American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Southern States
Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
By YATES SNOWDEN
"In Pompeii, the tourist, looking from blank wall to dusty floor, wonders what there is to see in that little ball, but a native goes down upon his hands and knees; with a few brisk passes of his hand the sand is brushed away, and a Numidian lion glares forth from the tesselated pavement." VIRGINIUS DABNEY'S Don Miff
FORTY FIVE years before the English colonization of Virginia, fifty two before the Dutch settlement of New York and fifty eight before the Puritans landed at Massachusetts Bay, Captain Jean Ribaut, of Dieppe, commanding the first Huguenot emigration to North America, on the 1st of May, 1562, entered the beautiful harbor of Port Royal, South Carolina.
In his journal, as translated in one of Hakluyt's black letter tracts, he describes the country as "full of hauens Riuers and Hands of such fruitfulness as cannot with tongue be expressed . . . the fairest, fruitfullest, and pleasantest of al the world."
Internal dissensions weakened the infant Huguenot colonies, and they were finally utterly destroyed by the Spanish bigot, Menendez. Though in after years the Huguenot was to be an important element in the peopling of the colony, the crafty Spaniard forever prevented the domination of the Fleur-de-Lis on the South. Carolina coast, and made the way clear for the Lion, of St. George.
In 1670, one hundred and, eighteen years later, the first permanent settlement of the Province was made by. the English under Governor William Sayle, at Albemarle Point, on the western bank of the Kiawah (Ashley) River, three miles from the present site of Charleston. This expedition had also headed for Port Royal, but the Cacique of Kiawah, a friendly Indian, advised that the land farther up the coast was better to plant, and the colonists acted more wisely than they knew, for a few years later, in 1686, the Spaniards utterly destroyed the Scotch colony established at Port Royal by Lord Cardross.
On August 17, 1669, the frigate Carolina, the Port Royall and the sloop Albermarle were at anchor in the Downs with ninety three passengers all aboard and ready for sea. A few days later they sailed for Kinsale, Ireland, and thence for Barbadoes, which they reached in October. A West Indian gale wrecked the Albermarle on the Barbadian coast and another vessel was procured, and on the voyage to Carolina, their objective point, the Port Royall was wrecked on one of the Bahamas. The ship Carolina, badly battered, eventually reached Bermuda, where a sloop was engaged to assist the expedition to its destination. En route from Barbadoes they passed through dreadful hurricanes, and the Barbadian sloop did not reach Ashley River until a month after the arrival of the two other vessels. It will be seen that it was through storm and stress the English made the first settlement of Carolina, and that of the three ships that left England with the emigrants, the Carolina was the only one to reach these shores.
Sir John Yeamans, who had taken charge of the expedition when it left Barbadoes, withdrew from its management when it reached Bermuda, and inserted the name of Colonel Wm. Sayle as Governor in the blank commission which he had from the Lords Proprietors. A contemporary writer describes this, the first Governor of South Carolina, as "of Bermuda, a Puritan and Non Conformist, whose religious bigotry, advanced age and failing health promised badly for the discharge of the task before him." Governor Sayle died within the year and the colonists selected Joseph West as his successor. When the news of Sayle's death reached England, the Lords Proprietors again appointed Sir John Yeamans Governor, in which position he served most unsatisfactorily to the Proprietors until his death in 1674.
The settlers of Charles Town had not been two years on the western bank of the Ashley before they recognized the unfitness of its location, and settlements were soon made on the peninsula called Oyster Point, two miles away, and in sight of the sea. These settlements increased, and in 1680 the public offices were removed to the present site of Charleston.
In spite of religious dissensions between Churchmen and Dissenters and the opposition to law and order natural to the many adventurers and enfans perdu who flocked to Carolina as to other colonies, and despite wars with the Indians in 1712 and 1715, commerce and population rapidly increased. In 1680, when the new town became the seat of government, there were as many as sixteen vessels discharging and loading cargo at one time.
John Locke, who had written the Fundamental Constitutions for the colony, was a Socinian, but doubtless by instruction from seven of the Lords Proprietors, Lord Shaftesbury, the eighth, was a Deist, the philosopher declared that the Church of England was "the only true and Orthodox and the national religion of the King's Dominions."
