An image of the council chamber in 1882 (Source: Charleston Year Book)
Friday, November 01, 2019 Nic Butler, Ph.D.

Thomas J. Mackey did not shoot the sheriff, but he shot at him during a meeting of Charleston’s City Council in late October 1869 and endangered the city’s board of municipal aldermen. The community largely condemned the assault, which was fueled by a morphine delirium, and the city put Mackey on trial, but justice was not served. In the turbulent world of Reconstruction-era politics, it was more convenient to sweep a violent assault with intent to kill under the proverbial rug than to disrupt the uneasy status quo.

Let’s begin with a brief review of the scene as we left it in our last episode. Thomas Jefferson (or T. J.) Mackey and his nephew, Charleston County Sheriff Edmund Mackey, were both aldermen serving on Charleston’s City Council in 1869. It was a time of great political strife in the wake of the Civil War, exacerbated by a miserable economy and a culture of greed, nepotism, and outright corruption. In late October of that year, the members of Council were engaged in a heated argument over whether or not the City of Charleston was responsible for paying the legal bill submitted by David T. Corbin, a New York lawyer who had engaged in several months of political maneuvering to get the current members of City Council into office.

Several aldermen, including both of the Mackeys, felt that the individual members of Council should each pay a share of Corbin’s $3,000 fee, but the mayor and others wanted to draw the funds from the city treasury and shift the burden to the poor taxpayers of Charleston. When the elder Mackey, T. J., suddenly switched sides on the question of how to pay the legal bill, his nephew, Edmund, suggested that T. J. was lying about the real reasons for his change of mind. Uncle T. J. took offence and challenged Edmund to physical violence in the hallway and left the Council Chamber for several minutes. The nephew didn’t follow, and T. J. soon returned to the chamber in what appeared to be a savage state of mind.


The Shooting Affray:

A reporter noted that Alderman T. J. Mackey “trembled from rage” as he re-entered the chamber, while the Clerk of Council observed that the alderman had “the appearance of an insane man” who “looked wild and his eyeballs were enlarged as big as his fists.”[1] Mackey was wearing his customary pistol belt outside of his vest now as he stormed across the floor towards his nephew. “I shall have to chastise this fellow for his insolence,” he shouted as he drew his long, .36 caliber, single-action, Colt Navy revolver from its holster.[2]

The breathless audience dropped to the floor and began a collective skedaddle for the nearest exits.

Edmund Mackey sprang from his desk and squared to face his uncle, brushed his coat back to reveal his own pistol, and put his right hand on the grip. “You dare not attempt it, you scoundrel,” he shouted at his wild-eyed uncle.[3]

Without uttering another word, T. J. Mackey raised his three-pound steel revolver high and attempted to bash his nephew’s skull with it. Edmund “threw up his arms and warded off the blow, and at the same time advanced upon his opponent.” While the two men wrestled, several aldermen rushed forward to try to pull them apart. Uncle T. J. took a few steps back from the fray and leveled his weapon at his nephew’s chest. Mayor Pillsbury and Clerk of Council Mitchell, seated behind the target, dove behind their respective desks. The elder Mackey used the palm of his free hand to cock the hammer back, and pulled the trigger. The room gasped and heard a “click.” The gun misfired.

Standing just a few yards to the southeast, Edmund ducked and drew his own pistol. Uncle T. J., continuing to step backwards, used both hands to cock his pistol again and fired two wild shots in rapid succession. At last, he backed into a sofa against the wall and sat on its arm to fire a third wild shot. The nephew now stood upright, raised his pistol with two hands, and sighted his reclining assailant. Before he could fire, however, Alderman Charles Voigt rushed in front of the elder Mackey and wrestled the smoking gun from his hand. With the help of several bystanders, he dragged the would-be assassin from the chamber to his office across the hall.

Meanwhile, another group of aldermen surrounded Sheriff Edmund Mackey and demanded his pistol, which he had not fired but still held at the ready. He was “upon the point of firing” at his uncle moments earlier, but held back when Alderman Voigt and others ran between him and his target. After T. J. Mackey had been dragged from the room, Edmund still refused to give up his pistol, however, insisting that he wanted to be armed and ready in case there was further trouble. His colleagues understood and relented. The sheriff had maintained his cool in the face of danger, and the threat of further violence appeared to have passed. No one in the partially deserted room appeared to be injured, and no signs of bloodshed could be found. As the minutes passed, the excitement gradually subsided.

