Social Clubs and Organizations

Started in Charleston, South Carolina

By: Ill. Brother McDonald “Don” Burbidge, 33°

 In early Charles Town persons of like national origin tended to organize their own clubs for purposes of charity and pleasure. There were clubs representing all principle national elements in the province. The Scotch had their St. Andrew’s Society, the English their St. George’s Society, the French their South Carolina Society. As early as 1736 there was a Welch Club which celebrated the anniversary of their patron saint. There was an Irish Society in 1749 and a German Friendly Society in 1766. 

Other clubs from the ranks of population at large also had civic, cultural, or benevolent interests. A charitable Society gave notice of a meeting in 1757, and the Society for the Relief of Widows and Orphans of the Clergy of the Established Church advertised a special anniversary in 1770. The Winyah Society, founded about 1740 for purposes of conviviality by indigo planters, established a school with surplus funds from its treasury. The Charleston Library Society, founded in 1748, in addition to its other functions, sponsored literate discussions and scientific demonstrations. Patriotic groups such as the Sons of Liberty and the Club Forty-Five came into being after the Stamp Act. Fraternal organizations like the Masons, who by 1766 had four lodges in Charleston and three in other communities flourished and multiplied. 

The importance of club life in the eighteenth-century England was reflected in colonial South Carolina. The Gazette fails to reveal the presence of counterparts of the Hell-Fire clubs, the tavern did not occupy as important a place, and there was a greater emphasis upon the eleemosynary; but except for these details the club life of the Carolinian and of the Englishman had much in common. The social structure of the colony was based upon wealth, but it was a wealth accumulated by energy and ability rather than by inheritance. This wealth made possible leisure for pleasure and self-improvement, and brought with it a feeling of responsibility toward the community. 

The Societies or Clubs that we will be looking at will be the ones started by our late Masonic Brothers.

The St. Andrew’s Society

Founded in 1729

The St. Andrew’s Society of Charles Town, South Carolina, founded in the year 1729, is not only the oldest, but it is also the progenitor of some, possibly a great number, of these St. Andrew’s Societies. That it is the oldest there is little reason to doubt, for on none of the lists of Scottish associations, which have been published from time to time, does there appear a St. Andrew’s society with an earlier date of establishment. That it is the progenitor of at least two other associations of the same name is equally certain. According to the same authorities which assign the Charleston society the place of the oldest, the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the second oldest, having been founded in 1749. This organization, beyond all doubt, was modeled with minor changes after the one in Charleston, probably, of the removal from Charleston to Philadelphia of a resident of the former city that carried the idea with him. Certain it is by this means it was transmitted from Philadelphia to New York, where the St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York was established in 1756. A president of the Charleston Society evidently intended to suggest this when he said, the name of St. Andrew and the symbol of his cross, the consecrated banner of their fathers, are still held in deep reverence by every Scotsman; and whenever at a distance from Scotland they unite for any social or benevolent purpose, and especially to cherish the recollection of their beloved native land, that name and symbol, and the thistle of his Order, and its daring motto, generally distinguish their voluntary associations.”  No reasonable person will hold it against the members of the St. Andrew’s Society of Charleston for indulging themselves, as they proudly approach their two hundredth and seventh first anniversary.

In the course of time the Roman Empire accepted Christianity and Andrew came to be held in great veneration out of Northumberland. Athelstan, a fierce Warrior, who was almost at his Heels, and overtook him not far from Hadington. The Picts dismayed at the sudden approach of their enemies, stood immediately, to their arms, and kept themselves in their stations, ‘till very late; having set their watches for the night, Hungus being inferior in other things, desired Aid of God, and gave himself up wholly to prayer. At last, when his body was wearied with Labor, and his mind oppressed with care, he seemed to behold Andrew the Apostle, standing by him in his sleep, promising him the victory. This vision being declared to the Picts filled them full of hope, so that they prepared themselves with great Alacrity for a combat, which it was in vain to think of avoiding. The next day they came to a pitched battle. Some add, that another prodigy was seen in the heavens, a cross like the letter X, which did so terrify the English, that they could hardly sustain the first onset of the Picts. Athelstan was slain there, who gave name to the place of battle, which is yet called Athelstan’s Ford. Hungus ascribed the victory to St. Andrew, to whom, besides other gifts, he offered the tithes of his royal demesnes.