Not until 1680 are there any authentic records of any church in Charleston, but there appears to have been a rapid growth in grace as well as population, for in 1704 there were five places of public worship, St. Philip's (Episcopal) Church, the Huguenot Church, the First Baptist Church, the White Meeting House (Presbyterian and Congregational), and the Quaker Meeting House.
General Edward McCrady, the State's latest and ablest historian, writing of the period of 1715, says of the colony
"In this small community of less than 6,000 there were Churchmen from England and Barbadoes, Independents from England, Old and New, Baptists from Maine, and Huguenots from France and Switzerland, all zealous of their peculiar religious tenets, and many, if knot most, with tenacity of bigotry and fanaticism. Carolina was a Church of England Province under its charter, and the Fundamental Constitutions, while offering the greatest religious freedom, provided only that God was acknowledged and publicly and solemnly worshipped, still provided for the establishment and maintenance of that Church."
In 1706, the Spaniards, who had always been a menace to the infant colony, made their first and last attack on Charleston, and, one hundred and ninety three years later, when it was rumored that Cervera and his fleet would menace the South Carolina coast and storm Charleston, the old story of their futile effort was read with intense interest. It was in Havana that Monsieur Le Feboure, the captain of a French frigate, planned and organized the memorable attack. His fleet of four armed sloops stopped at St. Augustine for reinforcements and supplies, and on August 25th "five separate smokers appeared on Sullivan's Island as a signal to the town that that number of ships was observed on the Coast." Yellow fever was then raging in Charleston, but Lieutenant Colonel Rhett, commanding the militia, ordered a general alarm by drum beat, and sent messengers to Governor Sir Nathaniel Johnson, who was at his plantation, Silk Hope, on Cooper River, and to the militia companies in the neighboring parishes, calling them to the relief of the town.
On Tuesday morning the allied fleet crossed the bar, and the next day Le Feboure sent Governor Johnson a demand for the surrender of the town within an hour. The Governor replied that "it needed not a quarter of an hour or a minute's time to give an answer to the demand . . . that he valued not any force Le. Feboure had; and bid him go about his business." In addition to the fortifications ashore Governor Johnson relied for defence upon three ships, a brigantine, two sloops and a fire ship, which he had manned and equipped with Colonel Rhett as vice admiral. The Governor's spirited reply to Le Feboure's demand probably unnerved the Spaniards and French, who did not attempt to attack the town, but ravaged a part of the mainland and one of the islands of the land locked harbor, where they met stout resistance from the militia. On Saturday, Rhett with his improvised fleet drove the four invading warships from the harbor to the open sea, and would have destroyed them, as he did the ships of Stede Bonnet, the pirate, twelve years later, but for a threatening storm.
Nothing more having been heard of the allied fleet, the country militia was discharged. Then the news came that a French war ship, commanded by Captain Pacquereau, had appeared in Sewee Bay with two hundred men. He had come to join Le Feboure, but was unaware of his commander's failure. On September 2d, Captain Fenwicke and his militiamen met the French landing party, killed fourteen and captured fifty prisoners. Colonel Rhett demanded and received the surrender of Pacquereau's ship, with ninety men aboard. Charleston had two hundred and thirty French and Spanish prisoners, but whether or not they died of yellow fever, Fiewatt, the only historian of the time, does not say, and unfortunately Charleston could not boast of a newspaper until twenty six years later. The failure of this first of three attempts to take Charleston by naval force proved that "the sinews of war are the sinews of valiant men," for its defenders were weakened by yellow fever and had neither full ranks nor strong fortifications. Doyle, the English historian, says:
" The settlers who held Charlestown against the allied forces of France and Spain were partners in the glory of Stanhope and Marlborough, heirs to the glory of Drake and Raleigh."
Josiah Quincy of Massachusetts visited Charleston in 1773, with a view to sounding the leaders of public opinion and seeing if the colony was ripe for rebellion. He was surprised at the material prosperity, wealth and hospitality of the people. He says, in his published diary: "This town makes a beautiful appearance as you come up to it and in many respects a magnificent one. I can only say in general that in grandeur, splendor of buildings, decorations, equipages, numbers, commerce, shipping and indeed everything, it far surpasses all I ever saw, or ever expect to see in America." He was entertained at the elegant residence of Miles Brewton and records a remarkable conversation which would seem to have forecasted the results of the war between the States eighty eight years later. The same house stands today, the finest survival of colonial architecture to be found among the residences in the city.
