Today In Charleston History: January 12


colonel-william-rhettCol. William Rhett died of apoplexy in Charlestown. He was described as “greedy, violent, vulgar, lawless, brave, impulsive, generous … greedily violating law and propriety for bigger profits, insulting the noble and courteous Gov. Craven.” He was also one of the most important citizens of early Charles Town. Rhett served as colonel of the Provincial Militia, receiver general of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, surveyor and comptroller of customs for Carolina and the Bahama Islands. 

In 1706 Rhett commanded a flotilla that fought off a Franco-Spanish attack on Charles Town.Ten years later, he outfitted two ships as pirate hunters – the Henry and the Sea Nymph, each with eight guns and a crew of between 60 and 70 men. Rhett assumed the position of captain of this small flotilla and led it to victory in the 1718 Battle of Cape Fear River, capturing the infamous Stede Bonnet, the so-called “gentleman pirate.”

1760 – Epidemics

One of the most severe small pox outbreaks in colonial America started, most likely brought to the city by returning soldiers from the Cherokee Indian expedition.  More than 6000 people contracted the disease, resulting in 380 deaths among whites and about 350 blacks. This led to the first mass inoculation of the Charlestown population, with more than 2000 people taking the shot within a few weeks, more than 600 in one day according to Dr. Alexander Garden.

Three month old Martha Ramsay was pronounced dead of smallpox. Her body was laid out in preparation for a funeral and placed next to an open window. Dr. John Moultrie arrived and pronounced her still alive, speculating she had been revived by the fresh breeze.

Eliza Pinckney wrote: “Many poor wretches … died for want of proper nursing … smallpox rages the city so that it almost puts a stop to all business.”

1773 – Charleston First

Charleston Museum was established – 1st natural history museum in America.

The Charleston Library Society provided the core collection of natural history artifacts for the founding of the Charleston Museum (the first in America) in 1773. Residents were encouraged to donate objects for the new museum on Chalmers Street. Some of initial acquisitions included “a drawing of the head of a bird, an Indian hatchet, a Hawaiian woven helmet, and a Cassava basket from Surinam.”

The museum also acquired “a Rittenhouse orrery, a Manigault telescope, a Camera obscura, a hydrostatic balance, and a pair of elegant globes.”


A camera obscura box with mirror, with an upright projected image at the top

Today In Charleston History: December 10


Affra Harleston donated 17 acres of land south of George Street to St. Philips Church, known as the “Glebe Lands,” or lands belonging to the church.

1718 – Piracy.

Stede Bonnet, Gentleman Pirate, was hanged, supervised by Col. Rhett. Bonnet stood clutching a posey of wild flowers. He was “swung off” the cart and died “the agonizing death of strangulation.” During one month’s time, the province of South Carolina executed forty-nine pirates, an unparalleled event.

Illustration from: Kate Bonnet: The Romance of a Pirate’s Daughter, 1902 – Library of Congress

Stede Bonnet execution

Stede Bonnet execution

1719 – Bloodless Revolution.

Angry Carolinians met in Charles Town and formed a Revolutionary Assembly. They refused to recognize the Proprietors’ vetoes and asked Governor Johnson to:

hold the reins of government for the King till his Majesty’s pleasure be known, for the people are determined to get rid of the oppression and arbitrary dealings of the Lords Proprietors.

Governor Johnson refused the Assembly’s request, supported the Proprietors and ordered the Assembly dissolved.


In response to the catastrophic November fire, The Assembly passed an Act for Rebuilding which required all buildings to be made of brick or stone and fixed the prices of building materials.


Joseph Alston was elected governor of South Carolina.

1843 – Marriage.

Mary Baker Eddy, 1850

Mary Baker Eddy, 1850

Mary Baker Eddy married George Washington Glover, a Charleston businessman, in her family’s home in Boston. They moved to Charleston for a short period, living in his home at 51 Hasell Street.   In June 1844, after six months of marriage, Glover died of yellow fever during a business trip to Wilmington. Eddy who was with him in Wilmington was six months pregnant and had to make her way back to New Hampshire, 1,400 miles by train and steamboat, where her only child, George Washington II, was born on 12 September in her father’s home. In the 1860s Eddy founded the Christian Science religion. 