This incident, it is asserted by some writers, led to the acceptance of Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland, but others hold that he had become such before the battle of Athelstan’s Ford; hence his assistance to Scottish forces at the time. Certain it is that henceforth he occupied that high station. One authority states positively that after the battle “they [Achaius and Hungus] went in solemn procession, barefooted to Kirk of St. Andrew, to return thanks to God and his apostle for their victory; vowing that they and their posterity would ever bear the figure of that cross in their ensigns and banners. In this way, it would seem, Scotland acquired that emblem which appears today in her national flag and in the British Union Jack along with the crosses of St. George and St. Patrick.

When the founders of the St. Andrew’s Society of Charles Town chose their insignia and devices, they took the figure of the saint, the cross decussate, the thistle, and the motto. Not necessarily because they were the insignia and devices of a knightly order but more probably because they were ancient Scottish symbols. To these they added a crown, for what reason is not clear, possibly because it occurs along with the thistle in the national badge of Scotland. The thistle, the crown, and the motto are employed in the society’s seal which is described in the original rules as “a Silver Seal with a thistle and crown over it, engraved upon it, and the motto, Nemo Me Impune Laciest.” The figure of the saint supporting the cross has appeared from time to time on its banner, and for a time it was required that each member at the anniversary meeting should wear it. It is worn at the present time only by the president as a badge of his office. 

Who were the founders of this Society, or Club as it was first called? On the original copy of the rules, which required that “every member hereafter to be admitted shall immediately subscribe to the rules,” under the words “Original Members Present, 30th of November, 1730” occur the signatures of thirty-four persons.

The first printed edition of the rules bearing the imprint, “London: printed by James Crokatt, printer and bookseller to the Society, at the Golden Key near the InnerTemple Gate in Fleet Street, 1731,” shows sixty-four names under the heading “Original Members presented the 30th of November, 1730. Dr. John Lining name appeared as the 48th signature on this list with other signatures under “admitted August 31, 1731.” 

The original rules remained substantially unchanged until 1796, and it appears that the members governed themselves strictly in accordance with them. 

The Club meet four times a year which was held on the last day of February, May, and on August, along with St. Andrew’s Day, except when these dates fell on Sunday, then the meeting was held on the Monday following. These took place, as the rules stipulate, “at one convenient house in Charles Town. 

The principal design of this club is to assist all people in distress of whatsoever nation or profession they may be, its not doubted their number and stock would continue to increase. 

Oucconastotah, the great warrior and chief of the Cherokee Nation apparently so highly regarded his membership that he carefully preserved his certificate of admission for many years. 

Together with these were many of humbler stations, James Kerr, the Vintner, Charles Shepheard, and his successors Robert Dillon and William Holliday, keepers of a tavern on the corner of Broad and Church Streets. On the whole it seems that these members were drawn from practically every class represented in the colony. 

Their anniversary celebration on St. Andrew’s Day early became an event of great moment in the social life of the city. After what was the most important Buenos session of the year, when the officers were elected and the larger charities voted, there followed a dinner attended not only by a majority of the members but also by distinguished guests. These guests would sometime include the governor, chief justice, council, the speaker of the commons house of assembly, and the prominent visitors in the colony. 

These dinners were, indeed, “handsome entertainment’s.” They were generally held at the tavern which stood at the northeast corner of Church and Broad Streets, know for a time as “Shepheard’s Tavern” and then as “Dillon’s on the Corner.” They were prepared by the best satraps of the day, amount them Mr. Henry Gignilliant, Mr. James Kerr, Mr. Charles Shepheard, Mr. Thomas Blythe, Mr. Robert Dillon, Mr. William Holliday. Though there is no record of the action, it is quite evident that the provision of the rules permitting the president or vice president to agree “at their discretion for the entertainment of the club for any sum not exceeding Ten Shillings Sterling a Man” was soon amended. 

In the colonial period there were five presidents of the St. Andrew’s Society one of which was John Moultrie (1760-1771). John Moultrie was a native of Culross Shire of Fife, Scotland. He came to South Carolina early in the eighteenth century but returned to Scotland where he received his M.D. degree from Edinburgh University. He returned to Charles Town before November 30,1730, for on this day he signed the rules of the Society. Here he became a successful physician. His five sons, four of whom rose to prominence in public life, were all members of the Society, and one (General William Moultrie) became president. 

