Charleston Firsts

Welcome to the first blog of Charleston History. Just to let you know a little about myself, my name is Lee Ann and I am a licensed tour guide in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is an amazing city and so much has happened here over the last 341 years that I wanted to share with you the society, scoundrels and conflicts that have defined Charleston. For those that have visited our fair city before, I hope this will be an entertaining way to stay in touch with what is going in Charleston in the present and in the past. For those that have not visited, I hope this will entice you to make a journey to Charleston so that you can experience this enchanting city for yourself.

Charleston is a city of many things and since this is my first blog, I thought I would tell you about some of “Charleston’s Firsts”:

On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina assembly voted unanimously to become the first state to secede from the Union and it happened right here in Charleston. Georgia or Alabama was supposed to secede first but Charlestonians’ got tired of waiting for them to make up their minds so we went ahead and did the “big deed” ourselves. Yes, patience has never been our strength. 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

Charlestonians were the ones to fire the 1st shot of the Civil War. It was cool and misty on April 12, 1861 when 43 guns started firing rhythmically on Fort Sumter at 4:30 in the morning. The chess match between Lincoln and Davis was over and Lincoln had won the first game. He had gotten the Confederates to fire the first shots of the war. An excellent book to read about the days leading up to that fateful morning in April is “Allegiance” by David Detzer.

Off our shores, the Hunley was the first submarine to sink a ship during warfare. The Housatonic was prey to the Hunley on Feb. 17, 1864. After a successful mission, the Hunley was heading for home but never made it. The Hunley was lost and the search began. Even a $100,000 award was offered by P.T. Barnum to the person who could locate her. It was not until 1995 that the Hunley was found buried under 30 feet of water and covered with 131 years of silt and sediment. In 2000, she was brought to the surface and the research began to see if scientists could solve her mysteries. To this day, there is not a conclusive explanation as to what happened to her. The scientists have not given up. In fact, within the last 2 months she has been up righted. (For 147 years she has been resting at a 45 degree angle.) Scientist can now study the last hidden part portions of the boat. Maybe this will be the final piece to her mystery. To keep in touch with the latest on the Hunley go to

We are really not all about war here in Charleston. We are city of culture and refinement. Entertainment was and is still very important to Charlestonians. Of course only the finest would do…

So we established the St. Cecilia Society in 1766. Its purpose was to bring the finest concert music available to Charleston. In this pursuit, the St. Cecilia Society was the 1st musical organization in America to have a paid orchestra. As time went along, dancing became more important and the St. Cecilia Society started to host balls. These balls were the highlight of the Charleston Social Season. It was a great embarrassment not to be invited to the St. Cecilia Ball. If you did not receive an invitation, on the evening of the ball you would close your shutters and blinds and go to bed early so that it looked to others that you were attending the ball. To this day The St. Cecilia Society is still in existence and is still holding their magnificent balls.

Theatre has been in Charleston since the early 1700’s and by the year 1735, Charlestonians decided that they need a building specifically for theatrical performances. (Previously, plays were performed in taverns.) More plays were performed in Charleston then in any other colony. The Dock Street Theater was built as the “first theater” building in America.Today, Dock Street Theatre is the home of the Charleston Stage. (For all you Criminal Minds Fans this is where Thomas Gibson got his start with the Footlight Players.)

Our pursuit of cultural intellect would not be complete without museums. In 1773, the Charleston Library Society established the Charleston Museum. (The first one in America.) Today, the museum hosts the most compressive collection of Charleston and South Carolina’s natural and cultural history artifacts.

Beauty surrounds our city. It can be found in the private gardens of the homes on the Peninsula or in the magnificent gardens of Middleton and Magnolia Plantations. Magnolia is the nation’s first private garden opened to the public in 1870. The garden has portions of it that are more than 325 years old. By opening his gardens to the world, Rev. Drayton saved his plantation from ruins after the Civil War.

What better way to enjoy the natural beauty of Charleston than by spending time on a golf course. America’s first golf course, the “South Carolina Golf Club” was established by Charlestonians in 1786. Golf was played on the common public area or village green during the 1700’s. A “forecaddie” was to go ahead of the golfers to warn those walking or riding through the village that the golfers were approaching.

Well that is it for now. Check back next month for more fun Charleston history.

Lee Ann


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