He attended a concert of the St. Cecilia Society, where he saw upwards of two hundred and fifty ladies, and he notes, with evident wonder, that three members of the permanent band were employed at a salary of five hundred guineas a year, and another musician was occasionally employed at fifty guineas a month. His description of the St. Cecilia concert is brief, but the longest that has ever appeared in print.
This society, one hundred and thirty five years old, the oldest "dancing club" on the continent, is in active operation today, though the musical feature has long since disappeared. Now, as in Quincy's time, admission to one of its three annual entertainments cannot be bought for any sum, but gives a gentleman the open sesame to the most exclusive social circle in the United States. Some, even of those who are connected with it and others whose qualifications for membership are indisputable, regard this ancient society as an anachronism, but Charleston has many anachronisms. The South Carolina law which declares the marriage tie indissoluble for any cause is perhaps regarded as an anachronism, not only in Chicago, but in every city and State in the Union, and the unwritten law which prohibits and has, so far, prevented the publication of any report of a St. Cecilia ball in the public prints would doubtless excite derisive laughter from every "Society Reporter" in this country except those of Charleston. The invitation list of the St. Cecilia Society is the Almanach de Gotha of Charleston society. Once the name of a lady is entered upon it, that name is never taken off unless the lady dies or marries out of the charmed circle, or out of the city.
Isolated from other English colonies by a wide region of forest, the Charlestonians, with Spaniards to the south and Indians to the west of them, and with Cape Hatteras as a menace to commerce with the North Atlantic seaboard, were compelled from the first to think and act for themselves. In 1698, they made the first attempt to form a public library; in 1735, they organized the "Friendly Society," their first insurance company; and as early as 1774 a Chamber of Commerce was established in Charleston. They made in 1764 the second attempt in the colonies to provide for the care of the insane.
At the opening of the war of the Revolution Charleston was one of the three leading seaports of the country. Apart from its strategic value and as a base of supplies, the British government doubtless desired especially to punish the rebels of one of the most favored colonies, which by bounties on indigo and otherwise had been most generously treated by the mother country. There were many Charlestonians who were loyal to the King and who fought for England during the Revolution, sundering family ties, and, some of them, self exiled like Bull and Moultrie, eventually dying in London. The presence of these loyal adherents of the King only served to heighten the intensity of those who were anxious to unite the colonies, and, as a consequence, as far back as 1765, South Carolina took the first steps toward a continental union before the measure had been agreed upon by any colony south of New England. "Massachusetts," says Bancroft, "sounded the trumpet, but to South Carolina is it owing that it was attended to; Had it not been for South Carolina, no congress would then have happened." The first independent constitution in any of the colonies was that of South Carolina, formulated in Charleston in March, 1776, though the Colony had had a virtually independent government from the 6th of July, 1774.
"On the 11th of January, 1775," says Simms, "the first Revolutionary provincial Congress met and laid the foundation for the more regular meeting of the convention of March, 1776, by which the first constitution of South Carolina was formed."
On June 28, 1776, Charleston was besieged by a British fleet under Sir Peter Parker, as well as by a land army, under Sir Henry Clinton, and the first great victory of the Revolution was won by the gallant General Moultrie. The military student will tell you that Sir Peter Parker could easily have run his great fleet past the palmetto fort on Sullivan's Island, and that he met disaster and defeat by following a military rule of that day, never to leave an enemy in a fortified post behind you. It is interesting to know that the twenty four pounder, the largest ball in use at the battle of Fort Moultrie, was the smallest in use during the siege of Charleston in the war between the States.
The devoted city was again besieged in 1779 by the British under General Augustine Provost, and was again successfully defended.
The third siege by the British was successful and the city was surrendered on the 12th of May, 1780, after a siege of four months and heavy bombardment. It was held by the British under military rule until evacuated by them December 14, 1782. General William Moultrie in his Memoirs thus describes the reoccupation of the city by the American forces:
"I cannot forget chat happy day when we marched into Charlestown with the American troops; it was a proud day to me, and I felt myself much elated at seeing the balconies, the doors and windows crowded with the patriotic fair, the aged citizens and others congratulating us on our return home, saying, God bless you gentlemen! You are welcome home gentlemen!' Both citizens and soldiers shed mutual tears of joy."
