May 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_May_2016May brings to Charleston a profusion of flowers and a general feeling of great anticipation.  Tens of thousands of students are eagerly looking forward to the end of the academic year, while tens of thousands of tourists and locals are eyeing the arts calendar of the upcoming annual Spoleto Festival USA.  Add to this mix the local celebration of National Bike Month, and you have the recipe for some real Charleston fun.  Why not celebrate the end of the school year by bicycling to a performance of  Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess? It’s almost summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . . .

Is South Carolina History Relevant?

As 21st-century technology brings the world to our fingertips, the distant past might seem increasing irrelevant.  In the lowcountry of South Carolina, however, our past continues to shape the world around us. We cannot truly understand our community and move forward in harmony without acknowledging the complex past that shaped our imperfect world.  Thank goodness our state educators know this fact, and have mandated a year-long course in South Carolina history for all third- and eighth-graders.  As the school year comes to an end, I’ll speak to a group of eighth graders (and anyone else who’s interested) about the many reasons why it’s important to study South Carolina history, and why they’ll appreciate this knowledge in the future.

  • Tuesday, 10 May at 11:15 a.m.,  John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455 (with students from Haut Gap Middle School)

 

The Sounds of Charleston In Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

While composing his operatic version of DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel, Porgy, George Gershwin made several pilgrimages to Charleston in 1933–34 to learn about the musical traditions of the South Carolina lowcountry.  Some of what he heard merely inspired the musical fabric of Porgy and Bess, but some local sounds Gershwin transplanted directly into his 1935 opera.  This month I’ll dust off my musicologist hat and conjure up some audio excerpts for a discussion of the sounds Gershwin absorbed in Charleston and how they influenced the creation of Porgy and Bess.

  • Saturday, 21 May at 3 p.m., Mt. Pleasant Regional Library, 1133 Mathis Ferry Road, Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464

 

Charleston Bicycles into the Age of Mass Production, 1910–1960

The rise of the automobile pushed the bicycle to the sidelines in the early twentieth century, but the two-wheeled cycle industry continued to expand and to find new customers.  In this new installment in my ongoing annual series on Charleston’s bicycling history, we’ll take a look at why cycling in Charleston surged during the Great Depression and how baby-boomers drove the post-war market to new heights in the 1950s.

  • Tuesday, 24 May at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401

 

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

April 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_April_2016April showers are heading toward Charleston, so I’m inspired to use a storm simile to describe this month’s offerings.  Our two April programs are like two stages of a hurricane: one recounts the long, swirling buildup of tension just before the storm of Civil War exploded, and the other concerns the eerie period of relative calm in the eye of a momentous Revolution.  In both cases, we’ll leave the details of the storm itself and the aftermath for future discussions.  And like nature, the somber, foreboding clouds of our April topics will give way to a cheerful May flowering of the arts and culture.

 

The British Occupation of Charleston, 1780–1782

Following the surrender of “Charles Town” to the British Army on 12 May 1780, British forces occupied and controlled the unincorporated town for more than two and a half years.  While a few loyalist merchants prospered under military rule, most of the civilians and prisoners of war in town endured harsh conditions and injustice.  Meanwhile, the occupying forces ran the town in a moderately orderly fashion that may have influenced the incorporation of the “Charleston” in 1783.  Please join me for a discussion of various aspects of urban life in our community during two and a half years of British martial law.

  • Wednesday, 13 April at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

South Carolina’s Path To Secession (encore)

South Carolina’s decision to secede from the United States in December 1860 was a radical move, but it wasn’t a hasty decision.  The forty-odd years leading up to our secession were filled with a great deal of divisive political friction, in which South Carolina repeatedly complained of Federal policies that it deemed unfair.  Join me for this encore presentation of a recent lecture in which we’ll survey the most significant issues and events that ultimately led to secession and war.