People now began filing back into the Council Chamber and discussing the mad scene. A quick survey of the room showed that one of Mackey’s shots had “passed through the curtain and window-glass of the window at the southeast corner of the building.” Another bullet had pierced the top of a desk “between the seats of the combatants, and passing diagonally through it[,] fell flattened to the floor.” The third ball fired entered the wall directly above the mayor’s desk, about nine feet above the floor.

Lieutenant Thomas Chapman of the city police force had heard the shots while on duty at the Guard House across the street. He now rushed up the stairs of City Hall and found the assailant, T. J. Mackey, seated in his office across from the Council Chamber. Mackey confessed to Lieutenant Chapman “that he had violated the law in making the assault upon the sheriff, and was ready to surrender himself into custody.” Meanwhile, the Council Chamber was abuzz with strong condemnations of the alderman’s felonious assault, and laudatory praise for the nephew’s steely restraint.

Mayor Pillsbury now banged his gavel and called the room to order. The crowd had thinned dramatically in the wake of the gunfire; only eight of the eighteen aldermen were now present, and most of the spectators had skedaddled. Alderman David Barrow, sober but seemingly oblivious to the recent drama, arose and began to introduce a new and totally unrelated matter of business as if all was normal. His colleagues impatiently reminded him that there was no quorum present.

Just then, T. J. Mackey re-entered the Council Chamber and stood near the rear of the room. Silence fell across the crowd as all waited to hear what excuse the trigger-happy alderman might have to offer. “Mr. Mayor and gentlemen,” he began softly, in a “tremulous tone of voice,” “I have come into this chamber for the purpose of expressing my deep regret and shame for my recent action in this place.” Here, there is a bit of divergence in the two surviving newspaper reports. The Charleston Courier reported that Mackey then said “I am prepared to lay before this Council certificates from two physicians that I have been suffering from a fractured jaw for several days, and this afternoon took a large dose of morphine.” The Charleston Daily News, however, reported that Mackey stated “I am prepared to show certificates from [two] D[octo]rs. . . that while suffering very much to-day from my tooth I took three grains of morphine, and I have not been myself since taking them.”

Whether Mackey was really suffering from a cracked jaw or just a toothache, I can’t say. In either case, however, it seems clear that he was flying high under the influence of a substantial dose of morphine on the evening in question. One “grain” of morphine is 64 milligrams, which is a significant dose that would be appropriate for treating severe pain. But three grains is 192 milligrams, which is sufficient to incapacitate an adult human. Under the influence of that dosage, however, Alderman Thomas Jefferson Mackey had attended the City Council meeting, participated in numerous lucid conversations, and fired his revolver into a crowded room. In my mind, these facts can only mean one of two things. First, he was using a very poor grade of drug, the quality of which diminished its influence. Or, second, his actions demonstrate a tolerance to large doses of morphine acquired by the habitual use of the drug. It’s impossible now to say which answer is correct, so I’ll leave that matter for your consideration. Let’s continue with the text of T. J. Mackey’s apology, taken from the Charleston Daily News:


When goaded on by an insult from him by whose hand I’d rather die than he should lose one drop of blood by hand of mine [that is, his nephew], I fired at him, believing as I did that he was pointing his pistol at my breast. I deem it just that I should apologize, and I do so. I deem this apology due to Council, to my nephew, and to the public, in order that they may not think I am the ruffian or assassin that my recent conduct might lead them to believe did they not know the state of mind I was in. As this may be the last time I will appear in the Council Chamber, I apologize for my conduct now, and do not wait for a more fitting season, and I ask that it be accepted. Alderman T. J. Mackey then retired [from the room].


Irish-born Alderman Michael Collins stood and moved that Council accept Mackey’s apology. His colleagues then reminded him that there was no quorum. “Quorum or no quorum,” demanded Alderman Edward Wall, “I wish to know the status of this Corbin matter.” A heated discussion of the lawyer’s bill ensued. Alderman Barrow, “whom justice compels us to say was sober,” called for order and moved that Council adjourn for the evening. Mr. Wall repeated his demand that the mayor should answer his question. Mayor Pillsbury mumbled or whispered that he couldn’t give an answer in public without a quorum present.

