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Christopher Gadsen - History

Christopher Gadsen - History

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Christopher Gadsen was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1724. He was sent to England at an early age to receive an education. He returned to Charelston in 1741. By the age of 21 he entered business, which he was successful at. Gadsen was a member of the first Continental Congress. In 1776 he took to the field as lieutenant colonel. He was actively involved in the defense of Charelston. Gadsen was promoted to brigadier general. Gadsen was elected as governor of South Carolina, but declined because of his age and health. Gadsen died in 1805

Gadsden Flag History

For the full history of the rattlesnake as a symbol of American independence, click to page one of this story: Dont Tread on Me: The Gadsden Flag .

Colonel Christopher Gadsden and Commodore Esek Hopkins

Although Benjamin Franklin helped create the American rattlesnake symbol, his name isn't generally attached to the rattlesnake flag. The yellow "don't tread on me" standard is usually called a Gadsden flag, or less commonly, a Hopkins flag.

These two individuals were mulling about Philadelphia at the same time, making their own important contributions to American history and the history of the rattlesnake flag.

Christopher Gadsden was an American patriot if ever there was one. He led Sons of Liberty in South Carolina starting in 1765, and was later made a colonel in the Continental Army. In 1775 he was in Philadelphia representing his home state in the Continental Congress. He was also one of three members of the Marine Committee who decided to outfit and man the Alfred and its sister ships.

Gadsden and Congress chose a Rhode Island man, Esek Hopkins, as the commander-in-chief of the Navy. The flag that Hopkins used as his personal standard on the Alfred is the one we would now recognize. It's likely that John Paul Jones, as the first lieutenant on the Alfred, ran it up the gaff.

It's generally accepted that Hopkins' flag was presented to him by Christopher Gadsden, who felt it was especially important for the commodore to have a distinctive personal standard. Gadsden also presented a copy of this flag to his state legislature in Charleston. This is recorded in the South Carolina congressional journals:

The Revolutionary standard

The Gadsden flag and other rattlesnake flags were widely used during the American Revolution. There was no standard American flag at the time. People were free to choose their own banners.

The Minutemen of Culpeper County, Virginia, chose a flag that looks generally like the Gadsden flag, but also includes the famous words of the man who organized the Virginia militia, Patrick Henry, i.e. "Liberty or Death."

The First Navy Jack features an uncoiled rattlesnake winding its way across a field of thirteen red and white stripes.

One of the most interesting variations is the flag of Colonel John Proctor's Independent Battalion from Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

Tradition holds that in May 1775, when the citizens of Westmoreland gathered at the Hannastown Tavern and issued their own Declaration of Independence, they tore down the British flag that was flying there and made some modifications. The original flag had an open red field with the British ensign in the upper corner. They painted a coiled rattlesnake and its "Don't Tread on Me" warning onto the center, as if ready to strike at the Union Jack. This flag still survives. It's at the Fort Pitt Museum in Pittsburgh. According to the director of the museum, Alan Gutchess, it is "the only surviving rattlesnake flag from the Revolutionary era. . The flag is in excellent condition and is far more detailed than reproductions of it."

After the Revolution, rattlesnake flags became less common. General Washington and many members of Congress preferred stars, stripes, and more conventional symbols, such as the eagle.

Over the years the Gadsden flag has become more and more associated with rebellion and totally disassociated with pride in one's government. Some say that this makes it a lousy symbol for the Fourth of July. But I say that makes it a great symbol for celebrating the spirit of July 4, 1776.

If you want to buy a Gadsden flag, or just about any other flag, check out FlagLine. They've got great prices and service. I've been sending people to Josef and his colleagues for more than two years and I've never heard a complaint.

Gadsden & Culpeper American Heritage Shoppe
This is a new business based in Albany, New York. I haven't known them as long as Josef at FlagLine, but the owners, Patrick and Larry, seem like good, trustworthy guys with good products. My dealings with them have been very positive.

The Gadsden Flag History: Don’t Tread On Me and the Gadsden Flag Meaning

Back in 1751, Benjamin Franklin designed and published America&rsquos first political cartoon. Called &ldquoJoin Or Die,&rdquo it featured a generic snake cut into 13 parts. The imagery was clear: join together or be destroyed by British power. But why a snake? Around this time, Great Britain was sending criminals over to the colonies. Franklin once quipped that the colonists should thank them by sending over shipments of rattlesnakes. As American identity grew, so did an affinity for American (as opposed to British) symbols. Bald eagles, Native Americans and the American timber rattlesnake &ndash the snake depicted on the flag.