The Duke La Rochefoucault-Liancourt, who visited the United Sates in 1796, after the Revolution, when the people had in great measure recovered from its effects, was as extravagant in his praise of the people of Charleston as Josiah Quincy had been. The enthusiastic Frenchman wrote:
"I cannot close this long article on South Carolina without mentioning with deserved praise the kind reception I experienced in Charleston. This is a duty which I owe to the inhabitants of all the parts of America which I have traversed, but especially to this place. In no town of the United States does a foreigner experience more benevolence or find more entertaining society than in Charleston. . . . They keep a greater number of servants than those of Philadelphia. From the hour of four in the afternoon, they rarely think of aught but pleasure and amusement. . . . Many of the inhabitants of South Carolina having been in Europe, have in consequence acquired a greater knowledge of our manners and a stronger partiality to them than the people of the Northern States. Consequently the European modes of life are here more prevalent. The women here are more lovely than in the North. They are interesting and agreeable but not quite so handsome as those of Philadelphia. They have a greater share in the commerce of society without retaining for this the loss of modesty and delicate propriety in their behavior."
Time does not appear to have changed the character of the people or their social amenities, for, in 1836, an Englishman, the Honorable Charles Augustus Murray, writes:
"A gentleman must be very difficult to please if he does not find Charleston society agreeable; there is something warm, frank and courteous in the manner of a real Carolinian; he is not studiously, but naturally polite; and though his character may not be remarkable for that persevering industry and close attention to minutiae in business which are so remarkable in the New England merchants, he is far from deficient in sagacity, courage or enterprise."
One characteristic of the Charleston women which still abides with them is noted by Mr. Murray, who says:
"They are pretty, agreeable and intelligent, and in one respect have an advantage over most of their Northern sisters (if the judge is to be a person accustomed to English society) I mean as regards voice; they have not that particular intonation which I have remarked elsewhere, and which must have struck every stranger who has visited the other Atlantic cities."
There was little of the Puritanical element in the thriving capital of South Carolina. Many of its citizens had frequented, in their college days, the pit of Drury Lane or Covent Garden, others who had come as adventurers had found the fortunes they sought, and an important element of the population was that strain of Huguenot blood from which Calvinism had not eradicated the joie de vivre inherent in the Frenchman.
William Dunlap, the first and most pains taking of the historians of the American stage, states that the first dramatic performance ever given in America was in Williamsburg, Va., where a theatre was opened on September 5, 1752, and this date was generally accepted as correct, and the centennial of the introduction of the drama in America was celebrated with all the honors at Castle Garden, New York, a hundred years later.
Later investigators claim that New York was treated to a performance by professionals in September, 1732, and that Addison's Cato was rendered in Philadelphia by a regular company as early as 1749. The South Carolina Gazette for January 18, 1734, has the following advertisement:
"On Friday, the 24th instant, in the Court Room, will be attempted a tragedy called The Orphan or the Unhappy Marriage.' Tickets will be delivered out on Tuesday next, at Mr Shepheard's at 40s each."
That this was probably a success is proved by its repetition on the Charleston boards on January 28th, and again February 4th, with the addition of "A new pantomime entertainment in grotesque characters called The Adventures of Harlequin and Scaremouch, with the Burgo-Master Trick'd.' "
No city on the continent had a higher standard of scholarship a few decades before and after the Revolution of 1776.
Many of its leading citizens had been ducanted at the English universities, and brought and established here the literary tastes and pursuits which had been contracted in those then greatest seats of learning in the world. South Carolina headed all the colonies in the list of the London Inns of Court, and up to the time of the Revolution had forty five representatives out of the one hundred and fourteen American students of the "lawless science of the law."
Among other Carolina youth who were sent to England to complete their education were Arthur Middleton, Thomas Heyward, Thomas Lynch, Jr. (three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence), John and Hugh Rutledge, C. C. Pinckney, Thomas Pinckney, W. H. Drayton, Christopher Gadsden, Henry Laurens, John Laurens, Gabriel Manigault, William Wragg and John Foucheraud Grimké. All of these gentlemen, except one, William Wragg, were military and civil leaders in the Revolution.
