June 2017 Programs

If you missed last year’s exciting program about the invasion of French and Spanish forces into the Lowcountry in the autumn of 1706, then I hope you’ll join me for an encore performance of that lecture on Saturday, June 3rd at 11 a.m. at the Mt. Pleasant Regional Library.  Most of the action during that week-long struggle nearly 311 years ago took place east of the Cooper River, so I look forward to sharing this interesting story with the current residents of that long-forgotten battleground.

Mt. Pleasant is just one part of the larger Lowcountry that is gaining new residents at a rapid pace.  As we head toward the annual celebration of Carolina Day (June 28th) in the Charleston area, I am increasingly conscious of the fact that a large part of our population has never heard of Carolina Day, and has no idea was event it commemorates.   With that fact in mind I’m presenting a new program later this month titled “Carolina Day: A Primer for Charleston Newcomers.” There’s something for everyone in this program, whether you’ve just moved to the area “from off” or whether you’ve lived in the Lowcountry your entire life.  We’ll begin with the dramatic events of the 28th of June 1776, in which a small American force within an unfinished palmetto log fort defeated a well-armed squadron of the British Navy, and we’ll trace the highlights of the history of the annual commemorations of this battle from June of 1777 to the present. All of this will take place at the Main Library’s auditorium on Monday, June 19th at 6 p.m., which leaves you plenty of time to plan your patriotic festivities on the 28th of June.

As always, these events are free and open to the public, so bring a friend and come to the library!


May 2017 Programs

My computer ate last week’s podcast (seriously), but time and technology march onward and I’ll post a new podcast in a few days.  In the meantime, here’s a preview of this month’s offerings at a library near you.  In May we’ll explore the stories of historic landscapes and battlefields, 148 years of two-wheeled transportation, and a bit of philosophising about the relevance of it all for the rising generations.  And I’ll sneak in a preview of June as well.

As the school year draws to an end, eighth-graders throughout the state are learning about “modern” South Carolina and reviewing more than three hundred years of history they’ve learned since August.  History can often seem dull in the classroom, so I’m offering a different take on the same topic. On Tuesday, May 9th, I’ll be at the John’s Island Regional Library with 8th graders posing the questions, “Is South Carolina History Relevant?”  Does studying our community’s shared history serve any real practical purpose?  Of course my answer is a resounding “YES,” but I’m not offering a simple flag-waving, uncritical, patriotic endorsement.  Rather, I’m proposing that a lot of South Carolina’s history is in fact dark, painful, and divisive.  Despite the sometimes ugly truths in our shared past, however, our community becomes stronger and more resilient when we learn the lessons of the past and face the future with a united front.

May is Bike Month across the nation, and during the second week of the month we’ll see a host of activities and events across the Lowcountry.  Once again I’m proud to be partnering with Charleston Moves, our local bicycle advocacy group, to offer another program focusing on the history of bikes and cycling in the Charleston area.  This year I’ll recap the highlights from previous programs, from the first appearance of the two-wheeled velocipede in Charleston to the early 1960s, and then continue the story from the advent of the fitness craze in the late 1960s to the Lowcountry Low Line in 2017.   Please join us at the Main library on Wednesday, May 10th at 6 p.m. for “Celebrating 148 Years of Bicycling in Charleston.

In a few days we’ll see a sea of white tents sprouting up on Charleston’s most popular green space, Marion Square.  From Piccolo Spoleto to farmer’s markets to fashion shows, Marion Square hosts a wide variety of events that draw tens of thousands of people every year.  But how many people know anything about the rich and varied history of the landscape on which they’re treading?  Almost no one remembers why this space on the colonial town’s northern edge was set aside for public use, and only a handful of people know that the city of Charleston doesn’t actually own Marion Square.  That’s right—the city’s most public space is not actually a public space at all.  It’s a complicated story that encompasses a long-forgotten colonial fear of French invasion, a major battle of the American Revolution, a short-lived theater, state-funded police intimidation, pioneering baseball, parading soldiers, and civil rights demonstrations.  For the full story in brief, please join me at the Main library on Thursday, May 25th at 6 p.m. for “A Brief History of Marion Square.”

In the fall of 2016 I presented a program marking the 310th anniversary of the invasion of South Carolina by a combined force of Spanish, French, and Native American warriors.  I turned that story into a podcast earlier this year and got a lot of very positive feedback from the public.  It’s a great adventure story that everyone in the Lowcountry needs to know, especially those folks living east of the Cooper River, where most of the action took place.  If you missed the previous presentations, you’ll be pleased to know that I’m going to reprise that program on Saturday, June 3rd at 11 a.m., at the Mt. Pleasant Regional Library.  Come out and join us as we celebrate “Invasion 1706: France and Spain vs. South Carolina.”