Gadsden Flag Meaning and Significance

By the time 1775 rolled around, the rattlesnake was an immensely popular symbol of America. It could be found throughout the 13 colonies on everything from buttons and badges to paper money and flags. No longer was the snake cut into pieces. It was now recognizably the American timber rattlesnake, coiled into an attack position with 13 rattles on its tail.

The flag takes on a special historical significance at the Battle of Bunker Hill. This battle, still celebrated in Boston, is where Colonel William Prescott famously gave the order not to fire &ldquountil you see the whites of their eyes.&rdquo One thing the battle underscored was that the Continental forces were woefully low on ammunition. In October of that year, the Continentals learned that two ships filled with weapons and gunpowder were headed for Boston. Four ships were commissioned into the Continental Navy, led by Commodore Esek Hopkins, ordered to get those cargo ships as their first mission.

In addition to sailors, the ships carried marines, enlisted in Philadelphia. Their drummers had drums featuring the yellow of the Gadsden Flag with the now well-known snake emblazoned on top. It included the words Christopher Gadsden was the designer of the flag. He&rsquos known as &ldquothe Sam Adams of the South.&rdquo Both a soldier and a statesman, Gadsden was a founding member of South Carolina&rsquos Sons of Liberty chapter. He served as a delegate to both the First and Second Continental Congresses. He left the Continental Congress in 1776 to serve as commander of the 1st South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army. His legislative service continued in the Provincial Congress of South Carolina. And during the war, he was captured and served 42 weeks in solitary confinement after refusing to cut a deal with British expeditionary forces.

After the war, his health was in poor shape, primarily due to his time spent in an old Spanish prison. Gadsden was elected to the position of governor for South Carolina, but declined the position due to his health. He remained in the state legislature until 1788 and voted to ratify the United States Constitution. He died in 1805 and is buried in Charlestown. The Gadsden Purchase in Arizona is named for his grandson, who was a diplomat.

A symbol awoken

For most of U.S. history, this flag was all but forgotten, though it had some cachet in libertarian circles.

The First Navy Jack version resurfaced in 1976 on U.S. Navy ships to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial, and again after 9/11, though today that flag is reserved for the longest active-status warship. Its use remained largely apolitical.

In 2006 the slogan and the coiled snake saw some commercial use by Nike and the Philadelphia Union, a Major League Soccer team.

Around the same time, though, the flag took on a new political meaning: The tea party, a hard-line Republican anti-tax movement, began using it. The implication was that the U.S. government had become the oppressor threatening the liberties of its own citizens.

Perhaps as a result of the tea party movement, several state governments around the country offer a Gadsden flag license plate design. At least some of those plates charge additional fees for the special plate, sending proceeds to nonprofit organizations.

The Gadsden flag has appeared at other political protests, too, such as those opposing restrictions on gun ownership and objecting to rules imposed in 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Most recently the flag has been flown and displayed at some post-election protests, including events where demonstrators called for officials to stop counting votes – and both inside and outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., during the counting of the electoral votes on Jan. 6.

Because of its creator’s history and because it is commonly flown alongside “Trump 2020” flags, the Confederate battle flag and other white-supremacist flags, some may now see the Gadsden flag as a symbol of intolerance and hate – or even racism. If so, its original meaning is then forever lost, but one theme remains.

At its core, the flag is a simple warning – but to whom, and from whom, has clearly changed. Gone is the original intent to unite the states to fight an outside oppressor. Instead, for those who fly it today, the government is the oppressor.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Story of Gadsden’s Wharf

I’d like to invite you to join me for a trip down to Gadsden’s Wharf. Perhaps you’ve heard about this site in the news recently. There’s a movement afoot in our community to raise millions of dollars for a new museum soon to be built at a place called Gadsden’s Wharf. The new International African American Museum (IAAM) will be an important addition to the city’s physical and cultural landscape, providing an opportunity for Charleston to interpret and narrate our community’s historical role in the local, national, and international trafficking of enslaved Africans.

I believe this is a very important project, and the IAAM will provide an unprecedented opportunity to tell Charleston’s story to the world. As we collectively work toward the achievement of that goal, I also believe it’s important that we strive to tell our story as accurately and honestly as possible. The “true” history of Gadsden’s Wharf, or any element of the past, for that matter, is an amalgamation and interpretation of the facts found in surviving documents and objects. As a historian immersed in the surviving historical documents of our community, I know only too well that our ability to tell the “truth” about a specific person, place, or event, is often frustrated by the paucity of surviving documents. Some details about the history of Gadsden’s Wharf are lost forever, for example, because of a lack of extant evidence, but a sufficient body of material survives to tell a compelling story. Time does not permit me to present here an exhaustive, detailed account of the history of Gadsden’s Wharf, but I can offer a summary of the most salient facts I’ve found in relation the mission of the IAAM. The bottom line is this: Gadsden’s Wharf played a very significant role in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to North America, and represents the ideal location for a museum dedicated to telling the story of the victims and survivors of the “Middle Passage” from Africa to the United States. So let’s take a brief trip back to the early days of Charleston, and I’ll walk you through the evidence.

