Reckoning in Charleston


Reckoning in Charleston

The Above Calhoun historical walking tour starts at Kudu Coffee at 4 Vanderhorst right off King Street. I could talk about Charleston’s history for hours right at this corner. It is close to Marion Square, the old Citadel, the German Lutheran Church, the Francis Marion Hotel and even the new multi-million dollar Bennett Hotel. The hotel sits on the site of the old ‘pink birthday cake’ public library, and past home to the Charleston Police Station.

This corner is the cornerstone of the historic suburb of Radcliffeburough. One of the older houses in the neighborhood is just a little west of here. 8 Vanderhorst, known as the ‘West Indies house’ and is one of the oldest home in the neighborhood.

Next door is the Irish Volunteers Armory, well, the front facade at least. The building was destroyed during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. This has always been the entranceway to this neighborhood for me.

One the tallest steeples in Charleston at the Lutheran Church casts its long shadow. Here is the cornerstone of its historical past, so to speak.

A place to understand its beginnings and early rise. A place to have a reckoning with Charleston’s connection with slavery.

An intersection of old and new, black and white, commerce and planting above Boundary street (later renamed Calhoun) in the 19th Century.

It is with great joy and pleasure to begin historical walking tours of Radcliffeborough near this corner of Charleston.

Experience it for yourself!

Each tour is 1.5 hours long. Join our registered guide and discover Charleston's history.

An admission ticket to the Charleston Museum is included with your tour ticket.

Looking south at the corner of King and Vanderhorst. The tall building in the background is the Francis Marion Hotel right of Calhoun Street. The trees on the left are in Marion Square. The Bennett Hotel, on the left is finishing construction. The German Evangelical Church towers above. Photo by author.
Looking west from the corner of King and Vanderhorst. Kudu Coffee in the background. The white wall before the sign is the lovely courtyard. Our tours start here. You can find your guide drinking coffee here before the tour, come early. Photo by author.

Turning the corner:  the Radcliffe-Amair Building

On the corner of Vanderhorst and King is 409 King. Its refurbishment hides the fact that it was built in the early 19th century. The building was built in 1808 by Lucretia  Ratcliffe[viii].

Lucretia was the wife, and sadly by 1808, the widow of Thomas Radcliffe. They are the founders of Radcliffeburough. In Charleston, one is attracted to the lines and stylings of a building without even knowing its history. I began to become enamored with this historic suburb above Calhoun.   All around the city, this happens to me. Especially the often overlooked homes and retail establishments of the Neck or Upper King Street area. This white building is mainly remarkable for being a great example of clean and simple Federal architectural style. Brief research into — King Street reveals it was for many Charlestonians a landmark to the strength, order, stability and continuity of Charleston.

The Aimar Pharmacy stood there from 1852 To 1975. The building was briefly owned by Sam Maverick ( of Texas no-branding fame).  These pictures show the building in 1977.[x]

This building was built by Lucretia Radcliffe soon after she donated the 4 lots of  land for the building St. Paul’s Church.

She continued the development of the lands bought by her husband Thomas Radcliffe. As such, it has always served as the starting point and gateway to the entire neighborhood of Radcliffeburough for me. Perhaps not so much for its looks as the history it has beheld and the fact that it is still standing.

Radcliffe-Aimar building (1977-1979)
Radcliffe-Aimar building (1977-1979)
Radcliffe-Aimar building (1977-1979)
One of my favorite parts of the “Above Calhoun” Radcliffeburough walking historical tour is when we visit the Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul. The founding of the church was the nascent beginning of Radcliffeburough. The members were a breakaway group of merchants and planters from St. Philips church. They were fans of a more traditional and in particular more Anglican or English rector named Dr. William Percy.

The Radcliffes were members of St. Philips Church, but wanted a formal, Anglican service. Indeed, it was the appreciation of some members of Reverend Percy at this location, the crowding of this church and the desire to have quicker access to the church from out of town (and probably a desire to get out of the busy, smelly and population dense port part of the city.)[xiv]

At the end of the 18th century, South Carolina economy was growing again. The American Revolution had closed down markets and created substantial debt across the new states.

By the 1790s, the economy was booming again. Thanks primarily to the outbreak of war between England and Revolutionary France. Traders like Nathaniel Russell, William Blacklock and Alfred Tunno made great fortunes. The trading company of Radcliffe and Shepherd was one of the tops of 17 ‘carrying trade’ companies.

Many of the newer families in Charleston became wealthy. These merchants and traders moved northward into the Ansonborough area. They built wharfs and trading houses on East Bay and Broad street. Charleston’s growth moved northward toward the ‘suburbs, the outskirts of town. These folks built rice and lumber mills and neighborhoods on the western side of the Peninsula taking advantage of the Ashley River.

