Tag Archive | Revolutionary War

Book Review: Rush

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, by Stephen Fried

In my quest to learn more about the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution, I checked this out on audiobook.  I had really only heard Benjamin Rush’s name, and knew almost nothing about him.

Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father

Rush had a fascinating career in several roles central to the founding of the United States.  He earned the respect of Benjamin Franklin at a young age, who helped him get into the University of Edinburgh to complete his medical degree.  He already had a Bachelor of Arts degree (earned at the age of 14!) from the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton University.  He had also apprenticed in the medical field for several years.

Rush was a prolific writer and wrote extensively both on medical subjects and the politics of the day.  His work as a doctor for many of the members of the Continental Congress opened the door for his own election into the Congress.  He was one of the youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence.  During the Revolutionary War, he was appointed to serve as the surgeon-general for Washington’s Continental Army.  He did create some controversy, as he complained about his colleagues and wrote letters behind their backs, including letters critical of General Washington.

After the war, Rush continued working as a physician and he taught at Pennsylvania Hospital.  He was a pioneer in the fields of medical illness and addiction and was also one of the first people to discuss Savant Syndrome.  However, he was also criticized, especially in later years, for holding on to the ideas of bloodletting and the use of purgatives.

The book is a comprehensive biography of his life and explores his career, his political writings, and his relationships with friends and family in great detail.  I thought Fried did a good job balancing the positive and negative aspects of Rush’s actions and personality.  And I learned so much about this less-known Founding Father.

3 stars.

Circus Trip 2018: Boston Freedom Trail, Pt.1

Day 56, Sunday, September 9, 2018
Boston Freedom Trail, Boston, Massachusetts

One of the places that I most wanted to see on my trip was Boston.  There is so much history there, and I had never been!  Well maybe I went once with my family when I was really little, but I don’t remember it… But I was also nervous about driving in this big city that is notorious for its bad traffic.  I decided to give it a go, and woke up early on a Sunday morning to head in.  I set my GPS for Boston Common, which has a visitor’s center where I could get my bearings.  The first parking garage where I had planned to park was full, due to a race that morning, so I found another in the area – $25 for the whole day – that’s not bad for a big city.

I found the Visitor’s Center and purchased a guidebook to the Boston Freedom Trail for $7 and a walking tour for $13 or $14.  I had a bit of time before the walking tour started, so it was finally time to settle my big city nerves.  Dunkin Donuts was the perfect place for a bagel breakfast sandwich and a coffee!

The tour guide was a older gentleman in period costume (and in character!) as a British Officer.  The tour did the first 11 stops of the Freedom Trail, and it was so informative and interesting!  We got to see some of Boston’s oldest cemeteries, the churches where many of our founding fathers worshiped, the site of the Boston Massacre, and more!

Follow along with me!

Stop 1 – Boston Common

Boston Common is America’s oldest park; established in 1634, it long predates the independence of the United States.  It is also probably one of America’s first public projects, with each homeowner paying six shillings to fund the 30 pounds required to buy the Common’s 44 acres from the first settler in the area, William Blackstone.  Until 1830, the common was used to graze local livestock, with livestock owners chipping in to collectively pay a town shepherd.

In 1775, Boston Common was the camp of the Redcoats during the British occupation of Boston.

More recently, in addition to it still being a public park, it has been the site of rallies and celebrations, including hosting speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr, and Charles Lindbergh, as well as civil rights and anti-war rallies.  For Boston’s large Catholic population, Boston Common was the site of a mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in 1979.

Strangely, I didn’t take any real pictures of Boston Common.

Stop 2 – Massachusetts State House

This impressive building with a golden dome was designed by Charles Bulfinch, and completed on January 11, 1798.  The land with the state house is situated was once John Hancock’s cow pasture.  Initially the dome was made of wood, but was covered with copper by Paul Revere; the gold leaf wasn’t added until 1874.  At the very top of the dome is a gilded pine cone, honoring the state’s reliance on logging in the 18th century.  Interestingly, during World War II the dome was painted gray, due to blackout orders.

