Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Charleston Heats Up

Cannon smoke and live oaks.
by Edmund F. “Ned” Brown, IV (photography by Marni Rothschild Pictures and Christina Baxter)

This past weekend typified many of the great qualities about Charleston, South Carolina: tradition, community, fun and some misbehavior gratis of Governor Sanford. July 28th was the two hundredth and twenty-third anniversary of the Battle of Fort Sullivan, the first Revolutionary conflict the American forces won over tremendous odds. Remembering the event is celebrated heartily each as Carolina Day. And coinciding with the Carolina Day weekend was the HarborFest, which brought many of the tall ships from around the world.

On the community side, hundreds of Charlestonians from all walks of life, white and black, celebrated the life of local (and internationally famous) artist, Philip Simmons, whose artistic media was wrought iron, and who passed away last week at the age of 97.

And while my good friend, Carol Joynt, has already expounded on the extracurricular activities of Governor Sanford in NYSD, I will pass along some brief local observations regarding the matter.
Preparing for the march.
Resting up before the parade. A young parade participant.
Two generations of the DAR. William Allen Marshall and son.
The annual celebration of Carolina Day is more about the spirit of Charleston than the event that took place over two centuries ago. The day typifies the city’s pride, independence and confidence. In March 1776, South Carolina Governor, John Rutledge, ordered the construction of Fort Sullivan at the mouth of Charleston harbor to protect the city from advancing British troops. He put in charge South Carolina Regiment commander Col. William Moultrie.

In June of 1776 the British ships arrived and lurked off the Charleston coast. At the same time, the Continental Army dispatched General Charles Lee to take control of the defense of Charleston. Lee was an early soldier for hire, fought for various nations throughout the world, and nominally made Virginia his home just three years prior to the Revolutionary War. Upon Lee’s arrival in Charleston, he quickly ridiculed Fort Sullivan as puny, ill-constructed and ineffectual; he also managed to insult just about all of polite Charleston society. Charlestonians, in typical fashion, readily reciprocated.
Bagpipers leading the parade.
Laying of a wreath by Cal Stephens.
When General Lee ordered Fort Sullivan to be vacated, Governor Rutledge advised Lee that he had no authority over the South Carolina Regiment and that Moultrie and his men would stay put, a first strike for Charleston independence. When Lee countered that Fort Sullivan would be pulverized by the fifty guns on each of the five British warships, Moultrie essentially responded, “we’ll see” — a strike for Charleston confidence.

On June 28, 1776 starting at 9:00 a.m. and continuing for nine hours, the British warships fired non-stop upon Fort Sullivan.
A Color guard member. Giving the command to fire.
The cannon salutes.
The British cannonballs were absorbed by either the soft palmetto wood logs used to construct the walls of the fort or sank into the mud. At the end of the nine hours, and after the five British warships sustained heavy damage from Colonel Moultrie’s men, the British ships retreated. The newly formed United States had secured its first victory in the war, and surprisingly with no help from General Lee and his troops.

After the battle, General Lee ventured from his safe quarters across the harbor to Fort Sullivan. Colonel Moultrie who had been suffering from a painful case of gout was sitting with boots and socks off when General Lee arrived. He made no effort to rise or get dressed. Charlestonians to this day take great pride and delight in their heroes’ victory at Fort Sullivan, the ineffectiveness of the outsider, General Lee, and Colonel Moultrie’s casual greeting and snub of General Lee.
Phillip Middleton (foreground).
Alfred Gaillard Pinckney and Henry Burnett Fishburne, Jr. Thomas Sumter Tisdale, Jr.
The annual Carolina Day parade starts at Washington Park in the center of town and proceeds for six blocks to the tip of the Charleston peninsula at White Point Garden. The parade comprises forty-eight local societies and organizations — the oldest being the St. Andrew’s Society of 1729.

The parade brings out the ethnic, historical and religious diversity that is so much of Charleston’s history: the German Friends Society of 1766, the Society of the Cincinnati (Revolutionary War officer descendants) of 1783, the Hebrew Benevolent Society of 1786 and the Hibernian Society of 1789 to name a few. Descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence partook (Heyward, Rutledge and Middleton) as well as other colonial descendants from the families of Sumter, Grimball, Pinckney, Fishburne and Brailsford (Moultrie) to name a few.

The event concluded at White Point Garden with the laying of wreaths, remarks on the historical significance of the day and a cannon salute by the Waccamaw Light Artillery brigade.
Pride of Baltimore II (U.S.A.).
Mircea (Romania).
Kruzenshtern (Russia) with broken front mast.
Philip Simmons, artist and Charleston citizen extraordinaire, died last week at age 97. World renowned for his work with wrought iron, fences and gates made with Simmons’ hands throughout the city, he was profiled in the media around the world. It was nearly impossible to write about the character of Charleston and not mention Philip Simmons.

His wrought iron works are not only in Charleston, but at the Smithsonian, and he is featured in the popular book, “Charleston Blacksmith.”
Philip Simmons.
Simmons, who at age eight left nearby Daniel Island (once owned by the Guggenheim family) to attend school in Charleston and seek his fortune. Simmons single-handedly kept alive a craft that had been part of Charleston since the 1730s. Over the years, he patiently trained many apprentices and disciples.
Hundreds of white ribbon bows adorned the wrought iron fences and gates throughout Charleston in honor of Philip Simmons.
Last Friday evening during a memorial service and Saturday during his funeral, hundreds of people came from around the country to celebrate Simmons’ life at the municipal Gaillard Auditorium. While Simmons became famous for his artwork, he was loved for his personality. As one Charleston Councilperson noted, “he was just a fine man.” And in a fitting tribute by all those who loved Simmons, hundreds of white ribbon bows adorned the wrought iron fences and gates throughout Charleston.

Jenny Sanford and her boys.
And finally, a few local observations about South Carolina’s wayward Governor or as one Charleston matron noted, “Well, I guess another dog has wandered off the porch.” The real news is how the state and the media have rallied around Sanford’s wife, Jenny, and their four sons. The first lady of South Carolina is smart, strong-willed and devoted to her family. A “stand by your man” during the Governor’s rambling press conference last week she would not do. As one of Mrs. Sanford’s friends said to me, “Victimhood is not Jenny’s thing.”

Devotion to family is Jenny Sanford’s number 1 priority. After her husband’s press conference, Jenny Sanford had her own sit-down with reporters. She said that she was hurt by the incident and asked that she and her children be left alone for awhile. She made it clear that she did not care a whit about her husband’s political future- it was not a priority. And third, she remarked that there was a road to forgiveness.

However, redemption and reconstruction would be difficult and entirely up to her husband. In the end, and despite a state being ashamed of their governor’s behavior, they were intensely proud of their first lady, who in a time of pain, stood for her family. The editorials have been unanimous in their praise for Jenny Sanford.


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