Philadelphia Alley — Charleston, South Carolina
SC Picture Project | Charleston County | Philadelphia Alley
This pedestrian path in historic Charleston stretches just one block, running north from Queen Street to Cumberland between Church and State. Although limited in length, it nevertheless is widely known for its quiet shade and lowcountry charm. In fact, local legend and Grammy winner Darius Rucker shot much of his video for “Come Back Song” here.
The lane has had at least four – and possibly five – names over the centuries, including the ominous moniker, Duelers Alley. Today the hidden walkway attracts curious visitors strolling the streets of downtown, but in earlier years, it bustled with livestock, scholars, congregants, and thieves.
1. Kinloch’s Court
One of the oldest thoroughfares in the Holy City, its various names are now a source of mystery (1). Charleston streets did not have official titles until the 1720s, and they continued to be adjusted regularly for decades (2). An historical marker hanging on the alley’s western wall maintains that a man named Francis Kinloch created this passage in 1776. As shown in the photo below, the sign reads:
Francis Kinloch created this passage in 1776. Known as Kinloch’s court, it led to a row of rental tenements behind his home. These buildings and most of the neighborhood were destroyed in the fire of 1796.
In 1801 William Johnson, a Revolutionary War veteran, purchased Kinloch’s land, but the area remained derelict for years. After another fire in 1810, the City of Philadelphia graciously sent financial aid to help rebuild. The court was reopened as a street in 1811 and, with William Johnson’s help, renamed to honor the generosity of Philadelphia’s citizens.
As far as we can tell, almost none of the information on this marker is correct. Placed by the City of Charleston as part of a restoration effort in the early 2000s (3), it bears a bewildering array of errors. Take the date. The title records the year as 1766, but the text immediately below the title records it as 1776. This discrepancy matters because there were two Francis Kinlochs, father and son, and the sign does not specify which one created the road. If 1766 is accurate, then Francis Kinloch, Sr., was likely responsible, for Francis Kinloch, Jr. would have been just 11 years old. If it was 1776, however, the son was surely in charge, for by then the father had died (4).
We do know that Francis Kinloch, Sr., owned the land for at least a decade (and possibly much longer) before bequeathing it to his heir and namesake (5), and that his uncle or grandfather, both named James, owned an adjacent parcel at some point as well (6). His properties included Lots 66, 67, and 217 of Charles Towne’s 1680 Grand Modell (7), and they were purchased at some point between 1739 and 1757 (8). He pieced them together from a cast of sundry characters, including Joseph Pendarvis, a servant who came to Charleston in 1671 (9) and ten years later, appears as one of the wealthiest landowners around, having attained by grants roughly 250 acres (10), much of it stretching fully between the Ashley and Cooper rivers “situate near the Oyster poynt” (11). That’s a tough legacy to beat!
Photocopied by Nic Butler, Walled City Task Force
Except perhaps for the one left by Captain William Hawett (Hewett), a pirate from Jamaica who sailed with the notorious Gentleman Pirate, Stede Bonnet, and was hanged in Charleston at White Point Garden in 1718 (12). Other early owners of the land surrounding what became Kinloch’s Court (and eventually Philadelphia Alley) were Mary Mullins, her nieces Suzannah Boone Haddrell (along with husband George) and Sarah Boone Hext Rutledge (along with husband Andrew), Hugh Anderson, Ribton Hutchinson (in trust), and John Cart – who leased some portion of this land to Kinloch for five shillings and, randomly, “one peper corn” [sic] (13). (In the 18th century, laws required one to lease property before “releasing” it, or selling it outright.)
Charleston County RMC
Francis Kinloch, Jr., incidentally, was an interesting character himself. After serving as a right-hand man to General William Moultrie in the American Revolution, he served as a member of the Continental Congress and in South Carolina’s state legislature, where he voted to approve the United States Constitution.
A second problem with the city’s marker is that the passage probably existed well before Kinloch purchased it. Joseph Pendarvis’s four lots each fronted Church Street, which was then known simply as “the little street that runneth by” Mr. Pendarvis’s house (14). When Pendarvis split his lots and sold the eastern half of each to Captain Hawett, there may have been no means to access the land, for it was bound on the east by Lot 199, which belonged to a Mr. Jonathon Armory (15). Thus, a very early prototype of the alley may have developed as a sort of easement (16). This idea is supported by the fact that Francis Kinloch, Sr. later purchased one parcel just 12 feet wide – exactly the width of Kinloch’s Court in 1790 and very close to its width today (17).
No matter what, we know that Kinloch’s Court (both the name and the actual landmark) existed by 1788, for a map of Charleston, drawn in 1790 for the Phoenix Fire-Company of London, identifies a “Kinloch’s Court” branching off Queen Street. Being a court, it did not yet connect with Cumberland and measured only 350 feet. The map is alternately known as Petrie’s Map after cartographer Edmund Petrie, and a detail of it is shown above. (Number 18, circled in red, identifies Kinloch’s Court.) Based on a survey of Charleston made in 1788, the map depicts five buildings standing alongside the cul-de-sac; some of these may have been the rental tenements referenced in the marker.
