The Feast Day of St. Cecilia

St. Cecilia window, church of St. Mary The Virgin in Little Wymondley, Hertfordshire.

St. Cecilia window, church of St. Mary the Virgin, Little Wymondley, Hertfordshire.

The 22nd of November is the traditional feast day of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, musicians, orchestras, and bands. For many centuries, this day has been celebrated with concerts, poetry, and songs both sacred and secular. In Charleston, this traditional began in 1737, when German-born musician Charles Theodore Pachelbel offered a feast-day anthem at the small theater in Queen Street (ex-Dock-Street). A generation later, a group of local gentlemen formed our St. Cecilia Society, the first subscription concert organization in British America, and celebrated the saint’s feast day as their anniversary. Such celebrations continued locally well into the twentieth century, but most modern Charlestonians have never heard of this musical tradition. In preparation for the coming anniversary, therefore, I offer the following primer on the saint and her votaries in Charleston.

According to hagiographic legend, Cecilia was a young Roman lady who was martyred around the year 500 C.E. for her monotheistic Christian beliefs. Early reports of her veneration as a saint mention nothing about her association with music, but by the time of the Italian Renaissance she was routinely depicted with an organ, lute, violin, or some other musical instrument. The facts surrounding her transformation into the patron saint of music have been largely obscured by the sands of time, but the story itself has remained consistent over the centuries: Cecilia was a beautiful, chaste young lady whose religious devotion and musical skills drew angels down from heaven to admire her performances. This story provided inspiration to hundreds of visual artists over the years, and a simple Internet search for images of St. Cecilia provides ample examples of such works.

So why would a group of Protestant men in colonial South Carolina form a concert organization and name it for this ancient Roman Catholic martyr? As I wrote in my 2007 book about this topic, Votaries of Apollo, I believe that eighteenth-century Britons regarded St. Cecilia as the epitome of idealized womanhood in the age of “sensibility.” As a young, attractive, talented, and virtuous lady, Cecilia embodied the qualities of idealized spouse; by naming their society in her honor, the founders of the Charleston’s St. Cecilia Society sought to demonstrate that their secular events would  be conducted with sufficient decorum to make any lady feel welcome. The same could not be said for the usual species of gentlemen’s music-making at home or in taverns and coffee houses, in which men would customarily drink themselves silly and sing bawdy songs. No, the St. Cecilia concerts were something entirely different: formal concerts after the latest European fashion. That is, concerts where the success of the event was determined solely by the number of ladies present rather than by the quality of the performances.

Charleston’s St. Cecilia Society presented an annual concert series, including performances on the saint’s feast day, from 1766 to 1820. The society greatly curtailed its activities after 1820, but musical celebrations of its anniversary on 22 November continued well into the twentieth century. Other traditions have come and gone over the years in Charleston, but the musical celebration of St. Cecilia’s feast day remains one of the oldest and most significant in our city’s history. I encourage everyone to carve out a musical moment on Saturday the 22nd and perhaps raise a glass to the musicians of Charleston past. If you seek a bit of inspiration, please join me for a program titled:

“The Feast Day of St. Cecilia, Patron Saint of Music”

Saturday, November 22nd at Noon.

Mt. Pleasant Region Library, 1133 Mathis Ferry Road, 29464

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.



Tracing the Siege Lines of 1780

Originally posted on Rediscovering Charleston's Colonial Fortifications:

Pedestrians strolling past the swanky restaurants on Charleston’s upper King Street and promenading through the Farmers’ Market in Marion Square probably have no idea they’re treading through the heavily-fortified siege lines that once defined one of the most important battles of the American Revolution. A relatively new historical marker on the east side of King Street in the square commemorates the protracted British siege of Charleston in the spring of 1780, but it’s a minuscule reminder of a much larger scene that requires a lot of imagination to visualize. So, where were the siege lines of that historic battle, and what sorts of fortifications did the opposing forces erect? Two hundred and thirty-four years after the siege, the answers to these questions have been obscured by generations of development, but recent investigations are beginning to make the scene a bit clearer.

First, it is important to state that anyone interested in this topic should begin…

View original 1,168 more words

South Carolina’s Veterans of the War of 1812

On Veterans’ Day, we commemorate the sacrifices made by all the men and women of our armed forces. Our nation remembers some wars and battles more than others, so I’d like to take this opportunity to draw attention to a few of the least-remembered veterans.

