, but Poinsett shared the plant with friends and other horticulturists whose enthusiasm for its beauty led to it being called the “Mexican fire plant.” In 1836 the plant was officially renamed the “poinsettia”, following the 19th century convention of naming things after their “discoverers.” It is now the #1 selling potted plant in the world. 

greenhouse full of bright red poinsettia

Poinsettias in a warehouse.

1833 – Nullification Crisis

The Force Bill was passed by Congress at the urging of President Andrew Jackson. It consisted of eight sections expanding presidential power and was designed to compel the state of South Carolina’s compliance with a series of federal tariffs, opposed by John C. Calhoun and other leading South Carolinians. Among other things, the legislation stipulated that the president could, if he deemed it necessary, deploy the U.S. Army to force South Carolina to comply with the law.

Today In Charleston History: January 20

1672

Secretary Dalton wrote that the number of colonists transported to Carolina by this date was 337 men, 71 women and 62 children – 470. Sixty-four had died, leaving a population of 406.

1733

James Oglethorpe and Col. William Bull explored the territory around the Savannah River together, scouting for a good location for a permanent settlement. They decide on Yamacraw Bluff on the river, where Savannah sits today.

1807

Joel Roberts Poinsett, dined with Czar Alexander at the Palace in Russia. During the meal Alexander attempted to entice Poinsett into the Russian civil or military service. Poinsett was hesitant, which prompted Alexander to advise him to “see the Empire, acquire the language, study the people,” and then decide. Poinsett spent the next several months traveling across Russia.

1837

Angelina and Sarah Grimke began a six-week series of successful lectures about slavery in a New York City Baptist Church.

grimke sisters

Today In Charleston History: December 12

NATIONAL POINSETTIA DAY

1851

Joel Roberts Poinsett died, a Master Mason of Solomon’s Lodge, Charleston.

poinsettPoinsett was one of the most interesting men in South Carolina history. Born in Charleston in 1779, he studied law under Henry William DeSaussure. Poinsett, however, was not interested in becoming a lawyer, and convinced his parents to allow him to go on an extended tour of Europe in 1801.  For the next several years, Poinsett traveled the European continent, from France to Italy traveling through the Alps and Switzerland. He hiked up Mount Etna on the island of Sicily.

In October 1803, Poinsett left Switzerland for Vienna, Austria, and from there journeyed to Munich. In December he received word that his father was dead, and that his sister, Susan, was seriously ill. He immediately secured passage back to Charleston. Poinsett arrived in Charleston early in 1804, months after his father had been laid to rest. Hoping to save his sister’s life, Poinsett took her on a voyage to New York, remembering how his earlier voyage to Lisbon had intensified his recovery. Yet, upon arriving in New York City, Susan Poinsett died. As the sole remaining heir, Poinsett inherited a small fortune in town houses and lots, plantations, bank stock, and “English funds.” The entire Poinsett estate was valued at a hundred thousand dollars or more.

Poinsett traveled to the Russian capital of St. Petersburg in November 1806. Levett Harris, consul of the United States at St. Petersburg, and the highest American official in the country, hoped to introduce Poinsett at court to Czar Alexander. Learning that Poinsett was from South Carolina, the Empress asked him if he would inspect the cotton factories under her patronage. Poinsett and Consul Harris traveled by sleigh to Cronstadt to see the factories. Poinsett made some suggestions on improvement, which the Dowager Empress accepted.

In January, 1807, Czar Alexander and Poinsett dined at the Palace. Czar Alexander attempted to entice Poinsett into the Russian civil or military service. Poinsett was hesitant, which prompted Alexander to advise him to “see the Empire, acquire the language, study the people”, and then decide. Always interested in travel, Poinsett accepted the invitation and left St. Petersburg in March 1807 on a journey through southern Russia. He was accompanied by his English friend Lord Royston and eight others.

JRP-SoW,_SPoinsett and Royston were among the last westerners to see Moscow before its burning in October 1812 by Napoleon’s forces. Poinsett’s company traveled to Baku on the Caspian Sea. He noted that because of the petroleum pits in the region, it had long been a spot of pilgrimage for fire-worshipers. He became one of the earliest U.S. travelers to the Middle East, where, in 1806, the Persian khan showed him a pool of petroleum, which he speculated might someday be used for fuel.

Upon his return to Moscow, a year later, Czar Alexander’s discussed the details of Poinsett’s trip with him and offered him a position as colonel in the Russian Army. However, news had reached Russia of the attack of the H.M.S. Leopard upon the Chesapeake, and war between the United States and Great Britain seemed certain. Poinsett eagerly sought to return to the United States.

Before leaving Russia, Poinsett met one last time with Czar Alexander, who expressed his approval of the energetic measures by the Congress of the United States to resist the maritime pretensions of Britain. The Czar declared that Russia and the United States should maintain the same policy of respect. Poinsett again met with Foreign Minister Count Romanzoff where the Russian disclosed to Poinsett that the Czar ardently desired to have a minister from the United States at the Russian Court.

 In 1809  Pres. James Madison appointed Poinsett as Consul in General to Chile and Argentina. Poinsett was to investigate the prospects of the revolutionists, in their struggle for independence from Spain. He returned to Charleston on May 28, 1815.

poinsettia

In 1820, Poinsett won a seat in the United States House of Representatives for the Charleston district. As a congressman, Poinsett continued to call for internal improvements, but he also advocated the maintenance of a strong army and navy. He was appointed the first American minister to Mexico in 1825, and became embroiled in the country’s political turmoil until his recall in 1830. It was during this time that he visited the area south of Mexico City around Taxco del Alarcon, where he was introduced to a Mexican plant  called “Flor de Noche Buena” (Christmas Eve flower).  Poinsett, an avid amateur botanist, sent samples of the plant home to the States and by 1836 the plant was most widely known as the “poinsettia.”

In 1830, Poinsett returned to South Carolina  to again serve in the South Carolina state legislature, from 1830 to 1831. An avowed strong Unionist, his correspondence with Pres. Andrew Jackson during the Nullification Crisis kept the president abreast of the evolving situation in their home state, helping Jackson to craft policy. In 1833, Poinsett married the widow Mary Izard Pringle (1780-1857), daughter of Ralph and Elizabeth (Stead) Izard.

Poinsett-statue

Poinsett statue in Greenville, SC

Poinsett served as Secretary of War from March 7, 1837 to March 5, 1841 and presided over the continuing removal of Indians west of the Mississippi and over the Seminole War; reduced the fragmentation of the Army by concentrating elements at central locations; equipped the light batteries of artillery regiments as authorized by the 1821 army organization act.

In 1840 he a co-founder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts in 1840, a group of politicians advocating for the use of the “Smithson bequest” for a national museum that would showcase relics of the country and its leaders, celebrate American technology and document the national resources of North America. The group was defeated in its efforts, as other groups wanted scientists, rather than political leaders, guiding the fortunes of what would become the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1841 he retired to his plantation at Georgetown died of tuberculosis, hastened by an attack of pneumonia, in Stateburg, South Carolina in 1851, and is buried at the Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal Cemetery.

Poinsett Bridge in Traveler's Rest, SC

Poinsett Bridge in Traveler’s Rest, SC