The Winyah Indigo Society of Georgetown, South Carolina

Founded in 1755

The Winyah Indigo Society, one of our nations oldest organizations, has its roots in changes that were enveloping the Georgetown Area in the mid-18th Century. According to tradition, in the 1740s local planters began meeting on the first Friday of each month at Nathaniel Tregagle’s popular Old Oak tavern on Bay Street to ponder the news of their community, Charleston, and London. Along with food, drink, and convivial discussion of weather, taxes, politics, and social goings-on, there arose in that decade special interest in what was then called “Indico,” the herb that yields highly prized blue dye.

In October 1744, April 1745, and January 1747, Charleston’s South Carolina Gazette printed a four page weekly article devoted considerable space to indigo providing readers’ with basic information concerning how to cultivate and process the crop. Planted in April and May, this native of India matured at different times during the summer months, resulting in several cuttings. Stem perhaps three feet long, together with leaves, then were steeped in a vat and allowed to ferment. The pulpy mass was subsequently dissolved, beaten, and drained before being dried, cut into squares, and placed in casks. It was a messy smelly job, a task that attracted flies and mosquitoes, work usually done by slaves. 

Some Georgetown planter’s in the 1750’s were reaping high profits on their indigo crops. At some point, those gathering at the Old Oak tavern formed themselves into an informal club. An anonymous writer to the South Carolina Gazette (February 6, 1755) called “a company or Society.” Just when this organization began to function is unclear, although the Winyah Indigo Society seal bears the date of 1753. This group, the writer boasted, had reduced the processing of indigo to “a plain, easy, and familiar Method” and soon would supply every member with “a complete history of the settled and most generally approved Method of Indigo-making, from the cutting to the barreling.” Anyone joining the society, he stressed, will immediately receive this valuable information, which would “be more than the equivalent of his admission money.” According to tradition, members sometimes were permitted to pay their dues in indigo, although the royal charter obtained a few years later specified such sums were to be paid in money. 

This gentleman also alluded to the fact that “the whole Monies paid by members at their entrance, is to be added to a fund already sunk for building a free-school in George-Town, for teaching and instructing indigent children, in the use of letter, and the principles of religion.” Initially, however, this school did not fulfill the hopes and dreams of those advocating education and moral betterment. 

In January 1760, although deserving pupils were given free education, books, pens, ink, paper, firewood, and two suits of outside clothes each year, a notice in the South Carolina Gazette reveals ten of the twelve “indigent” slots lay vacant. Also, despite being called a “Free-School,” it should be noted that a majority of pupils always paid tuition and other related expenses. Considering the difficult task of finding and keeping a schoolmaster and the turmoil of the times, one suspect this institution did not function as promised until the American Revolution had run its course.

On the “Roster of Members,” John Lining is listed as joining on 1756. 

The Charleston Library Society

Founded in 1748

The Scots formed their St. Andrew’s Society in 1729, the English their St. George’s Society in 1733, the Huguenots (becoming less aggressively French) established the South Carolina Society in 1737, and the Germans Friendly Society in 1766. All of these organizations continue their active existence and objectives today. And as the members of various groups intermarried and become South Carolinians, we find many men on the rolls of more than one society. 

Another kind of organization was the Charleston Library Society. In 1748 William Burrows was one of “a group of seventeen aspiring young intellectuals,” who agreed to raise a fund of ten pounds sterling and import recent magazines and pamphlets from London. These seventeen men held together by the bond of reading habit, including a school master, two planters, a peruke maker, a doctor, a printer, two lawyers, and nine merchants. The library Society soon was supported with rules and organization; in 1750 the eminent Dr. John Lining, resident of Charleston, meticulous observer and recorder of weather data, experimenter in electrical phenomena, and correspondent of Benjamin Franklin, was president; the membership, comprising the leaders of the province, numbered 129. 

Society of the Cincinnati

Founded in 1783


                                                                 From The Institution.


President John Adams, in a letter written to Thomas Jefferson, said that he remembered having been in a tavern in Westchester County, New York, in the month of October 1776, together with Generals Washington, Knox, Patterson and others.

General Knox was then heard to say that when the war was over, he should like to have some ribbon to wear in his hat or in his buttonhole, to be transmitted to his descendants as a badge or proof that he had fought in the defense of the liberties of this country. He spoke of it in such precise terms as showed that he had revolved it in his mind before.


