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Charleston Alphabet Soup
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Today’s time-traveling menu includes a bowl of Charleston “alphabet soup,” stocked with five and twenty nuggets of local flavor. Rather than following the story of one person or event as a means of traveling back in Lowcountry history, we’ll sample a series of bite-sized biographical morsels to highlight some of my favorite obscure and lesser-known local personalities, all tastefully arranged to pique your imaginary palette. So grab a beverage, pull up a chair, and let’s dig in!
A is for Antigua, not the island in the West Indies, but an enslaved man who had a brief moment of local fame in the wake of the American Revolution. Sometime after the fall of Charleston in 1780, Governor John Rutledge promised to manumit or free Antigua, the property of Captain John Harleston, if he would act as a spy and gather intelligence about British activities in and around South Carolina. Governor Rutledge honored his promise after Captain Harleston’s death in 1781, but free Antigua continued to engage in secret work around Charleston for the state’s rebellious government. In March 1783, the South Carolina legislature ratified a law to free Antigua’s wife, Hagar, and their children, as a “just and reasonable” reward for repeatedly risking his life to collect information that contributed to the American victory. Perhaps their spying was even a family affair. We’ll explore that story in a future program.
B is for Broadhurst, as in the vocalist Dorothea Broadhurst. Born in England in 1774, she came to Charleston in November of 1801, after having performed on the stages of New York and Philadelphia for several seasons. In Charleston, the quality of her voice immediately made her a favorite at the local theatre, at Vauxhall garden, and at the exclusive concerts of the St. Cecilia Society. She was spinster, an only child who since the age of 14 had supported her widowed mother, who came with her to Charleston. In the parlance of the early nineteenth century, Miss Broadhurst was esteemed for the quality of her voice, but not for the attractiveness of her person. After eleven busy months in Charleston, Dorothea Broadhurst died on the first of October, 1802, at the age of 28 years and six months, and was buried in the west cemetery of St. Philip’s Church. Next time you’re there, I encourage you to seek out the tombstone of this long forgotten songbird whose voice once brought so much joy to this city.
C is for Cartwright, as in Hugh Carteret or Cartwright, a cooper by trade, who came to South Carolina in April 1670 with the first fleet of settlers to this colony. While most of those first Europeans built their homes at a settlement they called Charles Town, on the west bank of the Ashley River, Hugh Cartwright built his new home on a little spit of land called Oyster Point, at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. In June of 1672, when the legislative Council of South Carolina was considering various strategies for defense against a hostile invasion, the Council gave instructions for the locations to which people should repair in the event of a Spanish invasion. They ordered “that all the Inhabitants on the other part of the [Ashley] River called the Oyster Poynt doe repaire to the plantacon . . . of Hugh Carterett, Cooper.” Oyster Point was renamed Charles Town in 1680, then Charleston in 1783. In short, Hugh Cartwright’s house on the peninsula was one of the first built here, and it was considered a significant landmark and gathering place for the community, even before it became a proper town.
D is for Daniels, as in Margaret Daniels, an obscure free mulatto woman who lived in Charleston at the turn of the nineteenth century. In April 1798, Mrs. Daniels advertised the opening her new “long room” or ball room in Church Street, near Stoll’s Alley. In November 1801 she opened a school for free children of color, who learned English grammar, handwriting, and arithmetic. That same month, the exclusive St. Cecilia Society held a business meeting at Mrs. Daniels’ establishment in Church Street. In late March 1802, the long room of Mrs. Margaret Daniels was the site for the sale of various articles from the estate of an enigmatic woman named Mary Clodner Vesey, the wife of Capt. Joseph Vesey, and the former owner of the enslaved man, Telemaque, who purchased his freedom in 1799 and changed his name to Demark Vesey. Who was Margaret Daniel or Daniels, and what became of her? It’s a mystery worth pursuing.
E is for Eldridge, as in Mrs. Jane Eldridge, the proprietor of the most popular tavern in Charleston in the late 1720s and early 1730s, known as the Bowling Green House. The house and the adjacent large, open, green space belonged to Capt. George Anson, but Mrs. Eldridge was the principal leaseholder. It was here that men gathered to eat, drink, socialize, and generally misbehave. The first documentary record we have of many sports being played in South Carolina took place at the Bowling Green House, where men wrestled and had foot races for cash prizes, where cockfighting was a common practice, where the earliest known horse races in the colony took place, and where the first rounds of golf in America were most likely played. The Bowling Green House was located on the Broad Path leading into Charles Town, just north of the town boundary. Today if you stop for a drink near the northeast corner of King and Society Streets, you’re within a few steps of Mrs. Eldridge’s long-forgotten pub.