The mayor’s refusal irked Edmund Mackey, who rose from his seat and lectured the room: “I have denounced the action of a few men here tonight, in regard to [Mr. Corbin’s] claim, as an outrage, and my remarks brought on this difficulty; I came here to fight this claim and have done so. I have not, however, any apology to make, and will neither make nor accept one. As to all this talk about the [elder] alderman [Mackey] who considered himself insulted, and shot at me and then said he would not have injured his kinsman for anything, it is all bosh; I would rather see every kinsman of mine dead and in their graves, than see them put their hands in the city treasury to pay their private debts.”

Alderman Richard Holloway testified, “I say amen to that.” Edward Wall concurred, “I say hurrah for you.” A heated discussion of the Corbin claim continued while the mayor repeatedly refused to discuss the matter without a quorum of aldermen present. Finally, one of the aldermen moved to adjourn the meeting, and the mayor called for a vote on the motion. No one voted. Instead, the eight remaining members of Council simply walked away from the chaotic meeting in disgust.[4]


The Public Reaction:

In the days immediately after the shooting of October 28th, 1869, almost everyone in Charleston agreed that Alderman T. J. Mackey had acted in a manner that was both illegal and beneath the usual grade of political contempt. In an editorial titled “The Municipal Scandal,” the Charleston Courier published an eloquent condemnation that merits a full reading:


We do not know which is more infamous, the vulgar personalities, bullying and rowdyism that so frequently characterize the meetings of our City Council, or the utter disregard of all law with which the Mayor last night, having put on the gag, rushed that Corbin resolution through, declaring it passed, when really it was lost. That Mr. Thomas J. Mackey, who so lately opposed and ridiculed the United States District Attorney [Corbin], should all at once have become his ardent advocate, and even shoot at his nephew in open session of Council, in defence [sic] of the cause of his new friend Corbin, is, to say the least of it, very surprising; or may be it is not surprising at all. But that the Mayor should, in order to have his friend’s little bill paid, so entirely disregard decency, propriety, law and everything else that is supposed to govern a deliberative assembly, that we cannot understand. One thing is certain, and that is, that the City Treasurer has no right to pay one dollar upon the vote said by the Mayor to have been passed last night. If the Treasurer pays upon such irregular action, he does it at his peril.[5]


Other newspaper editorials were equally harsh. The Charleston Daily News blamed the new members of City Council for creating a culture of extravagance and entitlement, beginning with “the grog-shop in the ante-room” of the Council Chamber. Rev. Richard Cain, writing in the weekly Missionary Record, sarcastically noted that Mayor Gilbert Pillsbury had “become an artful dodger, dodging even a ball from Colt’s revolver.” Cain continued the joke by imploring City Council to “restrict the use of morphine as an explosive element, and order Captain Hendricks [of the Charleston Police] to place a guard over it at $3,000 a year.” The Courier railed that the Republican City Council had made Charleston a laughingstock. “The debates of Council are not only in language which no gentleman would tolerate in his kitchen, but in the very face of the law and in open assembly concealed weapons are carried, exhibited and used, to the public scandal and the breach of the public peace. Government thus becomes a reproach. Such conduct is a direct insult to public sentiment.”[6]

Down among the hoi polloi, the streets of Charleston were abuzz with gossip about the gunfire at City Hall. The most inquisitive citizens paid a visit to the Council Chamber, dubbed “the municipal battlefield,” and satisfied their curiosity by examining the room for “the scenes of ink shed and bullet marks.”[7] The rumor around town was that Alderman T. J. Mackey, on account of his political influence, might not be prosecuted and indicted for the assault he committed on Thursday evening.[8] Under the headline “Doses of Morphine,” the Charleston Courier asked rhetorically, “Was T. J. Mackey arrested for attempting to murder the Sheriff? Or will he be allowed to roam at large after violating the laws of the land?”[9]

On Monday, November 1st, Mayor Pillsbury called a special meeting of City Council (except Alderman T. J. Mackey) the following day at 1 p.m. Around 2 p.m. on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 2nd, the aldermen convened at City Hall for a closed-door meeting. Reporters were barred from hearing their discussion, but the official summary of the proceedings revealed that “the late morphine scrape” was the principal topic of conversation. Some of Charleston’s aldermen wanted to expel T. J. Mackey from City Council and bar him from returning to the Council Chamber, but their respect for due process and procedure induced them to follow a more bureaucratic path. Alderman Charles Voigt submitted for consideration a document condemning Alderman T. J. Mackey’s recent actions in the formal legal language of a criminal indictment:


Charge—Misconduct in office.

