Bondage Badges

One of the most unusual artifacts from the slavery era are the copper badges that slaves would wear like a necklace when being hired out to work for someone else. The slave hire system began early in the history of #Charleston, as a brisk slave trade from West Africa increased population of those in servitude from just a few hundred in 1700 to more than 12,000 by 1720. Because some slaveowners eventually had more slaves than there was work for them to do, the hiring system became a common method of earning revenue from someone else who needed slave labor. The city of Charleston regulated the hiring system by at first issuing paper tickets that owners would purchase and slaves would carry, but the more durable copper badge became the accepted method by the 19th century. Each badge was stamped with an identification number, a date, and the skill for which the slave was hired. The more common badges were for unskilled positions such as servants and porters, but many slaves were also hired as apprentices in carpentry, ironwork and other trades, and because those badges were less common, today they are much more coveted as collectors items. <img.src=”Slave Trade” alt=”Slave Badges”

Curious Caps

The chimneys of historic #Charleston #SC are among the most notable features in the #architecture, typically built with rounded “caps” or funnel-like “pots”. These are more than just decorations, and in the past, provided a function crucial to the buildings. aIn the days before electric and gas furnaces, homes were heated by fireplaces, in which wood or coal was burned. The mass of smoke rising through the narrow chimney passage must rise rapidly to make burning of fuel more efficient and to prevent it from backdrafting into the house. Chimneys often had cracks  inside the shaft as well as build up of carbon deposits that would reduce the lift of the smoke column, and by adding a cap or pot that funneled the column into a smaller outlet, this would create a vacuum effect that induced a better upward flow. A second advantage of the cap or pot was that it made more difficult the chance of flaming embers from other fires dropping into the chimney. Historically, many of Charleston’s disastrous fires were characterized by the hazards of airborne embers landing on roofs and in chimneys. <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Chimney Caps“>

Twisted Tale

As in any historic city, #CharlestonSC has its share of commonly-told legends and stories that are completely erroneous. One historic architectural detail that is consistently misrepresented is the twisted rope motif carved in wood around historic doorways. The most persistent tale is that the rope image represented the fact that the house was owned by a merchant, who presumably dealt in goods such as ropes. In truth, there is no symbolism in the rope motif at all, it is simply an exquisite detail that was very coveted in historic times before powered lathes and saws, when the skill of the artisan was on display. This detail has been used since the ancient Greeks to decorate doorways and the same helix shape was used throughout ancient Europe in columns as well, what is called a Solomonic Column. The rope motif is typically cut from a single piece of wood that, in historic times, was worked with rasp and chisel as the piece was slowly turned. Some helixes are more tightly-spaced than others and can be either left-handed or right-handed in spiral. Expertly done, the wooden spiral motif is a thing of beauty, and that is the only meaning it really has. <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Rope Spiral Doorways”>

Curious Cupola

The John Ashe Alston House on #South Battery Street was completed shortly after the Revolutionary War and features a design that was very much in style at the time, including the distinctive cupola on the top. Cupola means “little cup” in Italian, and was a detail originating from the Roman and Greek styles and made popular by Andreas Palladio in his “Four Books of Architecture” published in the 16th century, which influenced American builders and architects for many years. The idea of this centrally-located feature was both aesthetic and functional, gracing the looks of the building and allowing hot air to be released from within. This particular cupola also has a legend that it was used as a navigation light in the days when it faced South Bay, which was filled by the 1840’s to create White Point Garden.  <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”John Ashe Alston House ”>

Quintessential Queen

The eye-catching look of #Two Meeting Street Inn is very unique to Charleston in its very distinctive Queen Anne Style. This type of Victorian-era architecture was based on details that had become popular in the early 1700’s when Anne was Queen of England. What is notable are the asymmetrical shapes and bulging windows with rounded glass and extended spandrels, as well as gable roofing and wooden fish-scale cladding. The circa 1902 house was built as the honeymoon home of Waring Carrington and Martha Williams Carrington. According to legend the money came from a  cash wedding gift of $75,000 given by Martha’s father George Walton Williams, a local banker who had built the Williams (now Calhoun) Mansion farther up Meeting Street, who reportedly left the money under Martha’s pillow. The house is now a popular  inn, and surely guests must hope they’ll find a gift from the ghost of Mr. Williams under their pillows.<img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Two Meeting Street Inn ”>

Buccaneers Backinhere

The Pirates Courtyard on #Church Street has a wealth of legends concerning pirates who once made this a destination, and like so many stories handed down verbally from the past, it is hard to say which may be true. Certainly pirates did roam the seas offshore in the early days of the colonial city. They raided ships that brought goods in and out of Charleston Harbor, so were considered outlaws and dozens were hanged in 1718. The legend is that they continued to visit the city, secretly entering through tunnels under the cover of darkness and wandering to taverns, such as this site, and were served in back courtyards to avoid detection. This building dates to that era and was used as a tavern, and it does have a substantial underground cellar that extends into the street, which may well have been a secret passage. <img src=”Charleston Legends” alt=”Pirates Courtyard ”>

Brand’s Brand

Charleston Artist Hampton Brand can paint on canvas or paper, but his preferred surface is slate. From his little shop in a colonial-era building on #East Bay Street, Brand creates amazing likenesses of historic, houses, gates, windows and doorways on the slates he uses. He is a natural, who had no formal artistic training, but clearly has an eye for detail and beauty in capturing some of Charleston’s most memorable landmarks and hidden gems.  <img src=”Charleston Arts” alt=”Slate Paintings ”>

Rodgers’ Rouge

The towering mansion that Francis Rodgers built in the 1880’s features bricks that were highlighted by iron oxides in the kiln process to give them a distinctive hue, and highlighted by stone quoins and a Mansard roof, this 14,000 square foot structure is hard to miss. Rodgers was a very successful businessman and councilman in #Charleston after the Civil War, and was dedicated to creating the first public fire department, which he helped organize in 1881. The architect who designed the house, Daniel Wayne, would also design the three first public fire houses in the city. Today the Rodgers Mansion is a hotel called the Wentworth Mansion, from the name of the street if faces, but the structure should be called for the person who created its fire-red bricks and Charleston’s firehouses, Francis Rodgers. <img src=”Charleston Architecture” alt=”Rodgers Mansion”>

Longitude Landmark

Of the many old alleys that still grace historic #Charleston today, Longitude Lane certainly has the most interesting stories. Named for its east-west direction as longitude is measured, it once led to a massive cotton press factory built along the lane in 1853, where cotton bales were compressed to fit them in greater numbers on ships for export. And because the   old cotton wagons would sometimes try t squeeze through the narrow west entrance, a bollard was placed there to prevent it. For many years, the bollard was an old Revolutionary War cannon planted muzzle down. But the city of Charleston announced plans to remove the gun to a public display, starting a battle with residents that infamously became known as the “War of Longitude Lane”. <img src=”Famous Charleston Streets” alt=”Historic Alley ”>

Memorable Mother

This oil on canvas image is my great great great grandmother, Caroline Poincignon Trouche, the first American-born mother my family, born in 1808 here in Charleston SC to French immigrant parents. Her delicate face was captured for eternity by her artist husband, Auguste Paul Trouche, whose work is featured in the #Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. <img src=”historic images” alt=”Charleston artists”>