F is for Fayolle, as in Pierre or Peter Fayolle, a native of France who arrived in Charleston in 1794 among the many refugees fleeing revolution on the island of Saint Domingue (now Haiti). In Charleston he quickly earned a reputation as the most talented dancing master in the city, at a time when every young lady and young gentleman took dancing lessons. Over the next forty years, Fayolle operated a fashionable dancing academy, first on Tradd Street, but then behind what is now No. 90 King Street, where thousands of children learned their fancy footwork, and where gentlemen regularly gathered for after-hours discussions of music, the arts, and revolutionary politics. Peter Fayolle was among the founding members of the Société Française of Charleston, which was organized at his studio in 1816. Today you’ll find a bronze plaque noting the formation of that society at No. 98 King Street, but unfortunately it’s on the wrong house. After a long, respectable career, Peter Fayolle died in Charleston in 1837, at the age of 69.
G is for Guillotin, as in François Xavier Guillotin. Guillotin was born in 1771 in Paris and was trained as a jeweler and sculptor. At some point in his life, perhaps during the bloodiest days of the French Revolution, he moved to Bordeaux. In October of 1806, François Guillotin applied for a passport to emigrate, and within a few months he was living and working on Meeting Street in Charleston. He is said to have carved the angels’ faces near the top of the steeple of St. Michael’s Church. So why is this man so memorable? They answer lies in how we mispronounce his name. In French it’s pronounced Gui-yo-tan, but in English we say gill-o-teen. That’s right, a member of the Guillotin or guillotine family fled the bloody French Revolution and came to our city. Was our man related to Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the inventor of the death machine of the Reign of Terror? Perhaps. We’ll have to travel to France and climb his family tree.
H is for Haly, as in Dr. John Haly, an Irish physician who came to South Carolina sometime in the 1750s. In August 1771, Dr. Haly killed a wealthy New Yorker named Peter DeLancey in a duel at William Holliday's tavern on East Bay Street. Dueling was not uncommon in South Carolina at this time, but the clandestine Haly-DeLancey duel of 1771, which included no witnesses, became a political circus in Charleston. In John Haly’s murder trial, four years before the first shots of the American Revolution, the pro-American members of the Whig party lined up to defend him, while the royalist members of the Tory party roundly condemned him. The jury found Haly guilty of manslaughter in October 1771, but the governor immediately granted him a pardon. Nobody remembered Dr. John Haly after he died quietly in January 1776, but his 1771 trial foreshadowed the coming political firestorm that led to our break with Great Britain.
I is for Ioor, as in Claas Ioor, a Dutch immigrant who came to South Carolina in the early years of the eighteenth century. He may have ventured down from New York, but it is possible that he was one of several Dutch engineers who arrived here in 1713 to build windmills. At any rate, Claas Ioor bought a piece of property outside the town’s defensive walls, near what is now the southeast end of Church Street. Somewhere in this vicinity he erected, or was paid to erect, a small bastion or fort to help defend the town in the event of a Spanish invasion. The name of Ioor’s Fort, or Ioor’s Bastion, appears only a few times in the legislative journals of the 1710s and early 1720s, but its precise location is a mystery. Ioor’s Fort was gone before 1730, and I have not yet found any evidence of its fate. The Dutchman Claas Ioor and his fort vanished centuries ago, but his family name continued in our community into the twentieth century.
J is for nobody. I’m going to skip the letter “J” to make a point. In the first century of South Carolina’s history, as in contemporary Europe, the letters “I” and “J” were interchangeable. In the handwritten records of the government of early South Carolina, you’ll find that indexes of things like property records, tax receipts, probate records, and other materials commonly exclude the letter “J.” It wasn’t until after the American Revolution, and really into the nineteenth century, that the letter “J” began to take on an identity of its own, separate from the venerable letter “I”.
K is for Kizzel, as in John Kizzel of Africa and South Carolina, who was one of the pioneers of the Republic of Liberia. A native of Sierra Leone, he was captured and brought to South Carolina as a slave. Here he was purchased by a German immigrant named Kizzel or Kysel, and so he took the name John Kizzel. Sometime during the British occupation of Charleston, around 1781, he fled from his master and joined the British forces. As a free black loyalist, Kizzel departed Charleston with the rest of the British occupation force in December 1782 and went to Nova Scotia. A decade later, in 1792, he was among the first group of former African slaves who returned to Sierra Leone and began planning a new settlement as a place of refuge for persons of African descent who sought to return to their ancestral land. John Kizzel and the others faced hardships and setbacks, but their dream was finally realized with the creation of the Republic of Liberia.