Today In Charleston History: November 12

1718 – Piracy


Stede Bonnet

Judge Nicholas Trott sentenced Bonnet to death. Trott’s long harangue during sentencing – quoting scripture and lecturing Bonnet on morality – probably felt like a death sentence to the pirate. Trott stated that Bonnet faced “not just physical death, but everlasting burning … in fire and brimstone.”

Bonnet was allowed an appeal, which he wrote to Governor Johnson.

Also, late that day, twenty-four pirates, Richard Worley’s crew, were put on trial. Five of the crew were acquitted, probably because they agreed to testify for the Crown. The other nineteen were found guilty, sentenced to death and hanged. 

stede bonnet - letter



Today In Charleston History: November 10


Peter Boez was fined £2 for “knocking down Mr. Pinckney, a Negro.” Mr. Tributed was fined 10s (shillings) for “retailing Rum on Sunday.”


The Treaty of Augusta was signed by the governors of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, and the chiefs of the Cherokees, Creeks, Chickaswas, Choctaws and Catawbas. John Stuart, Superintendent of Indian Affairs presided.

1860 – Road to Secession

The South Carolina delegation to Congress resigned and left Washington, D.C. South Carolina legislature was conducting an emergency secession conference in reaction to the election of  Republican Abraham Lincoln. They were meeting at the First Baptist Church due to the construction of the new State House.

James Petigru was in Columbia, SC for business, was stopped on the street and asked by a stranger for directions to the state insane asylum. Petigru replied, “The building, my friend, stands upon the outskirts of the town, but I think you will find the inmates yonder,” he pointed to the First Baptist Church.

first baptist columbia

First Baptist, Columbia

Today In Charleston History: October 25

1718 –Piracy  

col rhett and bonnet

Col. Rhett and Stede Bonnet

Some local merchants were nervous about the recently captured pirate, Stede Bonnet. They were afraid his testimony at his trial may link them to the buccaneer’s trade. Due to the lax security (and most likely a bribery of gold by merchant Richard Tookerman) at Capt. Partridge’s home, Stede Bonnet and David Herriot escaped. Bonnet disguised himself as a woman to escape undetected.

Accompanied by a slave and an Indian, they stole a small boat and planned to leave the harbor under cover of night and rendezvous with Moody’s ship, Cape Fear.  However, foul winds and lack of supplies forced the four of them onto Sullivan’s Island., where they cowered. Gov. Johnson at once placed a £700 bounty on Bonnet’s head and dispatched search teams to track him down, led by Col. William Rhett.



Charles Pinckney, son of Charles Pinckney, Junior and Francis Brewton Pickney, and cousin to Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, was born in Charlestown. He would later sign the U.S. Constitution with his cousin.

Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney

Today In Charleston History: October 21

1718 – Piracy

 Governor Johnson wrote to the Commissioners of trade and expressed his apprehension that “the pirates who infest the coast in great numbers would be much irritated” at the actions of Col. Rhett. (Rhett had recently captured the pirate Stede Bonnet who had blockaded Charles Town harbor with Blackbeard.) Johnson again asked for a permanent vessel be sent for the protection of the Carolina coast.

col rhett and bonnet

Col. Rhett’s capture of Stede Bonnet

Almost immediately, word arrived that a pirate ship named Cape Fear, captained by Christopher Moody, was off the bar with a vessel carrying fifty guns and 200 men. Moody was infamous for giving “no quarter” (sparing of lives). The news spread across the city like wildfire.

The Council approved Johnson’s request to outfit four ships – the Mediterranean (twenty-four guns), the King William (thirty guns), the Sea Nymph (six guns) and, ironically, Stede Bonnet’s former pirate vessel, the Royal James, was outfitted to hunt down pirates. The Council asked for volunteers, promising them a share of all the booty that might be taken.

1779 – American Revolution

Henry Laurens was elected Minister to Holland by the Continental Congress. He was to procure a $10,000,000 loan to finance the war effort.

Today In Charleston History: October 3

1650 – English Civil War, Foundations of Carolina.

