Meeting Street Memories: Robert Hazlehurst House — 10 Meeting Street
By Peg Eastman
After Charleston’s economic recovery from the War of 1812, lower Meeting St was being developed for elegant residential homes. In 1817, Robert Hazlehurst purchased the lot at No. 10 from Robert Hayne, champion of nullification in the famous Hayne-Webster debates in the U.S. Senate. He built a typical Charleston single house with the entrance on the south side of the piazzas on the first floor. It was a spacious eight-room dwelling complete with a well and large cistern under the house. A brick kitchen and washhouse were built behind the main house.
The Hazlehurst family emigrated from Manchester, England prior to the Revolutionary War. Isaac, the founding émigré, engaged in mercantile pursuits. His younger brother Robert later joined him. During the war, the Hazlehursts were among the influential men who associated with Robert Morris in support of the fledgling government. Their business prospered to such an extent that they were able to purchase vessels and decided to open a branch office in Charleston.
The younger Hazlehurst moved to Charleston about 1783 and established the firm Robert Hazlehurst & Company; he was among the 70 men who founded the Charleston Chamber of Commerce in 1784.
In 1788 when he was 33, Robert married Lois Hall, daughter of George Abbott Hall, one of the political prisoners who were exiled to St. Augustine after the British occupied Charleston in 1781.
George Abbott Hall had married into the Carolina landed aristocracy. His wife’s great grandfather had been the controversial proprietary governor, Robert Gibbes, whose lineage can be traced all the way back to 1574. In 1719, the governor’s son, Col. John Gibbes, married Mary Woodward, the daughter of the beloved explorer and Indian agent Henry Woodward. Their daughter Sarah married John Matthewes in 1741.
John and Sarah Matthewes had four children. Son John served in the legislative bodies of the colony, the state and as governor. The daughters married well: Elizabeth married Thomas Heyward, Jr., signer of the Declaration of Independence, another married Godin Guèrard and Lois married George Abbott Hall.
The Halls were wed in in Stono at St. Paul’s Parish in 1764. A year after their marriage, the young couple sailed to England with their infant daughter Elizabeth. Three more children were born by the time the young family returned to Charles Town in 1769.
Back in South Carolina, Hall became actively involved in local politics. His name was second on a list signed by citizens who refused to import British goods. When the Provincial Assembly formed a patriotic association, Hall was a committeeman and within four days, nearly every man in Charles Town had joined. From November 1, 1775 to March 26 of the following year, Hall was a member of the Second Provincial Congress of S.C. along with his brothers-in-law Thomas Heyward and John Matthewes.
Hall was on the commission to outfit and arm vessels and raise £100,000 for two artillery regiments, as well as outfitting three infantry regiments and a regiment of rangers. He also served in the S.C. General Assembly and was on a board to direct S.C. naval affairs. He was appointed to a committee to buy rice to raise money to purchase clothing for the troops. That same year, Hall was appointed to office of customs collector for the port of Charleston, a position which he held continuously until his death in 1791. He was also a captain in the First Battalion of S.C. militia and presided at a court marshall held in Thomas Heyward’s house on Church Street.
In May 1780, Charles Town fell into the hands of the British. Historian Edward McCrady stated that Charles Town was “the only city in America to endure a British siege during the war, and ruled by Balfour, an officer who reserved his valor for the oppression of defenseless men, unprotected women, and innocent children.” By then, John Matthewes was safely in Philadelphia, but his brothers-in-law did not fare so well.
Garden’s Anecdotes relates that after they had surrendered their swords and were given their parole, they were rudely accosted on the street by British officers who snatched the cockades from their hats and trampled them on the ground, “while they pelted the prisoners with filth and insulted them with ribaldry.”
Although the civil and military leaders of S.C. were supposed to have been guaranteed personal security, 65 prominent citizens were arrested and taken to St. Augustine, Florida.
Meanwhile, Hall’s was pregnant wife and seven children refugeed with her sister, Elizabeth Matthewes Heyward at the Heyward home on 87 Church Street. When the British ordered that the city celebrate the British victory at Gilford, Elizabeth Heyward refused. A British officer came to the door demanding that Mrs. Heyward place candles in the windows of her home.
“Can I celebrate your victory while my husband is a prisoner at St. Augustine?”
“That is of little consequence,” said the officer. “Greene is defeated and the last hopes of the rebellion are crushed; you shall illuminate.”
“Not a light,” was the reply.
“Then I will return and level your house to the ground.”
Elizabeth Heyward stood firm. The stress of this incident seriously affected her sister, who was expecting her 12th child, three having died previously. Lois Hall began to decline.
May 12,1781 was the anniversary of the capture of Charles Town and once again, the British gave orders for the city to celebrate and citizens to illuminate their homes. Again, the Heyward mansion remained dark. This time an unruly mob stormed the home “with brickbats and every species of nauseating trash that could offend or annoy” while trying to force entry. Inside, the violence took its toll. Lois Hall died in childbirth during the mayhem.
After the incident, the British apologized and offered to repair the damage, but the proud and bereaved Elizabeth Heyward refused their offer, preferring to have the damage remain as a visible testimony of the British failure to protect her home.
In the meantime, in Philadelphia, John Matthewes tried to get the political prisoners in St. Augustine released and Congress passed a bill authorizing an exchange. Unfortunately, the Continentals had British prisoners of inferior rank and it took several months to secure an exchange.
Upon his release, Hall was permitted to return to occupied Charleston due to his wife’s recent death. He gathered his grieving children and the beautiful Elizabeth Heyward and sailed to Philadelphia in a foul ship used to transport prisoners. They arrived some months later after a journey that must have been extremely difficult for everyone, especially young Elizabeth Hall, barely 16 when she was forced to assume care of her eight siblings, the youngest only a five month old infant.
On a more positive note, Elizabeth Heyward was honored by General Washington, who selected her as the Queen of Love and Beauty at a Philadelphia ball given in honor of the birth of the Dauphin of France. Sadly, the vicissitudes of British occupation caused her health to wane. She did not live long and died in Philadelphia in August 1782.
It is thought that her niece Elizabeth Hall met Robert Hazlehurst during the two years the family refugeed in Philadelphia, which induced Robert Hazlehurst to go into business in Charleston. The Hazlehurst’s life in Charleston coincided with the era of goodwill in the early 19th century. Robert Hazlehurst was prominent in the business community and was chosen as a vestryman at St. Michael’s Church. The couple had nine children, one of whom died in early childhood.
In 1824 the Hazlehursts sold their home on Meeting Street to the Middleton family and returned to Philadelphia to spend their last years in Burlington, New Jersey.
After the Civil War, 10 Meeting Street was used to house soldiers with enlisted men on the lower level, high ranking officers on the second floor and young, more athletic officers on the top floor.
1n 1915, the piazzas of 10 Meeting Street were enclosed and the entrance was moved to Meeting Street. During WWII, the house was used by the Navy, with offices on the first floor and accommodations above for the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), the women’s division of the Navy. By the 1940s and 50s, the building was fallen into neglect and had been vandalized by local children. It sold cheaply due its deplorable condition, but happily has been renovated since that time and is now a very desirable residence on lower Meeting Street
My appreciation to Robert Stockton and Renée Stewart for contributing to this article.
A Charlestonian by birth, Margaret (Peg) Middleton Rivers Eastman is actively involved in the preservation of Charleston’s rich cultural heritage. In addition to being a regular columnist for the Charleston Mercury she has published through McGraw Hill, The History Press, Evening Post Books, as well as in Carologue, a publication of the S.C. Historical Society.