Today In Charleston History: July 18

1800-Deaths

John Rutledge died from “the wearing out of an exhausted frame rather than … positive illness.” He was buried in St. Michael’s graveyard. He died without ever recovering from the crippling financial debt accrued during the Revolution. 

John Rutledge

John Rutledge

One of Charleston’s “founding fathers” Rutledge, a lawyer, served as provincial attorney general (1764), and was voted to the Stamp Act Congress (1765). He served in the 1st Continental Congress (1774) and 2nd Continental Congress (1775). In 1776, he helped South Carolina write a new state constitution, and was elected president of the new state government.

During the Constitutional Convention, he maintained a moderate nationalist stance and chaired the Committee of Detail, he attended all the sessions, spoke often and effectively, and served on five committees. Like his fellow South Carolina delegates, he vigorously advocated southern interests. In 1787 he was one of the signer of the Constituion of the United States. 

President George Washington appointed Rutledge as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1791 he became chief justice of the South Carolina supreme court. Four years later, Washington again appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, this time as Chief Justice to replace John Jay. But Rutledge’s outspoken opposition to Jay’s Treaty (1794), and the intermittent mental illness he had suffered from since the death of his wife in 1792, caused the Federalist-dominated Senate to reject his appointment and end his public career. Meantime, however, he had presided over one term of the Court.

Rutledge_John

John Rutledge’s grave, St. Michael’s Church

 

1863-Civil War. Assault on Battery Wagner

Union Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and 272 of his troops were killed in an assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina. Shaw was commander of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, perhaps the most famous regiment of African-American troops during the war.

black-troops-fort-wagner-1500

Images of Battery Wagner, Harper’s Weekly

Fort Wagner stood on Morris Island, guarding the approach to Charleston harbor. It was a massive earthwork, 600 feet wide and made from sand piled 30 feet high. The only approach to the fort was across a narrow stretch of beach bounded by the Atlantic on one side and a swampy marshland on the other. Union General Quincy Gillmore headed an operation in July 1863 to take the island and seal the approach to Charleston.

wagner

Col. Robert Shaw

Col. Robert Shaw

Shaw and his 54th Massachusetts were chosen to lead the attack of July 18. Shaw was the scion of an abolitionist family and a veteran of the 1862 Shenandoah Valley and Antietam campaigns. The regiment included two sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the grandson of author and poet Sojourner Truth.

Confederate General Samuel Jones wrote:

The First Brigade was formed in column by regiments, except the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts … it was a negro regiment, recruited in Massachusetts, and was regarded as an admirable and reliable body of men. Half the ground to be traversed before reaching Wagner was undulating with sand hills, which afforded some shelter, but not so much as prevent free and easy movement; the other half smooth and unobstructed up to the ditch. Within easy range of Wagner the march encroached so much on the firm sand of the island as leave a narrow way between it and the water.

Union artillery battered Fort Wagner all day on July 18, but the barrage did little damage to the fort and its garrison. At 7:45 p.m., the attack commenced. Yankee troops had to march 1,200 yards down the beach to the stronghold, facing a hail of bullets from the Confederates. Shaw’s troops and other Union regiments penetrated the walls at two points but did not have sufficient numbers to take the fort. Over 1,500 Union troops fell or were captured to the Confederates’ 222.

The Storming of Ft. Wagner, lithograph by Kurz and Allison,1890

The Storming of Ft. Wagner, lithograph by Kurz and Allison,1890

Despite the failure, the battle proved that African-American forces could not only hold their own but also excel in battle. The experience of Shaw and his regiment was memorialized in the critically acclaimed 1990 movie Glory, starring Mathew Broderick, Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. Washington won an Academy Award for his role in the film.

To read more about the assault on Fort Wagner, read here

1864-Civil War
George Trenholm

George Trenholm

George Trenholm replaced Christopher G. Memminger as Secretary of the Treasury in President Jefferson Davis’s Cabinet. As skilled as he was with money, Trenholm couldn’t rescue the Confederate economy. After the fall of Richmond, he took flight southward with the rest of the Cabinet, but in ill health, was unable to continue running.

Today In Charleston History: May 24

1734-Religion

The first Lutheran Holy Communion was held by Rev. John Martin Bolzius.

The St. John’s congregation was organized in 1742 with arrival of Dr. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the father of the Lutheran Church in America. He stopped for two days in Charleston on his way to visit the Salzburger colony at Ebenezer, Georgia. He returned a month later and spent three weeks waiting for a ship to Philadelphia during which time he held services, taught catechism to the children of the German residents, and held services with communion on Sundays  at various places including the Huguenot Church. Their first structure began construction in 1759  on Clifford Street (behind where the present Archdale church sits) and was dedicated in 1764.  

st. .johns

The original St. John’s Lutheran on Clifford Street, c. 1764

1780-American Revolution

Governor John Rutledge arrived in Camden, SC and learned the terms of Charlestown’s surrender. Rutledge was disappointed by Gen. Lincoln’s surrender and wrote “the Terms of Capitulation are truly mortifying.” He demanded to know why Lincoln “did not evacuate the Town, & save his Troops.” Things looked bleak for South Carolina militarily.