Specification—In this that he, Thomas J. Mackey, Alderman of Ward 3, of the City of Charleston, did at a meeting of the City Council of Charleston, duly assembled on the 28th day of October, A.D. 1869, in the City of Charleston, and while in the exercise of his office as Alderman from Ward 3 of the City of Charleston, and a member of the City Council of Charleston, made an assault with a deadly weapon, to wit: a loaded pistol, upon E. W. M. Mackey, a member of the said City Council, and Alderman from Ward 2 of the said city, and with intent to kill him, the said E. W. M. Mackey, did discharge at him, the said E. W. M. Mackey, the said deadly weapon three several times. All of which is contrary to the good order, peace and safety of the City Council, and a derogation of the rights of the said City Council, and in flagrant violation of his, the said T. J. Mackey’s duty as an Alderman from Ward 3, of the City of Charleston.


After a brief discussion, Council voted to adopt the language of the charge and specifications. Mayor Pillsbury ordered the clerk to send a copy of this day’s proceedings to T. J. Mackey, along with a summons to appear before the City Council at 6 o’clock Thursday evening, November 4th, to answer the said charge, and to “abide the order of the said City Council.”[10]


The Municipal Trial:

By 6 p.m. on Thursday, the Council Chamber in City Hall was overflowing with spectators waiting to see the sparks fly. The mayor and aldermen sauntered in around seven o’clock, and didn’t call the meeting to order for another half hour. City Attorney David T. Corbin, whose legal bill had been the cause the recent trouble, was also present. Once the room was quiet and everyone was seated, Alderman T. J. Mackey entered the room and took his usual seat, followed closely by his attorney, Colonel Robert William Seymour (ca. 1800–1884).

Mayor Pillsbury stated that the purpose of the meeting was to try a member of Council. The clerk, William Raven Mitchell, read aloud the charge and specification against Alderman T. J. Mackey, together with Council’s resolution to bring Mackey to account for his deeds. When asked if the defendant pleaded guilty or not guilty, Colonel Seymour, his attorney, stood and argued against the jurisdiction of the City Council. If his client was charged with having committed a criminal offense, the trial of that matter should be left to the Court of General Sessions, which, he stated, had already commenced an investigation. A legal debate ensued, during which Alderman J. D. Geddings submitted a few points of law. T. J. Mackey then stood and said “Mr. Mayor, I warn the gentleman [that is, Geddings] that if he attacks me personally, I shall proceed to relate his history, and strip the mask from his corrupt body.” The outburst delighted the audience, from whom arose various exclamations such as “Morphine,” “Look out,” and “He’s going to shoot.”

After further legal discussion, Council overruled the argument concerning jurisdiction and arraigned the defendant, T. J. Mackey, who pleaded not guilty to the charge of assault with intent to kill. Attorney Seymour then stated that his client was not ready for trial because he had not sufficient time to gather his witnesses. The members of Council dismissed this concern and resolved to proceed with the trial. Colonel Seymour and T. J. Mackey repeatedly asked to postpone the trial until the following week, but Council, after some debate, resolved to begin immediately.

City Attorney David T. Corbin commenced the prosecution by calling Aldermen Charles Voigt to testify. A German-born leatherworker, Mr. Voigt was sworn and described the scene he witnessed in the Council Chamber on October 28th. Answering a key question, Voigt stated that he believed T. J. Mackey had intended to kill his nephew, Edmund Mackey, on the evening in question. The elder Mackey then rose to cross-examine the witness, and asked him if his “memory was reliable upon all points.” Mr. Voigt replied calmly that it was, “as he didn’t take morphine.” City Attorney Corbin then questioned Alderman George Cunningham, who provided similar sworn testimony, and then prosecution rested its case.

