Shepheard's Tavern 

Note: The "Background" of this page is Shepheard's Tavern

By: McDonald "Don" L. Burbidge, 32°, K.C.C.H.

Shepheard's Tavern in Charleston, South Carolina, was the site of many historic and Masonic events.  

Shepheard's Tavern in Charleston, South Carolina, was the birthplace of ScottishRite Freemasonry. Of all the public houses in early Charleston, Shepheard’s Tavern has the richest and most significant history. Charles Shepheard built his tavern around 1720. During the 18th century in Charleston, the term tavern was used to describe any establishment that served a number of purposes for the town. The building site Charles Shepheard chose for his business was a lot at the corner of Broad and Church Streets located near the center of Charles-Town, as it was then called. It was a four-story oblong building (pictured at left), and its purpose, while commercial, was also to serve the community in a variety of ways.  

Not only was Shepheard's a place to eat and drink but also a place to do business, hold public meetings, and write or receive mail. As one of the principal public houses of Charleston, it played an important part in the development of the city. It shared this honor with the Exchange Coffee House at Alexander Chisolm's on the Bay and Marshal's on the Bay "where gentlemen will have the Entertainment and Attendance usual in Coffee Houses abroad."  

In 1734, a notice appeared in the South Carolina Gazette, a weekly journal printed in "Charles-Town." It announced tickets would go on sale for a play "The Orphan or the Unhappy Marriage" which was to be held at Shepheard’s Tavern at the intersection of Broad and Church Street on October 17th. This was the first season plays of any type were presented in Charleston.  

Also, in the October 28, 1736, Gazette, the following paragraph appeared: "Last night a lodge of Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, was held, for the first time, at Mr. Charles Shepheard's, Broad Street, when John Hammerton, Esq. Secretary and Receiver General for this province, was unanimously chosen Master, who was pleased to appoint Mr. Thomas Denne, Senior Warden, Mr. Tho. Harbin, Junior Warden, and Mr. James Gorden, Secretary."  

Shepheard's Tavern burned down during a fire in 1740. After the ashes had cooled, it was rebuilt in the same spot using as many materials as could be saved from the original building. The following is a list of various information on the history of Shepheard's Tavern.  Theatrical performances at Shepheard's were held in a large public room called the "Court Room," so called because the province rented the large room for that purpose. Welcoming ceremonies for newly arrived British governors were held at Shepheard's, Dillon's, and Poinsettia's.  

  • *The Grand Lodge of Freemasons, formed in 1754, met at Shepheard's.

  • *The "Sons of Liberty" held their meetings at Shepheard's.

  • *According to Charles Fraser's Reminiscences of Charleston, Shepheard's was known    popularly as the "Corner Tavern."

  • *Charleston's First Troop of Horse was organized and the Court of Sessions was held at Shepheard's.

  • *Charleston's gentlemen came there to read, do business, hold public meeting, write and send letters.

  • *An advertisement found in the South Carolina Gazette of November 19, 1744, notes:   "The Subscriber has opened his House in Broad Street, where may be depended on, as  Good Entertainment as this Province affords, and the Customers as obliging usage,  Thy most obedient humble Servant, Charles Shepheard."

  • *An advertisement found in the South Carolina Gazette of May 16, 1743, notes: "The Hon. William Ball, Esq., announces Charles Shepheard as Post Master for the province  of South Carolina."  

On May 31, 1801, Colonel John Mitchell and the Reverend Fredrick Dalcho opened "The Supreme Council of the 33d Degree for the United States of America." Dalcho had received the 33° from Colonel John Mitchell six days before the opening. John Mitchell was a native of Ireland and an officer of the American Army in the Revolutionary War. Frederick Dalcho, a native of England, was elected Grand Commander of the Council in 1816 and served as Assistant Rector of St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Charleston.  

It is a bit strange that the first meeting took place on May 31, 1801, as this was a Sunday and not a day during the week when most Lodges would meet. When we trace the date of May 31 in history, we find it was the date of the ascension to the throne in 1740 of Fredrick the Great of Prussia (1712–1786). The day was celebrated each year by his subjects.  

Dr. Dalcho, one of the founders, was the son of an officer in that monarch's army and must have been familiar from childhood with the observance of that anniversary. What was more natural than that he should suggest the date to his colleagues (if they did not already know of it) as a fitting occasion upon which to inaugurate the new Supreme Council? Since Frederick the Great was a Master Mason and a monarch famous throughout the world, what was more natural than that Dalcho's colleagues should agree? Some strong reason must have induced the inauguration of the Supreme Council on Sunday, and that reason, this author speculates, was the desire to render tribute to a famous man and Freemason.  

In 1924, the Klinck, Wickenberg, and Company building (formerly Shepheard's Tavern) was torn down and a distinguished bank and office building erected in the same place. Throughout the years for various reasons, Freemasons and especially Scottish Rite Masons have asked for and obtained permission to attach tablets to the outside of the building. The owner of the building has always approved such requests. The following is a list of all the Masonic tablets now attached to the bank.  

Tablet 1, located on the corner of building at Broad and Church Street, reads:

On This Site Stood The Building In Which The Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient And Accepted Scottish Rite Of Freemasonry Was Founded May 31, 1801, A.D., Corresponding To Sivan 19, 5561 A.M. Solomon's Lodge No.1, Ancient Freemasons Chartered By The Grand Lodge Of England 1735 Was Organized On This Site, October 28, 1736.

Tablet 2, located at the corner on Church Street, has two plaques, one above the other.  The first plaque (pictured at right) reads:

The Grand Lodge Of Ancient Freemasons Of South Carolina Organized before August 18,1737, this Grand Lodge met in Charles Shepheard's Tavern, an early meeting Place of the colony, once Located on the corner. Erected by the Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of S.C. 1987

Plaque two, located under plaque one, reads as follows:

At This Northeast Corner Of This Building William A. Giles Grand Master Ancient Free masons Laid The Corner Stone On This Building November 24th, 1928

Tablet 3, located on the back corner of the building, is a cornerstone. It reads:

W.A. Giles  Grand Master Of Masons A.D. 1928–A.L. 5928

Whenever Freemasons, especially Scottish Rite Brothers, are near the corner of Church and Broad Streets in downtown Charleston, they owe it to themselves to visit this historic location. While walking around the neighborhood, visit St. Michael's and St. Philip's Church as the founding "Eleven Gentlemen of Charleston," the founders of the Supreme Council, did when they lived there in 1801.

Frederick Dalcho is buried at St. Michael's Church, and James Moultrie is buried at St. Philip's churchyard. If it weren't for the insight and determination of these two gentlemen and the other nine founders, Scottish Rite Freemasonry might not have flourished in Charleston. In 2001, Scottish Rite Freemasonry, S.J., will celebrate its 200th anniversary in Charleston, South Carolina.   

Brother Burbidge wishes to dedicate this article to his long-time friend, fellow Mason, and Scottish Rite Brother, the late Ill. Bro. Joel Wyman Frampton, Jr., 33° (1913–1993) of Charleston.  

“Reprinted with permission of the Scottish Rite Journal, June 1999”

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