Today In Charleston History: April 11

1842 – Deaths.

Bishop John England died.

Bishop_John_EnglandEngland was an Irish-born American Roman Catholic (1786) who became the first bishop of Charleston. Ordained in 1808, England became an instructor at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Cork, where in 1812 he was made president. His outspoken opposition to governmental intervention in the selection of Irish and English bishops displeased some of his superiors.

He was named bishop of the new diocese of Charleston—comprising the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia—and was consecrated in Ireland (Sept. 21, 1820). Seeing that the first need of his diocese was education, he prepared and printed a catechism and a missal for Americans. He founded the United States Catholic Miscellany, the first Roman Catholic newspaper in the United States. An eloquent orator, he was also the first Roman Catholic clergyman invited to speak before the U.S. Congress (1826), where for two hours he described the doctrines of his church. He became a U.S. citizen in the same year.

1861 – Civil War

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard sent a letter to Major Anderson demanding the surrender of Fort Sumter. The letter was carried by Col. James Chesnut, Alexander Chisolm and Stephen Dill Lee. Their boat, carrying a white flag, landed at Ft. Sumter at 3:34 p.m. They were escorted to the guardroom, just inside the gate. The note from Beauregard read:

SIR: The Government of the Confederate States has hitherto forborne from any hostile demonstration against Fort Sumter, in the hope that the Government of the United States, with a view to the amicable adjustment of all questions between the two Governments, and to avert the calamities of war, would voluntarily evacuate it.

There was reason at one time to believe that such would be the course pursued by the Government of the United States, and under that impression my Government has refrained from making any demand for the surrender of the fort. But the Confederate States can no longer delay assuming actual possession of a fortification commanding the entrance of one of their harbors, and necessary to its defense and security.

I am ordered by the Government of the Confederate States to demand the evacuation of Fort Sumter. My aides, Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee, are authorized to make such demand of you. All proper facilities will be afforded for the removal of yourself and command, together with company arms and property, and all private property, to any post in the United States which you may select. The flag which you have upheld so long and with so much fortitude, under the most trying circumstances, may be saluted by you on taking it down.

Colonel Chesnut and Captain Lee will for a reasonable time, await your answer.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
 G. T. BEAUREGARD, Brigadier-General, Commanding. 

Anderson read the note to his officers and they agreed to reject the Confederacy’s ultimatum. About 4:30 p.m. Anderson handed his response to Chesnut and the Confederate aides boarded their boat to carry it back to Beauregard in Charleston.

Federal officers at Fort Sumter. BACK ROW, L-R: Capt. Seymour, 1st Lt. Snyder, 1st Lt. Davis, 2nd Lt. Meade, 1st lt. Talbot. FRONT ROW, L-R: Capt. Doubleday, Major Anderson, Asst. Surgeon Crawford, Capt. Foster. Courtesy Library of Congress

Federal officers at Fort Sumter. BACK ROW, L-R: Capt. Seymour, 1st Lt. Snyder, 1st Lt. Davis, 2nd Lt. Meade, 1st lt. Talbot. FRONT ROW, L-R: Capt. Doubleday, Major Anderson, Asst. Surgeon Crawford, Capt. Foster. Courtesy Library of Congress

As they were leaving Anderson asked, “Will General Beauregard open his batteries without further notice to me?”

Col. Chesnut, a former U.S. Senator, and therefore the most senior of the aides answered, “No, I can say to you that he will not, without giving further notice.”

Anderson replied, “Gentlemen, if you do not batter the fort to pieces about us, we shall be starved out in a few days.”  Anderson was sending Beauregard, a friend and former colleague, a subtle message: that if the resupply effort from Washington was unsuccessful, Anderson was going to have to decide whether to surrender the fort.

James Chesnut and Stephen Dill Lee, Confederate Aides-de-Camp to Gen. Beauregard. Courtesy Library of Congress

James Chesnut and Stephen Dill Lee, Confederate Aides-de-Camp to Gen. Beauregard. Courtesy Library of Congress

While these events on at Fort Sumter were playing out, in downtown Charleston, rumors had spread that something was going to happen. Emma Holmes described it in her diary:

 A day never to be forgotten in the annals of Charleston … the whole afternoon & night the Battery was thronged with spectators of every age and sex, anxiously watching and awaiting with the momentary expectation of hearing the war of cannon opening on the fort or on the fleet which was reported off the bar. Everybody was restless and all who could go were out.

