Today In Charleston History: May 28


Gov. Glen asked London for three companies of British regulars who “would give heart to our … people [and] prove usefull in preventing or suppressing any Insurrections of our Negroes.” Many citizens were growing concerned over the “great numbers of Negroes … playing Dice and other Games.”

1788-First Golf Club

On May 28, 1788, an advertisement in the Charleston City Gazette requested that members of the South Carolina Golf Club meet on “Harleston’s Green, this day, the 28th.” After which they adjourned to “Williams’ Coffee House.” Also in 1788 there was an announcement of the formation of the South Carolina Golf Club was also listed in The Southern States Emphemris: The North and South Carolina and Georgia Almanac.         Read the entire story here.


Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was born at the “Contreras” sugar-cane plantation in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, about 20 miles outside New Orleans.

Rev. Richard Furman

Rev. Richard Furman

Motivated by the Denmark Vesey rebellion, Rev. Dr. Richard Furman of Charleston’s First Baptist Church published his “Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population in the United States” – a biblical defense of slavery that southerners would use to defend slavery until the 13th US constitutional amendment (1865) finally put an end to slavery in the United States. In the “Exposition” Furman claimed that:

the holding of slaves is justifiable by the doctrine and example contained in Holy writ; and is; therefore consistent with Christian uprightness, both in sentiment and conduct … That slavery, when tempered with humanity and justice, is a state of tolerable happiness; equal, if not superior, to that which many poor enjoy in countries reputed free. That a master has a scriptural right to govern his slaves so as to keep it in subjection; to demand and receive from them a reasonable service; and to correct them for the neglect of duty, for their vices and transgressions; but that to impose on them unreasonable, rigorous services, or to inflict on them cruel punishment, he has neither a scriptural nor a moral right. At the same time it must be remembered, that, while he is receiving from them their uniform and best services, he is required by the Divine Law, to afford them protection, and such necessaries and conveniencies of life as are proper to their condition as servants … That it is the positive duty of servants to reverence their master, to be obedient, industrious, faithful to him, and careful of his interests; and without being so, they can neither be the faithful servants of God, nor be held as regular members of the Christian Church. 


Robert Smalls met Abraham Lincoln and gave the President his personal account of the events of his escape to freedom.  

Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls


#Today In Charleston History: May 13

1862 – The Escape of The Planter

The Planter

The Planter was a high-pressure, side-wheel steamer, one hundred and forty feet in length, and about fifty feet beam. She was built in Charleston, was formerly used as a cotton-boat, and was capable of carrying about 1400 bales. On the organization of the Confederate navy she was transformed into a gun-boat, and was the most valuable war vessel the Confederates had at Charleston. Her armament consisted of one 32-pound rifle gun forward, and a 24-pound howitzer aft.

On the night of May 12-13 The Planter also had on board one seven-inch rifled gun, one eight-inch Columbiad, one eight-inch howitzer, one long 32-pounder, and about two hundred rounds of ammunition, which had been consigned to Fort Ripley, and which would have been delivered at that fortification on Tuesday had not the designs of the rebel authorities been frustrated.

The Planter’s slave pilot was named Robert Smalls. On this night, three white officers decided to spend the night ashore. About 3:00 am on the 13th, Smalls and seven of the eight enslaved crewmen decided to make a run for the Union vessels that formed the blockade.

Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls

Smalls dressed in the captain’s uniform was wearing a straw hat similar to that of the white captain. He backed the Planter out of what was then known as Southern Wharf around 3 a.m. The Planter stopped at a nearby wharf to pick up Smalls’ family and the relatives of other crewmen, who had been concealed there for some time. With his crew and the women and children, Smalls made the daring escape. The Planter had as cargo four valuable artillery pieces, besides its own two guns. Perhaps most valuable was the code book that would reveal the Confederate’s secret signals, and the placement of mines and torpedoes in and around Charleston harbor. Smalls used proper signals so the Confederate soldiers would not know he was escaping in the ship.

Smalls piloted the ship past the five Confederate forts that guarded the harbor, including Fort Sumter. The renegade ship passed by Sumter approximately 4:30 a.m. He headed straight for the Federal fleet, which was part of the Union blockade of Confederate ports, making sure to hoist a white sheet as a flag.