For the defense, Colonel Seymour called first Dr. Tycho Reenstjerna (who perhaps knew of Mackey’s morphine prescription), but no one came forward. Seymour then called Henry Jenkins of the Charleston Police force, but again, no one came forward. The colonel then tried to stall for time, but Council moved to cease hearing testimony and proceed with the trial. Desperate to bring forward a witness, Colonel Seymour called for the defense Alderman Edmund Mackey, at whom his client had fired three shots. The younger Mackey’s testimony was not recorded in detail, but the press noted that it was “substantially” what had already been reported in the newspapers. It’s interesting to note that Edmund Mackey “testified that he had been on very friendly terms” with his uncle prior to their public disagreement over Mr. Corbin’s legal bill. On the evening of the shooting, however, he believed that T. J. Mackey “was out of his mind when the affray occurred.”

The defense then called a succession of witnesses who provided brief testimonies. Mr. J. G. Mackey, brother of the defendant, stated that he knew T. J. “had been suffering from a fractured jaw bone for some time, and had been taking morphine for several weeks,” which “made him irritable.” Clerk of Council, W. R. Mitchell, testified that Alderman Mackey “had on the occasion the appearance of an insane man,” but, on examination, he couldn’t state whether Mackey’s crazed look was due to morphine or anger. Alderman Hampton stated that he knew Mackey had been suffering with a “decayed tooth” for sometime, and added that his fellow alderman “was always after something, and was very much worried.” Three more black Republicans, W. H. Mishaw, Aaron McCoy, and Thomas Aiken, all swore that they knew Alderman Mackey had been taking morphine for some time, allegedly to dull the pain of a toothache.

After a brief recess, Alderman David Barrow moved to cease hearing testimony and proceed with the trial. T. J. Mackey immediately objected, stating that he had more witnesses to call and would produce testimony to incriminate several of his fellow members of Council. Furthermore, the elder Mackey stated, he could prove that the former mayor of Charleston, George W. Clark, had offered bribes to the present aldermen to vote for his (Mackey’s) expulsion. Mr. Clark, who was sitting in the audience, rose to his feet and cried “That man, sir, is a liar.” Mackey, now pointing at the former mayor, replied “The well known character of that man in this community as a thief, prevents me from answering him here.” “Here,” said the Charleston Courier, “another morphine stir took place” in the room, as the audience braced for gunfire and “began to cast their eyes towards the doors and windows.”

Alderman Charles Voigt broke the tension by rising and asking “Mr. Mayor, can the Alderman [that is, T. J. Mackey] bring proof to show that he has not taken morphine tonight?” After a brief pause for laughter throughout the room, the elder Mackey renewed his charge of bribery among the aldermen. He pointed at David Barrow, who was frequently drunk, and stated “I can prove that this unfortunate person has taken a bribe.” Alderman Barrow, reacting in what the Courier described as a “very indignant and melo-dramatic” manner, while “running his fingers through his hair in a poetic way,” replied “I pronounce the assertion the damndest [sic] lie on the face of the earth.” The audience erupted in a “loud roar of laughter.”

T. J. Mackey renewed his requests for more time to prove his assertions, to which Alderman Barrow repeated his motion to cease hearing testimony. After the two men had argued for several minutes, Council adopted the motion to cease testimony and proceed with the trial. Mackey’s attorney, Colonel Seymour, now rose and angrily lectured the room. As an experienced trial attorney, he was not accustomed to being gagged in court and having limits placed on the duration of his client’s defense. He therefore refused to participate any further in the proceedings. Turning to his client, Seymour suggested that Mackey should “throw his commission at their feet and defy their trial.” The room burst into a round of applause.

Alderman T. J. Mackey then stood and commenced a spontaneous self defense. He first apologized to Colonel Seymour and his friends for the “indignities heaped upon him” by City Council. Speaking of the shooting of October 28th, the elder Mackey declared “that he knew nothing of the events of last Thursday night.” He stated that “he was prepared to shew [sic] that he went home in a state of delirium after the occurrence, and that his physician was immediately called in to apply the most powerful antidotes.” Council had stunted his defense, he claimed, and so he was determined to resign. He might be convicted of having committed one crime, but he refused to continue his connection with a greater crime—“that of robbing the city treasury—which is now being done by the horde of robbers who have swept down from the North to devour the sunny South.” Mackey then read aloud his prepared letter of resignation, adding “I cast my resignation in your teeth. I shall return, however, when this horde of vandals and robbers have been swept away, and I will then confront these robbers of the city treasury.” He then stormed out of the room during a torrent of applause, followed by about twenty sympathetic black Republicans.