  • Thursday, 28 April at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

March 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_March_2016Charleston history is a colorful tapestry woven from the threads of great stories of real people and events. To do justice to those people and their stories, we must always strive to gain an accurate understanding our shared past. Sometimes the facts get obscured by our imaginations, however, and occasionally some agent or authority actively tries to suppress the facts. This month, the Charleston Time Machine seeks to shed light on a few topics that deserve to be more generally understood among our citizens and by visitors to our community. Using primary source materials such as legislative records, statute law, historic newspapers,  and first-person narratives, we’ll peel back the layers of the past and investigate a few important facts behind our community’s French heritage, the details of eighteenth-century African arrivals, and the limited rights once afforded to women.

French Refugees In Charleston, 1789–1816

In the wake of violent revolutions in France and the French island colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti), several thousand impoverished, Catholic refugees (both black and white) poured into Charleston in the 1790s and early 1800s. Starting their lives anew here, they enlivened the city’s cultural life and made a lasting impression on the city’s history. Never heard of this episode? That’s because many South Carolinians who witnessed this French influx sought to suppress the knowledge of the reasons behind their migration. Please join me for a look back at the dramatic struggles these refugees faced, and their contributions to Charleston’s cultural heritage.

  • Tuesday, 8 March at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

The Pest House on Sullivan’s Island: A Brief History

From the early colonial era to the 1790s, the quarantine station or “Pest House” on Sullivan’s Island was the first point of landfall for some people coming to South Carolina, especially enslaved Africans.  Contrary to popular belief, however, not every arriving vessel was required to deposit its passengers at the Pest House, and some performed quarantine near the island without ever touching the land.  During the intense final wave of legal African arrivals in Charleston during the years 1804 through 1807, the new “lazaretto” on Morris Island performed the same function.  Please join me for a review of the facts and myths surrounding this humble but important institution and its place in our state’s history.

  • Saturday, 19 March at Noon, Edgar Allan Poe Library, 921 Ion Ave, Sullivan’s Island, SC 29482

 

Women’s Rights In Early South Carolina

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’ll explore the narrow range of legal rights afforded to women in the first two centuries of South Carolina, and the ancient European traditions that constrained the lives of the female half of our population. As with all our programs, we’ll include examples of real people whose struggles and successes illuminate our look back at this dim part of our history.

  • Wednesday, 23 March at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

February 2016 Programs

Time_Machine_Feb_2016Charleston history is a grand shared history, like a mosaic composed of thousands of small stories reflecting the different colors and facets of our past.  Since February is Black History Month, we’ll take this opportunity to focus our attention on two fascinating historical items that haven’t received sufficient attention.  In the first, we’ll celebrate the forgotten Civil Rights successes of the late 1860s, years before the clouds of Jim Crow segregation swept over Charleston.  For the second program, we’ll take a close look at the facts and myths surrounding one of our most significant historical sites.

First Steps toward Civil Rights Equality In Charleston, 1866–1870

In the years immediately after the Civil War, our nation and state passed a series of laws extending full civil rights to all in South Carolina.  Our history textbooks tell us that these ambitious reforms enacted in the late 1860s largely failed to achieve their goals, and by 1890 segregation was the status quo in the Palmetto State and the rest of the American South.  Despite this fact, there were a handful of local civil rights triumphs in the early years of Reconstruction that deserve to be remembered.  Please join me for the stories of a few forgotten Charlestonians who tested the waters the early days of the struggle for Civil Rights.

  • Tuesday, 9 February at 11:15 a.m.,  John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455 (with students from Haut Gap Middle School)
  • Thursday, 11 February at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

The Pest House on Sullivan’s Island: A Brief History

From the early colonial era to the 1790s, the quarantine station or “Pest House” on Sullivan’s Island was the first point of landfall for many people coming to South Carolina, especially enslaved Africans.  Contrary to popular belief, however, not every arriving vessel was required to deposit its passengers at the Pest House, and some performed quarantine near the island without ever touching the land.  During the intense final wave of legal African arrivals in Charleston during the years 1804 through 1807, the new “lazaretto” on Morris Island performed the same function.  Please join me for a review of the facts and myths surrounding this humble but important institution and its place in our state’s history.

