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History of Ansonborough and Nearby Neighborhoods

I. Ansonborough


Ansonborough was Charles Town's first suburb, laid out on lands outside the Grand Modell. Ansonborough takes its name from George Anson (1697-1762) who, as the 26-year-old captain of the H.M.S. Scarborough (his first important command), was sent on patrol duty in South Carolina waters, to protect the region from pirates. He remained from 1724 to 1735 and was well known and very popular in Charles Town. McCrady (2:534) records an old tradition that Capt. Anson bought the tract which later would bear his name, from his winnings at cards. According to another story, McCrady said, Anson won the entire tract in a single game. The area, bounded on the north in early days by Boundary (now Calhoun) Street, and including a tract between King Street and the Cooper River, and running south to a line halfway between Society and Wentworth streets, was part of an original grant to the immigrant, Isaac Mazyck, in 1696, and contained about 90 acres. Mazyck sold 64 acres, more or less, to Thomas Gadsden.

On March 26, 1726, Thomas Gadsden conveyed this tract to Capt. George Anson for 300 Pounds Sterling. This was a very large sum of money for such a young naval officer to possess, much less pay out, so it is quite possible that Anson's winnings at cards did purchase the future Ansonborough, but the deed indicates that this was a regular sale, for a specific sum.

After other tours of duty, Anson returned to South Carolina in the "Squirrel," cruising South Carolina and Georgia waters in search of Spanish privateers. Between 1740 and 1744, he took command of a squadron during the war with Spain, commanding the 60-gun frigate "Centurion." His orders were to attack Spanish ships and cities first in the Caribbean, then on the Pacific coast of South America. After his squadron was dwindled by storms and other misfortunes, he completed the circumnavigation of the globe in the "Centurion". After a notable victory over the Spaniards at Cap Fenisterre, in 1747, which netted 300,000 English Pounds in treasure, he was created Baron Anson. Later he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.

Anson had his Charles Town tract, known as Bowling Green Plantation, laid out in streets and lots in 1745-46 (George Hunter's plat of Ansonborough is dated 1746, but some lots were sold in 1745). In addition to George and Anson Streets, which still bear his name, he named three streets for the ships which had counted most in his career. "Scarborough" and "Squirrel" had brought him to South Carolina. "Centurion" had won him fame and fortune. Scarborough and Centurion streets were later absorbed into Anson and Society streets, respectively, while Squirrel became an extension of Meeting Street.

The original suburb of Ansonborough included the area bounded by King, Calhoun, Anson streets and a line running midway between Society and Wentworth streets and parallel with those streets. Later the name came to be applied to the old suburbs of Rhettsbury, Middlesex and the Laurens Lands, to the south and east of original Ansonborough. Some late 18th and early 19th century houses survive in the area now called Ansonborough, mainly in the northhern part which was spared by the great fire of 1838, which swept through the southern part of the area, sparing only a few houses such as the Rhett House on Hasell Street. The destroyed buildings were replaced by handsome brick houses, most of which date from the 1840s and many of which were built with loans from the Bank of the State of South Carolina, authorized by the "Act for Rebuilding the City of Charleston," passed by the General Assembly in 1838.

The Ansonborough area had fallen into slum conditions by 1959, when Historic Charleston Foundation began its rehabilitation program which became nationally known as an outstanding example of neighborhood rehabilitation. The plan was conceived, financed and administered by the Foundation, which acquired and restored more than 100 houses. The Foundation's pogram inspired individuals and families to purchase and rehabilitate houses in Ansonborough, which has become one of Charleston's most desirable neighborhoods. (H.A. M. Smith, "Charleston and Charleston Neck," 10. Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys, 57. Smith & Smith, Dwelling Houses, 281-283. Stoney, This is Charleston, 127, 129. Ravenel, Charleston, The Place and the People, 172-173.)


II. Laurens Square


Now part of Ansonborough, this area, bounded today by Laurens, Anson and Society streets and the Cooper River, was called "Rattray's Green" (for a previous owner, John Rattray) when it was purchased in 1755 by Henry Laurens, later President of the Continental Congress.

Here in 1764, Laurens built his "large, elegant brick house of sixty feet by thirty-eight," with piazzas on the south and east sides overlooking the marshes and Cooper River. He and Martha Laurens created a four-acre botanical garden, containing such exotics as orange, olive, lime, capers, ginger and guinea grass, with the aid of John Watson, an English gardener.

The property was laid out in building lots in 1804 by his son, Henry Laurens the Younger. The family name is commemorated in Laurens Street. (Wallace, Henry Laurens, 63-65. Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys, 40, 60. Smith & Smith, Dwelling Houses, 284-290. Ramsay, 2:128.)


III. Middlesex


Now part of Ansonborough, the Village of Middlesex (also known as Gadsden's Green and Federal Green) was laid out by Christopher Gadsden, the Charlestown merchant who became the leader of the Mechanicks party during the Revolution. Gadsden, who had made a fortune trading with the frontier by 1761, closed his stores at Georgetown and the Cheraws and began to develop this suburb, and to build the largest wharf in America in front of it.

Gadsden had the area laid out into six wharf lots and 197 building lots. The suburb was bounded by present-day Calhoun, Anson and Laurens streets and the Cooper River. Gadsden filled the marsh, and in cooperation with his neighbor to the north, Alexander Mazyck, straightened the creek between them by digging a canal which followed the course of present-day Calhoun Street, terminating about where Calhoun crosses Washington Street. The block of Calhoun, between Washington and East Bay, where there is still an open space, was intended as a market place.

Gadsden named his streets for his political leanings. Wilkes Street was named for John Wilkes, the English editor who was imprisoned for having criticized members of Parliament and the Crown. The suburb itself was named Middlesex for the borough which elected Wilkes four times to the House of Commons, only to have that body refuse to seat him. Paoli Street was named for Pasquale di Paoli, the Corsican patriot, and Hand in Hand Corner was named for a patriotic song of Corsica. So Be It Entry was named in defiance of the British. At the time of the adoption of the Federal Constitution, Gadsden's Middlesex became known as Federal Green. (Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys, 41, 60-61. Smith & Smith, Dwelling Houses, 283-284. Stoney, This
is Charleston, 127, 129. Walsh, Sons of Liberty, passim.)



IV. Rhettsbury


William Rhett, scourge of the pirates, acquired The Point Plantation in 1712 and renamed it Rhettsbury. The plantation was divided into streets and lots in 1773 for his
great-granddaughters, Susannah and Mary Hasell, who married, respectively, Parker Quince and John Ancrum.

Rhettsbury was bounded on the west by King Street, on the north by a line running midway between Wentworth and Society streets and parallel with those streets, and to the south on an irregular line, running through the block from King to Meeting, between Market and Hasell streets, thence eastward along Pinckney Street to East Bay, thence eastward in a line running below Pritchard Street and parallel with Pritchard. Rhettsbury consisted of some 20 acres adjoining the north line of the Grand Modell, as well as several town lots within the Grand Modell. When Rhettsbury was laid out in streets, the old Grand Modell boundary was not followed, as was the case with the suburbs to the west, which bounded south on the Grand Modell boundary, along which Beaufain Street was run. (Smith, "Charleston and Charleston Neck, " 7-8. Smith & Smith, Dwelling Houses, 270-277.)