This stunning building still houses the senators, state representatives and governor who conduct the daily business of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Stop 3 – Park Street Church

Built in 1809, the Park Street Church is the home of the Trinitarian Congregational church.  The church became known for its support of abolitionist causes after William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first anti-slavery speech on July 4, 1829.  Another fun fact – the song America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) was first sung from the steps of the Park Street Church.  The church continues to hold weekly congregational services today.

Stop 4 – Granary Burying Ground

The Granary Burying Ground was established in 1660, named for the huge grain storage building that was once next door, and it is Boston proper’s third oldest burying ground.  Although there are 2,345 markers, it is estimated that about 5,000 people were buried here.  There are many notables buried here, including three singers of the Declaration on Independence; Robert Treat Paine, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock.  Paul Revere is buried towards the rear of the cemetery, and Benjamin Franklin’s parents have a centrally located obelisk.  There is an infants tomb, where hundreds of children have been interred.  And last but not least, the five victims of the Boston Massacre are buried here: Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell and Patrick Carr.

You will notice that the stones are neatly placed in lines.  This was not how the cemetery was originally arranged.  In fact, many of the headstones have been rearranged in order to make it easier for the lawnmower to get through.  So take the actual gravesites with a grain of salt here!

The Puritans made up a large part of Boston’s population in the days when the Granary Burying Ground was actively being used, and they didn’t mark their gravestones with religious icons.  Instead, skulls and crossbones and other imagery is popular here.  I liked Captain John Decoster’s stone; he died in 1770 at the age of 26.  In addition to the skull with wings, his stone was engraved with this interesting quote, “Stop here my Friend & Cast an Eye; as you are now so Once was i; as i am now so you must be; Prepare for Death & Follow me.”  He has a point!

It was here as we were milling around looking at headstones, when I was approached by a young woman who was also on the tour alone.  She introduced herself as Clara, and she was in Boston from Singapore for a training for her new job.  She asked if I was going to be touristing after the end of the tour, and if so, would I mind if she tagged along!  Absolutely!  It was nice to meet a friend who was interested in history, and have someone to chat with and share the day!

 

Circus Trip 2018: Fort Stanwix NM

Day 46, Thursday, August 30, 2018

Fort Stanwix National Monument, Rome, New York

Construction of Fort Stanwix was begun in 1758 and completed in 1762.  This star-shaped fort was built to protect the British interests at a well-used portage known as the Oneida Carry during the French and Indian War.  What’s a portage you ask?  When goods are being transported by water (especially rivers) there are times when the goods have to be hauled overland in order to get around some sort of obstacle (often a waterfall) along the water route.  It’s along these portages that the goods being transported and the people transporting them are most vulnerable to attack, so that’s where Fort Stanwix came in.

In 1768, the British and the Iroquois signed a peace treaty, to establish boundary lines between the tribal lands and white settlements.  However, the two sides did not include the other area tribes in the negotiations, so it actually inflamed hostilities, which would make things more challenging for both the British and the colonists later on.

In 1776, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the colonists occupied the fort, and set about rebuilding it.  They also renamed it Fort Schuyler.  Of course, the British weren’t ready to let the colonists go quite so easily, and began a siege of the fort.  Fortunately for the colonists, the British siege was not successful!

In 1781, the fort burned down and was not rebuilt.  The site was designated as a National Monument on August 21, 1935, but it wasn’t until 1974 that construction began on a replica fort.  In 1978, it was completed, and now about 85,000 people visit each year.

There is a dry moat around the fort and it was interesting to enter and see inside the star-shaped fort.  There is an informative movie about the history of the fort and the engagements that occurred there, and then you have a chance to wander and see the different areas of the fort.

There is a parade ground, living quarters, a magazine, and more!  I enjoyed checking it out!

After Fort Stanwix, I had a beer and a snack at the Copper City Brewing Company.  The Pete’s Pale Gansevoort Ale was a great way to relax a bit before I set off to find my next home for the night!

