Finding a true to life glimpse of the past was not possible until the early 19th century, with the first inventions of primitive photographic methods. One that quickly became very popular in antebellum Charleston was the daguerrotype, which was essentially a method to produce a mirror-like image. Invented by Frenchman Louis Jacque Mande Daguerre in 1839, the creation of an image was a multi-step process of polishing sheets of silver-plated copper, injecting gas fumes that made the surface sensitive to light, then exposing it through an aperture to light. A person standing in front of the device would have their mirror image imbedded by then adding mercury vapor and a series of rinsing, drying and sealing to complete the process. By 1850, numerous daguerrotype studios had opened in Charleston, and the old adds are still very illuminating.
Visitors to Charleston find so many aspects of historical significance at every turn around the city, and one of these is the city burial grounds. I often have the chance to take guests on walking tours into some of the fabled graveyards, and there are many names they recognize that played a large role in American history. Over at my family’s church, St. Mary of the Annunciation, there are numerous stones in French, as the congregation was greatly influenced by French immigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One family name there is De Grasse, and the graves of Amelie Rosalie Maxime deGrasses, and her sister Melanie Veronique Maxime deGrasse, daughters of Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse, who greatly helped Americans win their independence. His victory over the British while commanding the French fleet at the Battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, allowed George Washington to achieve his great victory at Yorktown and end the war. The admiral’s daughters grew up in Saint Domingue in the West Indies, and migrated to Charleston in the 1790’s.
2021 represents the 205th year of La Societe Francaise de Beinfaisance (The French Charitable Society) here in Charleston, SC. This group that was formed to offer assistance to French immigrants such as my family, still provides humanitarian aid to those in need. We have an unusual French heritage in Charleston that encompassed three waves of immigration – French Huguenots in the late 1600’s, French Acadians in the 1750’s, and French Catholics in the 1790’s and early 1800’s.
The big Civil War cannon at White Point Garden are authentic guns that were actually used in combat, but they weren’t used at that location. These cannon were all military surplus that was moved to the garden in the late 1800’s to commemorate the defense of Charleston. I often lead walking tours that go past White Point Garden, and I point out to visitors that these great guns that caused so much destruction long ago have been silent for more than a century, but still lead to occasional injury when someone climbs on the cannon and falls off.