Social Clubs and Organizations
Started in Charleston, South Carolina
By: Ill. Brother McDonald “Don”
early Charles Town persons of like national origin tended to organize their own
clubs for purposes of charity and pleasure. There were clubs representing all
principle national elements in the province. The Scotch had their St. Andrew’s
Society, the English their St. George’s Society, the French their South Carolina
Society. As early as 1736 there was a Welch Club which celebrated the
anniversary of their patron saint. There was an Irish Society in 1749 and a
German Friendly Society in 1766.
Other clubs from the ranks of population at large also had
civic, cultural, or benevolent interests. A charitable Society gave notice of a
meeting in 1757, and the Society for the Relief of Widows and Orphans of the
Clergy of the Established Church advertised a special anniversary in 1770. The
Winyah Society, founded about 1740 for purposes of conviviality by indigo
planters, established a school with surplus funds from its treasury. The
Charleston Library Society, founded in 1748, in addition to its other functions,
sponsored literate discussions and scientific demonstrations. Patriotic groups
such as the Sons of Liberty and the Club Forty-Five came into being after the
Stamp Act. Fraternal organizations like the Masons, who by 1766 had four lodges
in Charleston and three in other communities flourished and multiplied.
importance of club life in the eighteenth-century England was reflected in
colonial South Carolina. The Gazette fails to reveal the presence of
counterparts of the Hell-Fire clubs, the tavern did not occupy as important a
place, and there was a greater emphasis upon the eleemosynary; but except for
these details the club life of the Carolinian and of the Englishman had much in
common. The social structure of the colony was based upon wealth, but it was a
wealth accumulated by energy and ability rather than by inheritance. This wealth
made possible leisure for pleasure and self-improvement, and brought with it a
feeling of responsibility toward the community.
The Societies or Clubs that we will be looking at will be the ones started by our late Masonic Brothers.
The St. Andrew’s Society of Charles Town, South Carolina,
founded in the year 1729, is not only the oldest, but it is also the progenitor
of some, possibly a great number, of these St. Andrew’s Societies. That it is
the oldest there is little reason to doubt, for on none of the lists of Scottish
associations, which have been published from time to time, does there appear a
St. Andrew’s society with an earlier date of establishment. That it is the
progenitor of at least two other associations of the same name is equally
certain. According to the same authorities which assign the Charleston society
the place of the oldest, the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
is the second oldest, having been founded in 1749. This organization, beyond all
doubt, was modeled with minor changes after the one in Charleston, probably, of
the removal from Charleston to Philadelphia of a resident of the former city
that carried the idea with him. Certain it is by this means it was transmitted
from Philadelphia to New York, where the St. Andrew’s Society of the State of
New York was established in 1756. A president of the Charleston Society
evidently intended to suggest this when he said, the name of St. Andrew and
the symbol of his cross, the consecrated banner of their fathers, are still held
in deep reverence by every Scotsman; and whenever at a distance from Scotland
they unite for any social or benevolent purpose, and especially to cherish the
recollection of their beloved native land, that name and symbol, and the thistle
of his Order, and its daring motto, generally distinguish their voluntary
associations.” No reasonable person will hold it against the members of the
St. Andrew’s Society of Charleston for indulging themselves, as they proudly
approach their two hundredth and seventh first anniversary.
In the course of time the Roman Empire accepted
Christianity and Andrew came to be held in great veneration out of
Northumberland. Athelstan, a fierce Warrior, who was almost at his Heels, and
overtook him not far from Hadington. The Picts dismayed at the sudden approach
of their enemies, stood immediately, to their arms, and kept themselves in their
stations, ‘till very late; having set their watches for the night, Hungus being
inferior in other things, desired Aid of God, and gave himself up wholly to
prayer. At last, when his body was wearied with Labor, and his mind oppressed
with care, he seemed to behold Andrew the Apostle, standing by him in his sleep,
promising him the victory. This vision being declared to the Picts filled them
full of hope, so that they prepared themselves with great Alacrity for a combat,
which it was in vain to think of avoiding. The next day they came to a pitched
battle. Some add, that another prodigy was seen in the heavens, a cross like the
letter X, which did so terrify the English, that they could hardly sustain the
first onset of the Picts. Athelstan was slain there, who gave name
to the place of battle, which is yet called Athelstan’s Ford.
Hungus ascribed the victory to St. Andrew, to whom, besides other gifts, he
offered the tithes of his royal demesnes.