Parliament passed an act which prohibited trade between England and Barbados. During the English Civil War Barbados became an asylum for Royalists seeking to avoid the conflict. After the execution of Charles I, Parliament sought to punish Barbados for remaining loyal to the King by restricting their trade. This eventually created an economic crisis on the small island.

Twenty years later, the Carolina colony became the “promised land” for many Barbadian merchants and planters.

1718 – Piracy


Half Moon Battery

Col. William Rhett triumphantly returned to Charles Town with two vessels which had been captured by the pirate Stede Bonnet, the Fortune and the Francis. Rhett delivered Bonnet and his men to the Provost Marshal of Carolina, Capt. Nathaniel Partridge, who placed them in the watch-house at the Half Moon battery to await trial.

Stede Bonnet remained in the custody of Capt. Partridge at the latter’s residence under armed guard. David Herriot and boatswain Ignatius Pell were also kept in Partridge’s residence, as they had agreed to give evidence for the Crown.

Stede Bonnet imprisoned in Charles Town.


Henry Laurens confronted Gov. Daniel Moore and rebuked him over his behavior. When Moore responded with an insult Laurens grabbed him by the nose and twisted it before a crowd of people. Laurens and other Charlestown merchants filed several lawsuits against Moore charging him with illegal extortion of fees. Moore quickly sailed to London to present his case to the Royal authorities.

1769  – Backcountry

In a letter to Lord Hillsborough, Lt Gov. William Bull complained about those:

backcountry inhabitants who chose to live by the wandering indolence of hunting than by the more honest and domestic employment of planting … little more than white Indians.


A grand jury in Charlestown recommended:

 that Jews and others may be restrained from allowing their negroes to sell good in shops, as such practice may induce other negroes to steal and barter with them … a profanation of the Lord’s Day.

1793 – Slavery, Haitian Rebellion

The ship Maria, bearing refugees from Haiti, docked in the city’s harbor.

1833 – South Carolina Railroad

The Charleston & Hamburg Railroad began to run two passenger-only daily trains from Line Street to Ridge Road, located between Cypress Swamp and Four Hole Swamp. The first train left Charleston at 6:00 a.m. and returned at 9:00 a.m. The second train left at 1:00 p.m., returning at 3:00 p.m.  For the first time, people could visit to Charleston and return home 30 miles away in one day.

best friend

Today In Charleston History: September 27

1671 – Indian Uprising.

Governor West and the Grand Council declared war against the Kussoes Tribe, living up the Combahee River. The Kussoes declared themselves allied with the Spanish and began raiding English properties. Within seven days, the English had defeated the Kussoes, killing some, and enslaving many, selling them to the West Indies.

1718 – Piracy.


Pirate battle

Col. William Rhett sailed up the Cape Fear River from Charles Town with two ships, the Henry and the Sea Nymph. He was on a mission to root out pirates along the Carolina coast. In the late afternoon Rhett spotted a suspicious ship named the Royal James floating at anchor. The vessel tried to sail toward the open sea, but the Henry intervened and was able to maneuver the Royal James onto a shoal. In the process, both the Henry and Sea Nymph ran aground as well – all three ships were stuck and the tide was receding. The crews of all three vessels spent the overnight hours preparing for battle when the tide turned and daylight arrived.

col rhett and bonnet

Stede Bonnet stands before William Rhett

The Henry was within firing range of the Royal James and as the tide gradually came in, the ships fought fiercely for two hours, cannons booming and muskets blazing. Rhett’s ships floated free first and they moved into position. The Charles Town men stormed the Royal James and overpowered the crew of thirty-five. Upon boarding the ship, Rhett discovered Stede Bonnet – wanted for the Blackbeard blockade four months before.

The Carolinians suffered eighteen dead and twenty-eight wounded. The pirates lost nine of their crew with two wounded. Most of the surviving pirates were hanged in Charles Town in November.

1805 – Deaths.

Gen. William Moultrie died at the age of 74 and was buried outside Charleston in what is now North Charleston in the family cemetery on his son’s property at Windsor Hill Plantation off Ashley Phosphate Road. His body was later reinterred at Ft. Moultrie.

moultie image