After the applause subsided, Alderman Edmund Mackey—the target of his uncle’s recent pistol shots—rose and addressed the room. “I have refrained from saying anything, although I am the most injured by the late unfortunate occurrence. But I came here supposing that a fair trial would be granted to the accused.” The younger Mackey’s next words surprised the audience. “I have never witnessed a more disgraceful scene, and while I condemn the acts of him who has just left us, I supposed that there was some sense of shame left at this Board. I therefore beg to tender my resignation. I am too proud to sit in such a contemptible board, who first rob the City Treasury of $3,000, and then enter into an illegal combination to oppress a man.”

Edmund Mackey’s resignation stunned the audience, and several of his fellow aldermen rose to argue against his suggestion that they had taken bribes. Chaos reigned as assertions and threats flew across the room and the audience murmured in disbelief. “Visions of morphine and Colt’s navy revolvers began to float through the air,” said the Courier, “and in the midst of a general confusion, somebody moved to adjourn.” A heated debate commenced about finishing the object of the meeting and the mayor’s attempt to bully the Council into submission. Silence and order returned, however, when T. J. Mackey opened the door and returned to the chamber.

“This discussion is all wrong,” Mackey shouted, “and you are all acting very foolishly.” In the midst of the sudden calm, Alderman Voigt moved to suspend immediately the proceedings against T. J. Mackey for misconduct in office, since the alderman had resigned from City Council. The motion was seconded and carried. Another motion to accept the resignation of T. J. Mackey was similarly adopted, as was a motion to accept the resignation of Edmund Mackey. Determined to have the last word, the elder Mackey held up his written letter of resignation and addressed the members City Council. “I do not hurl this at your feet for your acceptance. I claim the right to resign, and now leave this board of robbers, polygamists, perjurers and forgers, who now rule the City of Charleston.” As he threw down the letter and stormed out of the room, the audience erupted with applause. Council then adjourned at one o’clock in the morning. In concluding its coverage of the long meeting, the Democratic leaning Charleston Courier observed “Oh! these Republicans have winning ways.”[11]


The Epilogue:

The shooting in Charleston’s City Hall on October 28th, 1869, represented the apex of danger within the municipal chamber, but that violent event failed to make a lasting impression on the character of local politics. In the wake of the Civil War and the end of slavery, Charleston glowed with the bright promise of a more inclusive democracy and future prosperity. The reality of the situation was far less rosy, however, as political factionalism, greed, and stubborn discrimination clouded the path of progress. A culture of violence, nurtured by the carnage of the recent war, condoned the widespread carrying of handguns that were frequently used to discharge the fury of political rivals. In this climate of angst and turmoil, fueled by easy access to alcohol and morphine, the firing of three shots during a meeting of Charleston’s City Council was little more than a curious sideshow. 

Alderman Thomas Jefferson Mackey, the delirious gunslinger in this story, was never formally arrested or charged for his violent actions. City Council tried him, as we have seen, for misconduct in office—that misconduct being an “assault with intent to kill,” of course—but there was no criminal trial.[12] He resigned from his seat on the municipal government and continued his career as a trial judge. Active in state Republican politics throughout the 1870s, he earned a reputation as a “violent and somewhat offensive partisan.” Despite switching to the Democratic party at the collapse of Reconstruction in 1876, his political career stagnated in South Carolina and he moved away from his native state.[13]

Similarly, Sheriff and Alderman Edmund Mackey’s career as a Republican politician continued to flourish into the 1870s. He rose to Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, but the collapse of the Reconstruction regime precipitated his fall from grace in 1877.

New York lawyer David T. Corbin, the man whose legal bill had provoked the Mackey dispute, also enjoyed a prosperous political career in South Carolina during the Reconstruction era, but the Democratic Party’s return to power in the state in the late 1870s pushed him to the sidelines. He left Charleston permanently in the 1880s and established a successful law practice in Chicago.

And what about Mr. Corbin’s extravagant legal bill of $3,000—did the city treasurer ever pay that contested claim? According to a very brief note published in the Charleston Courier in early November, 1869, David Corbin had “presented an order from Mayor Pillsbury on the City Treasurer for $3,000, which was not paid, in consequence of there being no money in the treasury, and which will probably not be paid at all.”[14] The city was simply too poor to support such rich political shenanigans.