Thomas Radcliffe bought the lands that would become Radcliffeburough. In these unfashionable suburbs, the families who were not beholden to the old families and traditions. They were more driven by commerce and trade than the founding families who lived South of Broad.

Radcliffeburough’s beginnings and its history would always be a counterpoint to the city below Calhoun Street. I wanted to have the founding of Radcliffeburough be the first post on this blog. Beginnings are powerful things, they have a powerful resonance. First things, as we shall see, often lead quickly to the complexity and depth of history. What started as a blog post, quickly became a historical journey, a reckoning with South Carolina’s slave history and finally a pilgrimage.

In my early visits downtown, I was amazed at all the history that was near the corner of King and Vanderhorst. I would become entranced by the nearby Radcliffeburough neighborhood as well. I would be led on an intense and revealing journey exploring the founding of Radcliffeburough.

6 Thomas Street in Radcliffburough
6 Thomas Street in Radcliffburough
Before I had even passed the Charleston Tour Guide license exam, this neighborhood, with its middle class and working class mix of dwellings, its historicity…feeling of historical authenticity…had always been a personal favorite of mine.

Annie, the wife and I would often spend time walking through the neighborhood, taking pictures and enjoying the late 19th century Victorian homes. We soon discovered the earlier ‘plantation-like houses’ that were hidden within.

The retail buildings and nearby railroad depots always makes this area seem more interesting to me. It is probably my personal suburban upbringing near a bustling, expanding, culturally and economically diverse city that gave me a deeper connection to this part of Charleston. Radcliffeburough feels more alive and historically interesting to me, less like an antebellum museum with a tinge of a constructed colonial Williamsburg feel.

I soon discovered that the history here was more gritty, more untold, and filled with stories from everyday day folk.Lives filled with the soot and noise of the nearby railroad, lumber mills and creaking wagons. It was filled with people and families of diverse types, including emigrants  of Irish and Germans and Jewish descent.

It was an important area for African-Americans also both slave and free persons of color. It was the first part of the city that, oddly enough, I fell in love with (as opposed to just appreciated greatly). There were locations of interest from all across the entire 19th century.  On our early walks, the wife and I decided that a tour of this area would be ideal for a walking tour of Charleston.

Inside the Cathedral of St.Luke and St. Paul. Breathtaking. The Sarah Gibbes Memorial is near the third column on the right. Photo by author.
My son and I had gone downtown for a business meeting with the owners of Kudu Coffee (I had a large coffee and he had a turkey sandwich) and then we visited the chapel of St. Luke and St. Paul, one of the sites we visit on our historical walking tour.

I wanted to take pictures of the memorial plaques inside the church. I wanted to research the men and women listed on them. I am fascinated by individual lives inside the large historical context of their times.

I wanted to get a sense of the people who were part of the congregation, both leaders and members. Some of those memorials will, no doubt, be a future blog post here. One of the memorials was  Sarah Reeve Gibbes.

The memorial made me think of the major patron of the Gibbes Art Museum. James Shoolbred Gibbes. Sarah Reeves Gibbes 1746-1825. The Gibbes owned Peaceful Retreat, a plantation on Johns Island.


I had the thought right then that I should check the Gibbes Art Museum for a specific painting. This reminded me of the painting by Henry Joseph Jackson entitled Charleston in 1846. The painting shows the mill pond on the western side of Charleston. The St. Paul steeple is visible in the far background.

The painting gives a glimpse of what early 19th century Radcliffeborough area looked like. I soon visited the Gibbes Art Museum website and found the picture. It is primarily a picture of the mill ponds on the western side, what is now Cannonburough area. I had read that you could see the St. Paul’s Cathedral steeple in the background and wanted to get a sense of the early layout of the area with its rich rice and lumber mill history.

I imagine some early Charlestonian standing on the corner of King and Vanderhorst, looking toward the mill pond in 1846, overlooking Radcliffeburough. Those two points connect the lands purchased by Thomas Radcliffe. [xxii]

The cathedral is lovely inside with marble memorials along the walls. I started thinking about Lucretia and Thomas Radcliffe. The Gibbes is well known for having an astounding collection of miniature portraits.

Charles Fraser conducted sittings of Charleston families in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Wanting to get some insight into the styles and personalities of the personalities of Charleston I decided to visit the Gibbes Art Museum website.

I was hoping that Charles Fraser had painted portraits of Radcliffe family. He was a well known miniature artist of Charleston had several paintings of Charleston families and planter elite in their collection.

Experience it for yourself!

Each tour is 1.5 hours long. Join our registered guide and discover Charleston's history.

An admission ticket to the Charleston Museum is included with your tour ticket.

For me, taking a look at the different faces, clothing and hairstyles provides an intimate connection to the past. Paintings, clothes or material culture- the items that people worked with and lived with on a daily basis, always enlightens and enriches one’s understanding of a historical time period. This is one of the reasons that AboveCalhounTours include admission to the Charleston Museum.