Mr. Wragg, who was loyal to the King, was at first confined to the limits of his plantation, "The Barony," as it was then styled, and finally expatriated by order of the patriot Council of Safety. He went to England never to return, and up to our own day he was the only American whose name was commemorated in Westminster Abbey. Many Charlestonians were wealthy enough to travel through Europe as gentlemen of leisure, and one of them, Ralph Izard, maintained an establishment in London and travelled through France, Italy and a part of Germany.
While the pursuit of culture for its own sake is an evidence of a highly enlightened civilization, it is unfortunate that the intellectual coterie of Charleston and the neighboring parishes left so little, comparatively, to posterity. Perhaps their most notable productions during the last century were the novels of Richard Beresford and The First Comprehensive Theory of Dew, by William Charles Wells, both of whom, however, left their native State and lived and wrote in England. Both Darwin and Tyndall pay hearty tribute to the ability and scientific discoveries of Wells, whose paper on the theory of natural selection furnished the groundwork for many scientists of our day. Other works of South Carolinians of the last century were the histories of Ramsay and Drayton, the military memoirs of Moultrie and the political memoirs of Drayton, the Flora Caroliniana of the botanist Walter, a few brochures of indifferent poems and some occasional plays, two of which were selected by the Dublin University Magazine as the subject of ridicule in an article on the "Beginnings of the American Drama."
The Augustan Age, if we may apply such a term to the insignificant South Carolina literature, was early in the thirties, when Hugh S. Legare, Stephen Elliott and other kindred spirits founded at Charleston the Southern Review, which, while it continued to exist, "had a more brilliant reputation than any like publication ever obtained in this country."
A little later there was a coterie of specialists in natural history, such as Bachman, the natural historian, Holbrook, the herpetologist and icthyologist, John Lawrence Smith, mineralogist, the two Ravenels, McCrady, Gibbes, Porcher and others.
Agassiz found very congenial friends here and lent invaluable aid to the Museum of the College of Charleston, and Audubon published jointly with Bachman The Quadrupeds of North America, the figures by Audubon, the text by Bachman.
Dr. John Lawrence Smith is probably as well known in Europe as in America. He was employed by the Turkish government to explore its mineral resources. He received two decorations from the Sublime Porte, the order of St. Stanislaus from Russia and the cross of the Legion of Honor from Napoleon III., and succeeded Sir Charles Lyel1 as member of the French Institute. He was also the inventor of the inverted microscope.
Simms, the novelist and poet, and Paul Hamilton Hayne and Henry Timrod, the poets, are the three Charlestonians whose names are best known to the world of letters. Their memory will be cherished more and more at the home of their birth, as wealth increases, and all the effects of the fierce struggle for existence which followed war and reconstruction have disappeared. The enthusiastic reception and rapid sale of the recently published memorial edition of Timrod's poems is a hopeful sign of reawakened interest in the sweetest love poems and most stirring martial lyrics ever penned by a Southern poet.
No great artist first saw the light in Charleston, but the city boasts of several of more than mediocre ability. Early in the eighteenth century Henrietta Johnson executed a number of crayon portraits which are still treasured by some of the old families. Portrait painting was indeed almost the only branch of art encouraged for over one hundred years, the local portrait painter Theus having opened his studio in Charleston in 1750, and done much excellent work, some of which is still extant. But if there were no great painters at home, the wealthy Charlestonians brought back art treasures from Europe, and some of their stately homes were beautified by works of Allan Ramsay, Zoffany, Romney, Gainsborough, West, Copley and Gilbert Stuart.
"The pride though of the art lovers of Charleston," says Dr. G. E. Manigault, "in the closing years of the last century as well as the early years of this, was in the miniatures on ivory by Edward Malbone, who ranks as having been the greatest of American miniaturists. He . . . first opened a studio here in 1800, where he probably painted more portraits than in any other city. Our own miniaturist, Charles Fraser, should also be mentioned with him. He executed over 30o portraits dura long life and while there is not the same uniform excellence in them all as in those of Malbone, his master pieces certainly entitle him to a high rank in his art."
Washington Allston spent several years in Charleston, where were many of his relatives, whose descendants still possess several of his paintings.