Let’s begin with the obvious questions. What and where is this wharf, and how did it get its name? Gadsden’s Wharf is a site on the east side of the Charleston peninsula, along the Cooper River waterfront. More specifically, the historic boundaries of Gadsden’s Wharf included all of the waterfront property between Calhoun Street (on the north) and Laurens Street (on the south). If you’ve ever visited the South Carolina Aquarium, for example, that building is located a few feet north of Gadsden’s Wharf. The Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square, next door to the aquarium, stands on the northeastern corner of Gadsden’s Wharf. Three hundred years ago, this entire area was a brackish marsh that was washed by the daily tides.

In 1696, Isaac Mazyck received a grant for 90 acres of land on the Cooper River, including the site in question. In 1720, Mazyck sold approximately 63 of these acres to Thomas Gadsden, who in turn sold it to Captain George Anson in 1727. Nearly thirty years later, in 1758, Anson’s attorney sold a large swath of this property to an enterprising young merchant named Christopher Gadsden (son of Thomas). At that time, Christopher Gadsden’s property included fifteen acres of high land and approximately twenty-nine acres of marsh. The high land encompassed all the property between what is now Calhoun and Laurens Streets, from the lobby of the present Gaillard Center eastward to modern Washington Street. Gadsden’s purchase may have also included a house, perhaps built by George Anson, located at what is now the northeast corner of East Bay Street and Vernon Street. Whether it was built before 1758 or after, a house at this location served as the principal residence for Christopher Gadsden’s family well into the early nineteenth century. The real estate to the east, between the house and the Cooper River, was low, marshy land that wasn’t good for much of anything. I’m sure the family had a stunning view of the harbor at sunrise, though.

As a merchant, Christopher Gadsden dealt mostly in the import-export trade, and assisting planters with the task of shipping their rice, indigo, and other commodities to markets abroad. Like most of his contemporaries in that business, he rented space on one of Charleston’s several wharves. Staring in the 1680s with just one wharf on the Cooper River waterfront, Charleston’s maritime trade slowly expanded over the years. By the mid-1760s, there were a dozen wharves projecting from East Bay Street into the river, located to the south and to the north of Broad Street. Merchants like Christopher Gadsden sacrificed a portion of their profits to rental fees paid for wharfage, as it was called. By the end of 1766, Gadsden was determined to maximize his profits by building his own wharf, on his own property, just beyond the northern boundary of the town. To transform this vacant landscape into something more valuable and useful, Captain Gadsden (as he was known in the 1760s) would have to invest a lot of time, money, and resources. And that’s exactly what he began doing in early 1767.

The construction of what became known as Gadsden’s Wharf is documented in a number of newspaper advertisements published between January 1767 and the spring of 1774. In some of the advertisements, Captain Gadsden requested the delivery of construction materials to his waterfront site. Over the years, for example, he advertised to purchase a total 3,650 pine piles (twenty to forty feet long), 1,100 cords of pine logs (four feet long), and 64,000 bushels of oyster shells. Gadsden drove the long pine piles into the mud to outline the frame of his planned wharf, dumped the cords of wood on the marsh within his frame, and then used the oyster shells to build causeways so carts could roll from the high land, across the marsh, to the new wharf.

In other advertisements, Gadsden informed the maritime community that his wharf was ready to receive ships. By early December 1767, for example, he said the southern end of his wharf could accommodate one ship at a time. A week later, it was ready to receive two at a time. By February 1768, Gadsden bragged that three ships could anchor next to his unfinished wharf at the same time. In mid-October 1770, he announced that “near four hundred feet front” of his unfinished wharf was “now fit for business.” In January 1774, Gadsden stated that the framing of the entire wharf, 840 feet long, was now complete, but it would probably take until the end of the year to finish backfilling the marsh. After eight years of dirty work, Gadsden’s Wharf was completed just a few months before the beginning of the American Revolution.