Home was a campground in Saratoga Springs that was hands down the weirdest campground of my trip.  It was a marina, with a very rough section of dilapidated trailers and other detritus, with some boats in the small marina.  Clearly this was home for many of these campers.  The campground for temporary campers was a field – drive through and pick your spot.  There were picnic tables randomly scattered throughout, with seemingly no rhyme or reason as to their placement.  And the bathroom – that’s another story!  This was the only shower that I said no to during my entire trip!  Not with my flip flops would I step in there!  Hard Pass!  EWWW!!!  But it was cheap, and I did have a nice chat with a woman who traveled a lot in her RV with her dogs…  It’s not a road trip without some good stories right?

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Fort Niagara

Day 44, Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Fort Niagara State Historic Park, Youngstown, New York

Fort Niagara has a history of white colonial settlement that spans over 300 years.

The first fort on this site was established by the French in 1679; they named it Fort Conti, and it wasn’t occupied for long.  The French returned again to establish Fort Denonville between 1687 and 1688.  It wasn’t until 1726 that the first permanent structure was built; a stone building known as the French Castle that still stands on site today!  Additional structures were built between 1756 and 1758.  In 1759 the British gained control of the fort during the French and Indian War, and it was British until the Revolutionary War was won, and the Americans were the proud new owners of Fort Niagara.

Of course, the British weren’t known for giving up so easily and they briefly reconquered Fort Niagara between 1813 and 1815, during the perhaps not-so-aptly named War of 1812.  The Americans got it back at the end of the War of 1812, and Fort Niagara never saw combat again.

 

The Fort did continue operating as a peaceful border post, and American troops were stationed here during the Civil War.  It was common during the early years of the Civil War to parole enemy troops, with the condition that they not return to fighting for a year.  The parolees at Fort Niagara were put to work building stuff.  Troops were trained here during both World Wars as well, and the last troops were finally withdrawn in 1963.  Since then, the Coast Guard is the only military branch that is on site.

 

Of course, Native Americans from the Seneca tribe were in the area long before the Europeans came along.  The Seneca was using the area around Fort Niagara as a seasonal hunting and fishing camp through the 1600s.

While I was there, I got to explore the buildings, and I also got to see both a cannon firing and a musket firing demonstration!  Apparently they used to lob tennis balls into the water when they did the cannon firing demonstrations, but the Canadian government asked them to stop, so now the demonstration does not include a projectile.  That’s better for the environment!

 

This was such a cool place to visit!

 

Book Review: Valiant Ambition

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the fate of the American Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick

Despite being very interested in history, I haven’t spent much time on the Revolutionary War. Maybe it is the stockings… or the wigs… both things I have a long-standing aversion to. Just ask my mom about the time when they dressed me up as Princess Leia in Star Wars, complete with the funny buns on the side of my head. I was about five, and I don’t have much hair, so she did the hairstyle with a wig. Which I removed and refused to put back on about two houses up the street. Times have not changed…

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution

But anyway, back to the book. As one might now have guessed, this is a book about the Revolutionary War. It weaves its way through various parts of the war, from Washington’s struggles at the beginning, to Benedict Arnold’s glorious victories early on, to later events where Washington changes his strategy and starts seeing success. And of course, it recounts Benedict Arnold’s eventual treason and defection to the British Army.

It is a fascinating overview of the long years of the war, hitting several highlights for the Northern, Central and Southern corps of the Continental Army (they were called something else, but you get the gist). It tells the story through the perspective of several officers on both sides of the conflict: Washington, Arnold, Gates, Cornwallis, the Marquis de Lafayette, as well as weaving in stories of some of the soldiers who were fighting on the front line.

While Philbrick follows a generally chronological timeline, he does bounce forward and back some as he shifts between storylines. The reader should also be aware that the book is not intended to be a complete history of the Revolutionary War, with Philbrick covering some portions and leaving others out entirely. Of course, a comprehensive history would be far outside the scope of one book, but he does seem to pick and choose which events he portrays, and some seem less relevant that others. I say that even knowing that the book is focused on Washington and Arnold…  That said, it is a worthwhile read that gave me a good general overview of some of the major points in the war that founded our country.

Extra points for the fact that the audio-book was read by Scott Brick, one of my favorite readers!