The Council Chamber within Charleston’s City Hall underwent a substantial renovation in 1882. At that time, the upstairs room was enlarged and fitted with Victorian-era decor. The three bullet holes resulting from Thomas Jefferson Mackey’s discharge of a Colt revolver were undoubtedly repaired in some manner during that process. The chamber underwent further renovations in the twentieth century, so I sincerely doubt you’ll find any physical trace of the historic violence in the room today.[15] But you don’t have to take my word for it. Charleston’s City Hall is a beautiful public building with its own art collection tastefully displayed within the Council Chamber. If you’ve never been inside, I encourage you to visit the heart of the city’s municipal government and view the scene of T. J. Mackey’s morphine madness.



[1] These choice quotes came from Clerk of Council, W. R. Mitchell, in Charleston Daily News [hereafter, Daily News], 5 November 1869, page 3, “A Municipal Menagerie”; and Charleston Daily Courier [hereafter, Courier], 5 November 1869, page 1, “Let Us Have Peace.”

[2] The Courier, 29 October 1869, page 1, “Let Us Have Peace,” described the weapon as a “Colt’s navy revolver,” while the Daily News, 29 October 1869, page 3, “The Pistol in Council,” described the weapon as “a large Colt’s revolver, army size, which the alderman always wears, and the muzzle of which could, at almost any time, be seen projecting about a quarter of an inch beneath the rear portion of his coat.” The Colt navy (1851 or 1861 models) and army (1860 model) pistols are nearly identical in size and appearance, but the .36 caliber navy model is a bit lighter than the .44 caliber army model. I suspect the gun in question was the navy model, which was the more popular sidearm for civilian use at that time.

[3] The text of my reconstruction of the action and dialogue of the City Council meeting of 28 October 1869 represents a synthesis of facts and quotations presented in robust abstracts of that meeting published in Courier, 29 October 1869, page 1, “Let Us Have Peace”; and Daily News, 29 October 1869, page 1, “The Pistol in Council.” The official text of the proceedings of City Council meeting of 28 October, as prepared by Clerk of Council, W. R. Mitchell, appear in Courier, 15 November 1869, page 4, and contains far less dialogue.

[4] The text of my reconstruction of the action and dialogue of the City Council meeting of 28 October 1869 represents a synthesis of facts and quotations presented in robust abstracts of that meeting published in Courier, 29 October 1869, page 1, “Let Us Have Peace”; and Daily News, 29 October 1869, page 1, “The Pistol in Council.”

[5] Courier, 29 October 1869, page 2, “The Municipal Scandal.”

[6] Daily News, 30 October 1869, page 2, “The Council”; Courier, 2 November 1869, page 1, “Doses of Morphine”; Courier, 30 October 1869, page 2, “The City Council of Charleston.”

[7] Courier, 30 October 1869, page 1, “Chips.”

[8] Courier, 30 October 1869, page 1, “Chips.”

[9] Courier, 2 November 1869, page 1, “Doses of Morphine.”

[10] Courier, 3 November 1869, page 1, “Those Morphine Doses”; Daily News, 3 November 1869, page 3, “The Shooting Gallery”; the official proceedings of the City Council meeting of 2 November appear in Courier, 16 November 1869, page 4.

[11] The text of my reconstruction of the action and dialogue of the City Council meeting of 4 November represents a synthesis of facts and quotations presented in robust abstracts of that meeting published in Courier, 5 November 1869, page 1, “Let Us Have Peace”; Daily News, 5 November 1869, page 3, “A Municipal Menagerie”; the official proceedings of the City Council meeting of 4 November appear in Courier, 16 November 1869, page 4.

[12] Courier, 6 November 1869, page 1, “Chips,” reported that “the charge of assault with intent to kill preferred against ex-Alderman T. J. Mackey has been withdrawn.”

[13] See the obituary for T. J. Mackey in [Columbia, S.C.] The State, 9 April 1909, page 1.

[14] Courier, 4 November 1869, page 1, “Chips.”

[15] For a detailed description of the new chamber, see Charleston News and Courier, 15 November 1882, pages 1 and 4, “The City Hall Rededicated.” A photograph of the newly-remodeled Council Chamber appears in Charleston Year Book, 1882, between pages 208 and 209.


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