Today In Charleston History: May 17

1751
South Carolina Society

South Carolina Society

The South Carolina Society was incorporated by the Assembly, making it one of the most important organizations in the colony.

In 1732, a French Huguenot named Elisha Poinsett opened a tavern in Charleston.  Several friends agreed to help him out his business by spending an evening or two each week in his tavern. They began to collect two bits (sixteen pence) a week for a fund to help any of their members with a need; they soon became known as the “two-bit society.” When Poinsett’s business no longer needed their help, they formalized their association with the idea that education would be their main charity.

1781 – British Occupation

In violation of Gen. Lincoln’s terms of surrender, Charles Pinckney and other militiamen on parole were arrested and placed aboard two British prison ships in the Charlestown harbor – the Pack Horse and the Torbay. Conditions on the ships were horrendous. More than one third of the prisoners held in Charlestown by the British died in captivity.

Charles Pinckney wrote a letter to Colonel Balfour complaining about:

a most injurious and disagreeable confinement … the idea of detaining in close custody as hostages a number of men fairly taken in arms … is so repugnant to the laws of war and the usage of civilized nations …

1787-Constitutional Convention
Indian Queen Tavern, Philadelphia

Indian Queen Tavern, Philadelphia

John Rutledge arrived in Philadelphia and found lodgings at the Indian Queen Tavern on Third Street, which he described as having “sixteen rooms for lodgers, plus four garret rooms … greeted by a liveried servant in coat, waistcoat, and ruffled shirt.” Other delegates who stayed at the Tavern included George Mason and Alexander Hamilton.

Charles Pinckney stayed at the home of Mrs. Mary House, at the corner of Fifth and Market Street, with James Madison.

1828   

Horatio Allen, chief engineer of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, met with officials of the South Carolina Canal & Rail Road Company and discussed the type of road to build and recommended using a steam locomotive. Allen had studied steam locomotives in England and was positive that steam locomotives were the future.

1840-Births
John Reeks aka ... Francis Dawson

Austin John Reeks (Francis Dawson)

Austin John Reeks was born in London. The Reeks were one of the oldest Catholic families in England and traced their roots back to the War of Roses. He would later join the Confederacy under the name Francis Warrington Dawson and re-locate to Charleston where he would become publisher of the News and Courier.

Today In Charleston History: May 1

1707-England 

The Act of Union took effect. The Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament united to form the Parliament of Great Britain. Anne becomes Queen of Great Britain.

1757 – Fortifications

Construction of the city’s fortifications were finished within ten months.  De Brahm’s design, a “continuous line of Ramparts, forming regular Bastions, detach’d or joined with curtains,”connected Granville’s Bastion with Broughton’s at White Point. The new wall was four feet taller than the previous one and the Gazette noted that “the sea is damn’d out.”

1763 – Marriage

John Rutledge married Elizabeth Grimke. There were to have ten children, eight that reached maturity.

1775 – Publishing

 Robert Wells of the South Carolina and American General Gazette, a committed Royalist, left Charlestown for England. His son, John Wells, assumed the duties of publisher and editor and espoused the Patriot cause until 1780.

106 Tradd Street, John Stuart House

106 Tradd Street, John Stuart House

False rumors that John Stuart, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs, was plotting to incite Indians to attack back country settlements, forced him to abandon his house at 106 Tradd Street. He was fearful of reprisals by the Secret Committee of Five, and other Revolutionaries. He fled to St. Augustine.

 1780-The Siege of Charlestown.

Provisions for the American army was reduced to seven weeks of rice. In order to taunt the Americans, the British began to fire shells armed, not with gunpowder and lead, but with rice & sugar. 

Being cut off from supply lines Lt. Governor Christopher Gadsden permitted Lincoln’s officers to confiscate foodstuffs from citizen’s houses. They discovered “scare a sufficiency for the supply of private families.” More than twenty civilians had been killed and thirty houses burned by British artillery.

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: 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.”

1900

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 19

1778 – Politics
Rawlins_Lowndes

Rawllins Lowndes

South Carolina President Rawlings Lowndes approved changes to the state constitution that changed the title of South Carolina’s chief executive’s office from president to governor, although he was called “president” until the end of his term. It also disestablished the Church of England in South Carolina.

1785 – Education

The Legislature granted a charter for College of Charleston to “encourage and institute youth in the several branches of liberal education.” The founders of the College include three signers of the Declaration of Independence (Edward Rutledge, Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward, Jr.) and three future signers of the United States Constitution (John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney).

The Act also granted the college almost 9 acres of land bounded by present-day Calhoun, St. Philip, Coming and George streets; three-fourths of the land was soon sold to pay debts,  In 1837 CofC became America’s first municipal college in the country.

Randolph Hall, College of Charleston main campus

Randolph Hall, College of Charleston main campus