This incident, it is asserted by some writers, led to the
acceptance of Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland, but others hold that he
had become such before the battle of Athelstan’s Ford; hence his assistance to
Scottish forces at the time. Certain it is that henceforth he occupied that high
station. One authority states positively that after the battle “they [Achaius
and Hungus] went in solemn procession, barefooted to Kirk of St. Andrew, to
return thanks to God and his apostle for their victory; vowing that they and
their posterity would ever bear the figure of that cross in their ensigns and
banners. In this way, it would seem, Scotland acquired that emblem which appears
today in her national flag and in the British Union Jack along with the crosses
of St. George and St. Patrick.
When the founders of the St. Andrew’s Society of Charles
Town chose their insignia and devices, they took the figure of the saint, the
cross decussate, the thistle, and the motto. Not necessarily because they were
the insignia and devices of a knightly order but more probably because they were
ancient Scottish symbols. To these they added a crown, for what reason is not
clear, possibly because it occurs along with the thistle in the national badge
of Scotland. The thistle, the crown, and the motto are employed in the society’s
seal which is described in the original rules as “a Silver Seal with a thistle
and crown over it, engraved upon it, and the motto, Nemo Me Impune Laciest.” The
figure of the saint supporting the cross has appeared from time to time on its
banner, and for a time it was required that each member at the anniversary
meeting should wear it. It is worn at the present time only by the president as
a badge of his office.
Who were the founders of this Society, or Club as it was
first called? On the original copy of the rules, which required that “every
member hereafter to be admitted shall immediately subscribe to the rules,” under
the words “Original Members Present, 30th of November, 1730” occur
the signatures of thirty-four persons.
The first printed edition of the rules bearing the
imprint, “London: printed by James Crokatt, printer and bookseller to the
Society, at the Golden Key near the InnerTemple Gate in Fleet Street, 1731,”
shows sixty-four names under the heading “Original Members presented the 30th
of November, 1730. Dr. John Lining name appeared as the 48th
signature on this list with other signatures under “admitted August 31, 1731.”
The original rules remained substantially unchanged until
1796, and it appears that the members governed themselves strictly in accordance
The Club meet four times a year which was held on the last
day of February, May, and on August, along with St. Andrew’s Day, except when
these dates fell on Sunday, then the meeting was held on the Monday following.
These took place, as the rules stipulate, “at one convenient house in Charles
The principal design of this club is to assist all people
in distress of whatsoever nation or profession they may be, its not doubted
their number and stock would continue to increase.
Oucconastotah, the great warrior and chief of the Cherokee
Nation apparently so highly regarded his membership that he carefully preserved
his certificate of admission for many years.
Together with these were many of humbler stations, James
Kerr, the Vintner, Charles Shepheard, and his successors Robert Dillon and
William Holliday, keepers of a tavern on the corner of Broad and Church Streets.
On the whole it seems that these members were drawn from practically every class
represented in the colony.
Their anniversary celebration on St. Andrew’s Day early
became an event of great moment in the social life of the city. After what was
the most important Buenos session of the year, when the officers were elected
and the larger charities voted, there followed a dinner attended not only by a
majority of the members but also by distinguished guests. These guests would
sometime include the governor, chief justice, council, the speaker of the
commons house of assembly, and the prominent visitors in the colony.
These dinners were, indeed, “handsome entertainment’s.”
They were generally held at the tavern which stood at the northeast corner of
Church and Broad Streets, know for a time as “Shepheard’s Tavern” and then as
“Dillon’s on the Corner.” They were prepared by the best satraps of the day,
amount them Mr. Henry Gignilliant, Mr. James Kerr, Mr. Charles Shepheard, Mr.
Thomas Blythe, Mr. Robert Dillon, Mr. William Holliday. Though there is no
record of the action, it is quite evident that the provision of the rules
permitting the president or vice president to agree “at their discretion for the
entertainment of the club for any sum not exceeding Ten Shillings Sterling a
Man” was soon amended.