L is for Lomboy or Longbois, as in Jacques Le Grand de Lombois, a French Huguenot refugee who came to South Carolina in the 1690s and settled, with a number of his countrymen, in the area generally known as French Santee. Little is known of his background, but it appears that his family were part of the “petit noblesse” of northern France. In South Carolina, the life of Jacques Lombois was not very remarkable, with one interesting exception. When our colonial legislature decided in December 1703 to surround Charleston with a system of walls and moats, they immediately sent for Jacques Lombois, who they called Mr. Lomboyce, to ask his advice in laying out the town’s new walls. Apparently the legislature knew that Mr. Lombois had some expertise in military architecture, and they needed his help. Five years later, the colonial government also paid Mr. Lomboyce for laying out on the ground the plan for Fort Johnson in 1708. In short, the obscure Jacques Le Grand de Lombois did much to contribute to the early military defenses of his adopted home of South Carolina, where he died in 1727.
M is for Moise, as in the poet Penina Moise of Charleston, born in 1797 and died in 1880. Young ladies of the early nineteenth century generally received a limited education, focusing on sewing, music, and practical skills. Born to a prosperous, learned Jewish family, however, Penina Moise studied literature voraciously and in 1830 began a prolific writing career. During the next several decades she wrote a number of hymns for use in the new-fangled reformed Jewish religious services, for which Charleston was the epicenter of activity. She also contributed verses to a number of magazines, journals, and other publications. In 1833 she published a book of poems titled Fancy's Sketch-Book, and in 1856 she published Hymns Written for the Use of Hebrew Congregations, a compilation written for her own synagogue, K. K. Beth Elohim, on Hasell Street in Charleston.
N is for Notchee or Natchez, as in the remnants of the Natchez tribe of Mississippi. In 1729, after the Natchez attacked French colonists who had intruded on their ancestral lands, the French retaliated with a war of extermination and drove the tribe’s few survivors eastward. In 1733, the first members of the Natchez tribe came to Charleston to scout for a new settlement. Nine months later the “King of the Nauchees” arrived in Charleston to seek permission to settle in South Carolina. At first they settled in Colleton County, but in March 1738 the provincial government set aside a tract of 100 acres at Four Hole Swamp as a permanent reservation. In September 1738, the South Carolina government persuaded some of the Notchee to relocate to Polawana Island, near Beaufort, to act as scouts and protect white settlers there. The remnants of the Notchee or Natchez Indians blended into the populations of Colleton and Beaufort Counties, and today they are recognized as being a constituent part of the Edisto Indian Tribe.
O is for O’Keefe, as in William O’Keefe, an Irish fencing master who arrived in Charleston in 1746. In colonial South Carolina, every gentleman learned the manly art of sword play, and William O’Keefe was one of many such masters who sought pupils here. Since fencing involved a lot of fancy footwork, it was common for fencing masters to also teach dancing, and also common for them to demonstrate their choreographic skills on stage at the theater, or in showy demonstrations with an audience. And so, when O’Keefe arrived in here, he published the following bold advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette of 15 December 1746: “I William O’Keeffe, Master of the noble Science of Defence, do challenge, for the Honour of South-Carolina, any Man that comes over the Bar, or in the said Province, with the usual Weapons fought on the Stage. William O’Keeffe. N.B. The said O’Keefe makes use of his left hand, and is to be found at French Santee. A CLEAR STAGE, AND NO FAVOUR.”
P is for Pennefather, or Pennefeather, as in Capt. John Pennefeather, commander of Fort Johnson on James Island from March 1741 through July 1745. Since Fort Johnson was a frontier military outpost, separate and independent of any town, the King reserved the right to appoint a governor or commander to superintend the fort. The King’s first appointee, Capt. James Sutherland, died in early 1741, and Lt. Governor William Bull appointed John Pennefather as the fort’s interim commandant. In his four-and-a-half year tenure in that position, Capt. Pennefather was a steadfast, diligent, and honest guardian of the entranceway to Charleston harbor, and handled many delicate negotiations with Spanish ships that came here to exchange prisoners during the conflict known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear. When the king’s next appointee for the post, Mr. John Lloyd, arrived at Fort Johnson in the summer of 1745, John Pennefather dutifully resigned his position, received the thanks of our governor and all his troops, and disappeared into obscurity.