As I mentioned in last week’s program about the closing of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, South Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in October 1774 voted with their fellow patriots to adopt a set of resolutions against British oppression. Among the “Articles of Association” was a pledge to cease importing Negroes after 1 December 1774. On that date, the port of Charleston closed a long chapter of importing African captives, having received approximately 90,000 people since 1670. During the last years of this era, while Christopher Gadsden was building his wharf, 1767 through 1774, the newspapers of Charleston regularly provided information about the arrival and sale of every incoming cargo of Africans. I’ve read through all of those advertisements, and found no evidence of any slave ships docking at Gadsden’s Wharf. It’s important to remember that Gadsden’s Wharf was at that time outside of town, and not quite finished. All of the merchants who handled the sales of “new Negroes,” as they were commonly called, had offices along East Bay Street, south of what is now Cumberland Street. In fact, East Bay Street terminated at Pinckney Street, a good distance south of Gadsden’s property. The idea of landing and selling entire cargoes of newly-imported Africans at Gadsden’s Wharf was simply impractical at that time.

Charleston merchants resumed the importation of African captives in the second half of 1783. As I mentioned in last week’s program, our state legislature voted in the spring of 1787 to close this trade, in an effort to prevent a debt crisis in post-war South Carolina. During that four-year period, approximately 10,000 enslaved people arrived in Charleston for sale. (For evidence of the numbers of vessels and enslaved people arriving in Charleston and other ports, explore the database at According to the newspapers of that era, dozens of sales of “new Negroes” were held at more than eight locations in the heart of urban Charleston, south of Market Street, including Bedon’s Alley, Daniel Bourdeaux’s yard on East Bay Street, Mr. Manigault’s lot at the corner of Church and Amen (now Cumberland) Streets, Eveleigh’s Wharf, Motte’s Wharf, Prioleau’s Wharf, Scott’s Wharf, and “near the Exchange” (probably on the building’s shady north side). Some advertisements from this era did not mention a specific location, indicating that some slave merchants, like Nathaniel Russell and the Penman brothers (James and Edward), assumed that customers already knew where to find their offices along East Bay Street.

Some recent historians have stated that Gadsden’s wharf received some, or most, or perhaps all of the African captives who began arriving in Charleston in 1783, but I would respectfully challenge that assertion. Having searched through the robust collection of extant Charleston newspapers from that four-year window of legal importation, mid-1783 to mid-1787, I have yet to find a single notice of a slave ship landing at Gadsden’s Wharf. In fact, Christopher Gadsden informed the public in August 1783 that he was in need of materials to repair his wharf, which had sustained damages during the British siege and occupation of Charleston, 1780–1782. Then, in September 1783, a large fire consumed one or more of the valuable store houses on Gadsden’s Wharf, and in the summer of 1784, he admitted he had difficulty in securing a loan to repair the damages. In short, the preponderance of the evidence seems to indicate that Gadsden’s Wharf was not involved in the landing or selling of incoming Africans prior to or immediately after the American Revolution.

South Carolina’s legislative prohibition on the importation of African captives, enacted in March 1787, was extended by a series of legislative actions through December 1803. During this period of fifteen years, no ships carrying “new Negroes” arrived at any of the wharves of Charleston. As I discussed in last week’s program, the political and cultural landscape of the United States changed rapidly during these years, and, for a variety of reasons, South Carolina’s legislature voted to re-open the trans-Atlantic slave trade on 17 December 1803. The merchants involved in this terrible business were keen to import as many people as possible before a Federal prohibition came into effect on 1 January 1808. During the four years between December 1803 and December 1807, the Charleston Times reported (on 2 January 1808) that 39,310 Africans had arrived in Charleston harbor. According to more robust evidence found in the database at, however, it seems more likely that as many as 45,000 Africans arrived during this period, in approximately 270 voyages. Considering the rate of arrivals, the crowding onboard the vessels, and the callous disregard for humanity conspicuously displayed during this four-year period, it is no exaggeration to describe this as the most horrific episode in the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to North America.

In recent years, some historians have asserted that most or all of the African captives who arrived in Charleston harbor between December 1803 and January 1808 landed and were sold at Gadsden’s Wharf. The only surviving evidence relative to this issue is found in the robust collection of extant newspapers from this era. Over the past many years, I have spent a great deal of time examining these newspapers (in their original paper form, at the Charleston Library Society, on microfilm at the Charleston County Public Library, and now in digitized searchable databases). In my personal research, I haven’t found any evidence of any sales of any incoming slave ships at Gadsden’s Wharf before the 22nd day of February, 1806. In fact, I found copious newspaper evidence of sales of “new Negroes” at a dozen other sites prior to 21 February 1806, including Champneys’s Wharf, Chisolm’s Wharf, Craft’s Wharf, D’Oyley’s Wharf, Fitzsimons’s Wharf, Geyer’s Wharf, Prioleau’s Wharf, Pritchard’s Wharf, Roper’s Wharf, Scott’s Wharf, and Vanderhorst’s Wharf. Time and space do not permit a full description of this evidence here. Suffice it to say that you can peruse the Charleston Courier, the Charleston Times, and the Charleston City Gazette of 1804, 1805, and early 1806 and see hundreds of advertisements for the sales of newly-arrived Africans at a variety of sites, but not at Gadsden’s Wharf.