Sectaries for South Carolina:     Year       Name

                                                1810    John Mitchell        

                                                1811    John Mitchell


In the Institution, or basic law of the Society, its founders thus explained their choice of its name:

 “ The Officers of the American Army have been generally taken from the citizens of America, posses high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman, Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, and being resolved to follow his example, by returning to their citizenship, they think they may, with propriety, denominate themselves the Society of the Cincinnati.”

George Washington’s signature lead the names subscribed to the first copy of the Institution. He never signed the Roll of Virginia, his Native State, nor that of any other State, but remained a member at large until his death.

 Admission to Membership

Eligibility to original membership among Continental Army Officers was defined by the founders of the Society of Cincinnati as existing in officers of the Line (regular Army), who held commissions by the Continental Congress and who were included in any of the following classes;

1)      Those officers who were in service at the time of the foundation of the Society in  1783.

2)      Those officers previously deranged (honorably retired) by act of Congress.

3)      Those officers who served three years as such in the Continental Line.


The Story of Cincinnatus

The story of the Roman dictator, Cincinnatus, is told in a popular translation of Livy’s History of Rome, in the following way: 

Five horsemen bore tidings to Rome that the Army was besieged. The people were sorely dismayed to hear these tidings, nor when they cast about for help, saw they man that might be sufficient in this time of peril, save only Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus. By common consent, therefore, he was appointed Dictator for six months and messengers were sent to tell him. 

He was cultivating with his own hand a plot of ground and when the messengers of the people came to him they found him plowing. 

The messengers said, “Put on thy robe and hear the words of the people.” Then Cincinnatus astonished called unto his wife Racilia, that she should bring forth his robe from the cottage. So she brought it forth his robe from the cottage. So she brought it forth and the man washed from himself the dust and the sweat and stood before the messengers. These said unto him, “The People of Rome make thee Dictator and bid thee come forthwith to defense of the land.” 

Under the lead of Cincinnatus the invader was soon driven out of the land. Thereupon he resigned the Dictatorship and returned to his plow.  

Orphan’s House at Charleston

From its founding in October 1790, John Mitchell was one of the Commissioners of the Orphan House at Charleston, A tablet commemorating the first meeting of the Commissioners on October 28, 1790 lists Mitchell second after Major Charles Lining, and he is recorded as being present at every meeting thereafter until 1794. The minutes show no one more active than Colonel Mitchell in promoting public support for the Orphan House and in the management of its affairs during the difficult first years. On Saturday May 7, 1791 President George Washington, with the City Intendment and Wardens, visited the Orphans House, and Mitchell is listed as the senior Commissioner receiving him, afterwards entertaining him at breakfast in the Commissioners’ Room.  

The Charleston Orphan House, the oldest municipal orphanage in the United States, was founded October 18, 1790, at the instigation of John Robertson, a philanthropic citizen and a member of City Council. It’s main purpose was to establish the Institution for the “purpose of supporting and educating poor and orphan children and those of poor and disabled parents who are unable to support and maintain them. During the 1800’s the Orphan House was a well-known child care institution. 

The institution was a completely self-sufficient entity. The children were fed by homegrown food, dressed in homespun clothing, and educated in the building by former students trained by the Principal of the School. This method of management was established in order to reduce the cost of maintaining the children. A Board of Commissioners annually elected by City Council governed the Orphan House. This Board met weekly, with each member alternating his services as a Visiting Commissioner. The Visiting Commissioner primarily investigated applicants for admission or indenture; however, he also conducted religious services on Sunday afternoon and inspected the house, grounds, and staff.  

Commissioners of the Charleston Orphan House list John Mitchell as one starting on October 25, 1790 and ending on November 27, 1794. 

The Charleston Orphan House stood at the corner of Calhoun and St. PHILIP Streets. Built on the site of the Revolutionary War Barracks, the Institution was officially occupied October 18, 1794.  

A set of tablets containing the names of the first commissioners- Arnoldus Vanderhorst, Charles Lining, John Mitchell, John Robertson, Richard Cole, Thomas Corbett, William Marshall, Thomas Jones, and Samuel Beekman, and also, individual tablets to John Robertson, was made and put on pubic display at the Orphan House. 

At the one-hundredth anniversary of the Orphan House a banner was made. On the front of the banner it had written; 1790 Charleston Orphan House 1890. On the back of the banner located in the center was a drawing of a ship anchor with a chain on it. Above the anchor is the word “Faith” and below it is written “Charity.” 