3 Stars.

Circus Trip 2018: George Rogers Clark NHP

Day 26, Friday, August 10, 2018

Vincennes, Indiana

George Rogers Clark was born in 1752 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  He was the second of ten children, the youngest of whom gained greater fame than he did; William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

George Rogers Clark Memorial Building – built 1931 -1933

George Rogers Clark went to live with his grandfather as a child, and received very little formal education, but he was trained as a surveyor.  He left home for the frontier at age 19, surveying the wilderness and learning about the natural history and the lives and customs of the various Native American tribes.  So why does he have a whole National Historical Park dedicated to him?

Well, Clark joined the Virginia militia at the age of 22, and set about making a name for himself.  He presented a plan to Virginia Governor Patrick Henry to capture British forts and outposts north of the Ohio River, in an attempt to destroy the influence of the British among the tribes there.  Without their alliances with the tribes the British would have less control over the frontier area, therefore giving the Americans a better chance at success.  Henry went for the plan, and in the spring of 1778, Clark’s party of men set out to begin their secret mission.

Clark met with little resistance along the way, capturing Kaskaskia in present day Illinois in July 1778, Cahokia the next day, and Vincennes in August.  Hamilton, the British Lieutenant Governor who commanded the British forces in the area, recaptured the garrison in Vincennes in December 1778 and renamed it Fort Sackville.

Clark didn’t like being bested, so he planned a daring overland march and assault on the fort to recapture it.  The only problem was that in February of 1779, much of the winter ice had melted due to an unusual warm thaw, and flooding meant that the troops were not really marching, but wading through cold floodwaters up to their necks.  Add to that that the floodwaters meant that their supplies were delayed, so this unpleasant march was done without much in the way of food and dry provisions.  Crazy!

Clark and his men left Kaskaskia on February 6, 1779 and arrived at Fort Sackville in Vincennes on February 23, a trip of just under 200 miles.  Their siege on Fort Sackville didn’t take long and the British surrendered on February 25, and they captured Hamilton!  Clark was considered a hero for his daring feat of bravery, even more so because his exploits were without formally supported with supplies and funds from the regular Army.

Unfortunately for Clark, he had borrowed money on his own to finance the campaign, and ultimately, neither Virginia nor the federal government would reimburse him for his expenses.  He received a large tract of frontier land in present-day Indiana, but had to give much of it to friends and family to protect it from creditors, and ultimately ended up penniless because what was seized by those same creditors wasn’t enough to pay off his debts.

A stroke in 1809 finally did him in; he fell into a fire in his cabin and the injuries to his leg required amputation.  He survived the amputation, but was unable to live independently any longer.  He moved in with his sister and her family near Louisville, Kentucky.  The United States finally granted him a pension in 1812; he received $400 per year for his service.  He suffered another stroke and died in 1818.  He is buried at the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

The George Rogers Clark Memorial Rotunda was built on what is believed to be the site of what was once Fort Sackville between 1931 and 1933; the interior features a more than life-size statue of Clark on an impressive pedestal, and seven murals depicting his campaign in the wilderness, his capture of Fort Sackville, and the history after the territory became part of the United States.

It is beautifully painted and very detailed.  You can read more about the murals and the history here.

The Visitor’s Center is small, and contains a few artifacts from the time period.  It also has a movie of the events.  The real draw is the Memorial Rotunda and its murals. The Visitor’s Center is open until 5, but the memorial closes at 4:45pm, so be sure to factor that in.  145,596 people visited in 2011, so it isn’t a heavily traveled historical park, but it is interesting to see.

Just down the street is the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, the first Catholic Cathedral in Indiana.  It was built in 1826 and is the third Catholic church on the site; the previous two were log cabin, frontier style churches.

St. Francis Xavier Cathedral – built 1826

The cathedral was closed when I visited, but there is a cemetery with graves of early settlers and a grotto with the Virgin Mary.  The Old Cathedral “French and Indian” Cemetery, active between 1750 and 1846, contains the graves of some 4,000 souls, including some of the men that Clark led during his assaults on the British forts, as well as other Revolutionary War soldiers and settlers.  The graves are mostly unmarked, but a few of the remaining stones have been moved along a short walkway that leads to a large Crucifix.  It is quite peaceful there.