Two hundred years ago, in November 1814, the militia of South Carolina was furiously preparing for a British invasion that never came. Activated by Governor Joseph Alston (amid a hailstorm of public criticism), thousands of militiamen from across South Carolina were ordered to the lowcountry to help defend our coastline against British marauders. After several months in the field, our soldiers learned that the war was over, and they quietly returned home. South Carolina’s militiamen did not face the heat of battle as our northern brethren did, but their brief rounds of active duty did qualify them for some veterans benefits from the Federal government. Thus began a chain of paperwork that can provide useful, even unique information for genealogists in search of the stories of the ancestors.

Finding Veterans of the War of 1812 in South Carolina

If you’d like to search for your South Carolina ancestor who may have served in the War of 1812, there are five principal resources to consider. Note that some of these resources are found in Federal repositories, while others are found at our state archive in Columbia.

The microfilm index to the compiled service records of South Carolina's veterans of the War of 1812 is available at SCDAH.

The microfilm index to the compiled service records of South Carolina’s veterans of the War of 1812 is available at SCDAH.

Compiled Service Records: The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has a file on every soldier who has served our country. Most of this material was collected at the state level and then forwarded to Washington D.C. in generations past. Some of that locally-collected information no longer exists in South Carolina, so the NARA “compiled service records” may represent your best source for veterans’ information. These records are arranged by state, and then alphabetically, but they are not on microfilm. There is a master index on microfilm, however, and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) has seven reels of microfilm containing an alphabetical index to our state’s soldiers from the War of 1812. By searching through this index for your ancestor, you can find the file number for his compiled service record and then write to NARA to obtain a copy. Alternatively, you can now browse through this index, arranged alphabetically, through

An example of Fold3's recently-digitized War of 1812 pension applications

An example of Fold3′s recently digitized War of 1812 pension applications

Pension Applications: Veterans of the War of 1812 (and their families) were eligible for Federal pension benefits under the provisions of a number of nineteenth-century laws. In short, Congress altered the pension laws at various times to allow men who served as briefly as fourteen days to qualify for benefits, and pension applications were still being accepted as late as 1878. These applications constitute a vast number of records to which access has been limited until recently. NARA has microfilm of an alphabetical index to this material, and in 1989 Virgil D. White published a three-volume Index to War of 1812 Pension Files (Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Company, 1989; SCDAH has a copy of this index). More importantly, the website Fold3 has recently mounted digital images of NARA’s War of 1812 pension applications, so now you can search for your ancestor online. In a matter of seconds, for example, I was able to find and download my 4th-great-grandmother’s 1878 application for the pension due to her late husband, Thomas Butler of Pennsylvania. These applications represent a must-have genealogical resource.

Bounty Land Warrant Applications: At the commencement of the War of 1812, the U.S. Congress passed a law granting acres of land as a bounty to every soldier who would serve in the conflict with Great Britain. In the decades after the war, many veterans (or their heirs) petitioned the Federal government to obtain a warrant directing a surveyor to admeasure their “bounty” land in the Midwest region of the country (Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri). These applications for bounty land warrants survive at NARA, and are available there on microfilm. There is no index, but the materials are arranged alphabetically. has posted a useful guide to understanding Military Bounty Land, and also has some of these records available online.

Muster Rolls: The captain of every militia company was supposed to keep monthly rolls of all the soldiers mustered under his command, and to forward copies of such rolls to his superiors. In South Carolina, like elsewhere, the state’s Adjutant General was supposed to collect and retain these muster rolls for administrative purposes. Due to various nineteenth-century fires and military accidents in our state, however, not many muster rolls survive from the War of 1812 or any other antebellum period. Nevertheless, it’s worth making an inquiry at SCDAH, once you’ve used the above-mentioned resources to determine in which company your ancestor served.

War of 1812 Payroll Receipt  card file at SCDAH

War of 1812 Payroll Receipt card file at SCDAH

Payroll Receipts: The South Carolina Department of Archives and History has a small number of the state Adjutant General’s manuscript payroll receipts from the War of 1812. Since militia service was obligatory for able-bodied white males aged 16 to 45 in antebellum America, you might wonder why payrolls exist. While  limited “voluntary” service was indeed required by law, militiamen received pay whenever the governor ordered them to perform full-time active duty, especially when such duty meant leaving your family and home for a period of time. South Carolina was very much on the periphery of the War of 1812, but in 1813 and 1814 Governor Alston did order parts of our state militia to travel from the upstate and midland regions to monitor the coastal area to protect against British raids (ships searching for supplies) and in case of a British invasion. As a result, there were claims for service pay in South Carolina after the war. Again, the records of the state adjutant-general are incomplete, but at SCDAH you’ll find an alphabetical card file index to the names of the men appearing in the surviving manuscript payroll receipts.