"Saint Mémin, limner," is one of the names to be found in the Charleston City Directory for 1809; but few of the original crayon drawings and copper plates of that industrious French gentleman have escaped the tooth of time. Louis R. Mignot, the son of a French confectioner, was the only landscape painter from Charleston whose ability is recognized in Europe. S. G. W. Benjamin considers him one of the most remarkable artists of our country and says that he was equally happy in rendering the various aspects of nature, "whether it was the superb splendor of the tropical scenery of the Rio Bamba in South America, the sublime maddening rush of iris circled water at Niagara, or the fairy like grace, the exquisite and ethereal loveliness of new fallen snow."
The only living Charlestonian known to the art world is the artist author Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum, who was born in August, 1849, was educated at the Art Students' League in New York and studied under Donnat in Paris. He is still in the heyday of his powers, and has no superior in the United States as a delineator of military and naval subjects.
The economic and commercial history of the city, while not so eventful or of so absorbing interest as its military and civil annals, cannot be entirely overlooked. One crop which is not now cultivated in the State, but which once enriched the people of the planter city, was first cultivated by a woman, Eliza Lucas, the accomplished daughter of Colonel Lucas, Governor of Antigua, one of the Leeward Islands, and afterward the mother of General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and General Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina. With seed sent her by her father, Miss Lucas, in 1741-42, planted the first indigo in South Carolina. In 1748, Parliament passed an act allowing a bounty of sixpence per pound, and just before the Revolution the export from Charleston had risen to 1,107,660 pounds.
The cultivation of rice was one of the earliest planting experiments in the State, and though Ramsay, the historian, attributes its introduction to Governor Thomas Smith and a small bag of seed procured from Madagascar in 1694, it is certain that rice had been successfully grown in South Carolina as early as 1691. In 1770, the surplus over consumption exported from Charleston had risen to 120,000 barrels, valued at $1,530,000.
As early as 1770, "patches" of cotton were grown in South Carolina, and year by year thereafter for two decades indigo cultivation declined, and was finally entirely abandoned.
"In 1784," says the Hon. W. A. Courtenay, the city's most accomplished and enthusiastic historian, "John Teasdale, a merchant of Charleston, shipped from this city to J. and J. Teasdale, Liverpool, eight bags of cotton. When the vessel arrived out the laughable incident occurred of the cotton being seized on the ground that it could not be grown in America. Upon satisfactory proof, which had to be furnished, it was released. This cotton shipment was the first ever made from the United States to a European port!"
Though slavery is commonly supposed to have rendered those living under its debasing influence inert and slow to enter upon great commercial enterprises, it is remarkable that Charleston merchants and planters planned and successfully constructed the earliest great railroad line in America. Mr. Courtenay says:
"While the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad was being constructed in 1829, under Stephenson's direction, and Baltimore was reaching out to the Ohio River, Charleston was projecting a railroad to the head of navigation on the Savannah River, which when completed was the longest railroad in the World." I
In the royal grants of land in Carolina the Crown reserved an interest in all precious and base metals, and some of the grants reserved for the King a share of the diamonds and precious stones which avarice rather than common sense suggested might underlie tidewater South Carolina. Geologists and lawyers laughed at the idea of precious stones in marshes and sand dunes, though there had been.
The crude rules for passenger transportation in "the thirties" read strangely to the traveller who almost annihilates time and space in the modern "vestibule train," at the rate of sixty miles or more an hour. An early resolution of the South Carolina Railroad Board of Directors declares that there shall be "in future not over twenty five passengers to any car; speed shall not exceed one car and passengers at fifteen miles per hour; two cars and passengers at twelve miles per hour; three cars and passengers at ten miles per hour." "black diamonds" there for thousands of years. It was not until after the war between the States that Dr. St. Julien Ravenel's discovery of the commercial value of the immense phosphate deposits brought wealth and prosperity to many whose needs were the greatest. The fertilizer business then established is still in successful operation and Charleston continues to be the largest phosphate shipping port in the world.
Of the war between the States it is not necessary to write at length. Whether one regards "the firing of the first gun on Fort Sumter as the first rash act of a wild and fatal delusion," or as the beginning of the greatest war in modern times for constitutional liberty and against the lust for power and territorial domination, no fair man can deny the heroism against unnumbered odds displayed by the Confederate soldiers.