The first ship he encountered was USS Onward, which was preparing to fire until a sailor noticed the white flag. When the Onward’s captain boarded the Planter, Smalls requested to raise the United States flag immediately. Smalls turned the Planter over to the United States Navy, along with its cargo of artillery and explosives intended for a Confederate fort.

Admiral Samuel DuPont

Admiral Samuel DuPont

Because of his extensive knowledge of the shipyards and Confederate defenses, Smalls provided valuable assistance to the Union Navy. He gave detailed information about the harbor’s defenses to Admiral Samuel Dupont, commander of the blockading fleet.

Smalls quickly became famous in the North. Numerous newspapers ran articles describing his daring actions. Congress passed a bill, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, that rewarded Smalls and his crewmen with the prize money for the captured Planter. Smalls’ own share was $1,500 (about $34,000 adjusted for inflation in 2012 dollars), a huge sum for the time.

 The names of the black men of the crew were:

  • Robert Smalls, pilot;
  • John Smalls and Alfred Gradine, engineers;
  • Abraham Jackson, Gabriel Turno, William Morrison, Samuel Chisholm, Abraham Allston, and David Jones.
The Planter, loaded with bales of cotton at Georgetown, SC

The Planter, loaded with bales of cotton at Georgetown, SC

Today In Charleston History: April 7

1780 – The Seige of Charlestown

A group of 700 battle-tested veteran Virginia Continentals sent by Gen. George Washington arrived in Charlestown. They crossed the Wando River and landed at Christopher Gadsden’s wharf. They marched through town to the lines to the pealing of church bells. At the lines they were greeted with cheers and a firing of thirteen cannons, one for each of the independent states.

1805 – Francis Pickens Born

Francis Pickens

Francis Wilkinson Pickens was born in Togadoo, St Paul’s Parish, Colleton County, South Carolina. His father was former Gov. Andrew Pickens and his grandfather was Gen. Andrew Pickens, an American Revolutionary soldier at the Battle of Cowpens and later U.S. Congressman.

A cousin of Senator John C. Calhoun, Pickens was born into the culture of States Rights, and became an ardent supporter of nullification (refusal to pay federal import tariffs) when he served in the South Carolina house of representatives, before being elected to Congress and then the state senate.

Pickens served in Congress  from South Carolina from 1834 until 1843 and was a member of the South Carolina state senate from 1844 until 1846.  Under President James Buchanan, Pickens was Minister to Russia from 1858–1860, where he and his wife were befriended by Czar Alexander II. He was Governor when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the U.S.A.

As state governor during the Fort Sumter crisis, he sanctioned the firing on the ship bringing supplies to the beleaguered Union garrison, and to the bombardment of the fort. After the war,  Pickens introduced the motion to repeal South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession, a short speech that was received in silence, in notable contrast with the rejoicing that had first greeted the Ordinance.

 1863 – Battle of Charleston

The First Battle of Charleston Harbor began at noon. Shortly after 3 p.m., they came within range of Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter; and the battle began. Southern obstructions and a strong flood tide made the ironclads virtually unmanageable, while accurate fire from the forts played upon them at will. With the Union formation scrambled, Keokuk was compelled to run ahead of crippled USS Nahant to avoid her in the narrow channel after Nahant ’​s pilot was killed and helmsman wounded by a Confederate shot striking the pilothouse. This brought her less than 600 yards (550 m) from Fort Sumter, where she remained for half an hour receiving the undivided attention of the Confederate guns.


USS Keokuk

USS Keokuk

Robert Smalls, former slave, piloted ironclad USS Keokuk. The attack failed, and Keokuk was badly damaged, struck by about ninety projectiles, many of which hit at or below her waterline. Commander Rhind reported his ship as being hit by a combination of solid shot, bolts, and possibly hot shot. However, she was able to withdraw under her own power and anchor out of range, thanks in part to the skills of Robert Smalls, Her crew kept her afloat through the night, but when a breeze came up on the morning of 8 April 1863, Keokuk began taking on more water, filled rapidly, and sank off Morris Island. She had given one month of commissioned service. One of Keokuk’s sailors, Quartermaster Robert Anderson, was awarded the Medal of Honor in part for his actions during the battle. In all, 14 of Keokuk ’​s crew were injured in the battle, including Captain Rhind with a contusion to his leg. Acting Ensign Mackintosh, one of the gun captains, later died from his wounds.

