In the spirit of Halloween, today’s program concerns one of the most prevalent and legitimate fears held by the people of eighteenth-century Charleston. I’m talking about taphophobia—the fear of being buried alive. Premature burial was a real concern back in that era, when the line between life and death was poorly understood. Today we’ll explore a few cases that are sure to leave a haunting impression.
The Akin Foundling Hospital was a short-lived, long-forgotten municipal institution located on the west side of Meeting Street in Charleston. Established in 1843 at the bequest of Miss Eliza Akin, the building was intended as a refuge for abandoned infants, but the structure’s poor condition hampered its mission. Today we’ll survey the City of Charleston’s management of the institution and look for its ashes after the fire of 1861.
From modest beginnings in the 1690s to great wealth in the 1750s and extinction in the 1840s, the lesser-known Akin family of South Carolina left an important legacy on Meeting Street that most of Charleston has long forgotten. Before we can appreciate the history of the Akin Foundling Hospital, we need to learn a bit about the family fortunes that inspired our community’s first and only home for motherless infants.
Between 1670 and 1808, nearly one thousand cargos of enslaved Africans entered the port of Charleston. This fact represents one of the most important chapters in the history of our community, but we the people of Charleston still struggle to wrap our collective brains around this weighty topic. How can we tell this important story to our children and to the millions of visitors who come here each year?
In 1868, the City of Charleston passed an ordinance making it illegal for a person to appear in public dressed in a manner “not becoming his or her sex.” Why would they do such a thing? The answer is wrapped in the confusing world of post-Civil War Charleston, a place filled with Union soldiers enforcing federal laws, formerly-enslaved people starting new lives, and members of the old guard trying to make sense of a topsy-turvy world.
Has this ever happened to you: There’s a knock at your front door late at night. You open the door to find a messenger with a letter and a soggy burlap bag. You open the letter—it’s news about a series of recent murders. You look inside the bag and find two human heads. What do you do? If you’re the governor of South Carolina, and its January of 1745, you breathe a sigh of relief, and say “Thank you—I’ve been expecting these.”
In the summer of 1744, two Native American men of the Notchee tribe murdered several Catawba Indians in cold blood near Four Holes Swamp. Fearing a general Indian war, the government of South Caorlina interceded and tried to maintain peace between the tribes while hunting down the murders. This dramatic story has all the elements of a prime-time detective series, but it survives only in the manuscript records of our early government.
This nocturnal force, composed of unpaid citizens who guarded the streets from sunset to sunrise, played an extremely important role in the everyday life of early Charleston, but you won’t find much written about it in the thousands of books and articles written about the history of this city.
It’s summertime in the Lowcountry, and the fish are jumping. Seafood season is definitely here, even if the shrimp are running a bit late this year. Fishing has been a big part of our community’s history since, well, long before Europeans and Africans arrived first here more than three centuries ago.
After a century of human- and horse-powered ferry boats carrying passengers across the Cooper River, the arrival of steam power signaled a sea-change in our sense of mobility. The convenience provided by fast and powerful steam ferries fueled the first suburban development boom in the rural areas east of the Cooper River.
In the past, Charleston-area commuters once had a variety of transportation options, including trains, trolleys, omnibuses, and bicycles. Today we’re going to talk about the predecessor to the modern water taxi—the ferries that once plied across the Cooper River, shuttling people, animals, and vehicles between Charleston, Daniel Island, and Mount Pleasant.
You might be surprised to learn that the roots of the Charleston police department, and of all law enforcement services in South Carolina, stretch back more than seven hundred years to thirteenth-century England.
The first bicycles appeared on the streets of Charleston in the spring of 1869, at which time the machine was general called a “velocipede,” after the Latin roots “veloci” (fast) + “pede” (feet). For about six months after the first velocipedestrian rolled through the streets of Charleston, the city experienced a case of bicycle fever.
On the afternoon of Thursday, April 20th, 1775, the members of the General Committee of the South Carolina Provincial Congress convened in Charleston. After discussing the latest news received from England, and the intelligence contained in the private mail stolen from the post office the preceding night, the president of the Provincial Congress, Colonel Charles Pinckney (1732–1782) appointed William Henry Drayton (1742–1779) to head a “Secret Committee” to execute a series of preemptive...
In last week’s cliffhanger, we were listening in on a committee meeting of the colony’s rebellious shadow government, when they were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of breaking news from Britain. Let’s return to that scene on Broad Street now, rewind our Time Machine, and pull up a chair at the beginning of that important meeting.
At the same time Paul Revere was making his famous midnight ride, and British soldiers were battling Massachusetts militiamen at Lexington and Concord, events were taking place right here that represent South Carolina’s first acts of rebellion.
Long before the invention of email, and long before the advent of the U.S. Postal Service, how did the people of early Charleston exchange letters and news with other towns, other colonies, and across the Atlantic Ocean?
A century ago, this community was just beginning to emerge from a social, economic, and cultural rut created by backward-looking politics. To move Charleston forward, we needed to embrace new, progressive ideas and policies, especially those recognizing the equal rights of women and of the African-American population.