It would be interesting to quote the opinion of Lord Wolseley as to the value of the study of the siege of Charleston in its tactical features as compared with the siege of Sebastopol and other great naval attacks. All the world wondered at the marvellous success of the blockade runners, and the pages of history may be searched in vain for greater heroism than that displayed by Glassell, Dixon and others who first proved to the world the value of the torpedo in naval warfare; but let two sets of figures suffice:
GENERAL SUMMARY FORT SUMTER, FEBRUARY 1, 1865.
Total number of projectiles fired against it . . . . 46,053
Total weight in tons of metal thrown (estimate) . . . . 3,500
Total number of days under three great bombardments . . . . 117
Total number of days under eight minor bombardments . . . . 40
Total number of days under fire; steady and desultory . . . . 280
Total number of casualties (52 killed, 267 wounded) . . . . 319
Charleston with a white population of 24,000 furnished twenty three companies of infantry, eleven of artillery and eight of cavalry to the Confederate armies.
The comments of a British officer and of two officers who served in the Federal army as to the extraordinary defence of Charleston are submitted; - for one born and reared in sight of Fort Sumter, and as a child carried away from the city to escape the shells from the "Swamp Angel" on Morris Island, cannot write of his people sine Ara et studio.
Col. H. Wemyss Feilden, colonel and chief paymaster (retired list), H. B. M. Army says:
"We find a large commercial city, at the commencement of a great war defended by nearly obsolete works and with several unguarded approaches, rendered impregnable in a short time by the skill and genius of the general in command, supported by the indomitable valor, devotion and tenacity of its defenders, and by the unflinching spirit of all ages and both sexes in the community."
Quartermaster General M. C. Meigs, U. S. A., in an adverse report to Secretary of War Stanton, in August, 1865, upon the petition of various merchants and wharf owners of Charleston, asking that their warehouses and wharves in the possession of the government be restored to them, says:
"Charleston was a hostile fortress. In its defence the merchants and property owners appear to have aided by all means within their power. Its defence ceased only when, after a siege almost unexampled since the invention of artillery, for duration and persistency, the approach of a powerful army from the Mississippi Valley rendered any further resistance entirely hopeless. Then the armed Rebel forces abandoned the town, destroying such stores as they could. There was no capitulation, no surrender by which any of the extreme rights of captors were modified or abated in the giving up of an equivalent. The place was defended to the last extremity, and the whole town is a conquest, and as such the property of the conquering Government. . . . The warehouses and wharves used in the contraband trade, in violation of the laws and proclamations of the United States, have been used in aid of the Rebellion. . . . To put an end to this use, to obtain possession of them, has cost the United States the lives of many thousand of patriotic citizens sacrificed in the skirmishes, assaults, battles and bombardments which have made the bloody record of this unexampled siege. Shells and torpedoes, by land and by water, have destroyed our citizens. . . . To restore this property, which cost the loyal people so much blood, and so much treasure, to the original disloyal owners would, it seems to me, give a shock to every earnest and loyal man. Far better give the Property to the families and heirs of the victims of the massacre of Wagner, or of those who perished upon the monitors sunk by the agents of the Torpedo Bureau in Charleston Harbor."
It only remains to say that President Andrew Johnson did not share the views of Quartermaster General Meigs and that the property was restored to the claimants.
Ex Governor D. H. Chamberlain, formerly an officer in the Union army, speaking to a representative young Virginian, a great grandson of Chief Justice Marshall, in Charleston a few days ago, said:
"When I walk the streets of this city of 65,000 inhabitants, and more than half of them colored, and when I see the poverty of its material resources as compared with the large and flourishing business centres of the North, and when I remember that the population of this city in 1861 was not over 41,000, of which not over 24,000 were white, I marvel at the blind confidence and fatuity of this people in inaugurating the most tremendous war of modern times; but when I walk along the sea wall of the Battery' and see in the distance Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie and other fortifications which, though often attacked, were never carried by storm, I begin to understand the wonderful spirit of this people. Charlestonians held this stronghold for four years against the most powerful fleet of war vessels ever seen up to that time on this hemisphere."
Disastrous fires have destroyed many of the historic landmarks of the town, and the most interesting public building still standing is the Colonial Exchange, built in 1771, at a cost of £41,470. In its basement Colonel Isaac Hayne and other patriot prisoners were confined, and here General Moultrie walled up one hundred thousand pounds of gunpowder, which remained undiscovered during the three years that the British held the town. It was the scene of a ball and public reception in honor of General Washington when he visited Charleston after the Revolution, and was used as the Post Office from 1783 until the construction of the new granite Post Office, in Italian Renaissance style, during the last decade.