This was a portion of our history that I knew nothing about, and although the National Park Service leaves out the parts about Clark’s later troubles, it is an informative look at his important military exploits.  It was certainly worth the time!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Boston

I had been wanting to see Boston. A lot. But I was so nervous about driving in the big city and I have heard it is a nightmare! But I wanted to see Boston!

Since today was Sunday, I figured I might have a chance. I got up early, I put my game face on and I did it. The first parking garage I had the GPS set for was full because there was some sort of running race. I saw lots of runners with numbers but thankfully didn’t run into any of the closed streets.

After circling the block twice I got my bearings better and found a better parking garage for my Boston Common destination. Winning at life!!

I did a tour of the Freedom Trail all day. In the morning on one of the guided walking tours, and in the afternoon with my new friend Clara, whom I met on the guided tour. I had so much fun!!

We ate lobster rolls for lunch, wandered to all the sites, climbed to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, saw Faneuil Hall, toured Paul Revere’s house, toured the USS Constitution, and finished off the day with amazing cannoli, tiramisu and cheesecake from Mike’s Pastries.

I had to drive back to camp in the dark, but that meant that the traffic wasn’t bad at all! What an amazing day!!

Book Review: Alexander Hamilton

Wow – this book is a comprehensive digest of Alexander Hamilton’s life.  Written by Ron Chernow, it begins with his childhood in the British West Indies – the city of Charlestown on the island of Nevis.  It goes into detail on the troubled life of his mother and his illegitimate birth, to his rise to fame in the budding United States Government.

Hamilton was a genius, clearly, and in many ways a man of contradictions.

Hamilton was taken in by a wealthy merchant after his mother died, and was sent to the United States as a teenager to pursue his education.  It was there that he volunteered for the Continental Army, became a top aide to General Washington, and set his life on a trajectory that made him one of the most influential and polarizing of the Founding Fathers.

George Washington had a lot of respect for his young aide’s opinions and advice, and the two developed a long-standing friendship that was interrupted only once by Hamilton’s impulsive distancing of himself for a period of time in order to pursue his career – he wanted to get into the action of the war, and Washington felt he was invaluable as an aide.

Hamilton was very influential in getting the US Constitution ratified, which wasn’t an easy process.  He was Secretary of the Treasury in the Washington cabinet, and was responsible for the founding of the national banking system, and many of the economic policies of the Washington Administration.  He was a founding member of the Federalist Party.  He implemented tariffs to raise money to cover the debts remaining from the Revolutionary War, and wrote the Federalist Papers, which shaped opinions on many government and economic topics.

It isn’t any secret that Hamilton died in perhaps the most famous duel in history.  Which is interesting, because his son died in a duel, fought with the same dueling pistols, a few years previously.  After that duel, Hamilton was open about his changing opinion about dueling.   Yet when he was challenged by Burr, he still couldn’t bring himself to step away – instead he further inflamed the feud.

Chernow goes into great detail about Hamilton’s life, both personal and professional.  It is clear that he has done his research, and he is fairly candid about Hamilton’s flaws.  In my opinion he does let his pro-Hamilton, anti-Jefferson-Adams-Madison-Burr bias show a smidge more than he ought to.  It did serve to highlight how divisive our Founding Fathers really were.  Which is probably good to remember when we consider the current political sentiment.

This is an excellent read – and Chernow’s style kept me interested even through a lot of dry detail on banking, political wrangling over the location of the capital, and other similar topics.  It is well researched, well written, and shed a lot of light on a statesman I had never explored much before.  It was certainly a worthwhile read.

 

Virginia 2015: Yorktown

Day 11: Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Near Jamestowne is another site that is part of the Colonial National Historical Park, best known for being where the United States won her independence.  Yorktown was where the Revolutionary War ended!

Yorktown was a prosperous trading port during the 17th century; it shipped tobacco and other trade goods back to England.  Incoming freight included household goods, wine and liquor, firearms, and slaves.  The town has a lower section near the water, where warehouses and shops were built, and an upper portion at the top of the bluff where residents established fine homes.