I hope this information is useful to anyone searching for information about ancestors who served in the often-overlooked “Second American Revolution.” If you’d like to learn more about the War of 1812 in general, you can download my selected bibliography of published sources. If you’d like to learn more about the war in South Carolina and the veterans’ records that survive, please join me for a program titled:

“Finding Veterans of the War of 1812

in South Carolina”

Saturday, November 15th at 1 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

“Beasts of Prey” in Colonial South Carolina

A Kiawah Island Bobcat at S.C. Wildlife Magazine

A Kiawah Island Bobcat
(S.C. Wildlife Magazine)

The early colonists who settled South Carolina found here a bountiful ecosystem, complete with the natural hierarchy of predators and prey. Many historians have correctly noted that the trade in pelts—primarily of deer and beaver—was a significant part of this colony’s early economy, but far less historical attention has been paid to the natural predators of South Carolina. Although we rarely hear about such creatures invading our modern lives, South Carolina’s early colonists saw the indigenous “beasts of prey” as a significant threat to their efforts to raise crops and to husband domesticated animals. In fact, the scarcity of carnivorous mammals in modern South Carolina is directly linked to a government-sponsored policy of systematic extermination that successfully rid the Lowcountry of “beasts of prey” by the year 1750.

Between 1696 and 1744, the South Carolina General Assembly enacted a series of laws offering bounties to encourage the killing of “beasts of prey”: wolves, bears, wildcats, and “tigers.” That’s right, “tigers,” by which the early colonists undoubtedly meant the cougar or panther or puma (depending on which common name you prefer for “puma concolor“). The early colonists perceived these animals as a threat to their lives, as well as a danger to their livestock and the large numbers of Africans being imported into the colony. To protect themselves and their investments, our legislature first struck a bargain with the Native American tribes of the Lowcountry, requiring them to deliver an annual quota of carnivore skins as a kind of duty on their deliveries of profitable deer skins. As the colony matured, and the population of Indian tribes diminished, the legislature shifted their eradication incentives to the white settlers, offering outright bounties for each scalp (“with two ears”) they delivered to their local Justice of the Peace.

We can look around our communities today and bear witness to the success of these early hunting efforts. South Carolina’s population of red wolves, black bears, bobcats, and cougars has been so diminished that in recent years our Department of Natural Resources has initiated programs to boost their tiny numbers. Twentieth-century hunting, trapping, and development are usually named as the causes for the extirpation of such species, but let us not forget about our colonial government’s contribution to this story. It was the systematic efforts of early Lowcountry hunters, motivated by government incentives, that initiated the decline of “beasts of prey” in South Carolina more than three centuries ago.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, please join me for an illustrated program titled:

“Hunting ‘Beasts of Prey’ in

Colonial South Carolina”

Wednesday, November 5th at 6 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

Reanimating “Apparently Dead” Bodies in 1790s Charleston

I’ll wager that most Charlestonians don’t realize that a 1793 law offers a reward to citizens who attempt to “restore to life” persons who are “apparently dead,” but who may actually be in a state of “suspended animation.” Not familiar with this gem of our municipal code? Well then, you’re in for a Halloween treat. This Thursday, October 30th at 6 p.m. I’m presenting an illustrated lecture at CCPL titled “Reviving ‘Apparently Dead’ Bodies in 1790s Charleston.” If you’re looking for a ghoulish, yet hilarious tale of macabre local history, you won’t want to miss this event.

Our story begins with the widespread and justifiably real fear of “premature burial.” In the centuries before the advent of modern science, history records many cases, reported from around the world, of persons being buried and then awakening to find themselves trapped six feet underground in a tight wooden box. We learn of such stories from grave diggers who report finding caskets scratched open from the inside, and from physicians reporting apparently dead persons sitting upright at their own funerals.

In London in 1774, a group of physicians formed an organization to combat the scourge of premature burial with science—or at least what passed for science in the eighteenth century. That organization, called the Royal Humane Society, advocated the notion that bodies that appeared to be dead might really be in a state of “suspended animation”; that is, their soul (anima) might be precariously suspended somewhere between life and death. The society’s challenge was not simply to discover techniques for identifying the true state of an “apparently dead” body, but rather to experiment and to devise methods to loosen death’s grip on the bodies and souls of “apparently dead” persons and to encourage their life force to return to a state of vitality. In addition, the Royal Humane Society sought to spread its collective knowledge by encouraging others around the world to conduct similar experiments and to save more people from the horrors of a premature burial.

