Today In Charleston History: August 6

1806

In failing health and constant pain, and suffering from depression, Theodosia Burr Alston wrote her last will and testament. The birth of her son had resulted in debilitating medical problems which were untreatable in her time. It left Theodosia to live out the rest of her married life infertile and battling recurring bouts of illness. She made trips to Saratoga, New York and Ballston Spa in an effort to restore her health, but with no lasting effects.

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn - New York Historical Society

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn – New York Historical Society

Today In Charleston History: June 30

1665

A second charter was drafted to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina to settle several legal issues in the original 1629 Heath grant.

1702-Births

Elizabeth Villin was born in Amsterdam. She would later marry Lewis Timothy and move to Charles Town in 1731.

1812

Theodosia’s son, Aaron Burr Alston, died of a summer fever. Theodosia’s health deteriorated to the point she was unable to travel to visit her father. Joseph Alston wished to reunite his wife with her father. However, as brigadier general of the state militia, it was impossible for him to leave during a state of declared war.

1865

President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, issued a proclamation establishing a provisional government for South Carolina. He appointed Benjamin F. Perry, a South Carolina native as provisional governor because of the strong unionist views he had held prior to the war.

Benjamin Franklin Perry

Benjamin Franklin Perry

Perry was directed by the president to enroll voters and to lead the state in the writing of a new state constitution. The delegates at the constitutional convention largely followed Perry’s guidelines for the constitution, but they strayed by adopting the black codes to prevent black suffrage. President Johnson urged the granting of suffrage to blacks while also including a property qualification clause. A property qualification would essentially disenfranchise all blacks without giving the appearance of impropriety towards blacks and prevent the imposition of harsh terms by the Radical Republicans. 

Benjamin Franklin Perry said in 1865:

The African has been in all ages, a savage or a slave. God created him inferior to the white man in form, color, and intellect, and no legislation or culture can make him his equal… His hair, his form and features will not compete with the caucasian race, and it is in vain to think of elevating him to the dignity of the white man. God created differences between the two races, and nothing can make him equal.

Upon the completion of the constitution, elections were called and Perry sought election to the U.S. Senate. He was elected along with John Lawrence Manning, but the Radical Republicans in charge of Congress refused to seat them. In 1872, he unsuccessfully ran for the 4th congressional district House seat against Republican Alexander S. Wallace. His son, William Hayne Perry, did successfully gain election to the House and was a member from 1885 to 1891.

1934

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal  posted this story about George Gershwin at Folly Beach.  

GERSHWIN, GONE NATIVE, BASKS AT FOLLY BEACH.
Charleston, June 30.

Bare and black above the waist, an inch of hair bristling from his face, and with a pair of tattered knickers furnishing a sole connected link with civilization, George Gershwin, composer of jazz music, had gone native. He is staying at the Charles T. Tamsberg cottage at Folly Beach, South Carolina.

“I have become acclimated,” he said yesterday as he ran his hand experimentally through a crop of dark, matted hair which had not had the benefit of being combed for many, many days. “You know, it’s so pleasant here that it’s really a shame to work.”

Two weeks at Folly have made a different Gershwin from the almost sleek creator of “Rhapsody in Blue”  and “Concerto in F” who arrived from New York City on June 16. Naturally brown, he is now black. Naturally sturdy, he is now sturdier. Gershwin, it would seem intends to play the part of Crown, the tremendous buck in “Porgy” who lunges a knife into the throat of a friend too lucky at craps and who makes women love him by placing huge black hands about their throats and tensing their muscles.

George Gershwin

George Gershwin

The opera “Porgy” which Gershwin is writing from the book and play by DuBose Heyward, is to be a serious musical work to be presented by the Guild Theater early next year, is an interpretation in sound of the life in Charleston’s “Catfish Row”; an impressionistic dissertation on the philosophy of negro life and the relationship between the negro and the white.   Mr. Heyward, who is staying at Lester Karow’s cottage at the beach, spends every afternoon with the composer, cutting the score, rewriting and whipping the now-completed first act into final form.