Q is for Quash, an enslaved man who was executed in Charleston in April 1734. Hundreds of other Africans shared a similar, horrible fate in our community, but Quash’s story strikes me as a good example of man’s inhumanity to man in colonial South Carolina. Quash ran away from his master, Roger Moore, in 1727, and spent the next seven years living on the run, stealing food and clothing here and there. In March of 1734, he was caught stealing from the kitchen of a local plantation, and he was shot in the back as he jumped through a window. Quash was taken to the prison in Charleston, where he was quickly tried and condemned. I’ll let the South Carolina Gazette of 6 April 1734 tell the rest of his story: “When he came to the Gallows, [Quash] kneel’d down at the foot of the Ladder and prayed very devoutly; after he had ascended the Ladder, he likewise prayed again for some short time, when he turn’d himself gently off the Ladder, with a fervent Petition to the Almighty, to have Mercy on his poor Soul. After he was dead his Head was sever’d from his Body, and fixed upon the Gallows.”
R is for Reichert, as in Karl Friedrich Reichert, the German-born architect who contributed greatly to the look of antebellum Charleston by designing commercial buildings, residences, and gardens in the 1830s and 1840s. His best-known building, the monumental Charleston Hotel on Meeting Street, was demolished in 1960. The Roper mansion at what is now No. 9 East Battery Street, is attributed to Reichert, and was meticulously preserved by Richard Jenrette. Reichert laid out the grounds for the first version of White Point Garden in 1838. His design included a central pagoda surrounded by four smaller pagodas in each of the corners of the small park. That landscape existed for less than twenty years, however, for in the 1850s the city doubled the size of the garden by extending it westward, to its present boundary. Reichert’s original landscape plan was erased when the present walkways were created around 1852. So the next time you visit White Point Garden, try to visualize Reichert’s long lost pagodas.
S is for Shinner, as in Charles Shinner (Searlas O Sionnaigh in Irish), the most reviled and allegedly incompetent chief justice in the history of South Carolina. Shinner was an Irish legal clerk who, around 1760, acted as a courier in a sensitive court case involving the family of the powerful Earl of Halifax. As a reward for this discreet service, Halifax nominated Shinner to be chief justice of South Carolina. He arrived here in 1762 with a pair of Irish lawyers who secretly advised his every move. Those advisors died, unfortunately, as did the chief justice’s young wife and children, at the height of the Stamp Act crisis in the winter of 1765–66. Throughout 1766 and 1767, the majority of the lawyers in Charleston fought to have Shinner removed from the bench, citing numerous examples of his legal ignorance. After a lengthy investigation, the governor agreed to strip Shinner of his title, but it was too late. Chief Justice Charles Shinner died on 26 February 1768, just one day after the governor agreed to unseat him. In a final act of kindness, no one the dying judge that he had just lost his job.
T is for Trajetta, as in Philip Trajetta. He was born in 1777 in Naples, Italy, where his father was a famous opera composer. As a young man he studied music in Venice and then in Paris, where he became involved in Revolutionary activities and eventually ran afoul of the authorities. He was imprisoned in 1798, but in 1799 escaped to Boston, where he collaborated with other musicians in forming a Musical Conservatory. He moved to Charleston in late 1801 and remained here as an active member of the city’s concert and theatrical life at least through June of 1809. Around that time he became embroiled in a feud with other Charleston musicians about the rehearsal of a new opera, and by 1810 he had moved to New York. In 1822 he settled in Philadelphia, where he and other musicians established the American Conservatorio in 1823. In short, Philip Trajetta, who died in 1854, was an important Italian-American musician who added significant color to the golden age of music and theater in Charleston.
U is for Utting, as in Capt. Ashby Utting of the British Navy, who was stationed in Charleston on several occasions between the 1720s and the 1740s. Capt. Utting first came to South Carolina as a junior officer of the HMS Happy, and then under Capt. George Anson aboard the HMS Squirrel. He returned in 1743 as commander of the HMS Loo, a forty-four gun frigate assigned to protect the south Atlantic coastline from French and Spanish privateers. After capturing one such privateer off the south coast of Florida, the HMS Loo hit a coral reef in a storm and quickly sank. Most of the crew survived, however, and Capt. Utting limped back to Charleston with his men and went on to command other Carolina vessels for several more years. Few people in South Carolina remember the dauntless Capt. Utting, but the Florida reef that claimed the HMS Loo preserves the memory of his greatest misadventure. To this day, it’s called “Loo Key.”