At approximately 5:30 p.m., Chesnut delivered Anderson’s note to Beauregard in Charleston. It read:

GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication demanding the evacuation of this fort, and to say, in reply thereto, that it is a demand with which I regret that my sense of honor, and of my obligations to my Government, prevent my compliance. Thanking you for the fair, manly, and courteous terms proposed, and for the high compliment paid me.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major, First Artillery, Commanding.

Today In Charleston History: April 6

17th century frigate

17th century frigate, similar to the Carolina.

“Early in April” (the only date recorded, but upon investigation of related documents, letters etc … April 6-7 seems to accurate) the Carolina sailed into what is now Charleston harbor, navigated past something called “Oyster Point” (a spit of sandy land which at low tide was covered with shells) and sailed up the Kiawha (Ashley) River. About three miles inland they landed on the west bank. They named the settlement Albemarle Point (named after George Monck, Duke of Albermarle, one of the Lords Proprietor.) Albermarle Point is currently the site of Charles Town Landing, a state park. It became the third English colony in North America (Virginia, 1607 and Massachusetts, 1620).

They chose a nine-acre site on what is now called Town Creek, making the settlement invisible to vessels sailing into the harbor until they sailed more than three miles inland around the curve of the Ashley River. Security from the Spanish was always a major consideration.

The cargo of the Carolina included:

  • 15 tons of beer
  • 30 gallons of brandy
  • 59 bushels of flour
  • 12 suits of armor
  • 100 beds and pillows
  • 1200 grubbing hoes
  • 100,000 four penny nails
  • 756 fishing hooks

The passengers include: 29 “Masters” (men of property) and “free” persons; 63 indentured white servants; and 1 black slave. One of the servant girls, Affra Harleston, married the first mate of the Carolina, John Coming.


Pres. Lincoln notified Governor Francis Pickens and Gen.P.G.T. Beauregard that he had sent a naval expedition to resupply Fort Sumter, including 200 reinforcements. Pres. Jefferson Davis ordered Beauregard to prevent those provisions from being delivered.

Mary Chesnut, wife of Col. James Chesnut, second in command to Beauregard, wrote on April 6:

The plot thickens, the air is red hot with rumors … In spite of all, Tom Huger came for us and we went on the Planter to take a look at Morris Island …

A reporter for the New York Times wrote about the attitude among Charleston’s city’s elite. He suggested that a doctor be sent to the city to “give us a proper analysis of them.” He reported:

The more I see of the men of Charleston, the more convinced I am that very many of them act, talk and behave like perfect children … Charleston is a sublime mystery not measured by any of the common-sense rules that govern one in their intercourse with ordinary people.


Top: Pres. Lincoln & Gen. Beauregard Bottom: Gov. Pickens & Mary Chesnut

Today In Charleston History: January 28

1787 – Marriage

Dr. David Ramsay married Martha Laurens.

Ramsay had been married twice, and tragically lost both wives within a year of being married. Martha was the beloved daughter of Henry Laurens, former President of Continental Congress, and the first American imprisoned in the Tower of London (he was arrested by the British while acting as an agent for Congress raising funds for the Revolution in Europe.) Ramsay met Martha while he was researching his History of the Revolution of South Carolina. 

1861 – Secession 
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

Pierre Gustave Toutant Beuaregard

P.G.T. Beauregard was removed as Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It was the shortest tenure of any superintendent – five days. His orders were revoked when his native Louisiana seceded from the Union. Beauregard protested to the War Department that they had cast “improper reflection upon [his] reputation or position in the Corps of Engineers” by forcing him out as a Southern officer before any hostilities began.

Within a month he resigned his commission and became the first Brigadier General of the Confederate Army. He served in Charleston and ordered the firsts shots of the War be fired at Fort Sumter. 

1866 – Civil War

The melted fragments of St. Michael’s bells were shipped to England by Fraser, Trenholm and Company. 

The bells for St. Michael’s were cast in 1764, by Lester & Pack in London. When the British evacuated Charleston in 1782 as part of their plunder, the eight bells of St. Michael’s were taken back to England. Shortly afterward, a merchant in London secured the bells and returned them to a grateful Charleston. 


st. michael's - postcard

St. Michael’s Church

In 1864, when Sherman made his march through the South Carolina, Charleston expected to be in his path, so the bells were sent to Columbia for safe-keeping.  Sherman by passed Charleston and burned Columbia, the state capital. The shed in which the bells were stored was burned and the bells were reduced into molten slag. The metal was salvaged and the bells were sent to London to be recast by Lester & Pack – today in history.The bells were returned in 1868 and resumed their place in the church.

In 1989, the bells were damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They once again were shipped to London for repair. They can be heard chiming in Charleston today on an hourly basis.

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.”