A Short History of Shepheard’s Tavern
In the early days of the colony, Charles Town had few public buildings and its taverns served in a surrogate capacity. Shepheard’s Tavern stood out from all the rest. After the State House was built at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets in 1754, the tavern was strategically located midway between the center of government and the commercial heart of the city, the bustling on the wharfs on East Bay St. Quite naturally, the city’s power brokers patronized Shepheard’s Tavern.
The original tavern, built in 1705, fronted Broad St. and had a long room stretching along its Church St. side. For some years prior to 1751, this room was rented to the provincial government for court meetings as there were no suitable public buildings and the governor and council could not agree on where to build one. Thereafter, the long room was known as “the courtroom.”
The “courtroom” was used for a variety of entertainments. Henry Holt gave a ball there in December 1734. On January 11, 1735, The South Carolina Gazette, announced that Thomas Otway’s tragedy, The Orphan, or the Unhappy Marriage, would be attempted in the room later that month. This was the colonies’ first record of a theatrical season.
Shepheard’s Tavern was one of the town’s venues for banquets honoring the arrival of royal governors. The site also served as a post office in 1743, when Shepheard received and distributed the mail arriving by ship and by land. Solomon’s Lodge was organized at “Mr. Charles Shepheard’s in Broad Street” on Oct. 29, 1736. This was the first Masonic lodge in the United States.
In 1773, when the establishment was known as Swallow’s Tavern, the first Chamber of Commerce in America was formed on the site. The St. Andrew’s Society and other fraternal organizations held their meetings and dinners at Shepheard’s. During the Revolutionary period, the tavern was among those that hosted meetings of the Sons of Liberty.
On August 29, 1783, 43 Continental officers assembled at the tavern and formed the South Carolina Society of the Cincinnati. Maj. Gen. William Moultrie, hero of the battle of Fort Sullivan, was elected its first president. Their mission was to preserve the principles of liberty for which its founders had fought during the Revolution and to perpetuate those values through their descendants. This group is the only southern society to have remained in continuous existence since its founding.
In 1796 the tavern burned down but it was soon replaced. A replica of the new building is depicted on the large granite marker beside the bank’s columned portico. The marker commemorates the founding of the First Scottish Rite lodge in 1801. Among its founders were some of Charleston’s most accomplished citizens: Dr. James Moultrie, the only native South Carolinian among the original members; Dr. Isaac Auld, noted Charleston physician; and the Reverend Doctor Frederick Dalcho.
Dalcho is recognized for publishing An Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the first diocesan history recorded in the U.S. He is also noted for his Masonic writings. Dalcho was the son of an officer in the army of Frederick the Great, who arrived in Charleston while serving as a surgeon in the U.S. Army. He went into practice with Dr. Isaac Auld and was elected to the South Carolina Medical Society. When he tried to resign from the Medical Society, they made him a lifelong honorary member. He later became a lay reader at St. Paul’s Stono and served as the assistant minister.
He transferred to St. Paul’s Radcliffeborough and was called to St. Michael’s, where he served as assistant minister from 1819 to 1835. Dalcho died in 1836 and was buried in St. Michael’s churchyard. The vestry erected a memorial tablet in his honor, but because of anti-Masonic feelings at the time, it was placed outside the church. Years later, it was relocated to the west wall of St. Michael’s sanctuary. Dalcho’s seminal history of Freemasonry in South Carolina, Ahiman Rezon, is still read today.
Another distinguished member was Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey, a graduate of the medical department of the College of Charleston. In 1844 he abandoned the practice of medicine and devoted the rest of his life to writing and lecturing on a variety of arcane subjects. He was opposed to secession from the Union and was confined within Charleston’s city limits during the war. His home was bombarded three times. In July 1865, President Johnson appointed him Collector of the Port. In 1870 Mackey moved to Washington, D.C. and wrote numerous books about Freemasonry. Mackey enjoyed a national reputation for his keen wit, lively repartee and remarkable anecdotal skills. He died in 1881 and was buried in Washington.
The last tavern building on the site became a 19th century grocery store, Klinck and Wickenburg. The building was demolished in 1928 to make way for the construction of the Citizens and Southern Bank, now the home of South State Bank. William A. Giles, grandmaster of the Ancient Freemasons, laid the cornerstone of the new building.