Guns from the USS Keokuk

Guns from the USS Keokuk

Cannons from the Keokuk are now on display at White Point Garden along South Battery.

1864 – Bombardment of Charleston

In a letter to him mother, Gus Smythe wrote:

You must not feel anxious about me up here, & never fear my falling down the stairs, tho’ there are 170 of them. Oh my, there goes that bell & such a cracking and shaking as this old steeple does get up whenever they ring … the first time you experience it you feel certain that it is going to fall immediately. It seems God’s providence was specially directed toward this vernerable – but shaky – old spire.

Today In Charleston History: February 23

1915 – Deaths

Robert Smalls died, ending an extraordinary life. 

smallsSmalls was born on April 5, 1839, behind his owner’s city house at 511 Prince Street in Beaufort, S.C. His mother, Lydia, served in the house but grew up in the fields, where, at the age of nine, she was taken from her own family on the Sea Islands.  The McKee family favored Robert Smalls over the other slave children, so much so that his mother worried he would reach manhood without grasping the horrors of the institution into which he was born. To educate him, she arranged for him to be sent into the fields to work and watch slaves at “the whipping post.”

By the time Smalls turned 19, he was working in Charleston. He was allowed to keep one dollar of his wages a week (his owner took the rest). Far more valuable was the education he received on the water; few knew Charleston harbor better than Robert Smalls.

It’s where he earned his job on the Planter. It’s also where he met his wife, Hannah, a slave of the Kingman family working at a Charleston hotel. With their owners’ permission, the two moved into an apartment together and had two children: Elizabeth and Robert Jr. Well aware this was no guarantee of a permanent union, Smalls asked his wife’s owner if he could purchase his family outright; they agreed but at a steep price: $800. Smalls only had $100.

By 1862, Smalls viewed the Union blockade of the Charleston harbor as a tantalizing promise of freedom. Under orders from Secretary Gideon Welles in Washington, Navy commanders had been accepting runaways as contraband since the previous September. While Smalls couldn’t afford to buy his family on shore, he knew he could win their freedom by sea — and so he told his wife to be ready for whenever opportunity dawned.


The Planter

Just before dawn on May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls and a crew of fellow slaves, slipped a cotton steamer, Planter, off the dock, picked up family members at a rendezvous point, then slowly navigated their way through the harbor. Smalls, doubling as the captain donned the captain’s wide-brimmed straw hat to help to hide his face. As they sailed out of the harbor Smalls responded with the proper coded signals at two Confederate checkpoints and sailed into the open seas. Once outside of Confederate waters, he had his crew raise a white flag and surrendered his ship to the blockading Union fleet.

In less than four hours, Smalls had accomplished an amazing feat: commandeering a heavily armed Confederate ship and delivered its 17 black passengers (nine men, five women and three children) from slavery to freedom. “One of the most heroic and daring adventures since the war commenced was undertaken and successfully accomplished by a party of negroes in Charleston,” trumpeted the June 14, 1862, edition of Harper’s Weekly.

On May 30, 1862, the U.S. Congress, passed a private bill authorizing the Navy to appraise the Planter and award Smalls and his crew half the proceeds for “rescuing her from the enemies of the Government.” Smalls received $1,500 personally, enough to purchase his former owner’s house in Beaufort off the tax rolls following the war, though according to the later Naval Affairs Committee report, his pay should have been substantially higher.

In the North, Smalls was hailed as a hero. He lobbied Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to begin enlisting black soldiers and a few months later after President Lincoln ordered black troops raised, Smalls recruited 5,000 soldiers himself. In October 1862, he returned to the Planter as pilot as part of Admiral Du Pont’s South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. According to the 1883 Naval Affairs Committee report, Smalls was engaged in approximately 17 military actions, including the April 7, 1863, assault on Fort Sumter and the attack at Folly Island Creek, S.C.