Of the first St. Philip's Church; built on the present site, Edmund Burke said that it "is spacious, and executed in a very handsome taste, exceeding everything of that kind which we have in America," and another author (the biographer of Whitefield) called it "a grand church resembling one of the new Churches in London." That building was constructed in 1723 and was the leading church in the State until its destruction in the great fire of 1835. The architectural proportions and beauty of the present St. Philip's Church, with its lofty steeple reaching to a height of nearly two hundred feet, from which shines at night a beacon light to mariners far away at sea, "though perhaps peculiar to themselves, command the instant admiration of every beholder, professional or otherwise."
No visitor to Charleston fails to visit St. Michael's Church, the finest piece of colonial ecclesiastical architecture in the South, and which was first opened for divine service in 1761. The story of its chime of bells attracts the stranger and makes the bells doubly dear to all born within the shadow of the lofty tower. They never jangled out of tune, except on the eventful night of August 31, 1886, when the steeple was swayed by the earthquake. In 1782, Major Traille, of the Royal Artillery, took possession of the bells as spoils of war and sent them back to England, but the next year they were repurchased by a Mr. Rhyner and sent back to Charleston, where they continued to voice the people's joy or woe until the war between the States, when they were sent to Columbia for safe keeping. When General Sherman burned that city in 1865, two of the bells were stolen and the rest were so injured as to be useless. Once again the bells were shipped to England, where they were recast by the successors of the firm which had made them in 1764, from the same patterns, and again returned to Charleston and replaced in the belfry on March 2 1, 1867.
The church has been commemorated in the popular lyric of Mrs. Stansberry, How he Saved Si. Michael's, though as a matter of fact it was the spire of St. Philip's that was saved from fire by an heroic negro. Nimrod, during the war between the States, refers to the church in one of his tenderest poems entitled, Christmas, and Simms, when the steeple was made a target for Federal guns, published his passionate lines beginning:
"Aye, strike with sacrificial aim,
The temple of the living God,
Hurl iron bolt and seething flame
Through aisles which holiest feet have trod!"
From the "pigeon holes," the highest point in the tower, patriots of the Revolution watched the coming and progress of the British fleets of Parker and Arbuthnot, and almost a century later the war ships of Dupont and Dahlgren were sighted from the same aerie long before they crossed the bar.
Its congregation is so largely composed of the elite of Charleston society that a local wit had irreverently called the venerable structure "the Chapel of Ease of the St. Cecilia Society."
It is claimed that the French Protestant (Huguenot) Church in Charleston is nearly if not quite coeval in date with the present city. There is some evidence that the church owes its origin to the colony of French Protestants sent out to the Province in 1680 by Charles II. of England. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the consequent Huguenot emigration to America in 1685 put the church on a solid foundation, though many of the Huguenots who came to Carolina settled at Orange Quarter, on the Santee River, at St. John's, Berkeley, and possibly in St. James, Goose Creek. In 1687, came Elias Prioleau, the first recognized and regular pastor of the French Church in Charleston. Two of his lineal descendants are now in the eldership of the church. After the fire of 1740, in which the early records of the church were destroyed, the liturgy of Neufchatel and Valangin was adopted and an English translation of it is still in use.
In 1845 the present tasteful Gothic edifice, the fourth upon the same site, was built, and has been in use ever since, except during the war between the States.
In 1858, before a baptism of blood and fire had put the courage and tenacity of Charleston to the supreme test, and twenty eight years before the memorable earthquake, James L. Petigru, the head of the bar of Charleston, and President of the Historical Society of South Carolina, said in a public speech: "Perhaps the opinion is tinged with partiality; yet, after making due allowance for such bias, I think I may say that in the circle of vision from the belfry of St. Michael's there has been as much high thought spoken, as much heroic action taken, as much patient endurance borne as in any equal area of land on this Continent."
With such a past, Charleston looks hopefully into the future, confidently expecting as signal triumphs in the arts of peace as her sons once achieved against the fleets of France, Spain and England.
Historic towns of the Southern States
Return to History at Rays Place