  • Thursday, 25 February at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

January Programs

Time_Machine_Jan_2016

CLICK THE IMAGE TO DOWNLOAD A PDF FLYER

January is usually accompanied by warm wishes for peace and prosperity in the new year.  We in Charleston enjoy many blessings, not the least of which is a general sense of security and stability.  Thanks to a stable government and a robust criminal justice system, we have liberty to engage in what our forefathers aptly called the “pursuit of happiness.”  This month, let’s pause for a moment to consider life in South Carolina without such security.  I guarantee you that a glance back at our state’s distant past will help you better appreciate the prosperity we now enjoy.

The Grand Skedaddle: Refugee Conditions in Civil-War South Carolina

The movement of Federal troops through our state during the years 1861-1865 displaced thousands of people and disrupted traditional food production and distribution networks.  Starting with the Federal capture of the Port Royal area of South Carolina in November 1861, the condition of thousands of war-torn refugees became the subject of national scrutiny.  As the war raged on and drove tens of thousand of citizens away from the coastline, many people struggled to find the basic necessities of life.  Price gouging and black-market trading became a scourge that well-meaning entrepreneurs sought to defeat.  If you’d like to learn more about the lives of non-combatants during our nation’s Civil War, please join me for a discussion of the civilian conditions related to South Carolina’s largest refugee crisis.

  • Tuesday, 12 January at 11:15 a.m.,  John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455 (with students from Haut Gap Middle School)
  • Wednesday, 13 January at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

Keeping the Peace in Early Charleston

The methods of law enforcement and criminal punishment in early South Carolina represent a continuation of English practices dating back to the 13th century, with a bit of modification to suit local conditions.  Round-the-clock police protection didn’t arrive in Charleston until the 1840s, so citizens were required to be on their guard during daylight hours.  If you witnessed a crime, you were required to give a “Hue and Cry” and assemble a posse comitatus to apprehend the criminal.  Once tried, criminals convicted of a wide range of felonies faced death by hanging.  Sound intriguing? Join me for an eye-opening overview of the primitive methods of keeping the peace and the “bloody code” for dealing with convicted criminals.

  • Wednesday, 27 January at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

December Programs

Time_Machine_Dec_2015If December makes you think of polar topics, then I have a gift for you.  This month I’m presenting two programs that are polar opposites in nature: one is a bit heavy and political, and the other is light, refreshing, and fun.  Both events will be full of interesting details about our shared past, of course, and taken together will no doubt prove a satisfying feast for those hungry for South Carolina history.  If the diminishing daylight hours cause you to have a case of the wintertime blues, then a dose of time travel will help put everything in its proper perspective.

South Carolina’s Path to Secession

One hundred and fifty-five years ago this month, South Carolina’s elected representatives voted to secede from the federal union of the United States of America.  This decision was a radical move, to be sure, but it was not simply a hasty, knee-jerk reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln.  Rather, the secession of South Carolina in December 1860 was the culmination of nearly fifty years of divisive political friction.  If you’re curious about our state’s mindset in 1860, I invite you to join me for a survey of the most significant issues and events that ultimately led to secession and war.

  • Tuesday, 8 December at 11:15 a.m.,  John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455 (with students from Haut Gap Middle School)
  • Wednesday, 9 December at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

A Fruit-Filled History of Charleston

Back in August I scheduled a new “fruity” lecture and published a short essay on the topic, but unfortunately that event had to be postponed.  I’m happy to announce that “A Fruit-Filled History of Charleston” program is on the calendar for December.  Since this season of holiday feasting will no doubt include desserts, syrups, and beverages flavored with all sorts of exotic fruits, we ask: did our Charleston forebearers have access to such delicacies?  To answer this question, we’ll take a look at indigenous fruits, European imports, and fruits brought to Charleston from the Caribbean and Latin America.  We won’t dwell on recipes, but rather we’ll consider the vast commercial and social networks that brought fruits to local tables. And perhaps we’ll have a few samples on hand as well . . . ..

  • Wednesday, 16 December at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

Unresolved Fury: The 1686 Spanish Raid on Edisto Island

The earliest fortification projects in urban Charleston were motivated by the fear of invasion from our Spanish neighbors to the south.  In the autumn of 1686, a small Spanish fleet sailed northward from St. Augustine, Florida, with the hopes of driving the English out of South Carolina.  Stopping first at Edisto Island, then Carolina’s southernmost settlement, the Spanish forces invaded and destroyed most of the island’s English possessions.  Were it not for the sudden arrival of a hurricane, the Spanish would have continued northward and challenged the nascent fortifications of Charleston.

Want to learn more about this fascinating story?  Please join me for a look at the motivations behind the 1686 attack and its impact on the early history of both Edisto and South Carolina in general.

  • Thursday, 12 November 2015 at 5 p.m., at Trinity Episcopal Church Hall, 1589 Highway 174, Edisto Island, SC 29438. 
  • Monday, 16 November 2015 at 6 p.m., at Charleston County Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401. 
Edisto Island, from the

Edisto Island, from the “Crisp Map” of 1711

From Intendant to Mayor

It’s Election Day 2015, and thousands of Charlestonians have cast ballots for a new mayor of our fine city. For the past forty years, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. has held that office, but his long tenure is coming to an end. At this historical juncture, I thought this would be a fitting time to look back at the evolution of that office.

Many people in our community, and indeed some beyond South Carolina, attach considerable political clout to the office of Charleston’s chief executive, but that hasn’t always been the case. Over the past 232 years, our city’s executive office has evolved from a nearly powerless, part-time, unsalaried intendant, to a powerful, full-time, salaried mayor. What’s the difference between these two titles, and how did the office of Charleston’s executive evolve into a more powerful position? To answer these questions, we have to look back to the eighteenth century, during Charleston’s fledgling colonial days.

It is important to remember that for the first century of its existence, Charles Town was an unincorporated community without any sort of municipal government. In an era before running water, street paving, sanitation, and modern public health concerns, what did you need a municipal government for anyway?

Because Charles Town was the capital of South Carolina and the seat of our provincial government, however, our colonial legislature enacted a few laws for the basic administration of the town. From time to time, the legislature made provisions for such things as a town watch, defensive fortifications, public wells, and primitive sewer drains.

In June of 1722, under the stern guidance of Governor Francis Nicholson, our provincial legislature ratified an act to incorporate Charles Town as “Charles City and Port.” This law set up a “common council” to govern the city and appointed William Gibbons “mayor” of the new city.

Back in England, however, King George’s legal advisors were appalled by the hereditary nature of these city offices, and the 1722 incorporation of “Charles City and Port” was canceled by our British superiors. When news of this de-incorporation reached South Carolina in early October 1723, the name of our capital immediately reverted to the humble appellation, “Charles Town.”

A generation before the American Revolution, there was one more significant step towards the better management of urban Charles Town. In 1750, our provincial legislature ratified an act for the better regulation of Charles Town, and created a board of commissioners of streets. These street commissioners were responsible not only for clearing, filling, repairing, and draining the town’s urban thoroughfares, but they were also empowered to contract with scavengers to begin weekly curbside garbage collection. As mundane as these tasks may seem, they represent the first tentative steps toward a separate municipal government for Charleston.

The City of Charleston was finally incorporated shortly after the American Revolution. On the 13th of August 1783, the South Carolina General Assembly ratified an act to incorporate the city and create a system of municipal government composed of a city council and an intendant. The Wardens were to be elected by the citizens of their respective wards (there were thirteen wards in 1783), on the first Monday in every September. Then after the Wardens had been elected and sworn in, the citizens would return to the polls to select an intendant from among the thirteen newly elected Wardens. This second election was supposed to take place on the second Monday of every September, but in reality it usually took a few days longer to organize the election.

So this was the basic outline of Charleston’s new municipal government in 1783, but it’s important to remember that the city’s charter has been amended a number of times over the past 232 years. We’ll come back to that topic in a moment. But first, let’s address the obvious question: Why in 1783 did our civic leaders choose the title “Intendant” rather than the more common title “Mayor”?

The title “Mayor” came to England from France by way of the Norman Invasion in 1066, and by the early 12th century it was being adopted by municipalities throughout the realm. A mayor could be strong or weak, or simply a public relations figurehead, depending on the community’s political traditions.

When English settlers came to the New World to establish colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they frequently used the title of “Mayor” for their municipal executives. In contrast, the title “Intendant” is more commonly used by French and Spanish municipalities, both in Europe and in their former colonies the New World.

In fact, Charleston is one of a handful of communities in the United States to use the title “Intendant.” Curiously, if you look around for other examples, you’ll find early municipalities in both South Carolina and Alabama with intendants rather than mayors. Most of those communities have since adopted the more common title “Mayor” now, but the evidence suggests some sort of trend after the American Revolution.

It’s my educated guess that by adopting the title of intendant rather than mayor in 1783, the civic leaders of Charleston were expressing a desire to cast off English and British traditions. By adopting a title more often associated with municipal governments in France, our new ally during the war for independence, Charleston was attempting to forge a new tradition in civic administration.

So what exactly did our city intendant do? The 1783 act to incorporate Charleston did not define the scope of the intendant’s powers, nor did it prescribe any specific duties. By looking back at surviving records from the first few decades after the city’s incorporation, however, it appears that the intendant functioned merely as the presiding officer at City Council meetings, acting as a sort of master of ceremonies, if you will.

The intendant collected no salary for this duty, nor was he provided with a physical office separate from the rest of his fellow council members, who also served without pay. The only phrase relative to his duties in the 1783 act of incorporation related to term limits. According to that law, “No person shall be eligible to serve as intendant for more than three years in any term of five years.”

While it carried some degree of prestige, the office of intendant was not something that men actively campaigned for. In fact, before the 1830s, the idea of campaigning for elected office was considered crass and inappropriate for a gentleman. Because these elected offices offered no salary, they were essentially open only to gentlemen with private wealth. In the mindset of these Charlestonians, the notion of being paid for such municipal service conjured up images of influence peddling and prideful vanity. No, Charleston of the late eighteenth century was not quite ready for the questionable ethics of later American politics.

As I mentioned earlier, the city’s 1783 charter has been updated many times over the years. In December of 1808, for example, the South Carolina legislature ratified an act to alter and amend the city’s charter, specifically addressing one small aspect of its electoral process.

Up to this point, the city’s intendant had been selected by the citizens from among the small pool of men elected to serve as Wardens. According to the 1808 act, however, the intendant was to be elected “from among the Corporators of the City of Charleston.” That is to say, the citizens of Charleston were to elect an intendant on the third Monday in September, regardless of whether or not that man had been elected a Warden on the first Monday of September.

Furthermore, this 1808 law prescribed an enlargement of the intendant’s powers. Specifically, it endowed him with “all of the powers . . . incident to the office of justice of the quorum.” A Justice of the Quorum was similar to the more familiar title of Justice of the Peace, a very low-level judicial appointment, but a Justice of the Quorum had the authority to preside over local tribunals composed of multiple Justices of the Peace.

Another noteworthy amendment to Charleston’s city charter came along in December of 1817. By this time the citizens were unhappy with the inconvenient tradition of choosing the city’s Wardens and its intendant at separate elections spaced two weeks apart. According to this 1817 act, however, these elections would henceforth take place on the same day. Furthermore, citizens were now empowered to select both the wardens and the intendant by “general ticket,” meaning a resident would cast votes for all the wardens composing City Council, not just the for a representative from his respective ward.

At that time, election reform was brewing in South Carolina. In 1810, the state amended its constitution to allow all free white men over the age of 21 to vote. Accordingly, the 1817 revision of Charleston’s city charter granted suffrage to all free white males. It did, however, require men to register with the city treasure at least one month prior to the election. While this small requirement may seem logical to modern voters, many would-be-voters in Charleston’s 1818 elections were quite upset about this novel requirement when they were turned away from the polls for failure to register.

Nearly forty years after the incorporation of Charleston, the relative merits of the office of city intendant came into question. In the summer of 1822, local authorities were alarmed by the discovery of a planned uprising among members of the city’s enslaved and free black populations, ostensibly led by a free carpenter named Denmark Vesey. Modern scholars are divided over the question of whether such a plot actually existed or whether the authorities exaggerated the matter in order to tighten restrictions on the black population.

Regardless of this academic controversy, the drama that unfolded in the summer of 1822 exposed a weakness in the city’s government. Because of the scale of the threat, the governor of South Carolina took control of the situation and activated the local units of the state militia to stand guard in Charleston. Meanwhile, the city’s own government—the intendant and City Council—played a very minor role in the entire affair.

In the heat of the crisis, many citizens clamored for a more active and stronger municipal government. The solution, many argued, was to attach a salary to the intendant’s office, as a means of requiring a greater degree of diligence and commitment from the city’s executive office. In response, on the 6th of August 1822, Charleston’s City Council ratified an ordinance granting an annual salary of $3,500 to the intendant.

Almost immediately, however, many citizens began clamoring for a repeal of the intendant’s salary. Some argued that the sum was far too large, while some argued that any salary attached to an elected office was the first step toward an unscrupulous, greedy, and corrupt government.

In the end, popular opinion won the day, and on the 17th of October 1822—shortly after the annual municipal elections—the city council repealed the salary ordinance of 6 August, and the office of intendant returned to its former, humble, voluntary station.

Twelve years later, in the spring of 1835, another crisis brought attention back to the matter of our city government. A major fire on the 16th of February destroyed a significant portion of the city, including the majestic colonial church of the parish of St. Philip. Once again, officials at the state level, rather than our local government, took charge of the relief efforts. Charleston’s intendant and City Council weren’t completely powerless, but they lacked the degree of commitment that citizens of the 1830s were growing to expect from their elected leaders. Consequently, many citizens began clamoring once again for a stronger municipal government that would offer more support and leadership.

In response to these appeals, the city added a referendum to the usual municipal elections of early September 1835. The ballot simply stated that the referendum was “on the question of having a Salary attached to the office of Intendant.” Despite ardent appeals for a more powerful and more accountable executive, the 1835 referendum question was rejected by a large majority.

But all was not lost. Public discussion of a salaried intendant resurfaced in the spring of 1836, and on the 7th of June citizens gathered for a large public forum on the matter. Their stated goal was to transform the role of the passive intendant into a more active and accountable office—a chief executive of the city corporation, with an appropriate salary.

The pro-salary movement gathered steam through the summer of 1836, and City Council scheduled another referendum on the topic for August 8th. Less than a year after the defeat of the same proposal, the 1836 referendum won by a large majority, and on the 24th of August, the city ratified an ordinance granting a salary of $4,000 to the intendant.

At the usual annual election on 5 September 1836, Robert Young Hayne was elected Charleston’s first salaried intendant. Three months later, the state legislature ratified an act to rename the officers of Charleston’s city government. The old titles of “Intendant” and “Warden” were formally changed to that of Mayor and Aldermen. Significantly, this law also abolished the limit on the number of terms the mayor could serve. The stage was set for 40-year-tenure of Mayor Riley.

The change from intendant to Mayor was not simply a matter of nomenclature. It was also a reflection of the growing expectations of the American public. Citizens were beginning to require more accountability, transparency, and vision from their elected representatives.

Charleston’s 1836 transformation from weak intendant to strong mayor set in motion the prototype for our city’s modern mayors. The salary attached to the new office also came with a new duty that today we take for granted. It required the city’s executive to make an annual report to the citizens explaining what the city government had accomplished in the past year and how tax monies were spent. Furthermore, in this annual “state of the city” address, as many now call it, mayors were expected to articulate their visions for the future of the city, and to lay out the steps necessary to accomplish large civic projects.

Mayor Robert Young Hayne outlined the first such “city improvement” project in 1837, announcing his vision for a beautiful public park at the southern tip of the Charleston peninsula. That park, which Mayor Hayne christened White Point Garden, endures today as a monument to the foresight of our city government. Subsequent mayors went on to be elected on grand promises of civic improvement, and such platforms have become the norm for our electoral process.

But in 1836, Charleston was still a pretty small city. Most of the local population lived south of Boundary Street at that time, but the population of the Neck, the unincorporated land north of Boundary Street, was growing rapidly. In the late 1840s, Mayor Thomas L. Hutchinson opened a discussion of annexing the Neck, and legislative approval of this process came in December of 1849. At the beginning of 1850, the city annexed the vast territory north of Boundary Street, which was renamed Calhoun Street later that year.

In late 1852 the state legislature again altered the charter of the City of Charleston. Since the mayor’s duties were now more important, it seemed logical to extend his term from one year to two. At the same time, Charleston’s municipal elections were moved from September to early November, closer to the time frame of our modern election day. Thus in November 1853, Thomas Hutchinson was elected the first mayor of Charleston to serve a two-year term.

Two decades later, the city and our state legislature revisited the same topic, arguing that a strong mayor could be more effective if he could secure a longer tenure in office. Accordingly, in December 1878 the legislature ratified an act to extend the mayor’s term to four years, and in November 1879, William Ashmead Courtenay was elected our first mayor to serve a four-year term.

Mayor Courtenay was really the first of what we might consider our “modern” mayors of Charleston. He was a powerful politician, with strong convictions and visions for future the city. During his eight years in office, Mayor Courtenay was able to focus on municipal improvement and growth, with a minimum of time wasted on campaigning and politicking.

Since the turn of the twentieth century, the city of Charleston has grown in many different ways. While a lot of this growth can be attributed to private investment and both state and federal projects, we should not discount the degree of influence attributed to the city’s executive office. As ambassadors for the city, the various mayors of Charleston have succeeded in bringing to the city new investment, new jobs, and lots and lots of tourists.

And now, as Charlestonians go to the polls to elect a new mayor, tonight’s victor will take charge of a much larger city than Intendant Richard Hutson could have dreamt of in 1783. The recent Google map seen below illustrates the city’s present corporate boundaries. Since 1960, the city council of Charleston has annexed a significant amount of territory beyond the peninsula. Everything on this map bounded by red lines—including a huge swath of land west of the Ashley, most of James Island, Morris Island, parts of Johns Island, and all of Daniel Island—now falls under the jurisdiction of the Mayor and City Council of Charleston.

Charleston_Limits_Map_2015

Now it’s time for some useless Mayoral trivia:

It’s been 232 years since the incorporation of the city of Charleston.

In that time we’ve had 60 different city executives, from Richard Hutson to Joseph P. Riley Jr.

We saw 70 years of one-year executive terms, including 53 years of part-time unsalaried Intendants.

We had 26 years of two-year terms, and 136 years of four-year terms.

That’s a total of 179 years of full-time, salaried mayors since 1836.

What was the shortest tenure of a Charleston Mayor? That would be Brevet Brigadier-General W. W. Burns, who served a total of 16 days as a Federally appointed mayor during the era of Reconstruction in the spring of 1868.

What was the longest tenure of a Charleston Mayor? Forty years, of course, a record held by you-know-who.

Speaking of the man of the hour, I’ll leave you with this photo of the Honorable Joseph P. Riley Jr., unveiling a new historical plaque in the summer of 2007 during the bicentennial anniversary of the City Market. In case you’re not familiar with our Joe, the mayor is the distinguished gentleman on the right. On the left is the author of the text of that historical plaque, yours truly.

Nic Butler and Joseph P. Riley Jr., 2007

Nic Butler and Joseph P. Riley Jr., 2007

Thanks for all you’ve done for us. We’ll miss you, Mayor Riley!