Club Fourty-Five

Amid celebrations in Charleston over the repeal of the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act went nearly unnoticed. Couched in the same sweeping terms as the Irish Declaratory Act of 1719, it pronounced the American Colonies subordinate to and dependant upon the Crown and Parliament. While Charleston rang with cheers and huzzas, a more sober meeting at the Liberty Tree was taking place. There Gadsden and the mechanics gathered privately, and in the words of George Flagg the painter, “Gadsden harangued them at considerable length, on the folly of relaxing their opposition and vigilance, or of indulging the fallacious hope that Great Britain would relinquish her designs and pretensions. He drew their attention to the preamble of the act, forcibly pressed upon the folly of rejoicing at a law that still asserted and maintained the absolute dominion of Great Britain over them. Then reviewing all the chances of succeeding in a struggle to break the fetters whenever again imposed on them,” the mechanics joined hands and swore their defense against tyranny,” but, like the silversmith Grimke, some must have thought, “Thank God” the province was “now again, the land of Liberty.”

Charles-Town, Nov. 21, 1772



Who are Members, and particularly the Stewards,

Of the CLUB No. 45,

The Meeting of which was adjourned to the Day whereon cer-

tain Advice should be received of the intrepid Patriot


Being advanced to the high Dignity of

LORD MAYOR of London,

Are desired to meet at Mr. Holiday’s Tavern, at Six o’clock

THIS EVENING, to choose Stewards, and otherwise

Prepare, for the Celebration of their Sincere Joy upon so glorious

And important Event.

Public Notice will be given, when the News is received, of

the Day appointed; and Tickets for Admission may in the mean

Time be had of Joshua Lockwood, Joseph Verree, and

Morris, three of the former Stweards, and at T.

Powell & Co.’s Printing-Office, near the Exchange.

 (As printed in the South Carolina Gazette Paper)

 Also printed in the Gazette newspaper is a description of another meeting that took place under the Liberty Tree.

 About 5 o’clock they all removed to a most noble LIVE OAK tree, in Mr. Mazyk’s pasture, which they formally dedicated to LIBERTY, where many loyal, patriotic, and constitutional toasts were drank, beginning with the glorious NINETY-TWO Anti-Rescinders of Massachusetts-Bay, and ending with, unanimity among the members of our ensuing Assembly not to rescind from the said resolution [to boycott England], each succeeded by three huzzas.

 In the evening, the tree was decorated with 45 lights, and 45 skyrockets were fired. About 8 o’clock, the whole company, preceded by 45 of their number, marched in regular procession to town, down King-Street and Broad Street, to Mr. Robert Dillion’s tavern; where the 45 lights being placed upon the table, with 45 bowls of punch, 45 bottles of wine, and 92 glasses, they spent a few hours in a new round of toasts, among which, scarce a celebrated Patriot of Britain or America was omitted; and preserving the same good order and regularity as had been observed throughout the day, at 10 they retired. 

 ”The Society for the Relief of the Widows and Children of the Clergy of the Church of England in the Province of South Carolina.”

Established on April 21, 1762 by Right Rev. Robert Smith for the purpose of providing relief to the widows and children of the Clergy. A total of 11 members of the clergy attended the first meeting. At the second meeting Right Rev. Smith was elected it first Treasurer. 

It was adopted at the first meeting that the clergy would give a “Charity Sermon” to each church. On December 27, 1762, Rev. Smith provided the Masons of Charles Town the first documented sermon. The sermon was titled, “Charity Sermon for the Masons, No. 100.”

On October 3rd, 1818, Ill. Bro. Rev. Dalcho attended his first meeting according to the meeting of the Society and was listed as representing St. Michael’s church. 

This Society still survives and is, next to one in Virginia, the oldest society of the kind in America.   

Right Rev. Robert Smith is also credited with the founding the College of Charleston.

In 1790 Rev. Smith offered to merge his academy into the purposed college and yield to it his sixty pupils. This plan was adopted and was the real beginning of this institution, the oldest municipal college in the United States. Though the college had an earlier conception, in the sense of making it an actuality, Mr. Smith may be called the founder of it. He was the first president of the board of trustees and the first principal of the college.  Rev. Smith was a man of tradition who was a generous man, who understood life. He presided over the college, “ wrote one of his former students,” with great dignity and address, and had more power over boys than anyone in a similar capacity, although never severe or morose.”

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