So what change took place in Charleston in late February 1806 to divert the location of this business? It’s actually an interesting and important anecdote, but I’ll need to back up to June 1804 for the answer. In the 80th year of his life, General Christopher Gadsden sat down to write his last will and testament. He was a man of wealth and property, and had many worldly possessions to distribute among his numerous friends and relatives. Among the items to dispose, Gadsden wrote “I give to my said wife [Ann Wragg Gadsden] during her natural life and no longer, the use of the house and land whereon we now live,” located at the northeast corner of what he called Front and Washington Streets, but now called East Bay and Vernon Streets. Immediately after Ann’s future death, however, General Gadsden stipulated that “the said house and land to return immediately to my estate and to the care and charge of my executors.” Christopher Gadsden died on 28 August 1805, and his widow dutifully occupied their old family home until her death six months later, on 10 February 1806. In mid-February, 1806, therefore, control of Gadsden’s’ house and his wharf passed into the hands of the General’s executors: his son, Philip Gadsden, his son-in-law, Thomas Morris, and William Drayton.

On 17 February 1806, seven days after the death of Mrs. Ann Wragg Gadsden, the City Council of Charleston passed an ordinance mandating that henceforth “no vessel, importing negroes from abroad . . . shall, under any pretense whatever, be hauled into any dock, or to any wharf but Gadsden’s wharf.” The preamble to his law, “An Ordinance to establish certain regulations for the Port of Charleston, and to define the Harbour Master’s powers and duties,” tells that the increase in ship traffic along the wharves of Charleston was causing congestion and danger. In order to reduce the risk of damages to the wharves, vessels, and cargos, more stringent rules were needed. Why did City Council decide that Gadsden’s Wharf should henceforth be the one and only site for receiving incoming Africans? Unfortunately, I know of no surviving evidence to answer that specific question. Surely the members of City Council discussed this matter before drafting, debating, and ratifying this ordinance on 17 February 1806, but the manuscript journals recording the minutes of these City Council meetings disappeared in the spring of 1865, when Union Army forces and then Northern civilian tourists looted the city of Charleston.

Despite the loss of these invaluable records, I have a theory about this change of policy. Surviving documents amply demonstrate that the Gadsden family owned slaves and, in general, appear to have sanctioned the institution of slavery. I would not dare suggest, therefore, that Christopher Gadsden harbored a distaste for slavery that might have induced him to refuse to permit the landing and sale of enslaved people on his wharf. In fact, Gadsden permitted several estate sales of gangs of plantation slaves (people already working in South Carolina) at his wharf on several occasions (see, for example, advertisements of the Beresford and Simons estates in South Carolina Gazette, 7 and 21 January 1773). Rather, I think it’s possible, or even likely, that Christopher Gadsden, or perhaps his wife, Ann, objected to landing cargoes of newly-arrived Africans at their wharf, which was quite literally in their backyard.

I find it hard to accept as mere coincidence that no ships carrying African cargos landed at Gadsden’s Wharf until days after the death of the widow Gadsden. I believe it’s entirely plausible that the various wharf owners and merchants of Charleston were already clamoring for a solution to the city’s crowded and dangerous wharves in early 1806, and they appealed to General Gadsden’s executors, who were prominent businessmen of Charleston at that time. With the old General gone, and his widow now buried as well, couldn’t Gadsden’s executors help relieve the wharf congestion? Perhaps some monetary inducement was offered to them. Regardless of the precise details of such hypothetical conversations, it is certain that City Council did not have the power to mandate the use of private property such as Gadsden’s Wharf as the sole, legally-sanctioned landing place for slave ships without the consent of Gadsden’s legal executors. We can deduce, therefore, that some serious conversations took place in the seven days between the death of Ann Gadsden and the ratification of the new law. The speed with which the entire traffic of African slave ships was re-routed to Gadsden’s Wharf in February 1806 is an indication of how horrible the trade really was. Mrs. Gadsden didn’t want it in her backyard, and the white citizens of urban Charleston wanted to push it to the northern fringes of the city.

