Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Field Trip: Charleston, SC

Not a typical Charleston house, but one that N admired.
We drove down to Charleston, South Carolina, for a weekend visit in early March because I was participating in an eighteenth-century studies conference there.  We'd never been before and we loved walking all over the historic downtown and Battery areas, admiring the 18th- and 19th-century houses.  Though he still loved the few Queen Anne houses we saw the best, N. especially enjoyed the side porches hiding behind formal doors on the antebellum houses.  We went to two house museums, the Calhoun Mansion (a post-Civil War house packed to the gills, Victorian style, with art and objects collected by the current owner; the highlights for us were the gorgeous vaulted ceiling of the music room and the 1907 Bosendorfer grand piano that N. longed to play) and the Heyward-Washington House.  In visiting the Heyward-Washington House, I was happy to be inside an 18th-century structure (almost every house tour we've gone on with N. has been a late 19th- or early 20-century house!) and I especially appreciated the collection of Charleston-made late 18th- and early 19th-century furniture (including card tables, one of my obsessions due to my research on 18th-century gambling).  One of N.'s favorite moments in touring the Heyward-Washington House was when the guide brought up the Grimke sisters, Charleston-born abolitionists whom N. had read about in A History of US and who lived in the house for some time; it's fun to experience that reinforcing flash of recognition: "Hey, I know who they are!"

"In Memory of the Enslaved Workers..."
Tim and N. have been getting closer to the Civil War in their chronological reading in A History of US, so he was especially interested in that aspect of Charleston's history.  Although we didn't have time to visit Fort Sumter on this trip, N. liked seeing the cannons at the Battery.  As we walked through the city, we talked a lot about ways in which the history of African-Americans is both commemorated and effaced throughout the Charleston.  We learned from a historical marker on the waterfront about the remarkable achievements of Robert Smalls, an enslaved sailor who commandeered a Confederate steamship to deliver his wife, children, and other enslaved people to the Union and freedom and later served five terms as a U.S. Congressman.  But traces of the more ordinary lives of the enslaved were not as evident unless you seek them out.  We stumbled across this moving marker at the Unitarian Church in Charleston, which reads "In Memory of the Enslaved Workers Who Made these Bricks and Helped Build Our Church, C.1774-1787."

N. has long been interested in maps and geography, so he thought Longitude Lane was especially cool: a seventeenth-century stone-cobbled lane that runs exactly on the 79th parallel.  

The final highlight of our short visit was an evening concert we attended at the First Scots Presbyterian Church, which hosts the annual Bach Festival of Charleston.  We sat in the beautifully austere early nineteenth-century church and listened to an absolutely incredible performance of "Membra Jesu Nostri" (BuxWV 75) by Buxtehude.  The stunning sounds of seventeenth-century music sung in the plain early-music style and played on period instruments formed the perfect culmination to our weekend encounter with history in Charleston.

Walking down Longitude Lane

3 comments:

Mama Read Me A Story said...

Sounds like another wonderful trip. It's wonderful that learning can happen anywhere.

Emily said...

Black jean twins. Did you guys also go running along the water? That's what my friends all recommended. (-:

Anonymous said...

sounds wonderful!

-cmr