News of the efforts of the Royal Humane Society soon spread throughout Europe and the United States. It was truly an age of discovery as scientists conducted bold, new experiments that swept aside old superstitions. In Italy, for example, Luigi Galvani was applying electricity to dead frogs to “reanimate” their muscles (a fact that later inspired Mary Shelley‘s classic Frankenstein).

Meanwhile in Charleston, a group of physicians in the Medical Society of South Carolina (established in 1789) learned of these experiments and embraced the scientific challenge of “suspended animation.” In the summer of 1793, they purchased an “apparatus” from the Royal Humane Society and commenced a public education campaign. Not content with merely offering the new science of “reanimation” to the citizens of Charleston, the Medical Society convinced our City Council to pass a law mandating the use of the new techniques in all cases of “apparently dead” bodies. On 19 August 1793, the City of Charleston ratified “An Ordinance for assisting the Medical Society of South Carolina, in their humane intentions, to restore to life persons under suspended animation, and for other purposes therein mentioned.” This law required all retailers of spirituous liquors to receive into their houses “the bodies of persons apparently dead” and to provide “all articles as may be necessary in restoring to life such bodies.” Furthermore, the law also mandates that all retailers of liquors must “constantly keep in public view, printed directions for restoring persons apparently dead to life, which directions, drawn up by the Medical Society of South Carolina, shall be given [to] them gratis.”



Just what did those directions say? It’s a bit of a mystery, as no copies of the 1793 directions are known to survive. Nevertheless, compelling evidence for the “reanimation” techniques used in 1790s Charleston can be found in the directions promulgated by the Royal Humane Society and other similar contemporary organizations. Suffice it to say that the principal methods involved electricity, massage, spirituous liquors poured down the throat, and tobacco smoke “thrown into the fundament.” Really.

As bizarre (and potentially hilarious) as these old methods may seem to twenty-first century readers, we must acknowledge the real scientific achievement of their experiments. In the course of the nineteenth century, the initial forays into the quasi-science of reanimation evolved in to the real and valuable science of resuscitation. Without the pioneering efforts of the Royal Humane Society, the Medical Society of South Carolina, and a host of similar organizations, mankind would not have the benefit of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or even the miraculous pacemaker.

If you’d like to learn more about this story, please join me at CCPL on Thursday, October 30th at 6 p.m. for “Reviving ‘Apparently Dead’ Bodies in 1790s Charleston.” Click on the image above for a flyer that you can share with your friends!

Charleston’s Hampstead Square

Charleston’s Hampstead Square—actually four public squares surrounding the intersection of Columbus and America Streets—is a unique and beautiful space with a rich history dating back to the the 1760s. It was laid out in 1769 as the center point of the village of Hampstead, a real estate venture developed by the wealthy merchant, Henry Laurens. Over the past two and half centuries, Hampstead Square has weathered some of the most dramatic episodes in Charleston’s history—including several wars, a major earthquake, and Civil Rights demonstrations—and still retains much of its original character.



If you’d like to learn more about this often-overlooked gem of Charleston’s geography, please join me and several other presenters for a community symposium titled Hampstead Square: The Heart of Charleston’s Historic Eastside Neighborhood,” on Monday, October 27th 2014, at 5 p.m. at the Palmer Campus of Trident Technical College. It’s free and open to the public, and you’re guaranteed to learn a few new things about Charleston history and see some rare images of Hampstead’s colorful past.

Lieutenant Hess’s Horn Work

Originally posted on Rediscovering Charleston's Colonial Fortifications:

In October 2013 Charleston’s Post and Courier ran a front-page story about my research on the “Horn Work,” a large tabby fortification that once straddled King Street and served as the gateway into the town.  As a result of that press coverage, we had a very large turnout for my 2013 “Horn Work” presentation at CCPL. In case you missed that event, we’re offering two ways to catch up on your knowledge of Charleston’s largest fortification. First, you can watch last year’s presentation at your leisure via the following YouTube link:

Second, I’m presenting an updated version of this lecture at CCPL on Wednesday, October 22nd at 6 p.m. What’s new for 2014? I’ve been tinkering with my three-dimensional model of the Horn Work in an effort to render its size and materials more accurately. I’ve also gathered some new information from the British Library about Lt. Col. Henry Bouquet‘s role in convincing the…

View original 270 more words

Who Were the Lowcountry’s First Citizens?