I hoped that Thomas and Lucretia Radcliffe had sat for their portraits with Charles Fraser. If anything, taking some time to view the early Charlestonians would provide me a view into early Charleston as it rushed into the 1800s. I had a moment of pure history nerd joy upon clicking the link to the miniature paintings.

I was delighted to find a complete photo scanned copy of Charles Fraser Book of Records.  (History squee!) I quickly dived into the book and was delighted to find lovely portraiture of the Pinckneys, the Daltons, Izards, Middletons, Rutledges, Pringles and Ravenels, real Charleston Old School folks.

My wife[xxvii] is Member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. I made sure to show her a picture of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the son of Eliza Pinckney, since she is a member of the Eliza Lucas Pinckney DAR Chapter.

I am a sucker for cool historical things. The internet is so awesome with its easier access to historical documents, archives, and blogs. Google searching makes so much that was once hidden in dusty libraries so readily available. The Gibbes has done an amazing job by scanning in Charles Fraser account book. 

The small daily details of the past are so intriguing and revealing to me. Fraser’s hand-written tracking of his sittings and payments gives a glimpse of the painter’s life and society in early Charleston.

The portraits with their fine clothing and fresh faces and well-placed hairdos are exquisite. It is the small glimpses of personality within the portraits that shows Fraser’s talent as an artist. The Fraser Account Book has clickable links to the portraits that are in the collection itself (which is awesome.)

These wealthy planters had roots as far back as the founding of Charleston in 1670. They were gentleman planters and lawyers, who loved politics. Their lives were well removed from the tradesmen, mechanics, artisans, dockworkers, and clerks in the fabulously wealthy port. A gentleman did not sully his hands with such things as trade and business.[xxx]

Unfortunately, there were no pictures of Thomas or Lucretia. This was not too surprising since Thomas Radcliffe was lost at sea on a return voyage from Jamaica. He was not in Charleston to sit for Mr. Fraser.  I had stumbled across a historical presentation in Colleton County and there was a portrait on the page that mentioned the Radcliffes. I did a brief Google search and located a picture of Thomas Radcliffe.

The portrait was completed in 1804.The artist is unknown. Thomas was born in 1776. He would be a mere 18 years old in this picture and would be lost at sea at 20 years old.

I was saddened, but not surprised that I was unable to find pictures of the Radcliffe family in Fraser’s account book. They were fairly new arrivals to Charleston and part of the ‘import/export. ‘carrying trade.’ I kinda figured they would be absent from the list. Their breaking from St. Philip’s and their strong ties to English traditions set them apart from the older, more esteemed, founding families.

I quickly fell victim to one of the key banes of my existence- my tendency to get distracted. I spent a good length of time perusing the entire account book and examining the lovely portraits Charleston’s elite families. Thinking back on the Thomas Jackson picture, I had the thought to search the art collections for pictures of Radcliffeburough.

I wanted to see if other paintings in the collection revealed more of the historic suburbs of Charleston. The Thomas Jackson picture (above) inspired me with its glimpse into early Charleston. I wanted to see more of the buildings and churches of the Radcliffeburough area in the early 19th century.

I did a search for ‘Radcliffe’. At this point over 10 paintings from by the artist Thomas Coram appeared.

The title of ‘Estate of T. Radcliffe’ quickly caught my eye.

I had a distinct moment of quiet exultation, mixed with a fear of disappointment.

Anyone who has done historical research is familiar with this feeling. Certainly.. it could not be T. Radcliffe as in THOMAS? I have had the experience of getting very excited and then disappointed while researching in archives. Sometimes the resulting documents are not exactly what I hoped them to be. Certainly, this must be Theodore Radcliffe or some other long lost cousin?

But this time, fortune favored the distracted, it was indeed paintings of the plantation lands owned by Thomas Radcliffe, Esquire. In Colleton County, what was then St. Bartholomew Parish, his estate of Almonbury Hill, Cockfield and Harrison plantations.

Thomas was driven by the cultural mores of early Charleston and wanting to advance upward in society. He owned and operated after leading one of the leading Radcliffe and Shepherd, one of the top of 17 trading companies. He soon identified himself as a planter, and with his wealth purchased land near the Combahee River for the cultivation of rice.

I relished the luxurious landscapes of the Thomas Coram paintings. I noticed the name of the plantation in the landscape was Almondbury Hill. I quickly headed over to Google, seeking further information on Radcliffe’s lands.

I soon discovered a Lowcountry African website with a list of the names of the plantation owners. The slaves had been indexed and contained the names of the 277 slaves that were listed at the time of Lucretia Radcliffe’s death in 1821. I quickly bookmarked this as I took a cursory glance at the slave names and ages available on the page.


I was taken aback by, the wide variety of ages in the list, particularly the number of young children under 10 years of age and intrigued by the different types of names. I had, in fact, stumbled on site with Lucretia Radcliffe estate inventory. Lucretia had died in 1821.

This inventory was researched by Borchert for an M.A. thesis. It was well known for having captured the household items, events that occurred around Lucretia’s death. The appraisal of the family as being ‘nouveaux rich’ and importantly, the tracking of 227 enslaved persons as well as Bills of Sale for several of them. I felt somewhat foolish at my mild shock at discovering this, as part of me realized this must have been the case.

Wanting to gather even further information, I searched the name of the three plantations. I soon discovered the narrative of Dr. Elysisia-Fields. Her narrative of teaching and her experience with her ancestors. A descendant of the slaves that worked on the plantation. Perhaps one of the names I had just seen on the inventory list. Indeed, she tells of finding an area on the plantation where the graves were unmarked.

She had traveled the world in search of a better understanding of the lives of her slave ancestors. She taught courses in Carnegie Mellon about the Gullah dialect and slavery in America.

When she was confronted with the works of Eliza Gonzales[xxxviii], she was taken aback. Dr. Fields-Black visited the unmarked graves of her ancestors. Seeing how they were unmourned she was inspired to produce and write the Requiem for Rice.

I was enthralled by the narrative and its deep connection to South Carolina history and the history of slavery.

Thomas Radcliffe’s plantation lands, the founding of Radcliffeburogh, the first times of Charleston, were all deeply connected to this story as well. Intrigued by the wanting to better comprehend the full story of the Radcliffe plantation narrative. I went to the Reqiem for Rice website to learn more about its writing and production.

I was amazed to discover that a performance was planned at the Mother Emmanuel Church of Charleston. The performance would be on a Sunday afternoon. I spoke to my wife, Annie, and we agreed to attend.

As we got ready to attend the performance, my thoughts drifted back to the streets of Radcliffeburough. I thought of St. Paul’s steeple peeking out at the back of Jackson’s painting. I thought about the Lucretia Radcliffe house on the corner of King and Vanderhorst…

Between those two views was the neighborhood of Radcliffeburough that was filled with so much history.

My initial research into its founding had led to the intriguing lives of the Radcliffe family. It also led to the early African-American connection that I knew was an important part of its history. My deep personal interest in the humanity of history had opened up the lives of these people from the past.

The miniature portraits of Charles Fraser and the personal ancestral narrative of Dr. Elisia-Fields were touchstones for further my understanding. Important, critical, information that I could share with the patrons of my walking tour in this historic suburb.

The founding of Radcliffeborough was revealing the touchstones of Charleston’s history. Its first things, awe-inspiring in both its richness, power, horror, and humanity. As we drove down King Street toward the Mother Emanuel Church, I was eager to experience more.

I wanted to know better the lives, forces, and events that shaped the Holy City above Calhoun.

Experience it for yourself!

Each tour is 1.5 hours long. Join our registered guide and discover Charleston's history.

An admission ticket to the Charleston Museum is included with your tour ticket.









[viii] 409 King St.This substantial, four and one-half story building was built c.1808 by Lucretia Radcliffe, widow of Thomas Radcliffe and the developer of Radcliffeborough. Subsequently, it was the Rev. Ferdinand Jacobs’ Seminary for Girls. Jacobs’ son, Dr. W. P. Jacobs, founded Presbyterian College at Clinton, S.C. and his son, Thornwell Jacobs, founded Oglethorpe College, Decatur, Ga. G.W. Aimar & Co., druggist, occupied the building from 1852 to 1978. The business was founded by George W. Aimar, who during the Civil War was a lieutenant in the Lafayette Artillery. During the war, the building housed a Confederate dispensary and hospital. Later, a hotel known as the Aimar House was located on the upper levels. (Thomas, DYKYC, Jan. 13, 1968; Allen, DYKYC, Apri 18, 1983.)


[x]  Bayless pictures, courtesy of the Historic Charleston Foundation.





[xv] Fraser, Walter, J Charleston, Charleston, p 181.


[xvii]   We will return to this topic. Watch this blog.



[xx] View of Charleston (View from the West), 1846, by Henry Joseph Jackson (American, 1823 – 1848); oil on canvas; 31 ¾ x 41 ¾ inches (framed); Gift of Victor A. Morawetz; 1938.020.0003


[xxii] Find book where talks about the purchase of lands by Radcliffe ??? Erg.





[xxvii]  Her 5 times removed patriot, John Richebourg, fought alongside Francis Marion and his name is in the Marion rolls .



[xxx] Edgar, Walter, South Carolina : A History, pp.








[xxxviii] This blog will return to the life writings of Mr. Gonzales.







Experience it for yourself!

Each tour is 1.5 hours long. Join our registered guide and discover Charleston's history.

An admission ticket to the Charleston Museum is included with your tour ticket.