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. 

Rhett2-246x300

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 19

1828-Nullification Crisis-“Tariff of Abominations”

The Tariff of 1828 was passed by Congress, designed to protect industry in the northern United States. It was signed by President John Quincy Adams. It became known as the Tariff of Abominations in the South due to the negative effects it had on the antebellum Southern economy.It so enraged South Carolina that the state legislature denounced it by formal resolution and published an “Expositon and Protest,” secretly written by Vice-President John C. Calhoun. The “Exposition” claimed that: 

  • Congress cannot extend its constitutional authority;
  • Congress cannot enact tariffs that are not justified by public necessity
  • The tariff is therefore unconstitutional
  • The tariff to protect domestic manufacture goes against a “simple, consolidated government”
  • The tariff actually was not enacted to regulate commerce, a Constitutional power of Congress, but to prohibit foreign trade
  • The power to protect manufacture is not a Constitutional power
  • Even if the tariff does regulate commerce, as it is too oppressive, it is an abuse of power

1852-Slavery

Reuben Roberts, a Negro cook aboard a British schooner, the Clyde, was arrested by Charleston sheriff Jeremiah D. Yates and confined to jail, citing the 1835 Seaman’s Act. 

1856-Road to Secession  

Sen. Charles Sumner

Sen. Charles Sumner

On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Charles Sumner (Mass), gave his “Crime Against Kansas” speech. Sumner spoke out against slavery, and specifically called out South Carolina senator Andrew Butler, one of the authors of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act. 

The senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, slavery. For her his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator.

Sen. Andrew Pickens Butler

Sen. Andrew Pickens Butler

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: April 13

1737-Epidemics

The London Frigate, a slave ship, arrived in Charleston from Guinea with small pox on board. It spread so extensively that there were not enough healthy people to take care of the ill.

1780-The Siege of Charlestown

The British had managed to mount seventeen 24-pound cannons, two 12-pounders, three 8-inch howitzers and nine mortars.  At 10:00 am the batteries in the neck, north of the American lines opened steady fire until midnight.

      Major William Croghan wrote:

The balls flew thro’ the streets & spent their fury on the houses; & those who were walking or visiting in the town, as was usual during the former quiet, now flew to their cellars, & others to their works, as the places of greatest safety.

The first day’s bombardment killed two soldiers, several women and children, two cannons were destroyed and two houses burned to the ground. 

During the day, Governor John Rutledge and a few members of privy council, including Charles Pinckney left the city, heading for the backcountry. Gen. Lincoln persuaded Rutledge to “Preserve the Executive Authority … give confidence to the people and throw in the necessary succours and supplies to garrison.” That left Lt. Governor Christopher Gadsden the leading civil authority in the city.

The governor’s entourage included a number of invalids, including Lt. Colonel Francis Marion and his broken ankle. At noon they crossed the Cooper River leaving behind the constant booming of artillery and a city covered with smoke and fire.

1830

At a Thomas Jefferson birthday celebration in Washington, DC, Pres. Andrew Jackson toasted: “Our Federal union – It must be preserved.” V-P John Calhoun replied, “The union – Next to our liberties the most dear.”

1861 – Civil War

By 8:00 a.m.the upper story of the officer’s quarters at Sumter were burning. The most immediate danger was the 300 barrels of gunpowder stored in a magazine. At one o’clock the flagstaff at Fort Sumter was struck by a Confederate shell and crashed to the ground. The soldiers rushed to rehoist the flag before the Confederates assumed they had surrendered.

About this time, former Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas visited Fort Sumter.During the midst of the bombardment, Wigfall had himself rowed out by slaves. Soldiers at Sumter were perplexed by a man waving a white handkerchief from a sword. The Federals raised a flag of truce and Wigfall, although he had no authority to do so, told the first Federal officers he met, “Let us stop this firing. You are on fire, and your flag is down. Let us quit.”

Anderson arrived a moment later and Wigfall told him:

You have defended your flag nobly sir. You have done all that it is possible to do, and General Beauregard wants to stop this fight. On what terms, Major Anderson, will you evacuate this fort?

ft sumter - interior

Inside Fort Sumter during the bombardment. Courtesy Library of Congress

Anderson felt some relief. His soldiers were half-way starved, exhausted and down to their last three shots. The American flag was taken down and Wigfall’s white handkerchief was raised in its place. The firing from all batteries ceased – the battle over.

Church bells rang across the city. Men on horseback galloped across the city, shouting the news. Spectators on the Battery sea wall cheered hysterically, the sound carrying across the Charleston harbor to the exhausted soldiers into Fort Sumter.