The annual commemoration of Columbus Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the impact of the earliest Europeans to arrive in the New World. As a resident of coastal South Carolina, I’ve often wondered about when Europeans first made contact with the indigenous people of the Lowcountry, and who was here to greet them. To be honest, this subject hasn’t been on my historically-minded radar until recently, so I’m certainly not an expert on South Carolina’s “first citizens.” I have, however, determined to make an effort to learn more and to help spread the knowledge of our region’s earliest inhabitants, and to share that knowledge with the community.

De Soto visits Cofitachequi  in South Carolina: Library of Congress image 3c04378v

De Soto visits Cofitachequi in South Carolina

This evening at 6 p.m. I’ll be presenting a lecture at CCPL called “South Carolina’s Native Americans and First Contact with Europeans.” I’m working on a bibliography of suggested reading on this topic, as well as a timeline of European contacts with our coastal tribes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Time doesn’t allow us to discuss every tribe that once inhabited the Palmetto State, so our focus will be those indigenous, coastal people who met the earliest Spanish, French, and English visitors. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to join us this evening, or let me know if you’d like to have a copy of the handouts.

A Conversation with Lee Pringle

In recent years, some of you might have heard me lecturing about the fascinating subject of African-American musicians in early Charleston and their unsung contribution to our Lowcountry cultural gumbo. This week I’m proud to host Lee Pringle for conversation about his upcoming festival, Colour of Music, which quite literally puts the spotlight on contemporary classically-trained black musicians. If you’d like to learn more about the festival and its mission, please join us at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 14th in the CCPL auditorium at 68 Calhoun Street.

Lee Pringle, found of the Colour of Music festival

Lee Pringle, founder of the Colour of Music festival

Lee Pringle is a Lowcountry native whose career took him to far-away places before he returned to Charleston to pursue his musical dreams. You may have heard him with the renowned Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Gospel Choir, which he founded some fourteen years ago, as well as the CSO Spiritual Ensemble and CSO Spiritual Ensemble Chorale. Music is Lee’s passion, and he stands out among his peers by being well-steeped in both classical and vernacular traditions.

The Colour of Music festival, about to begin its second season, is the fruit of many years of planning. Its purpose is to celebrate the contributions of black musicians and composers who work in the tradition of “classical” art music. Such contributions go back to the eighteenth century, when Joseph Boulogne, also known as Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799), attracted much attention in Europe for his incredible talents as both a violinist and composer. Boulogne’s works, like those of many other subsequent classically-trained black musicians, have been overlooked by generations of audiences and musicologists, but the tide is rapidly changing.  The Colour of Music is the first, and at present only festival dedicated to celebrating the talents of black artists, past and present, who contribute so much to our global cultural gumbo.

This year’s Colour of Music festival runs October 17-23, and includes a variety of artists, ensembles, and musical idioms. We encourage you to check it out, and to come to the Charleston County Public Library to hear Lee Pringle talk about his musical mission.

Time: Tuesday, October 14th 2014 at 6 p.m.

Place: CCPL Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401

For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at] or 843–805–6968.

The Return of Velocipedes and Windmills!

If you missed one of my recent fun lectures about velocipedes and windmills, here’s your chance to catch up and meet some other fabulous Charleston folks at Affordabike and the American College of the Building Arts.

Goddard_bicycle copy (1)On Tuesday, October 7th, I’ll be talking about “The Velocipede Invasion of 1869: Charleston’s First Bicycles” at Affordabike (573 King St. 29403). This laid-back, free event begins at 7 p.m. and is co-sponsored by Palmetto Brewery and the bicycle rights advocacy group, Bike Law. This will certainly be a fun evening, so please join us and raise a toast to our fair city’s bicycle history.

On Wednesday, October 8th, I’ll present a heavily-illustrated lecture on “Building Windmills in Early South Carolina” at the American College of the Building Arts (21 Magazine St. 29401). This free event begins at 5:30 p.m. and is part of the college’s Mary Scott Guest lecture series. If you’ve never visited the old “haunted” Charleston District Jail, this is your chance to wander through the building and hear a fun lecture about an amazing part of Charleston’s forgotten past.

Questions? Give me a call at 843-805-6968 or email me at butlern[at]