A sailing ship at Yorktown

A sailing ship at Yorktown

It continued to prosper until 1781, when George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau with a combination of American and French troops, chose Yorktown as the site of their now famous siege of the British troops, led by General Charles Cornwallis.  Washington planned diversionary tactics to make it look like the Americans were planning their siege on New York, and then moved troops down to Virginia to get ready for the siege at Yorktown.  Meanwhile, Washington coordinated with Comte de Grasse of the French Army to provide a naval blockade of the Chesapeake Bay, to block Cornwallis’ escape.

A trench and cannon at Yorktown

A trench and cannon at Yorktown

The American and French troops began to surround Yorktown on September 28, 1781.  While they were establishing their positions, the British kept up a strong bombardment of the positions, trying to prevent the Americans from becoming entrenched.  The siege began on October 14, 1781, and the American and French troops built a series of trenches from which to bombard Yorktown, progressively moving their lines closer to the town.  The siege didn’t last long – on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis could see that he was out of options and surrendered to Washington.

Casualties numbered 88 killed and 301 wounded for the American and French forces; the British had 156 killed, 326 wounded and 70 missing.  Ultimately, Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 troops in Yorktown and another 804 British sailors.

Interestingly, the American government authorized a monument to be built commemorating the siege at Yorktown right after it ended, but the money to pay for the monument wasn’t appropriated for another 100 years.  This sounds familiar!

The monument at Yorktown - erected 1881.

The monument at Yorktown – erected 1881.

 

A pretty bird at Yorktown - I have no idea what kind.

A pretty bird at Yorktown – I have no idea what kind.

We wandered around the site and checked out the historic homes that remain from the period; there are some original homes and some that have been reconstructed.  There are typically signs outside that mark which are which.  We were able to tour the Nelson house, which was built around 1730.  Thomas Nelson, Jr., who owned the home during the Revolutionary War, was in the Continental Army and participated in the siege of Yorktown.  It is believed that he ordered the bombardment of his own house during the siege!  The Nelson House is mostly original, with period and reproduction furniture inside.

The Nelson House - built 1730 - Georgian Architectural Style

The Nelson House – built 1730 – Georgian Architectural Style

Yorktown was also the site of fighting during the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War, and a National Cemetery was established there in 1866; there are a total of 2204 burials there, of which 1,436 are unknown.

The Medical Shop at Yorktown

The Medical Shop at Yorktown

We were getting tired though at that point, and still had a drive ahead of us, so we elected not visit the lower town area or the cemetery.  We crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge – wow, that is an impressive structure!  For those of you who haven’t been on it, it is a 23 mile span of both bridge and tunnel that connects Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  It was long!  At the very end of the bridge, as we were getting close to the mainland of the Eastern Shore, I saw two dolphins playing in the water!  I didn’t get pics, but it was awesome to see!

We reached our next destination, Chincoteague Island, a little after sunset and checked into our hotel.  We were tired, and decided to only venture next door for dinner.  We went to the Jackspot restaurant, where we split a half dozen oysters on the half shell – four Salts and two Sewansecotts.  The Sewansecotts were my favorite!  I had the Rockfish with a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and Jon had the Swordfish with an El Guapo Virginia IPA.  Our meals were delicious, and the presentation was beautiful!

My Rockfish at Jackspot - so delicious!

My Rockfish at Jackspot – so delicious!

Before turning in for the night, we sat on the balcony of our hotel room listening to the crickets, waves and wind through the seagrass.  It was a great end to a good day.

Driving Distance for Day 11: 161 miles – Williamsburg, VA – Historic Jamestowne – Yorktown Battlefield – Chincoteague Island, VA

Entrance Fee:  Yorktown Battlefield is free with your receipt from Historic Jamestowne ($7), or free if you have a National Parks Pass.

Hotel for the night: The Fairfield Inn on Chincoteague Island – excellent!