Hermann Klatte, a partner in a local liquor outlet called “Lilienthal & Klatte” on East Bay Street, wrote: 

 Yesterday morning at 4:30 they began fighting at Fort Sumpter…the United States flag was not raised again….Somewhat after 2:00 Sumpter surrendered unconditionally to the southern Confederacy, and soldiers from the same government will take over soon, and the bells are playing…victory.

1865

Henry Ward Beecher, a Northern Congregationalist minister and staunch abolitionist, arrived in Charleston to preach at Ft. Sumter. Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe had written the wildly popular (and universally hated in the South) Uncle Tom’s Cabin. President Lincoln had personally selected him, stating, “We had better send Beecher down to deliver the address on the occasion of raising the flag because if it had not been for Beecher there would have been no flag to raise.”

Henry Ward Beecher, Army Chaplain

Henry Ward Beecher, Army Chaplain

Today In Charleston History: April 1

1766-Stamp Act. 

South Carolina courts shut down, due to lack of stamped paper. Lawyers presented a petition to hold court without stamped paper. They stated:

We claim our rights under Magna Carter, the Petition of Rights, etc … We cannot think ourselves bound by the Stamp Act, which annihilates our natural as well as constitutional rights.

Chief Justice Skinner held that the court had no power to question the authority of an act of Parliament and the fact that there was no stamped paper because of unlawful demonstrations by the people was no excuse not to follow the law.

1780 –The Seige of Charlestown.

Under cover of darkness, 3000 men marched from the British camp at Gibb’s Landing toward Charlestown. – including 1500 laborers. They stopped 1000 yards from the city’s fortifications and began construction of their seigeworks. Due to the sandy soil “the work went quickly” and within one night Gen. Clinton was amazed they “completed 3 Redoubts and a communication without a single shot.”

The following morning, Samuel Baldwin of Charlestown wrote: “We were surprised … at the sight of the works thrown up by our neighbors during the night.”

1844 – Politics

John C. Calhoun became Secretary of State in John Tyler’s Cabinet.

1927 – Doin’ the Charleston

Herbert Wright of the Jenkins Orphanage was paroled on April, 1927. In 1919 he pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to ten to fifteen years in the Massachusetts State Penitentiary.

Harlem Hellfighters Band

Harlem Hellfighters Band

Wright had committed a murder that shocked the nation. He had murdered band leader, James Reese Europe, backstage at Mechanics Hall in Boston. Europe was the leader of the Harlem Hellfighters Band, an outfit which had performed across Europe during World War I and has been credited in introducing jazz music to France. The Hellfighters Band was also the first black group to record music. The band included four members of the Jenkins Orphanage Band – Steve and Herbert Wright (the Percussive Twins), Amos Gaillard (trombone) and Gene Mikell (asst. director).

Read more about James Reese Europe’s life here. 

To learn the complete story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band, the Harlem Hellfighters and the murder of James Reese Europe, read Doin’ the Charleston.

doin' the charleston

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: March 18

1758

A report about British quartering (housing of troops) was presented to the Assembly. Prepared by Peter Manigault, Christopher Gadsden, Charles Pinckney, Henry Laurens and Rawlins Lowndes, the report stated:

Officers and Soldiers cannot, legally or constitutionally, be quarter’d in private Houses, without the special Consent of the Owners or Possessors of such Houses. 

1782 – Births.
Calhoun as a young man

Calhoun as a young man

John Caldwell Calhoun was born in Abbeville, in the South Carolina backcountry. His mother was described as being “full of intelligence and energy … strong will and temper” – attributes her son would most definitely inherit.

During his life Calhoun became one of the most influential politicians of the 19th century. He was educated at Yale 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 Britain.

Calhoun was 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.

Jackson was for the Tariff of 1828 (Tariff of Abominations) and caused Calhoun to be opposed to Jackson, which led to Calhoun’s resignation in 1832. Because he could not do anything about Jackson’s views toward tariffs, which benifitted only industrial North and hurt slaveholding South, John C. Calhoun became the first vice president to resign.

Calhoun as an elder statesman

Calhoun as an elder statesman

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. This gave Calhoun the nickname “the Great Nullifier.” 

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.

John Caldwell Calhoun died in Washington, D.C. on March 31, 1850 and was buried in St. Phillips Churchyard in Charleston. In 1957, United States Senators honored Calhoun as one of the five greatest senators of all time.

 

Calhoun's tomb in St. Philip's cemetery

Calhoun’s tomb in St. Philip’s cemetery