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Steeped in history — the Confederate Home

When Charles Town was planned on the “Grand Modell,” Broad Street was envisioned as the major east-west thoroughfare. On the east end were the custom house and the merchants and banking houses, facilitating a lucrative commerce. Other public buildings were located further up the street along with the state church. In time South Carolina’s State House, a handsome Custom House and Exchange and St. Michael’s Church (after the site hosted St. Philip’s for a while) were completed. Nearby were the residences of some of Charles Town’s most influential citizens, among them, John Rutledge, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, S.C. governor and a signer of the U.S. Constitution. Across the street was the home of merchant John Laurens, brother of Henry Laurens, who succeeded John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress. In 1788 his executors sold the house to Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the younger brother of John Rutledge.

Dr. David Ramsay lived a block away. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a protégé of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Pennsylvania signer of the Declaration of Independence. His sensational murder by a deranged patient is one of the city’s oft-told narratives. In the next block Justice William Burroughs built a residence across the street from Lot 56. Burrows is best remembered as the father of William Ward Burrows, the first commandant of the United States Marine Corps and the grandfather of William Ward Burrows, Jr., a naval hero in the War of 1812 for whom three U.S. Navy vessels have been named.

Conveniently located only 150 paces from the State House, Lot 56 was prime real estate. Granted to John Palmer, Jr., in 1683, it was transferred to Damaris Elizabeth St. Julian, widow of Peter de St. Julian, whose family had worshipped with the Ravenels and the Baroness of Vitré, France, until the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. St. Julian was active in the fur trade, first at Pompion Hill and then at Wantoot, later home of Daniel Ravenel, through marriage to St. Julian’s daughter.

William Bull, lieutenant governor of the province and acting governor on five occasions, rented a tenement on Lot 56. Bull was a Loyalist who left the colony when British troops evacuated at the end of the Revolution. The Bulls were a dominant force in early S.C. history. Bull’s father had been lieutenant governor from 1738 to 1755 and acting governor from1738 to 1744, and he had assisted James Oglethorpe in the founding of Georgia. His grandfather Stephen Bull had been Lord Ashley's deputy and one of the leaders of the expedition that settled Charles Town.

The Fire of 1786 destroyed the tenement Bull had rented and Ralph Izard acquired the burned-out lot. He sold it in 1800 to Gilbert Chalmers, a well-to-do carpenter who built a handsome brick double tenement with a covered passageway through the center of the building. In 1798 Chalmers’ daughter Harriet married John Geddes. When she died in 1803, Geddes married her sister, Ann. Chalmers deeded the property to Ann in 1805, and when she died the following year, the property passed to Geddes.

John Geddes was one of our state’s many gentlemen who were involved with affaires d’honneur. Born in 1777, John Geddes was educated in Charleston and admitted to the local bar in 1797. Blessed with considerable wealth, he owned four plantations in St. Andrew’s Parish. Socially well connected, Geddes served in the S.C. Assembly and was its speaker from 1810-1815. He was elected governor of the state in 1818.When President James Monroe visited the following year, he entertained so lavishly that it dearly cost both the state and him personally.

Shortly after Geddes completed his term as governor, two (one-m) Simons brothers fought against John Geddes. Both duels are thought to have been because of political differences. Geddes was a Democratic Republican (Jefferson’s party) who favored a declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812 and supported “states rights.” Keating Lewis Simons (1788-1834) on the other hand was a Federalist. In 1823 Keating Lewis Simons and Gov. Geddes met on Sullivan’s Island. Simons was wounded and limped the rest of his life. Geddes also fought Edward Simons (1778-1843). This time Geddes was shot in the knee while Edward Simons was unhurt.

That same year Edward Peter Simons (1794-1823) died in a duel; Gilbert C. Geddes, John Geddes’ 17-year-old son, shot and killed the promising Simons who had studied law in the office of his cousin Keating Lewis Simons and took over the practice when he died. He served in the state legislature and was a warden of the city and a captain in the Washington Light Infantry. Young Geddes felt that Simons had made remarks reflecting on his father and demanded a retraction or a meeting in the field. Simons protested that the father should demand satisfaction — not his son. Young Geddes posted notifications around town reflecting on Simons’ conduct, while Simons published his version of events in the Charleston Mercury.

The antagonists met at high noon at Fort Johnson. Each fired four times without wounding his opponent, but on the fifth round, Geddes was shot through both thighs and Simons was shot in the belly. Young Geddes recovered. Simons died the following day at the age of 29.

Such a bloody act was no impediment to obtaining political office; Geddes served as intendant (mayor) of Charleston from 1824 to 1825 and held other public posts. He died in 1828 and was buried at the First Scots Presbyterian churchyard.

Meanwhile, as a result of debts Gov. Geddes incurred while entertaining President Monroe in 1819, he was forced to sell the Broad Street property. The house passed through several owners before Angus Stewart acquired the property and converted it into the Carolina Hotel. Archibald Mackenzie acquired the hotel in 1852 and in 1867 leased it to Amarinthia Yates Snowden, and her sister Isabell S. Snowden for the Home for Mothers, Widows and Daughters of Confederate Soldiers. The Confederate Home purchased the property in 1874 and added a section with a cantilevered piazza. They also took over the U.S. Court facilities in the rear.

The entire complex was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1886. E. R. Rutledge, a New York architect, supervised remodeling in a Victorianized version of the Second Empire style. According to the News and Courier, the slate mansard roof with dormers decorated with galvanized iron made the home “one of the finest architectural attractions in the city.” Renovations were financed with contributions from the United States, England and Scotland. A plaque commemorating that generosity is on the façade of the building.

Since inception, the Confederate Home has housed and educated more than 2,000 girls and cared for 211 impoverished widows and mothers. Early in the 20th century, dormitories were converted into apartments and elegant period rooms were made available for private parties. The Confederate Home board continues to support its educational mission by providing college scholarships to qualified young people. For more information, contact:

My appreciation goes out to Robert Stockton, Barbara Zimmerman and Marge Palmer for contributing to this article.

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