As always, these programs are free and open to the public!


Charleston Slavery to African Freedom: Two Amazing True Stories

Boston King and John Kizell may not be familiar names in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, but these two men lived heroic lives that deserve to be remembered.  Both King and Kizell escaped slavery in the Charleston area during the American Revolution and, through a dramatic series of twists and turns, managed to blaze a trail back to a life in their ancestral homes on the west coast of Africa.

Thousands of other enslaved African-Americans and their descendants followed a similar path, but very few of these people wrote down the story of their journeys.  Boston King and John Kizell both left behind a paper trail, however, and from their life stories we can re-imagine the symphony of stories of those people who made the transatlantic crossing back to Africa.

If you missed my recent presentation on this topic, here’s a link to a video of me speaking to an audience at the John’s Island Regional Library on 11 April 2017:

And if you’d like to learn more about this fascinating topic, click this link for a list of suggestions for further reading: King_&_Kizell_bibliography


April 2017 Programs

Podcast production is taking a lot of my time right now, so this month I’m curtailing my “live” presentations a bit. This won’t be a permanent slow-down, but rather an attempt to get caught up with the Time Machine’s rapidly expanding itinerary.

Back in October 2016 I scheduled an event at the Edisto Island library branch, but Hurricane Matthew blew that plan off the calendar.  This month I’m going to honor that plan by returning to Edisto Island on Thursday, April 6th to present an illustrated lecture about “The Life and Times of Thomas Grimball (1744–1783).”  The Grimball family has been part of Edisto history since about 1682, but most folks have never heard of of TG III, as I like to call him.  He died at the conclusion of the American Revolution, having been a prisoner of war for too long, but the legacy of his musical patronage lives on in the spirit of jazz.  How?  Well, it’s a long story.  If you can’t join us at the Edisto library on Thursday the 6th, please join me for an encore presentation at the Main Library on Thursday, April 13th.

Also this month, by popular demand I’m repeating a recent program dedicated to the biographies of Boston King and John Kizell, two men who were enslaved in the Charleston area but escaped slavery in late 1782 by evacuating South Carolina with the British Army.  Both men lived for several years in Nova Scotia before each found his own path back to Africa in the 1790s.  Individually, King and Kizell worked to create a new home for themselves and for thousands of other ex-American slaves who sought to return to their motherland.  Curious?  Please join us at the John’s Island regional library for “From Charleston Slavery to African Freedom: Two Amazing True Stories” on Tuesday, April 11th at 10:15 a.m.

March 2017 Programs

time_machine_march_2017I’ve got two new, wildly different live programs coming up this month you won’t want to miss.  Be prepared to tap your feet with delight, and then shake your fist in disgust.  History is like that—some stories make you feel glad and proud, while others stories push back the fog that obscures some painful truths.

In the first program, we’ll look back at the roots of the dance known as “the Charleston,” and retrace the trajectory of a home-grown rhythm from the streets of Charleston to a world-wide phenomenon.  Yes, our community is the native land of that wonderful, infectious dance, but it’s more than just a series of steps, kicks, and turns.  The “Charleston” is an assemblage of African rhythms and American steps, put into motion by the mass migration of thousands of African Americans from the Lowcountry to “the North” in search of better lives in the early twentieth century.

Tracing the Roots of the “Charleston” Dance

  • Tuesday, 14 March at 10: 15 a.m., John’s Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island, SC 29455
  • Thursday, 16 March at 6 p.m., Main library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401


Later in the month, we’ll turn to the sobering facts story of the limited rights and opportunities afforded to women in early South Carolina.  I’m not talking about the pioneering work of suffragettes in the early twentieth century, or temperance activists in the mid-nineteenth century.  Rather, I’m talking about the legal framework of English Common Law that defined the limits of a woman’s life, from cradle to grave, from the arrival of the first settlers in South Carolina in the 1670s to the end of the eighteenth century.  We’ll hear about real women whose struggles personify the legal limits placed on women in our early days, and try to connect the dots between colonial-era oppression to South Carolina’s enduring legacy of domestic violence.

Women’s Rights in Early South Carolina

  • Tuesday March 28th at 6 p.m., Main library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401


As always, these programs are free and open to the public!

February 2017 Programs

time_machine_feb_2017This February, please join me in celebrating some amazing true stories from Charleston’s past.  In honor of Black History Month, I’ll turn the spotlight on several individuals who stood strong in the face of adversity and helped bring about positive changes.  I’m also partnering with the Daniel Island Library this month (even though they’re technically in Berkeley County), as part of their new local history series.  At the end of the month, we’ll resume our series on “Opera in Charleston” and look at late-nineteenth century production at the Academy of Music on King Street, and O’Neill’s Opera House on Meeting Street.  If you can’t join us in person, then stay tuned for upcoming radio and podcast versions of these programs in the coming months.

In my first program, we’ll trace the amazing journeys of Boston King and John Kizell, two African men who escaped slavery in eighteenth-century South Carolina and pioneered the trail for other ex-slaves to return to Africa. If you haven’t heard of these men, then come on over to Daniel Island for the inside scoop.

From Charleston Slavery to African Freedom: Two Amazing True Stories

Monday, February 6th at 1:30 p.m., Daniel Island Library, 2301 Daniel Island Dr., 29492

Next, I’ll be talking about some forgotten Civil Rights activity that took place in our community in the aftermath of the Civil War, when a few brave folks took deliberate steps to test new federal legislation that promised equal rights for all.  All are welcome, and we plan to have a crowd of 8th graders from Haut Gap Middle School present.

First Steps Towards Civil Rights Equality in Charleston, 1866-1870

Tuesday, February 14th at 10:15 a.m., Johns Island Regional Library, 3531 Maybank Hwy., 29455

And finally, I’ll return to my series on local opera history with a program looking at operatic performances in Charleston in the decades after the Civil War.  By then, opera was well established in the United States, but the rise of Vaudeville gave opera a healthy run for the money.

Opera in Charleston, Part 4: The Academy of Music

Tuesday, February 28th at 6 p.m., Main Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.


January 2017 Programs

time_machine_jan_2017Happy New Year!  Podcast versions of my new radio programs will launch in just a few days, so look for details in an upcoming post.  In the meantime, I’m continuing to deliver programs in person around the community.  If you can’t make it to one of these events, have no fear!  A radio and podcast version will appear here in due time.  There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes here at the Charleston Time Machine, so all of your patience and encouragement is greatly appreciated.  It’s going to be a great year for Charleston!

I’ll kick-off the month with an encore presentation of a program titled “The Grand Skedaddle: Refugee Conditions in Civil War South Carolina.”  This event is part of a monthly series at the John’s Island Regional Library, in conjunction with 8th grade students from Haut Gap Middle School, next door to the library.  Instead of focusing on the military and political aspects of the war, like most textbooks do, we’re going to look at the plight of the local civilian population—both free and enslaved—during the years 1862 through 1865, when nearby military actions forced thousands of people to flee from the coastline.  Join us at 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday, January 10th, and the second Tuesday of each month during the school year.

Next, I’m developing a new program in response to the popularity of the Broadway sensation, Hamilton.  As you might know, this hip-hop musical focuses on the life story of Alexander Hamilton, and includes Charleston native John Laurens, Hamilton’s closest friend, as a principal character.  Laurens dies near the end of Act I in the musical, but his story is nearly as fascinating as that of Hamilton.  In my new program, titled “Hamilton and John Laurens: A Closer Look,” I’ll talk a bit about Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton and about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical adaptation, and then I’ll focus on John Laurens and his remarkable aspirations during the American Revolution.  Laurens is best remembered for his unsuccessful efforts to create a “black regiment” of soldiers in South Carolina, and for his untimely, futile death in the autumn of 1782.  But there is another remarkable, secret side of Laurens’s career that historians have missed.  Join me on Thursday, January 12th at 6 p.m. to hear more about this mystery!

Finally, I’ll end the month with a bit of humor and spirits to lighten your winter-time blues.  In “The Language of Libations in Early Charleston,” we’ll review all the specialized vocabulary you’d need to time-travel back to a colonial-era tavern and order the proper beverage to warm your bones.  We’ll look at the forgotten varieties of beer, wine, cordials, and spirits that were available here in the early days of Charleston, and we’ll celebrate the timeless wit of Ben Franklin’s 1736 “Drinker’s Dictionary.”  Sorry—no strong beverages will be on tap, but good cheer will be free to all who join us at the Charleston County Public Library  at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, January 31st.

December 2016 Programs

time_machine_dec_2016In my final post for 2016, I’m happy to report that new features are just around the bend.  I’ll continue presenting new programs in person, and the weekly radio shows will continue, but in January I’m going to roll out podcast and audio or video versions of all programs.  My schedule is getting busier every day, so please pardon my brevity in getting this news out.

Since “cold” temperatures begin rolling into the Lowcountry in December, I’ve looking forward to resting in front of a warm fireplace, with the relaxing sounds of a pine log crackling away.  That image got me thinking about how our ancestors once relied on wood for heating, as well as cooking, washing, and a host of other tasks.  Once upon a time, a huge amount of labor and money went into the business of felling, sawing, splitting, and carting of wood (and coal).  It was part of the daily routine for everyone here, regardless of one’s social standing or income.  In the age of electricity and natural gas, we don’t give such business a second thought, but it once occupied  a huge amount of local resources.  With that in mind, I’d like to raise awareness of the firewood (and coal) industry in our community, so I’m constructing a program called “Friendly Fire: Fuel for Cooking and Heating in Early Charleston.”  If you’re not otherwise engaged on Tuesday, December 20th at 6 p.m., please join me at the Charleston County Public Library for a free history lesson.  I promise it’ll be warm inside.

The holiday season is upon us, so I’m excited to bring you two Christmas-themed radio shows this month.  On December 16th 2016 I’ll tell the swashbuckling tale of Spanish treasure brought into Charleston harbor on December 16th 1744 by the HMS Rose, a story that might work well as a movie someday. . . .  And on December 24th, I’ll introduce you to an 1852 novella by Charleston author William Gilmore Simms, titled A Golden Christmas: A Tale of Lowcountry Life.  Follow this link to find more information about the Charleston Time Machine.

As always, please keep an eye on my Calendar of Events for the upcoming schedule, and remember that you can always “follow” this blog (see upper right) and receive all the news via email.


November 2016 Programs

time_machine_nov_2016Apologies to all for recent schedule changes caused by the ripple effects of Hurricane Matthew last month.  I’m also cancelling this month’s encore performance of “Opera in Charleston, Part 2,” which I had scheduled for November 10th at 6 p.m.  The library will be closing early that day (in advance of the Veteran’s Day holiday), so the opera program cannot take place.  That’s my fault. Hopefully these schedule snafus will disappear soon and we can get back to enjoying an uninterrupted flow of events.  Thanks for your patience!

Back by popular demand, this month I’m repeating “The Forgotten Pleasure Gardens of Early Charleston” at the Hurd / St. Andrew’s Region Library off Sam Rittenburg Blvd., on Monday the 14th at 6 p.m.  If you’re interested in the early social life of our community, and have an interest in horticulture, this program is for you.  We’ll look at the summer “pleasure gardens” where folks strolled under the moonlight while enjoying their favorite beverages and listening to their favorite music, and we’ll look at how time and “progress” have rolled over these once-bucolic sites.

fort-moultrie-fort-sumter-national-monument-quarterOn Thursday the 17th I’ll be at the Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island to help celebrate the release of the newest U.S. quarter featuring an image of Fort Moultrie and Sergeant William Jasper. The unveiling ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m., and at 12 noon I’ll give a lecture titled “Sergeant William Jasper: An Enigmatic Hero” inside the fort’s visitor’s center at 1214 Middle Street.  Both of these events are free and open to the public.

This month marks the 250th anniversary of the first concerts of the first musical organization in America—Charleston’s St. Cecilia Society.  You may have heard of this ancient society before because they’re still around, to a degree, although it’s best known today as the most exclusive and secretive social club in town.  But few remember that back in 1766, the St. Cecilia Society began as a subscription concert organization, and it continued to present an annual series of fashionable concerts through the spring of 1820.  During that half-century of operation, the St. Cecilia Society of Charleston was the premier musical organization in America, and it drew musicians away from the northern cities of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.  Why did the St. Cecilia Society stop giving concerts in 1820, and why did Charleston cease to be the musical capital of the United States?  To learn the answer to these questions, you can either read a book I wrote about this topic, called Votaries of Apollo, or you can join me for a free lecture titled “The 250th Anniversary of Charleston’s First Orchestra,” here at the Main Library on Tuesday, November 29th at 6 p.m.

Don’t forget that the Charleston Time Machine is on the radio as well!  Join me for a weekly slice of local history on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. on WYLA, 97.5 FM (rebroadcast at 11 a.m. on Sundays, too).  If you’re outside the range of our library’s new radio station, you can find the live feed by going to YouTube.com and searching for “WYLA live stream.”

Check out the Calendar of Events for information about upcoming radio topics.  I hope to have all the recent shows available as podcasts by next month—stay tuned for details!


Radio Update

Thanks to Hurricane Matthew, the radio version of the Charleston Time Machine was temporarily blown off the air.  I’m returning to the airwaves this weekend, however, at a new time:  11 a.m. Saturday mornings, with an encore performance on Sunday mornings at 11.

Set your radio dial to WYLA, 97.5 FM, or go to YouTube.com and search for “WYLA live stream.”

This week’s show is dedicated to Lowcountry hurricane history—the first of a two part series covering the major storms of the past 346 years.

For the latest updates to the broadcast calendar, keep your eyes on my Calendar of Events, or follow the Charleston Time Machine on Facebook.  Thanks for listening!