The first slave ship to arrive in Charleston harbor after the change-of-venue law was the British brig, Duddon, which officially arrived on 20 February 1806 with a cargo of 173 people consigned to the merchant partnership of Gibson and Broadfoot. The following day, that merchant firm published notices in the local newspapers stating that the sale of the Duddon cargo would begin immediately at Vanderhorst’s Wharf. Apparently, someone forgot that slave sales at that venue was now contrary to the law. Accordingly, the following day, 22 February 1806, Gibson and Broadfoot published a revised notice that the sale of the Duddon cargo was taking place at Gadsden’s Wharf. Based on all of the abovementioned evidence, I believe that this vessel, carrying 173 West African souls, was the first slave ship to land its cargo at Gadsden’s Wharf. From that moment onward, until the end of December 1807, all subsequent slave ships arriving in Charleston harbor docked and sold their human cargo at Gadsden’s Wharf, and only at Gadsden’s Wharf.

The final twenty-two months of the legal importation of African captives into the United States, between late February 1806 and late December 1807, proved to be the most intense and horrific episode in the sad history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to North America. The Charleston Times, 2 January 1808, reported that approximately 26,000 people had arrived during this brief period, but more recent data at suggest the number was more like 30,000 people in nearly 200 voyages. During this era, mortality rates soared as greed and exploitation won the day. In a final demonstration of this fact, several slave merchants held their newly-imported human cargo off the market in warehouses at Gadsden’s Wharf well into the spring of 1808, in an effort to drive prices higher as the last legally-imported supply of fresh human chattel dwindled. In the interest of profit, humans packed into warehouses died of fevers, exposure, and frostbite. (See eyewitness John Lambert’s Travels through Lower Canada, and the United States of North America, in the Years 1806, 1807, and 1808, volume 2, page 406).

Much of the evidence I’ve presented here you’ll not find in history books yet. One day I’ll publish a more robust version of this narrative, complete with additional evidence, citations, and illustrations. In the meantime, however, I’d like to close by offering a few conclusions that I hope might prove useful in the ongoing conversation about interpreting and narrating the complicated history of Charleston at the new International African American Museum.

The evidence I’ve found suggests that the site known as Gadsden’s Wharf was not used to receive or to sell incoming cargos of African captives before late February 1806. Some evidence to the contrary might exist, but I haven’t found any, and, as a historian immersed in local archival records, I have a strong hunch that none will be found. Nevertheless, the evidence regarding the volume of slave traffic at Gadsden’s Wharf in the months between late February 1806 and early 1808 represents the busiest and most tragic episode in the long history of the transportation of Africans into the United States. During that brief period, it might be reasonable to say that more Africans were sold into slavery at Gadsden’s Wharf than at any other site in North America. That fact alone makes Gadsden’s Wharf a special place, worthy of commemoration and reflection. I can imagine no better site for a bold new museum dedicated to that noble purpose.

An American Guesser

In December 1775, "An American Guesser" anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal:

This anonymous writer, having "nothing to do with public affairs" and "in order to divert an idle hour," speculated on why a snake might be chosen as a symbol for America.

First, it occurred to him that "the Rattle-Snake is found in no other quarter of the world besides America."

The rattlesnake also has sharp eyes, and "may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance." Furthermore,

Benjamin Franklin, portrait by David Martin, 1767. White House Historical Association.

Many scholars now agree that this "American Guesser" was Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin is also known for opposing the use of an eagle &mdash "a bird of bad moral character" &mdash as a national symbol.

HISTORY: Christopher Gadsden

Patriot and merchant Christopher Gadsden was born in Charleston on February 16, 1724, the son of Elizabeth and Thomas Gadsden, a collector of customs. Gadsden received a classical education in England before completing a four-year apprenticeship to a prominent Philadelphia factor. Between 1745 and 1747 he served as purser aboard the British man-of-war Aldborough. With money from his seafaring service and a large inheritance from his parents, who had both died by 1741, Gadsden launched one of the most successful mercantile careers in the province. By 1774 he owned four stores, several merchant vessels, two rice plantations (worked by more than ninety slaves), a residential district called Gadsdenboro in Charleston, and one of the largest wharfs in North America.

Possessing financial independence and a civic spirit, Gadsden pursued public office. In 1757 he began his nearly three decades of service in the Commons House of Assembly. He first revealed himself as a vocal defender of American rights during the Cherokee War by attacking the British colonel James Grant for taking command of local troops above provincial Colonel Thomas Middleton. Gadsden continued to defy British authority as a member of the assembly by opposing the governor and Royal Council in their attempt to infringe on the legislature’s right to raise troops, control money bills, and determine the election of its own members. Governor Thomas Boone marked Gadsden a troublemaker in 1762 and used a violation of a minor electoral practice to deny him his seat in the Commons House. The ensuing controversy between the governor and Gadsden swelled the merchant’s reputation as a defender of colonial rights and helped transform him into a zealous American patriot.

