Saturday, January 30, 2010

Remembering Another Tree

Things had not been going well for the colonists up in New England. In Boston, there had been a massacre by the British. And shots had been heard 'round the world in Lexington and Concord. But in June 1776, a small flotilla of British warships arrived just outside Charles Town's harbor. Given that there were a good many folks here that were loyal to the crown, the Royal Navy had been given orders to enter the city and set up a headquarters here. However, it was low tide, and the ships ran aground on a sandbar that was at the entrance to the harbor. To make things worse for the British, there was a contingent of state militia encamped in a small fort on Sullivan's Island, a stone's throw (actually a cannonball's throw) away from where the ships sat. Their fort was made of logs from palmetto trees (a smaller version of the palm). Firing commenced from the ships into the fort, and vice versa. The fort proved to be indestructable, since the logs were a soft and spongy wood that was able to absorb the impact from the shelling rather than breaking apart the way other wooden forts might. When the tide turned (literally and figuratively), the ships left the area and the Patriots celebrated the first decisive victory in the war against the British. And the palmetto became the state tree of South Carolina!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Liberty Tree

Many cities in colonial America had a liberty tree, a place where men would come together in the 1770s to discuss independence from England. Charles Town was no exception. The liberty tree was in a pasture in what is now the Mazyck-Wraggborough area of the city (just north of Calhoun Street, around the corner from the main Charleston County Public Library). The British cut down the tree, but there is a plaque on the gatepost at 80 Alexander Street denoting the property as the site of the Liberty Tree.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Up the Creek

By 1775, things were getting really hot (politically) in the city of Charles Town. A new "royal" governor (appointed by the king) arrived, although the previous year, the colony of South Carolina had set up its own "provincial" government with a president and vice-president, refusing to yield to the authority of the Mother Country. Fearing that things were getting too complicated, the royal governor supposedly snuck out the window of his house under cover of darkness, got into a rowboat on a small creek that ran where Water Street is today, and rowed out to the harbor to meet British ships that were anchored there. He did not return to Charles Town.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sign or Die

During the turbulent 1770s, there was much contention between those citizens who were in favor of independence from England and those who remained loyal to the crown. Ministers at St. Michael's Church who were Loyalists were ejected from the church, and citizens were forced to sign a commitment to the independence movement. Anyone who refused to sign was sequestered in town and many were tarred and feathered. In one instance, as an angry mob was carrying one poor soul to his torturous punishment, the crowd allegedly threw a bag of feathers on the porch of another Loyalist and yelled for him to take care of it until they returned for him.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Drinking Problem

Although affluent citizens enjoyed entertainment and lively political conversation in taverns, a law was passed in 1762 prohibiting laborers and servants from gambling at any place that sold liquor in Charles Town. Many citizens of the upper class believed such activities were contributing to the growing numbers of poor people, forcing the Anglican Church to request more tax money to help the growing indigent population. This tax increase didn't set well with many wealthy citizens, thereby prompting the ban on gambling for the working class.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bottoms Up

Taverns were important places during the Revolutionary Era. In Charles Town, it is estimated that there was one tavern for every five white males by 1776. Besides discussing politics over a pint (or perhaps rum), patrons would often be treated to concerts, plays and operas in the longroom upstairs in the larger taverns. In fact, the first opera to be performed in North America was performed in the longroom of Shepheard's Tavern on the corner of Church and Broad Streets. Coincidentally, that same opera, Flora, will also be performed at this year's Spoleto Festival in Charleston in May.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Don't Tread on Me

In Charles Town, the Sons of Liberty called for action against the British crown and met at the Liberty Tree or in taverns to discuss politics. Christopher Gadsden was a leader in the independence movement and designed a flag to promote the cause. Borrowing Benjamin Franklin's analogy that the colonies were like a snake, coiled but ready to strike when provoked, Gadsden's yellow flag shows the snake with the words, "Don't Tread on Me," underneath. On your Charleston 101 Walking Tour, you will notice this unmistakable flag adorning many porches.