Mules running loose in Georgetown

  • Friday, May 16, 2014

Vintage postcard showing Town Clock.

A reader asked me to look into the debate about whether or not our Clock Tower on Front Street was once a slave market.

While researching this, I ran into some interesting laws that were once on our books, like the one forbidding a resident to allow his mule to freely roam the streets.

First things first: the debate about the Clock Tower has been going on for quite some time and I hope to shed some light on the subject. I turned to my favorite source for information: “A Walk Down Front Street,” published for The Georgetown County Historical Society in 2011.

The original wooden building on the site of the Clock Tower was built in 1788. The upper floor was Georgetown’s Town Hall and at street level was the Public Market, or Market House. The book references an ad from the Georgetown Gazette in 1801 announcing the auction of land, a three-story house, and 35 “prime Negro slaves,” the auction to be held at the Market House.

So, yes, slaves were sold at the original building that sat on the site of the present-day Clock Tower. That building was torn down in 1841, and by 1942 the brick building that exists today was built in its place.

I searched and searched, but could find no reference to slaves being sold at the new Clock Tower building.

The Georgetown County Court House was completed in 1824, so that is where most slave auctions took place.

The confusion, I believe, came about because many subsequent publications referred to the Clock Tower as the “Old Slave Market.” Only a few correctly dubbed it as “the site of the Old Slave Market.”

In 1857, the local paper informed the public of an ordinance requiring that “an apartment in the Base of the Tower be fitted up as a Lock Up or Prison.”

Were they referring to the Clock Tower? I’m not sure, but the ordinance calls for the prison to be used to house runaway slaves, as well as slaves, free persons of color, or white men who were found to be disorderly in the streets.

The punishment for slaves and free persons of color was “not to exceed nineteen stripes on the bare back.”

Besides being “disorderly in the streets,” what else could land you in trouble with the law in Georgetown?

In 1842, an ordinance was printed in the paper that “it shall not be lawful for any horse, gelding, Mare, Mule, or Ass, to run at large in the streets of Georgetown.”

There were two exceptions to this law: you were not fined if your animal broke out of its enclosure in the town; or if you were running a herd through the streets on the way to market.

In 1851, an ordinance was ratified making it unlawful to fly a kite “or like paper” in the town. The offender was ordered to pay a sum “not exceeding Twelve Dollars.” If you couldn’t pay the fine, you would receive “up to twenty-five lashes.”

Good grief! I suppose if you lived in town and you let your Ass roam free while you were flying a kite, you could be in serious trouble!

The moral tone of the day may be understood by a letter to the Editor in 1842. It’s signed by “A Friend to Good Morals.”

The writer observed that on Sundays, while some citizens of Georgetown attended church services, others were guilty of “Sabbath breaking.”

They were seen on Sunday mornings “lounging about the grog shops, smoking cigars and drinking drams.”

The writer also observed on a Sunday afternoon “fifteen or twenty boys white, black and yellow assembled together in the street rejoicing, clapping” and making such noise that they, too, were guilty of “Sabbath breaking.”

According to the writer, a good citizen attended church services on Sunday mornings, did not take walks on Sunday afternoon unless the time was used to meditate upon God, and did not use the day for such amusements as “riding parties.”

I don’t think I could have passed the “morals test” back then.

To the GCDL and the Georgetown County Historical Society . . . thanks for the memories.

Debby Summey may be reached at 843-446-4777 or email at djsummey@gmail.com.

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