V is for Valk, as in Jacob Valk, a native of Holland who was in Charleston by the late 1760s. For several years he was a fairly obscure commission merchant, making a comfortable living by purchasing goods from one person and selling them at a profit to someone else. Valk’s career took off at the very beginning of the American Revolution in 1775, when he became the principal salesman of the property of Loyalists who were then evacuating South Carolina. When the British army captured Charleston in 1780, Valk then became the principal salesman of the property of rebels who were trying to keep their heads above water. In short, Jacob Valk made a killing as a real estate speculator and middle-man during the Revolution. By remaining neutral, he capitalized on everyone’s misfortunes. When the British evacuated Charleston in 1782, the South Carolina General Assembly immediately banished Valk and confiscated his property. He returned to Holland and his family tried for decades to regain some of its Carolina fortune.
W is for Williman, as in Jacob Williman, a German butcher, born around 1742, who immigrated to Charleston in the mid-1760s. Williman didn’t do anything particularly remarkable, but his career provides a great example of why poor Europeans flocked to colonial South Carolina. He came here with nothing but his trade, slaughtering and butchering animals, and worked hard to make a living. By first renting the labor of an enslaved assistant, Williman earned extra money that allowed him to purchase a slave to whom he taught the art of butchering. In a short time, Williman made more money and bought more slaves, and eventually he started investing in real estate speculation. By the 1790s, the Williman family owned extensive properties in urban Charleston and in the countryside, and you can be sure they weren’t touching animal carcasses anymore. Jacob Williman, who died 1820, went from poverty to luxury in one generation, and his descendants prospered. Think about that the next time you drive down Williman Street in Charleston.
X is for Xavier, as in St. Francis Xavier. In 1829, Bishop John England, the first bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, established a new religious order here called the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, better known by the initials O.L.M. In 1882, the O.L.M. founded St. Francis Xavier Infirmary in a building near the corner of Calhoun Street and Ashley Avenue. In time, the infirmary expanded into a full service hospital, and in 1989 the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy transferred the sponsorship of St. Francis Xavier Hospital to the Sisters of Bon Secours—a larger, international religious order of nuns. For nearly twenty years the hospital was known as Bon Secours St. Francis, having dropped the name “Xavier” from its title. In late 1997, the Bon Secours Hospital merged with Roper Hospital, which has also been around since the mid-nineteenth century, and now it’s called Roper St. Francis Hospital.
Y is for Yonge, as in Francis Yonge, who was in South Carolina by 1716, when he was a member of the Governor’s council. At the end of 1719, there was a bloodless coup or revolution in which the Proprietary government was set aside in favor of a more direct home rule. As a member of the Council, Francis Yonge was at the heart of this revolution, and in 1722 he went to London as an agent or lobbyist to represent South Carolina’s interests directly to King George I. The plan was to convince the King and Crown to purchase South Carolina from the Lords Proprietors, who had long neglected the colony. While in London in 1726, Yonge published a pamphlet titled A narrative of the proceedings of the people of South-Carolina, in the year 1719: and of the true causes and motives that induced them to renounce their obedience to the Lords Proprietors. The Revolution of 1719 was a major event in the political history of South Carolina, and Francis Yonge’s pamphlet offers the most articulate, first-hand explanation of the issues that led to our state’s first internal revolution.
Z is for Zierden, as in Martha Zierden, curator of historical archaeology at the Charleston Museum. Martha has been digging the ground in and around Charleston since the early 1980s, and has accumulated more archaeological field experience in this area than any one person, living or dead. She has written or co-authored dozens of archaeological reports, which, by the way, you’re welcome to read at the Charleston Museum or at the South Carolina History Room at the Charleston County Public Library. And she’s the co-author of a recent book about zooarchaeology in Charleston; that is, a book about the hundreds of types of animal bones she’s uncovered in the course of her career. Martha Zierden is the only living person on my A to Z list today, but that’s not simply because her surname begins with the letter Z. It’s also because she’s one of my favorite people in this community, and I’m always happy to sing her praises.
As I said at the beginning of this presentation of Charleston alphabet soup, my goal today has been to pique your imagination by introducing you to twenty-five obscure and lesser-known South Carolinians, many of whom would make excellent characters in your next novel, screen play, or school report. If you’d like to learn more about any one of the men and women I mentioned today, I encourage you to visit the South Carolina History Room at the Charleston County Public Library and chat with the friendly staff. Be careful, though—learning about history can be habit-forming!