In the colonial period there were five presidents of the
St. Andrew’s Society one of which was John Moultrie (1760-1771). John Moultrie
was a native of Culross Shire of Fife, Scotland. He came to South Carolina early
in the eighteenth century but returned to Scotland where he received his M.D.
degree from Edinburgh University. He returned to Charles Town before November
30,1730, for on this day he signed the rules of the Society. Here he became a
successful physician. His five sons, four of whom rose to prominence in public
life, were all members of the Society, and one (General William Moultrie) became
Indigo Society of Georgetown, South Carolina
Founded in 1755
The Winyah Indigo Society, one of our nations oldest organizations, has its roots in changes that were enveloping the Georgetown Area in the mid-18th Century. According to tradition, in the 1740s local planters began meeting on the first Friday of each month at Nathaniel Tregagle’s popular Old Oak tavern on Bay Street to ponder the news of their community, Charleston, and London. Along with food, drink, and convivial discussion of weather, taxes, politics, and social goings-on, there arose in that decade special interest in what was then called “Indico,” the herb that yields highly prized blue dye.
In October 1744, April 1745, and January 1747,
Charleston’s South Carolina Gazette printed a four page weekly article
devoted considerable space to indigo providing readers’ with basic information
concerning how to cultivate and process the crop. Planted in April and May, this
native of India matured at different times during the summer months, resulting
in several cuttings. Stem perhaps three feet long, together with leaves, then
were steeped in a vat and allowed to ferment. The pulpy mass was subsequently
dissolved, beaten, and drained before being dried, cut into squares, and placed
in casks. It was a messy smelly job, a task that attracted flies and mosquitoes,
work usually done by slaves.
Some Georgetown planter’s in the 1750’s were reaping high
profits on their indigo crops. At some point, those gathering at the Old Oak
tavern formed themselves into an informal club. An anonymous writer to the
South Carolina Gazette (February 6, 1755) called “a company or Society.”
Just when this organization began to function is unclear, although the Winyah
Indigo Society seal bears the date of 1753. This group, the writer boasted, had
reduced the processing of indigo to “a plain, easy, and familiar Method” and
soon would supply every member with “a complete history of the settled and most
generally approved Method of Indigo-making, from the cutting to the barreling.”
Anyone joining the society, he stressed, will immediately receive this valuable
information, which would “be more than the equivalent of his admission money.”
According to tradition, members sometimes were permitted to pay their dues in
indigo, although the royal charter obtained a few years later specified such
sums were to be paid in money.
This gentleman also alluded to the fact that “the whole
Monies paid by members at their entrance, is to be added to a fund already sunk
for building a free-school in George-Town, for teaching and instructing indigent
children, in the use of letter, and the principles of religion.” Initially,
however, this school did not fulfill the hopes and dreams of those advocating
education and moral betterment.
In January 1760, although deserving pupils were given free education, books, pens, ink, paper, firewood, and two suits of outside clothes each year, a notice in the South Carolina Gazette reveals ten of the twelve “indigent” slots lay vacant. Also, despite being called a “Free-School,” it should be noted that a majority of pupils always paid tuition and other related expenses. Considering the difficult task of finding and keeping a schoolmaster and the turmoil of the times, one suspect this institution did not function as promised until the American Revolution had run its course.
On the “Roster of Members,” John Lining is listed as
joining on 1756.
Charleston Library Society
The Scots formed their St. Andrew’s Society in 1729, the
English their St. George’s Society in 1733, the Huguenots (becoming less
aggressively French) established the South Carolina Society in 1737, and the
Germans Friendly Society in 1766. All of these organizations continue their
active existence and objectives today. And as the members of various groups
intermarried and become South Carolinians, we find many men on the rolls of more
than one society.
Another kind of organization was the Charleston Library
Society. In 1748 William Burrows was one of “a group of seventeen aspiring young
intellectuals,” who agreed to raise a fund of ten pounds sterling and import
recent magazines and pamphlets from London. These seventeen men held together by
the bond of reading habit, including a school master, two planters, a peruke
maker, a doctor, a printer, two lawyers, and nine merchants. The library Society
soon was supported with rules and organization; in 1750 the eminent Dr. John
Lining, resident of Charleston, meticulous observer and recorder of weather
data, experimenter in electrical phenomena, and correspondent of Benjamin
Franklin, was president; the membership, comprising the leaders of the province,
Society of the Cincinnati
Founded in 1783
FOR BROTHERLY KINDNESS. FOR UNION AND NATIONAL HONOR. AS
LONG AS THEY SHALL ENDURE.
President John Adams, in a letter written to Thomas Jefferson, said that he
remembered having been in a
Westchester County, New York, in the month of October 1776, together with
Generals Washington, Knox, Patterson and others.
General Knox was then heard to say that when the war was over, he should like to have some ribbon to wear in his hat or in his buttonhole, to be transmitted to his descendants as a badge or proof that he had fought in the defense of the liberties of this country. He spoke of it in such precise terms as showed that he had revolved it in his mind before.
Sectaries for South Carolina: Year Name
In the Institution, or basic law of the Society, its founders thus explained their choice of its name:
“ The Officers of the American Army have been generally taken from the citizens of America, posses high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman, Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, and being resolved to follow his example, by returning to their citizenship, they think they may, with propriety, denominate themselves the Society of the Cincinnati.”
Eligibility to original membership among Continental Army Officers was defined by the founders of the Society of Cincinnati as existing in officers of the Line (regular Army), who held commissions by the Continental Congress and who were included in any of the following classes;
1) Those officers who were in service at the time of the foundation of the Society in 1783.
2) Those officers previously deranged (honorably retired) by act of Congress.
3) Those officers who served three years as such in the Continental Line.
The Story of Cincinnatus
The story of the Roman dictator,
Cincinnatus, is told in a popular translation of Livy’s History of Rome, in the
Five horsemen bore tidings to
Rome that the Army was besieged. The people were sorely dismayed to hear these
tidings, nor when they cast about for help, saw they man that might be
sufficient in this time of peril, save only Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus. By
common consent, therefore, he was appointed Dictator for six months and
messengers were sent to tell him.
He was cultivating with his own
hand a plot of ground and when the messengers of the people came to him they
found him plowing.
The messengers said, “Put on thy
robe and hear the words of the people.” Then Cincinnatus astonished called unto
his wife Racilia, that she should bring forth his robe from the cottage. So she
brought it forth his robe from the cottage. So she brought it forth and the man
washed from himself the dust and the sweat and stood before the messengers.
These said unto him, “The People of Rome make thee Dictator and bid thee come
forthwith to defense of the land.”
Under the lead of Cincinnatus the
invader was soon driven out of the land. Thereupon he resigned the Dictatorship
and returned to his plow.
Orphan’s House at Charleston
its founding in October 1790, John Mitchell was one of the Commissioners of the
Orphan House at Charleston, A tablet commemorating the first meeting of the
Commissioners on October 28, 1790 lists Mitchell second after Major Charles
Lining, and he is recorded as being present at every meeting thereafter until
1794. The minutes show no one more active than Colonel Mitchell in promoting
public support for the Orphan House and in the management of its affairs during
the difficult first years. On Saturday May 7, 1791 President George Washington,
with the City Intendment and Wardens, visited the Orphans House, and Mitchell is
listed as the senior Commissioner receiving him, afterwards entertaining him at
breakfast in the Commissioners’ Room.
The Charleston Orphan House, the oldest municipal
orphanage in the United States, was founded October 18, 1790, at the instigation
of John Robertson, a philanthropic citizen and a member of City Council. It’s
main purpose was to establish the Institution for the “purpose of supporting and
educating poor and orphan children and those of poor and disabled parents who
are unable to support and maintain them. During the 1800’s the Orphan House was
a well-known child care institution.
institution was a completely self-sufficient entity. The children were fed by
homegrown food, dressed in homespun clothing, and educated in the building by
former students trained by the Principal of the School. This method of
management was established in order to reduce the cost of maintaining the
children. A Board of Commissioners annually elected by City Council governed the
Orphan House. This Board met weekly, with each member alternating his services
as a Visiting Commissioner. The Visiting Commissioner primarily investigated
applicants for admission or indenture; however, he also conducted religious
services on Sunday afternoon and inspected the house, grounds, and staff.
Commissioners of the Charleston Orphan House list John Mitchell as one starting
on October 25, 1790 and ending on November 27, 1794.
Charleston Orphan House stood at the corner of Calhoun and St. PHILIP Streets.
Built on the site of the Revolutionary War Barracks, the Institution was
officially occupied October 18, 1794.
of tablets containing the names of the first commissioners- Arnoldus Vanderhorst,
Charles Lining, John Mitchell, John Robertson, Richard Cole, Thomas Corbett,
William Marshall, Thomas Jones, and Samuel Beekman, and also, individual tablets
to John Robertson, was made and put on pubic display at the Orphan House.
one-hundredth anniversary of the Orphan House a banner was made. On the front of
the banner it had written; 1790 Charleston Orphan House 1890. On the back of the
banner located in the center was a drawing of a ship anchor with a chain on it.
Above the anchor is the word “Faith” and below it is written “Charity.”
Amid celebrations in Charleston over the repeal of the
Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act went nearly unnoticed. Couched in the same
sweeping terms as the Irish Declaratory Act of 1719, it pronounced the American
Colonies subordinate to and dependant upon the Crown and Parliament. While
Charleston rang with cheers and huzzas, a more sober meeting at the Liberty Tree
was taking place. There Gadsden and the mechanics gathered privately, and in the
words of George Flagg the painter, “Gadsden harangued them at considerable
length, on the folly of relaxing their opposition and vigilance, or of indulging
the fallacious hope that Great Britain would relinquish her designs and
pretensions. He drew their attention to the preamble of the act, forcibly
pressed upon the folly of rejoicing at a law that still asserted and maintained
the absolute dominion of Great Britain over them. Then reviewing all the chances
of succeeding in a struggle to break the fetters whenever again imposed on
them,” the mechanics joined hands and swore their defense against tyranny,” but,
like the silversmith Grimke, some must have thought, “Thank God” the province
was “now again, the land of Liberty.”
Charles-Town, Nov. 21, 1772
FRIENDS of LIBERTY
to the ENGLISH CONSTITUTION,
Members, and particularly the Stewards,
CLUB No. 45,
Meeting of which was adjourned to the Day whereon cer-
Advice should be received of the intrepid Patriot
JOHN WILKES, Esq.;
advanced to the high Dignity of
LORD MAYOR of London,
desired to meet at Mr. Holiday’s Tavern, at Six o’clock
EVENING, to choose Stewards, and otherwise
for the Celebration of their Sincere Joy upon so glorious
Notice will be given, when the News is received, of
appointed; and Tickets for Admission may in the mean
had of Joshua Lockwood, Joseph Verree, and
three of the former Stweards, and at T.
Co.’s Printing-Office, near the Exchange.
printed in the South Carolina Gazette Paper)
Also printed in the Gazette newspaper is a description of another meeting that took place under the Liberty Tree.
About 5 o’clock they all
removed to a most noble LIVE OAK tree, in Mr. Mazyk’s pasture, which they
formally dedicated to LIBERTY, where many loyal, patriotic, and constitutional
toasts were drank, beginning with the glorious NINETY-TWO Anti-Rescinders of
Massachusetts-Bay, and ending with, unanimity among the members of our ensuing
Assembly not to rescind from the said resolution [to boycott England], each
succeeded by three huzzas.
In the evening, the tree was decorated with 45 lights, and 45 skyrockets were fired. About 8 o’clock, the whole company, preceded by 45 of their number, marched in regular procession to town, down King-Street and Broad Street, to Mr. Robert Dillion’s tavern; where the 45 lights being placed upon the table, with 45 bowls of punch, 45 bottles of wine, and 92 glasses, they spent a few hours in a new round of toasts, among which, scarce a celebrated Patriot of Britain or America was omitted; and preserving the same good order and regularity as had been observed throughout the day, at 10 they retired.
”The Society for
the Relief of the Widows and Children of the Clergy of the Church of England in
the Province of South Carolina.”
Established on April 21, 1762 by Right Rev. Robert Smith
for the purpose of providing relief to the widows and children of the Clergy. A
total of 11 members of the clergy attended the first meeting. At the second
meeting Right Rev. Smith was elected it first Treasurer.
It was adopted at the first meeting that the clergy would give a “Charity Sermon” to each church. On December 27, 1762, Rev. Smith provided the Masons of Charles Town the first documented sermon. The sermon was titled, “Charity Sermon for the Masons, No. 100.”
On October 3rd, 1818, Ill. Bro. Rev. Dalcho
attended his first meeting according to the meeting of the Society and was
listed as representing St. Michael’s church.
This Society still survives and is, next to one in
Virginia, the oldest society of the kind in America.
Right Rev. Robert Smith is also credited with the founding the College of Charleston.
In 1790 Rev. Smith offered to merge his academy into the purposed college and yield to it his sixty pupils. This plan was adopted and was the real beginning of this institution, the oldest municipal college in the United States. Though the college had an earlier conception, in the sense of making it an actuality, Mr. Smith may be called the founder of it. He was the first president of the board of trustees and the first principal of the college. Rev. Smith was a man of tradition who was a generous man, who understood life. He presided over the college, “ wrote one of his former students,” with great dignity and address, and had more power over boys than anyone in a similar capacity, although never severe or morose.”
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