Two months later he assumed command of the Planter when, under “very hot fire,” its white captain became so “demoralized” he hid in the “coal-bunker.” Smalls was promoted to the rank of captain, and starting in December 1863 on, he earned $150 a month, making him one of the highest paid black soldiers of the war. When the war ended in April 1865, Smalls was on board the Planter in a ceremony in Charleston Harbor at Fort Sumter.

Following the war, Smalls served in the South Carolina state assembly and senate, and for five nonconsecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1874-1886).He died in Beaufort on February 23 1915, in the same house behind which he had been born a slave and is buried behind a bust at the Tabernacle Baptist Church.

“My race needs no special defense for the past history of them and this country. It proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.” — Robert Smalls

Today In Charleston History: December 24

1737 – Religion
John Wesley

John Wesley

John Wesley left Charlestown for England, ending his ministry in Georgia.

1825 – Fire

A fire destroyed parts of King Street with damages estimated to be at least $80,000. Authorities determined it was the work of arsonists. Over the next several weeks, more fires were set nightly. With the Denmark Vesey slave conspiracy still fresh in resident’s mind, it was thought the arsonists were slaves.


The Charleston Courier reported:

The public are respectfully informed that the Rail Road Company has purchased from Mr. E.L. Miller his locomotive steam engine and that it will hereafter be constantly employed in the transportation of passengers. The time of leaving the station in Line Street will be 8 o’clock, at 10 a.m. at 1 and half past three o’ clock p.m.. Great punctuality will be observed in the time of starting.

Best Friend of Charleston

Best Friend of Charleston

1854 – Slavery

Robert Smalls, a slave harbor pilot married hotel maid Hannah Jones.

Today In Charleston History: December 1

1773 – American Revolution – Foundations.

Two hundred and fifty-seven chests of tea arrived in Charlestown on the ship London. Consigned by the East India Company, the arrival of the tea set off a crisis. Handbills were passed out, calling for a mass meeting of all South Carolinians at the great hall in the Exchange Building.

1781 American Revolution

Henry Laurens, Charleston diplomat, and the first American imprisoned in the Tower of London, wrote a bitter note which was smuggled out of the Tower and sent to Congress:

Almost fifteen months I have been closely confined and inhumanely treated. The treaty for exchange is abortive. There has been languor, and there is neglect somewhere. If I merit your attention, you will not longer delay speedy and efficacious means for my deliverance.

laurens, tower

Tower of London; Henry Laurens’ cell. Photos by Mark R. Jones


Dr. Thomas Tudor Tucker

Dr. Thomas Tudor Tucker of Charleston was appointed as Treasurer of the United States by President Thomas Jefferson. He would hold the position for twenty-six years under four different presidents: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams, and died while holding the office in 1828. From 1809 to 1817, Tucker managed to hold the treasurer’s post while also serving as President James Madison’s personal physician.

Tucker was the longest serving Treasurer in American history.


Thomas Bennett was elected governor of South Carolina.

1822 – Slavery

As a result of the Vesey Conspiracy, SC Legislature passed a law requiring all free black males over fifteen years old either take a white guardian, or be sold into slavery.  Any free black who left South Carolina and returned could be enslaved.

1832 – Nullification Crisis

In a coordinated effort with V-P Calhoun, Robert Hayne resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate.


On December 1, the Planter was caught in a crossfire between Union and Confederate forces. The ship’s commander, Captain Nickerson, decided to surrender. The ship’s pilot, Robert Smalls refused, fearing that the black crewmen would not be treated as prisoners of war and might be summarily killed. The Planter was a former Confederate vessel that was piloted out of Charleston harbor by an enslaved pilot, Robert Smalls, who surrendered the vessel to the United States navy. Smalls and his family were given their freedom and Smalls later met with Pres. Lincoln. 

Taking command of the Planter from Nickerson, Smalls piloted the ship out of range of the Confederate guns. For his bravery, Smalls was named to replace Nickerson as the Planter’s captain – the first black captain of a vessel in the service of the United States.


The Planter