Authentic Artisans

There have been attempts to revise the history of Charleston in recent years, largely based on assumption. One of the casualties of this trend has been the early artisans of Charleston, much of whose work, it is now commonly told, was actually done by slaves. This is verifiably not true, as there are records available that prove otherwise. The Pinckney Mansion on East Bay, built in the 1740’s and lost in the 1861 fire, is recorded as the mostly the work of such European-born artisans as John Pagett, James Hartley, Humphrey Sommers and Joesph Black. The mid 1700’s saw the emergence of a large artisan class in Charleston, that included Thomas Elfe, Samuel Cardy, Henry Bedon, William Carwither, Charles Warham, and Benjamin Baker. One of the most sought after was Scottish-born Robert Deans, who, according to records, did a great deal of the carving and joining work at St. Michael’s church, begun in 1752. Deans carved capitals, cornices, stairs, molding, finials, and a variety of detailed embellishments. Deans was also a close associate of John Drayton, whose plantation, Drayton Hall was constructed in years overlapping both the Pinckney Mansion and St. Michael’s. If there is to be assumption on who built the plantation, it would likely have been Deans and those who worked on the Pinckney mansion , as both were done in a very similar Palladian style. Slave labor was certainly used in many Charleston buildings, and there were very skilled artisans who were both free blacks and slaves, but the truth is that there were many hands from many backgrounds who built Charleston.

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