Between the Lines: America’s First Museum #research #history #amwriting

My character Nathaniel Williams earns some extra money in Evelyn’s Promise by helping to move items into the collection of America’s first museum, founded in 1773, at the Daniel Cannon house on what is now Queen Street, Charleston, SC. (I used the present day name in my book only to avoid confusing present-day readers. In fact, in the 18th century the street was known as Dock Street because of a dock at the east end, the part of the street which is now known as Vendue Street.) But how did I know where the museum collections were kept during this time period?

I asked the Charleston Museum folks, of course. Carl Borick is the Director of the museum, and he was very helpful in answering my questions about where the museum was housed in 1783 and after. In fact, he provided a wealth of information, which I used some of in Evelyn’s Promise.

According to Mr. Borick, there was no dedicated building for the museum until the 1820s. In the time period of my series, the collection was maintained by the Library Society, but the society burned down in 1778:

Among the items lost from the Museum were “a pair of elegant globes, mathematical and other instruments, and many specimens of natural history.” After the fire, the remaining collections of both the Museum and Library Society would have been moved to the Daniel Cannon house on Queen Street in Charleston. This house was probably a Charleston double house (two-story) constructed primarily of brick. Not much was done with either organization during the Revolutionary War.

250px-Charleston_County_Courthouse_2013In 1785, the museum moved to the State House, a masonry building still standing in the city and known as the Charleston County Courthouse.

The collection included some really amazing artifacts from what Mr. Borick shared. Including a case of insects from Surinam, an Indian helmet from the Sandwich Islands, part of a human thigh bone with oysters growing out of it, the head of a turtle from Calcutta that weighed 700+ pounds (whole turtle, not just the head), an Indian hatchet, and a rock crystal from Greenville, SC. Early collectors contributed things from all over the world that “reflected the cosmopolitan nature of the major port city that was Charleston.”

Knowing this, I tried to capture the essence of the city and its people in each of my four stories in the series. Besides, I really enjoyed my visits to the city to do my own research as to the feel of the place, the taste of the food, and the smells of the ocean and gardens the city is known for.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts and opinions!

Betty

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