Today In History: June 16

1701-England. Religion.

King William III issued a charter establishing the “Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts” as “an organisation able to send priests and schoolteachers to America to help provide the Church’s ministry to the colonists.”

1776-American Revolution

The privateer Polly, commanded by Capt. Francis Morgan and carrying a cargo of 300 barrels of gunpowder, 20 chests of cartridges, 90 barrels of rum, sugar, and gin, tried to run the gauntlet of British ships into Charleston Harbor.

The Polly ran aground near Stono Creek and the Patriots scuttled and abandoned her. The HMS Bristol sent eight boats under the command of Lt. Molloy to investigate and attempt to refloat the Polly, but she had five feet of water in her hold. So, they set her on fire, and she

“blew up with a great Explosion… It would have been much greater but she had five feet of water in her hold, which had damaged a great deal of the Powder.”

1788-Piracy

Richard Cain, Richard Williams, William Rogers, John Masters, and William Pendergrass from the schooner Two Friends, were executed for piracy and murder at Hangman’s Point opposite the city of Charleston.

The bodies of William Rogers and Richard Williams, being the principal aggressors, were cut down and conveyed to Morris’s island, there to be hung in chains.

1802

Aaron Burr sailed from Charleston on the Comet. The ailing Theodosia traveled with her father, her three-week old son and her sister-in-law Maria Alston to her father’s house in New York, Richmond Hill, to escape the Charleston summer.

1826

Another fire set by arsonists on King Street resulted in $100,000 in damages. Four years after the discovery of the Denmark Vesey plot,  Much of the white population was living in dread of another slave insurrection.

1862-Civil War

On this day, a Union attempt to capture Charleston, South Carolina, is thwarted when the Confederates turn back an attack at Secessionville, just south of the city on James Island. Read about the Battle of Secessionville.

The Union army establishes a foothold on James Island on the Stono River. Harper’s Weekly

The Union army establishes a foothold on James Island on the Stono River. Harper’s Weekly

1934-Porgy and Bess
George Gershwin and Debose Heyward on Chalmers Street, Charleston, SC

George Gershwin and Debose Heyward on Chalmers Street, Charleston, SC

George Gershwin arrived by train in Charleston with his cousin, artist Henry Botkin. They drove out to Folly Beach where Heyward had rented a cottage at 708 West Arctic Avenue. Gershwin was in the lowcountry to work on the score for his proposed opera, Porgy and Bess, based on Dubose Heyward’s novel and stage play, Porgy. 

For the entire story of Gershwin’s visit and Porgy and Bess read Doin’ the Charleston. doin' the charleston

Today In Charleston History: February 22

1752

The cornerstone of St. Michael’s Church was laid.

1934 – Porgy and Bess
heywardand gershwin

George Gershwin and Dubose Heyward

In a letter to Dubose Heyward, George Gershwin reported that “I have begun composing music for the first act, and I am starting with the songs and spirituals first.” He then asked Heyward to join him in New York so the work could be expedited.

Over the next two months, while living in a guest suite of Gershwin’s famous fourteen-room house at 132 East Seventy-second Street, Heyward wrote the lyrics for almost a dozen Gershwin compositions, including “Summertime,” “A Woman Is a Sometime Thing,” “Buzzard Song,” “It Take A Long Pull to Get There,” “My Man’s Gone,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and “I Got Plenty of Nuttin’.” 

Today In Charleston History: October 10

1765 – Elections

The people of the back country of South Carolina decided to show their unhappiness with the Charlestown politicians during the election. Many rode more than 100 miles to vote. The voters of St. Paul’s parish (Colleton County) arrived to discover that the election had been held ten days before the announced date. They were told by Charlestown officials that was due to an error by the printer, which no one believed.

1935
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Original playbill

The New York opening of Porgy and Bess took place at the Alvin Theatre in New York City and ran for 124 performances, impressive for an opera, and but woefully short for a musical. The reviews were decidedly mixed. Brooks Atkinson wrote in the New York Times, October 9, 1935:

After eight years of savory memories, Porgy has acquired a score, a band, a choir of singers and a new title, Porgy and Bess, which the Theatre Guild put on at the Alvin last evening … Although Mr. Heyward is the author of the libretto and shares with Ira Gershwin the credit for the lyrics, and although Mr. Mamoulian has again mounted the director’s box, the evening is unmistakably George Gershwin’s personal holiday … Let it be said at once that Mr. Gershwin has contributed something glorious to the spirit of the Heywards’ community legend.

Composer/critic Virgil Thomson, writing for the New York Herald-Tribune, was less kind, calling Gershwin’s incorporation of blues and jazz influences into a “serious” operatic score to be “falsely conceived and rather clumsily executed…crooked folklore and half-way opera.”

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Porgy and Bess, original cast

Today In Charleston History: September 30

1745 – Weather Obersvations

Dr. John Lining noted in a letter that “in the summer the shaded air of about 2 or 3 in the afternoon is frequently between 90 and 95 degrees.”

1799 – Slavery

Capt. Joseph Vesey’s manservant Telemaque (Telmak, or “Denmark” as he now preferred to be called) purchased an East Bay Lottery ticket #1884. 

1926 – Deaths

The funeral for Edmund Thornton Jenkins was held in Charleston on a Thursday at the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church on Palmetto Street. The Jenkins Orphanage Band marched through the Humane Friendly Cemetery and played a dirge at the gravesite. Jenks was buried next to his mother, Lena Jenkins.

In July Jenks had undergone surgery for appendicitis. After being returned to his bed he fell onto the floor sometime during the night where he remained undiscovered for several hours. He contracted pneumonia and his condition worsened. For some reason he had been released from the hospital and died at home on September 12.  The American consul in Paris cabled Rev. Jenkins to inform him of his son’s death. The six hundred dollar cost of having his body embalmed and shipped to America was paid by Rev. Jenkins.

jenks cemetery

1935

The world premiere performance Porgy and Bess took place at the Colonial Theatre in Boston. This was the traditional out-of-town performance for any show headed for Broadway.

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Original Broadway cast of “Porgy and Bess.”