Gadsden continued to champion American home rule and to oppose Parliamentary supremacy at the Stamp Act Congress in New York in 1765. During the next decade, Gadsden joined with Charleston mechanics (Sons of Liberty) to lead the local “patriot party” against every perceived infringement of America’s rights by Parliament. Gadsden’s influence and dedication earned him election to the First Continental Congress, where his extremism manifested itself in proposals for Congress to reject all Parliamentary legislation passed since 1763, to attack the British fleet in American waters, and to instruct each colony to prepare for war. Gadsden returned to South Carolina in February 1776 to serve as colonel of the First Regiment and as a member of the Provincial Congress, where he promoted independence and coauthored the South Carolina constitution of 1776. That summer he helped repulse the British navy’s attack on Charleston, conduct that earned him a position as brigadier general in the Continental Army. Two years later Gadsden helped secure the disestablishment of the Anglican Church and popular election of senators in the state’s 1778 constitution. But the conservative faction dominating the assembly managed to dampen the firebrand’s influence in the new government by electing Gadsden to the impotent position of vice president (as the office of lieutenant governor was then known).

While Gadsden’s zealous and suspicious personality was ideal for organizing American resistance, it was counterproductive in the post-1776 political structure. In 1777 he impulsively resigned his commission as brigadier general over a petty dispute with General Robert Howe. The following year Gadsden violently upset the masses by favoring leniency toward local Tories. And while serving as lieutenant governor in 1780, Gadsden’s irrational temperament cost the United States more than two thousand Continental troops when Charleston fell to the British. Following a ten-month imprisonment in St. Augustine, Gadsden returned to South Carolina to rebuild his many business interests, which suffered considerably during the war. He returned to public service briefly in 1788 to vote for ratification of the United States Constitution and again in 1790 to serve in the state’s constitutional convention.

Gadsden married three times. On July 28, 1746, he married Jane Godfrey. The couple had two children. He married Mary Hasell on December 29, 1755. His second marriage produced four children. Following Mary’s death in 1768, Gadsden married Ann Wragg on April 14, 1776. They had no children. Gadsden died on August 28, 1805, from head injuries suffered in a fall near his home in Charleston. He was buried in St. Philip’s Churchyard.


The revival of The Gadsden House continued in 2014 as a collaborative effort by Luxury Simplified Construction in partnership with the Historic Charleston Foundation. The grounds were reimagined + underwent intricate restoration, transforming the site into one of Charleston’s most notable private event venues. The property features original heart pine floors, authentic floor-to-ceiling windows + the renowned Philip Simmons “Snake Gates” which combined with clean paint colors, impressive crystal chandeliers + thoughtful modern amenities, offers a seamless blend of historic character + contemporary elegance.

Christopher Gadsden

GADSDEN, CHRISTOPHER (1724–1805), American patriot, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1724. His father, Thomas Gadsden, was for a time the king's collector for the port of Charleston. Christopher went to school near Bristol, in England, returned to America in 1741, was afterwards employed in a counting house in Philadelphia, and became a merchant and planter at Charleston. In 1759 he was captain of an artillery company in an expedition against the Cherokees.

He was a member of the South Carolina legislature almost continuously from 1760 to 1780, and represented his province in the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 and in the Continental Congress in 1774–1776. In February 1776 he was placed in command of all the military forces of South Carolina, and in October of the same year was commissioned a brigadier-general and was taken into the Continental service but on account of a dispute arising out of a conflict between state and Federal authority resigned his command in 1777.

He was lieutenant-governor of his state in 1780, when Charleston was surrendered to the British. For about three months following this event he was held as a prisoner on parole within the limits of Charleston then, because of his influence in deterring others from exchanging their paroles for the privileges of British subjects, he was seized, taken to St Augustine, Florida, and there, because he would not give another parole to those who had violated the former agreement affecting him, he was confined for forty-two weeks in a dungeon.

In 1782 Gadsden was again elected a member of his state legislature he was also elected governor, but declined to serve on the ground that he was too old and infirm in 1788 he was a member of the convention which ratified for South Carolina the Federal constitution and in 1790 he was a member of the convention which framed the new state constitution. He died in Charleston on the 28th of August 1805. From the time that Governor Thomas Boone, in 1762, pronounced his election to the legislature improper, and dissolved the House in consequence, Gadsden was hostile to the British administration.

He was an ardent leader of the opposition to the Stamp Act, advocating even then a separation of the colonies from the mother country and in the Continental Congress of 1774 he discussed the situation on the basis of inalienable fights and liberties, and urged an immediate attack on General Thomas Gage, that he might be defeated before receiving reinforcements.

