Friday, March 23, 2012

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Sand Gnats

On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry gave his famous (for Americans) "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech in front of the Virginia Convention.

If Patrick Henry had given that speech in Charleston, SC, I think he would have worked in sand gnats.  I don't know if anyone would prefer death to being a dinner plate for low country sand gnats, but some people might think about it for a few minutes.

Although that famous speech wasn't given here in Charleston, a lot of Revolutionary War history was made in the Charleston area.  One famous building related to this period, built in 1770-1771, was the Old Exchange Building and Provost Dungeon.  It's still there:  very much there, having survived the Revolution, the Civil War, the Earthquake of 1886 and the Hurricane of 1938.  They knew how to build 'in those days'.  (I recommend you read, on the website, just how the building was built. It was a technique perfected by the ancient Romans.)

We were on our way to an antebellum home when, for some reason, this building beckoned.  I love history and, although my major interest right now is the Civil War, I've also visited various sites related to our Revolutionary War.  I was not disappointed.

Part of the the original sea wall of Charleston was found during excavations made during renovations in the 1970's.

The varied history of this building involves pirates, one of whom was hung at nearby White Point Garden (the Battery).

The Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Charleston in 1776 from the balcony of the building. (As an irony, slaves were sold next door for a time.)

Still later came the imprisonment of patriots during the British occupation of Charleston. We stood on the very bricks where they lay chained to the wall for some two years, some 25 of them.  Not all made it out alive.  One, patriot Isaac Hayne, executed by the British for treason against the Crown, spent his last night in this building. 
For all that time, gunpowder was hidden, successfully, by the patriots just a few feet away from where the prisoners lay chained.  The British never decided to investigate a locked room to see what was in there.

After the war, the Constitution was ratified by South Carolina in this building.

In 1791, President George Washington attended a reception and ball in his honor in the building.  In the room below, Washington, then 59 years old, spent the night dancing with (it is said) some 260 Charleston women, some of whom swooned (it is said) from the experience.

The building was restored and reopened to the public in 1981.

Besides a lot of Revolutionary War history, there is a very nice Civil War exhibit within the building. 

One day, if I ever visit Charleston again, I might get to that other house....

1 comment:

  1. First of all try a dryer sheet under your hat or somewhere around your body to help with the sand gnats.

    Second of all, no Chas does not get nearly as fired up about it's wonderful Revolutionary period as it does Civil War.

    Third.... on a ghosty level.... took an after hours tour of the Provost Dungeon w/ some ghost hunters several years back. Remember the displays that are chained off? Well one of the group noted the chain was swinging. Being a skeptic I thought perhaps one of the folks had set it to swinging. Well as we watched the swininging picked up momentum and speed and then eventually slowed down..... THAT is the closest I've ever come to seeing a ghost.


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