The Grand Tour – Day 4 – Charleston (Mid-day)

When I last left you, I had wanted to tour the Edmonton-Alston house, but it was still 2 hours before it opened its doors for the day.  So instead, we made our way over to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, which was one of the attractions that Jon wanted to visit.  This building was built on the waterfront between 1768 and 1771.  It was originally built as an Exchange and Customs House, on the site of a former building which served as the community jail (Charleston officials housed the pirates in that former building before they executed Stede Bonnet and others at White Point Garden in December 1718).  In 1791, George Washington visited the Exchange while on a week-long visit to Charleston.  He addressed the townspeople from the balcony, and they held a ball in the ballroom there in his honor.  It’s pretty neat to know you are standing in a room where George Washington dined and danced and gave speeches to the people. Southerners really liked George, as you’ll see in my upcoming post on Savannah, where he also visited during his Presidency.  The ballroom upstairs is beautiful and well lit, with the original floors and beautiful windows with original glass panes.

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon – Built 1768 to 1771 – Palladian Architectural Style

The Ballroom at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon – George Washington Danced Here!

The ballroom also housed an interesting exhibit on George Washington and the time period in which he lived.  The exhibit was set up on panels, with all sorts of information.  Normally I find that museum exhibits don’t give me enough detail, but this exhibit you could spend hours reading!  Kudos to the curators!  Unfortunately, we were getting a little hungry, so my body wouldn’t allow for all the reading I wanted to do.  I skimmed…

An Exhibit on the First Floor of the Old Exchange

One of the most fascinating parts is the basement of the building, for several reasons.  It is in complete contrast to the second floor ballroom.  Built of brick with natural arches, it has withstood almost 250 years of hurricanes and the only earthquake to hit the south (in 1886), somewhere between a 6.6 and a 7.3 on the Ritcher Scale.  But it is dark, with an uneven brick floor and a palpable dampness.  The windows down there are small and barred.  The basement also served as the dungeon, and housed both male and female prisoners together, in deplorable conditions.  Similar to most prisons of the time period, many prisoners died of disease.  Due to the high death rate in the prison, the dungeon is said to be haunted by spirits who make the lights swing back and forth and rattle the chains on the wall.  In reality, most prisoners were not chained to the wall though – they were allowed to wander around freely in the dungeon (although many were probably malnourished and sick, so they may not have felt much like walking around).  You would also be tripping over dozens of other prisoners if you tried to take a leisurely stroll.

Also, interestingly, during the Revolutionary War, the Americans moved all of their gunpowder from the regular powder magazine elsewhere in Charleston to the Exchange Building, where they bricked it up behind a wall in the dungeon to hide it from the occupying British.  Even though the British occupied Charleston for four years during the Revolution, and used the Exchange Building for their own troops and activities during that time, they never found the hidden gunpowder.

The tour of the dungeon is a little cheesy, with the docents dressed in period clothing, but they give some good information about the history of the building.  They showed us where excavations in the dungeon revealed where the original wall surrounding Charleston was (did you know Charleston was a walled city?)  Other “improvements” to the building include a staircase that was built from the dungeon to the first floor in the 1800s, but was cut off when they were doing the most recent excavation, because it blocked the view of the original town wall.  It is kind of a stairway to nowhere, like in the Winchester Mystery House!

After our visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, we asked the docent  where to eat.  She recommended the Blind Tiger Pub, which had also been recommended by the docent at the Robert Mills House in Columbia, SC, who had lived in Charleston before moving to Columbia.  We decided to check it out.  The food was fantastic – I had a Greek Gyro with fried okra, and Jon had the spicy blackened Triggerfish with blueberries and mango salsa, and served with fresh fruit.  The history of the building was also very neat too.  The building was built in 1803, and over the years, it served as a haberdashery, restaurant and pub, and was even a speakeasy during Prohibition.  Legend says that parlors opened during Prohibition where patrons could pay an admission fee to see the mythical Blind Tiger, and also get some complimentary cocktails while they were there.  Something tells me the authorities might have known what was going on…  The Blind Tiger had a neat historic pressed tin ceiling and nice historic detailing.  The service was fast and the server friendly, and it would have been nice to be around for their Happy Hour!  But no, we still had a lot of sightseeing to do – no time for slacking!

Triggerfish and Fresh Fruit at the Blind Tiger Pub