Christopher Gadsden

Christopher Gadsden (February 16, 1724 – August 28, 1805), a soldier and statesman from South Carolina, was the principal leader of the South Carolina Patriot movement in the American Revolution. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the War of Independence. He was also the designer of the famous Gadsden flag.

Gadsden was born in 1724 in Charleston, South Carolina. He was the son of Thomas Gadsden, who had served in the Royal Navy before becoming customs collector for the port of Charleston. Christopher was sent to school near Bristol, England. He returned to America in 1740, and served as an apprentice in a counting house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He inherited a large fortune from his parents, who died in 1741. From 1745 to 1746 he served during King George’s War as a purser on a British warship. He entered into mercantile ventures, and by 1747 he had earned enough to return to South Carolina and buy back the land his father had sold because he needed the money to pay off debts.

Gadsden began his rise to prominence as a merchant and patriot in Charleston. He prospered as a merchant, and built the wharf in Charleston that still bears his name. He served as captain of a militia company during a 1759 expedition against the Cherokees. He was first elected to the Commons House of Assembly in 1757, and began a long friction with autocratic royal governors.

In 1765 the assembly made him one of their delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City, which was called to protest the Stamp Act. While his fellow delegates Thomas Lynch and John Rutledge served on committees to draft appeals to the House of Lords and Commons respectively, Gadsden refused any such assignment, since in his view Parliament had no rights in the matter. He addressed himself with outspoken support for the Declaration of Rights produced by the Congress. His addresses brought him to the attention of Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, and the two began a long correspondence and friendship. Gadsden was eventually known as “the Sam Adams of the South”.

On his return from New York, Gadsden became one of the founders and leaders of the Charleston Sons of Liberty. He had risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the militia. He was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the Second Continental Congress the following year. He left Congress early in 1776 to assume command of the 1st South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army and to serve in the Provincial Congress of South Carolina.

In February 1776, South Carolina President John Rutledge named him a brigadier general in charge of the state’s military forces. As the British prepared to attack Charleston, Major General Charles Lee ordered outlying positions abandoned. Rutledge and the local officers disagreed. A compromise was reached and as William Moultrie prepared the defenses on Sullivan’s Island, Gadsden paid for, and his regiment built, a bridge that would allow their escape if the position were threatened. The British attack was repulsed. In 1778, Gadsden was a member of the South Carolina convention that drafted a new state constitution. That same year he was named the Lieutenant Governor, to replace Henry Laurens who was away at the Continental Congress. He would serve in that office until 1780. Actually, for the first year and a half his office was called “Vice President of South Carolina,” but when the new constitution was adopted, the title was changed to the modern usage.

When the British laid siege to Charleston in 1780, John Rutledge, as president of the council fled to North Carolina to ensure a “government in exile” should the city fall. Gadsden remained, along with Governor Rawlins Lowndes. General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered the Continental Army garrison on May 12 to General Sir Henry Clinton. At the same time, Gadsden represented the civil government and surrendered the city. He was sent on parole to his Charleston house.

After General Sir Henry Clinton returned to New York, the new British commander in the South, General Cornwallis changed the rules. On the morning of August 27, he arrested about 20 of the civil officers then on parole. They were marched as prisoners to a ship and taken to St. Augustine, Florida. When they arrived, Governor Tonyn offered the freedom of the town if they would give their parole. Most accepted, but Gadsden refused claiming that the British had already violated one parole, and he could not give his word to a false system. As a result, he spent the next 42 weeks in solitary confinement in a prison room at the old Spanish fortress of Castillo de San Marcos. When they were finally released in 1781, they were sent by merchant ship to Philadelphia. Once there, Gadsden learned of the defeat of Cornwallis at Cowpens and withdrawal to Yorktown. He hurried home, to help the restoration of South Carolina’s civil government.

Gadsden was returned to the state’s House of Representatives, then meeting at Jacksonboro. At this session, Governor Randolph and de facto President Rutledge both surrendered their offices. Gadsden was elected as the governor, but felt he had to decline. His health was still impaired from his imprisonment, and an active governor was needed since the British had not yet given up Charleston. So in 1782, John Mathews became the new governor.

Gadsden was also a member of the state convention in 1788 and voted for ratification of the United States Constitution. He died from an accidental fall on August 28, 1805, in Charleston, and is buried there in St. Phillip’s Churchyard.

Gadsden was married three times, and had four children by his second wife. The Gadsden Purchase of Arizona was named for his grandson James Gadsden. Another grandson, Christopher E. Gadsden, was the fourth Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina.