City Directories and History: JAMES BROWN HOUSE
Constructed between 1768 and 1777; renovated with addition 1994
“James Brown, a carpenter (mechanic), erected this three-story single house sometime after he purchased the property in 1768 and sold the land for a significantly increased price nine years later. The detailing of the main house supports this eighteenth-century construction date, although the piazza appears to postdate the construction of the house by several decades. Recent renovations and repairs have included a new hyphen addition joining the main house and the rear dependency.”
The Buildings of Charleston – J.H. Poston for the Historic Charleston Foundation, 1997
Charleston historian, Peg R. Eastman states, “One of the most active Sons of Liberty was a “housewright” named James Brown. He was involved in some major local building projects and was a well-known personage in town. Brown served on the Committee of Ninety nine (fifteen merchants, fifteen mechanics and sixty-nine planters), which coordinated the non importation of British goods into South Carolina.
When the royal government evacuated Charles Town in 1775, Brown was hired to repair Fort
Johnson, located at the tip of James Island. He represented St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s Parishes in the First and Second provincial Congresses. He also served in the First and Second General Assemblies. Brown took part in the defense of Charles Town and was captured by the British when the city fell. Charged with promoting and fomenting the “Spirit of Rebellion,” he accompanied Christopher Gadsden and other leading “rebels” to exile in St. Augustine, Florida. These men fared far better than those incarcerated aboard prison ships in Charles Town. Although closely watched, they were allowed to take servants, rent their own quarters and buy their own food. Brown was not exchanged and remained in St. Augustine until the war ended.
Following the Revolution, Brown returned to Charleston. His construction business took him to Fairfield County, where he contracted to build a courthouse in Winnsboro (Fairfield Co Courthouse). Due to the upheavals after the Revolution, he found it difficult to get paid. He was awarded the contract to build the first State House in Columbia, When construction ran behind schedule. Brown ran into contractual difficulties and again had trouble getting paid. Brown was still living in Charleston when he died in 1790. In 1768, Brown built a sturdy, three-story, wooden town house and dependencies at 50 King Street. (The number was changed to 54 King after the 1886 earthquake.) It was a typical single house with two rooms separated by a central stair hall. Brown sold the property nine years later and moved to Camden. The house changed hands numerous times before it was purchased by George A. Trenholm in 1863.
Trenholm was a wealthy merchant and partner in John Fraser & Company of Charleston and Fraser, Trenholm & Company of Liverpool. Although he served as secretary of the treasury for the Confederate States of America for eight months, during the war, his primary occupation was blockade running. Trenholm never lived at 54 King Street; his residence was the Patrick Duncan mansion located at 172 Rutledge Avenue, a house that is now the flagship building of Ashley Hall School. Some think that Margaret Mitchell used Trenholm as the prototype for Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind.
While the money was flowing in, Trenholm and his partners purchased a great deal of investment property in Charleston and elsewhere. When the war ended, the Federal government sought to recover duties on goods imported during the hostilities. It filed suit against John Frazier & Company as an agent of the Confederacy. Although much of the company’s real estate was seized and sold,54 King Street was among properties that were put into a trust for division among the partners.James T. Welsman,one of the partners, was allocated 54 King Street and given title in 1868. Welsman became a commission merchant on Vanderhorst Wharf and lived at the corner of Church and South Battery.
Upon his death, 54 King Street was conveyed to Fritz Jordan. Jordan lived in the house and operated a grocery store and saloon at 58 King. He died of apoplexy,and his wife lived in the property until her death in 1917.
The properly passed through a series of owners in the twentieth century. Of note were the Frederick Rutledge Bakers, who afterward purchased and renovated both 21 King Street and 13 East Battery. Baker was married to Hazel Middleton and worked as superintendent of Middleton Compress and Warehouse Company; he subsequently moved to Sumter as a representative of Middleton & Company. The Bakers sold 54 King Street to Susan Rutledge Moore, wife of B. Allston Moore, a Charleston attorney. Moore was a lecturer on legal medicine at the Medical College of South Carolina and a principal in Buist, Moore, Smythe and McGee, one of Charleston’s most prestigious law firms. After the Moores died, the property was sold to Anne C. Burris, wife of Alonzo “Lonnie” Burris, president of Burris Chemical Company. The Burris’s subdivided the property and conveyed the portion currently known as 54 King Street to Dr. W. Leigh Thompson and Maurice H. Thompson in January 1995.
(Courtesy of author and historian, Peg M. R. Eastman – Hidden History of Old Charleston, History Press – 2010)
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