 

November Programs

Time_Machine_Nov_2015Early Spanish raiders, late-arriving African captives, and Gilded Age velocipede mania—that’s the menu for our November adventures in Charleston history.  Once again we begin the month with a program inspired by the South Carolina 8th grade history curriculum, offering a local perspective on the U.S. Constitution’s oddly delayed closing of the African slave trade.  Then we’ll leap backward to examine the 1686 Spanish invasion of Edisto Island and the broader ramifications of that long-forgotten event.  Finally, we’ll end the month with a fun two-wheeled tour of the velocipede/bicycle mania that swept Charleston and the rest of the nation in the final years of the nineteenth century.

The U.S. Constitution and the African Slave Trade, 1787–1808

When the framers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 sought to end the importation of enslaved people from Africa, delegates from South Carolina successfully argued for a twenty year delay before closing this trade. Join us for a discussion of the opaque politics behind this delay and of the “final victims” who came to South Carolina directly from Africa.

  • Thursday, 5 November at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401
  • Tuesday, 10 November at 11:15 a.m.,  John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455 (with students from Haut Gap Middle School

 

Unresolved Fury: The 1686 Spanish Raid on Edisto Island

The early development of Edisto Island suffered a great setback in 1686, when Spanish forces from Florida invaded and destroyed most of the island’s English settlements. Were it not for the sudden arrival of a hurricane, the Spanish would have continued northward and challenged the nascent fortifications of Charleston.  Join us for a look at the motivations behind this attack and its impact on the early history of both Edisto and South Carolina in general.

  • Thursday, 12 November at 5 p.m., Trinity Episcopal Church Hall, 1589 Highway 174, Edisto Island, S.C., 29438
  •  Monday, 16 November at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

Charleston’s Bicycle Mania, 1885–1910

The advent of the “Safety” bicycle in the 1880s fostered an explosion of cycling activity across America and in Charleston, with clubs, parades, tournaments, and white-knuckle oval-track racing. Please join us at Affordabike on King Street for the amusing true story of the excitement and chaos in the streets during Charleston’s “Golden Age” of cycling.

  • Tuesday, 24 November at 6 p.m., Affordabike, 573 King Street, Charleston SC 29403

 

Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.

October Programs

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Stories of weighty decisions, colorful music, and powerful politics—that’s what you’ll find at the Charleston Time Machine this October.   We begin the month by continuing our chronological survey of state history for 8th graders with a Revolutionary War topic, and end the month with a look at the deep background of Charleston’s mayoral politics (just in time for the upcoming election).  Between these grave topics, we’ll explore an exciting, but little-known chapter in the story of African-American music in the lowcountry of South Carolina.  These free programs are suitable for all ages, of course, and I hope to see you in a library soon.

 

Choosing Sides in Revolutionary South Carolina

During the American Revolution, free white and enslaved black South Carolinians faced a choice about whether to support the struggle for independence or to pledge loyalty to the British government.  Men and women on both sides struggled with this weighty decision and then faced the consequences of their allegiances.  Some were banished, some became heroes, some suffered miserably, and some won freedom.  Join me for a look at the options available to lowcountry residents during those years of crisis.

  • Wednesday, October 7th at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401
  • Tuesday, October 13th at 11:15 a.m.John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455 (with students from Haut Gap Middle School

 

Black Violinists in Early Charleston

Black violinists were a common feature of Charleston’s early cultural scene, where they provided music for both black and white audiences at formal and informal dances.  To learn more about these “negro fiddlers” and the instruments and music they played, please join me for a look at the evidence of this little-known feature of Charleston’s musical heritage.

  • Monday, October 12th at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401

 

From Intendant to Mayor: The Evolution of Charleston’s Executive Office

Since the incorporation of the city in 1783, the office of Charleston’s chief executive has evolved from a part-time, volunteer “Intendant” serving a one-year term to a strong, salaried “Mayor” with significant political clout.  Please join me for a survey of the most significant steps in this political journey and how they shaped the city’s history.

  • Wednesday, October 28th at 6 p.m., Charleston County Public Library, 2nd Floor Classroom, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston SC 29401


Questions? Drop me a line at butlern[at]ccpl.org or call 843–805–6968 for more information.