“We are attempting to have an opera that is serious and dramatic,” Mr. Gershwin said.  “The whites will speak their lines, but the negroes will sing throughout. I hope the audience will get the idea. With the colored people there is always a song, see? They always find something to sing about somewhere. The whites are dull and drab.”

It is the crap game scene and subsequent murder by Crown which may make the first act the most dramatic of the production. A strange rhythm and an acid, biting quality in the music create the sensation of conflict and strife between men and strife caused by the rolling bones of luck.

“You won’t hear the dice click and roll,” he said. “It is impressionism, not realism. When you want to get a great painting of nature you don’t take a camera with you.”

Jazz will rear its hotcha head at intervals through the more serious music. Sporting Life, the negro who peddles “joy powder” or dope, to the residents of Catfish Row, will be represented by ragtime.

“Even though we are cutting as much as possible, it is going to be a very long opera,” Mr. Gershwin said. “It takes three times as long to sing a line as it does to say it. In the first act, scene one is 94 pages of music long and scene two is 74.”

There is only one thing about Charleston and Folly that Mr. Gershwin does not like. “Your amateur composers bring me their pieces for me to play. I am very busy and most of them are very bad – very, very bad,” he said.

George Gershwin rented the Tamsberg cottage for his visit to Folly Beach in 1934. It was completely destroyed in a hurricane in 1940. Dorothy and DuBose Heyward lived in the cottage now known as The Porgy House which will be open for tours again after December 8th.

Sketch of Gershwin’s cottage by his cousin, Henry Botkin. George Gershwin rented the Tamsberg cottage for his visit to Folly Beach in 1934. It was completely destroyed in a hurricane in 1940.
Dorothy and DuBose Heyward lived in the cottage which is now known as The Porgy House. Courtesy of The Gershwin Estate

Today in Charleston History: June 23  

1663 – Early Exploration

Capt. William Hilton exploring the coast for Sir John Yeamans, landed on either present-day Kiawah or Seabrook Island and officially took formal possession of Carolina for England and the Proprietors.

Dr. Henry Woodward, 20-year old ship’s surgeon under Sanford, agreed to stay behind and live with the Port Royal Indians in order to study their culture and language and lay the diplomatic groundwork for the future English settlers. The nephew of the tribal Cassique (chief) returned to London with Sanford.

1734-Religion.

First service was held at the Scots Meeting House at 53 Meeting Street. It was a simple frame structure southeast of the present-day First Scots Presbyterian Church building.

1809

Theodosia Burr Alston wrote her old friend Dolley Madison, now the First Lady of the United States, asking for her assistance to help her father return to America.

You may perhaps be surprised at receiving a letter from one with whom you have had little intercourse for the last few years, but your surprise will cease when you recollect that my father, once your friend, is now in exile; and that the President only can restore him to me and to his country.

1914 – Jenkins Orphanage

 Rev. Daniel Jenkins, in England with the Jenkins Band who were performing at the Anglo-American Expo, sent a letter on

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

Rev. Daniel Jenkins

his orphanage stationary (deleting “Charleston, S.C.” and replacing it with a typed “London, England”) to South Carolina Governor Coleman Blease. Some of the text of the letter included:

… the salvation of the South between the white and the black man lies in the careful training of the little negro boys and girls to become honest, upright and industrious citizens … Teaching the Negro to read, to write and to work is not going to do the white man any harm … Nine of the Councilmen of London called on me yesterday and congratulated me on the work I am doing for my race. If were able to gain the respect of the people of England, how much more can be done if the Governor and Lawmakers of South Carolina would simply co-operate with me?

coleman blease (library of congress)Blease had been elected governor in 1910, because he “knew how to play on race, religious, and class prejudices to obtain votes.”  He was one of the most racist politicians ever elected in South Carolina. He favored complete white supremacy in all matters. He encouraged the practice of lynching, and was opposed to the education of blacks. He even once buried the severed finger of a black lynching victim in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden.

In light of Blease’s racist attitude, Jenkins’s letter to the governor is an indication of the reverend’s fierce determination to raise money, no matter how remote the success.

Today In Charleston History: June 7

1770

Lt. Gov.William Bull reported that 3000 wagons came to Charlestown in one year from the backcountry carrying produce.

1808
Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr, in the early 1800s

Former vice-president Aaron Burr left America on a British mail packet Clarissa Ann from New York under the alias Mr. G. H. Edwards. Although his trial for treason had ended in his acquittal, and he was never charged with murder for the illegal duel with Alexander Hamilton, he was unable to pursue any political or business ventures, so he headed to Europe.

He would never see his beloved daughter Theodosia Burr Alston again. He spent his last night with her working out an elaborate system of codes they would use to correspond. He was being watched constantly and there was a long line of creditors seeking him out.

1818-Slavery. Religion.
Rev. Richard Allen

Rev. Richard Allen

Rev. Richard Allen and a delegation from Philadelphia arrived in Charleston at the invitation of Rev. Morris Brown to support the local A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church.

In 1794 Allen had founded the A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, the first independent black denomination in the United States.  In 1816 he was elected the first bishop of the AME Church.

1862-Bombardment of Charleston

 The vestry of St. Michael’s met and passed a resolution for “the removal of the bells to a place of Safety.” They was real concern that the city may be taken by Federal troops, and burned. The bells were placed in the care of Mr. J.K. Sass, president of the Bank of Charleston in Columbia. Advertisements were placed in local papers for bids to remove the bells from the church.

Today In Charleston History: May 22

1770 – Death

Henry Laurens’ wife, Eleanor, died in childbirth. Laurens fought a losing battle over his sorrow for several years. He wrote:

If I go here or there I find something or other to refresh my Sorrow and feel that some thing which constituted my Happiness is gone from me … I look round upon my Children, I lament for their Loss. I weep for my own.

 He never married again.

1777 – State Seal

The state seal was used for the first time by President John Rutledge. The seal was made up of two elliptical areas, linked by branches of the palmetto tree. The image on the left was a tall palmetto tree and an oak tree, fallen and broken, which represents the battle fought on June 28, 1776, between defenders of the unfinished fort on Sullivan’s Island, and the British Fleet. The standing palmetto represents the victorious defenders, and the fallen oak is the British Fleet. Banded together on the palmetto with the motto “Quis separabit?” (Who Will Separate [Us]?), are 12 spears that represent the first 12 states of the Union. At the bottom is the phrase “Animis Opibusque Parati,” or “Prepared in Mind and Resources.”

Seal of South Carolina

Seal of South Carolina

The other image on the seal depicts a woman walking along a shore littered with weapons. The woman, symbolizing Hope, grasps a branch of laurel as the sun rises behind her. Below her image is the word “Spes,” (Hope) and over the image is the motto “Dum Spiro Spero,” (While I Breathe I Hope.)

1802 – Birth

Theodosia Burr Alston gave birth to a son, Aaron Burr Alston at the Miles Brewton House at 27 King Street, the home of her father-in-law. It was a difficult birth and Theodosia suffered a prolapsed uterus, which rendered her incapable of having further children, and made marital relations with her husband impossible.  For the rest of her life she would endure spasms of intense pain.

1822-Denmark Vesey Rebellion

A slave named Peter, sitting on the Charleston wharves, noticed a ship named Sally recently arrived from St. Domingue. The ship was flying a flag with the number “96.” Puzzled, he asked another black man, William Paul, about the flag. Paul, who worked in a grocery store owned by John Paul, told him it was a reference to the 1796 Haitian slave insurrection. Paul then began to talk about the horrific conditions of the slaves in South Carolina. Peter became frightened and fled from Paul.

Peter reported the conversation with Paul to a friend, a prosperous free black man named William Penceel and member of the Brown Fellowship Society. Penceel advised Peter to tell his master. Peter’s master, John Prioleau, lived at 50 Meeting Street. Prioleau was a factor and was out of town inspecting plantations  so Peter told Prioleau’s wife and young son about the conversation with Paul. They did nothing.

1856- Road to Secession
Preston Brooks

Preston Brooks

Congressman Preston Brooks (D-SC) beat the hell out of Charles Sumner on the floor of the U.S. Senate in retaliation of Sumner’s verbal attack on Brooks’ uncle, Sen. Andrew Butler. See May 19th entry.

Brooks, Butler’s nephew and Democratic representative from South Carolina, discussed challenging Sumner to a duel. He was told by fellow SC Congressman, Lawrence Keitt, that “dueling is for gentlemen of equal statue. Sumner is lower than a drunkard. Dueling with him would only be an insult to yourself.”

Sen. Charles Sumner

Sen. Charles Sumner

Two days later Brooks strode into the Senate chamber approached Sumner sitting at his desk. As Lawrence Keitt held other senators at bay, Brook said: “Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” He then struck him repeatedly with a cane until it broke into five pieces before several men rushed past Keitt and overpowered Brooks. 

Brooks became an instant hero in the South, and the fragments of his weapon were “begged as sacred relics.” A new cane, presented to Brooks by the city of Charleston, bore the inscription “Hit him again.”

Various editorial illustrations of the Preston Brooks' attack on Sen. Charles Sumner

Various editorial illustrations of the Preston Brooks’ attack on Sen. Charles Sumner

Today In Charleston History: February 2

1734

The South Carolina Gazette resumes publication under Lewis Timothy.

The paper first began in 1732 when Benjamin Franklin sent one of his printers, Thomas Whitmarsh, to open the Gazette in Charlestown. To replace Whitmarsh at his Philadelphia paper Franklin,hired Lewis Timothy. Two years later when Whitmarsh died of yellow fever, Lewis Timothy, revived the Gazette and ran it until his accidental death four years later.

1801

Joseph Alston, a wealthy landowner from South Carolina, married Theodosia Burr, daughter of vice-president elect, Aaron Burr in New York.  They honeymooned at Niagara Falls, the first recorded couple to do so.

It has been conjectured that there was more than romance involved in this union. Robert Troup, one of Burr’s best friends wrote that “the marriage was an affair of Burr, not of his daughter, and that the money in question was the predominant motive.”

Aaron Burr agonized about money matters, particularly as to how he would hold on to the Richmond Hill estate. His daughter’s marriage to a member of the Southern gentry helped relieve him of some of his financial burdens. The marriage also meant that Theodosia would become prominent in South Carolina social circles.

Not everyone was positive about the marriage. Hannah Gallatin, wife of Jefferson’s secretary of state wrote:

Report does not speak well of him [Alston]: it says he is rich, but he is a great dasher, dissipated, ill-tempered, vain and silly. I know that he is ugly and of unprepossessing manners. Can it be that the father had sacrificed a daughter to affluence and influential connections?

Despite all this negativity, it was Theodosia who chose Alston, and all records indicate it was a relationship of mutual love and admiration.

the alstons

Today In Charleston History: January 2

1813 – Deaths

Most scholars agree that the sometime today, the Patriot  wrecked off Cape Hatteras. Lost with the ship was South Carolina first lady, Theodosia Burr Alston. 

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn - New York Historical Society

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn –      New York Historical Society

On December 31, 1812, Theodosia sailed aboard the schooner Patriot from Georgetown, South Carolina to visit her father, former vice president Aaron Burr in New York. The Patriot was a famously fast sailer, which had originally been built as a pilot boat, and served as a privateer during the War of 1812, when it was commissioned by the United States government to prey on English shipping. The schooner’s captain, William Overstocks, desired to make a rapid run to New York with his cargo; it is likely that the ship was laden with the proceeds from her privateering raids.

Logbooks from the British warships report a severe storm of the Carolina coast on January 2, 1813. The Patriot would have been just north of Hatteras when the storm was at its fiercest, facing hurricane-force winds on the early morning hours of Sunday. The Patriot was never heard from again. Despite many romantic conspiracy stories that Theodosia survived the wreck, or was captured by pirate, she most likely was lost at sea with the rest of the passengers and crew.