Meanderings in Charleston, South Carolina

Here I am, at last, in Charleston, South Carolina, on a research trip that has several specific goals:

  1. verify my initial transcript of The Humourist essays against the original copies of The South Carolina Gazette;
  2. explore The South Carolina Gazette for 1753-1754 to make certain that I have not missed references to The Humourist;
  3. select specific Humourist essays to be used as facsimiles in my forthcoming publication of the essays; and
  4. examine other primary materials that will strengthen my case for authorial attribution.

The goals are ambitious for a five-day research trip, but if I stay focused, I am confident that  I will achieve the first three goals and that I will make progress with the fourth one.

I’ll be doing a large part of my work at the Charleston Library Society, established in 1748 by seventeen young men who wished to “avail themselves” of the latest publications from Great Britain. The Charleston Library Society paved the way for founding the College of Charleston in 1770, and its core collection of “natural history artifacts” served as the basis for the Charleston Museum, the first museum in America (1773).

Yesterday, when I arrived here, I had one simple task:  meander.  I wanted to walk the streets that The Humourist would have walked and see some of the buildings The Humourist would have seen when he lived in Charles Towne.  (The name was not changed officially to its current spelling until 1783.)  And as I walked the streets I was reminded of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “My Lost Youth,” and, so, I will share a stanza or two here:

Often I think of the beautiful town 
  That is seated by the sea; 
Often in thought go up and down 
The pleasant streets of that dear old town, 
  And my youth comes back to me.          
    And a verse of a Lapland song 
    Is haunting my memory still 
    ‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’ 
I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,           
  And catch, in sudden gleams, 
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas, 
And islands that were the Hesperides 
  Of all my boyish dreams. 
    And the burden of that old song,           
    It murmurs and whispers still: 
    ‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will, 
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’ 

My thoughts were long, long thoughts as I rambled the streets, trying to imagine what Charles Town would have been like in 1753/1754 when The Humourist wrote his essays.

The South Carolina Department of Parks and Tourism boasts of historic Charleston this way:

Known as the “Holy City”,  for its long tolerance for religions of all types, Charleston is the state’s most beautiful and historic treasure. Charleston has had a starring role in South Carolina history since its founding more than 300 years ago. The English established the first permanent European settlement on the Ashley River in 1670. War,  fires, earthquakes and hurricanes have threatened this resilient city over the years but it still stands strong and beautiful. The city’s historic district today has barely changed, boasting 73 pre-Revolutionary buildings, 136 late 18th century structures and over 600 others built in the 1840s.

My walk in the “Holy City” took many twists and turns, and, to my surprise I ended up at a building where perhaps I should have started since it is the oldest in Charles Towne.

The Old Power Magazine (79 Cumberland Street)

The Old Power Magazine
79 Cumberland Street

The Old Powder Magazine is the only public building remaining from the era of the Lords Proprietors, the eight English aristocrats who owned Carolina from 1670 to 1719, under a charter granted by Charles II of England.

My ramblings took me as well to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.

St. Michael's

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church
80 Meeting Street

Construction of the church began in 1751 but was not finished until 1761. 

 St. Michael’s may well be the church that The Humourist mentions in one of his later essays when he offers up a “Catalogue of several Paintings and Drawings … [including] a Church half-finished.”

I also visited St. Philip’s Church.

St. Philip's

St. Philips’ Church
142 Church Street

Founded in 1670, St. Philips Church is the oldest Anglican congregation south of Virginia.

Finally, I wanted to see some houses that survived from the period when The Humourist would have walked these streets.  They are a goodly number, of course, but somehow I found myself in Ansonborough, laid out by Lord Admiral George Anson in 1745.  Some of Charleston’s oldest Greek Revival houses are in Ansonborough, and two caught my fancy.

The first was the Col. William Rhett house, built between 1711 and 1722.


Col. William Rhett House54 Hasell Street
Col. William Rhett House
54 Hasell Street

 The second was the Daniel Legare House, finished about 1760.  This is the oldest surviving house of Colonial Ansonborough.


Daniel Legare House
79 Anson Street

Hopefully, this helps you see in part Colonial Charles Towne as I glimpsed part of it in my meanderings yesterday, and as The Humourist saw it during his lifetime in the “Holy City.”

 And as I bring this post to a close, I wonder whether The Humorist ever saw in his lifetime what I just saw a few minutes ago—a first for me in my lifetime— when I stepped outside my hotel:  a double rainbow!  Single rainbows I have seen often, but never until today a double one: double rainbows are symbolic of joy and life transformations.

When the Charleston Library Society opens this morning at 9:30, who knows what I will find there that will bring me joy and that will “transform” my scholarly work on The Humourist essays?

6 thoughts on “Meanderings in Charleston, South Carolina

  1. What a wonderful view of some of the area’s history! Charleston is a lovely city where one can truly feel transported back in time. I enjoyed the pictures, history, and commentary. Best wishes for a great week! I am anxious to read more.


    • Thanks so much! Charleston is a phenomenal city, and I feel so blessed to be working on a literary research project that brings me here! Make sure that you go back to my very first blog and read … all!


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