Finally, it is fun to note that Kinloch’s Court bore an important place in South Carolina’s history, becoming, in early 1765, the original home of the Charleston Library Society. Before that time, the library’s collection was kept in various homes and stores across the city (18). Francis Kinloch, Jr., was a longtime member of the society (19) – which gave birth to both the College of Charleston and the Charleston Museum – as was his neighbor, Gabriel Manigault. Manigault in fact served as the society’s vice president and, in 1764, offered fellow members the room above his liquor store to house the library’s books and equipment (20).
They approved a 21-year lease, and by early 1765, the collection was in place. A history of the library, written in 1826, states that Manigault’s liquor store – or as the author put it, a “convenient building” – was located either “in or near Kinloch court” (21).
Sadly, a conflagration swept the streets of Charleston in 1778, and only 185 of the library’s 5,000 to 6,000 volumes survived (22). We are unsure why the city’s marker does not mention this fire, as it was every bit as destructive as the ones in 1796 and 1810.
2. Philadelphia Street and Philadelphia Alley
This brings us to perhaps the most egregious error on the city’s sign. All parties agree that Francis Kinloch, Jr. sold his land to William Johnson, a fellow veteran and fellow member of the Continental Congress, in 1801. Johnson was the father of the future United States Supreme Court justice, also named William Johnson.
The theory advanced on the city’s marker maintains that after a fire erupted in the vicinity in 1810, the people of Philadelphia sent generous financial aid to affected Charlestonians. Locals repaid this debt by renaming the alley in that city’s honor. There was indeed a fire in 1810, but we do not know of a single document confirming any donation made by Philadelphia’s citizens.
What we do know is that Johnson was captured as a prisoner during the war. He and fellow inmates spent several months in a St. Augustine prison before being transferred to Pennsylvania and released. During this time, they did in fact meet many warm and helpful Philadelphians, as evidenced by entries in their journals. They were also rejoined with their families at this location, which may have further endeared them to the place and compelled Johnson to change the name of the street upon his return. Indeed, this is the explanation recorded in a 1935 article in Charleston News & Courier, a 1958 article in the Charleston Evening Post, and – oddly enough – the explanation advanced by the intern who researched the alley for the City of Charleston (23).
Regardless, an act of legislature passed a year after the fire, in 1811, widened Kinloch’s Court and opened its north end to Cumberland. While the text of the statute does not include the name Philadelphia, it “authorized and impowered [sic]” a commission to “alter and change” the street’s name (24). Johnson was not a member of this particular commission, but as a landowner, he may have influenced its decision.
A will proved in 1815 identifies the alley as Philadelphia Street (25). Further, in 1844, the Keenan Map, excerpted above, labeled the passage Philadelphia. By May of 1884 – four decades later – the name had evolved into Philadelphia Alley. As seen in the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, shown below, the passage at that time was flanked by a saw and planing mill, a lumberyard, a chapel, the graveyard of St. Philip’s Church, multiple dwellings and tenements, a grocery store, and a cotton warehouse (now home to the theater group Footlight Players).
3. Cow Alley
Now for the alley’s unofficial names! At some indeterminate point, the path became known as Cow Alley, at least colloquially. It retained this title until the latter half of the nineteen century and often functioned interchangeably with Philadelphia Street. Several notices in the Charleston Daily News during this period give both names. Here are two interesting examples:
However, by the late 1860s and early 1870s, the name Philadelphia Street seems to have become predominant. Although there were references which listed Cow Alley and Philadelphia Street simultaneously, the majority simply said Philadelphia Street without this clarification.
Details regarding the unusual appellation remain scant. One source says the path was worn by cows traveling to the Beef Market – located, between 1739 and 1796 at the northeast corner of Broad and Meeting, currently the site of Charleston City Hall (26). Another claims the cows simply resided behind a row of homes (27). Neither source is backed by historical documentation (to our knowledge) and neither bears more authority than the other. However, it is likely that “Cow Alley” was never an official title but simply a well-known nickname.
An interesting note about Cow Alley is that it was home to the second of three African-American churches affiliated with the Reverend Morris Brown. In 1818, Brown led a deflection of black congregants from a Charleston Methodist Episcopal church due to a dispute over burial grounds. He then sought and received membership in the Free African Society, a Methodist organization based in Philadelphia. The three churches in Charleston became known as the Bethel Circuit and included locations at the corner Hanover and Reid streets in Hampstead Village (today known as Charleston’s Eastside), Ansonborough (now separated from the Eastside by the Crosstown), and the French Quarter on Cow Alley. It is believed that Denmark Vesey, a free black artisan who was hanged in 1822 for allegedly plotting a slave revolt, was a member of – and may even have helped found – the Cow Alley church. (28)
The church at Hanover and Reid, built in 1818, was called Hampstead Free African Church, and it was this church that eventually grew into Mother Emanuel, the historic Charleston church where a mass shooting occurred in June of 2015. In 1822, Brown was accused of conspiring with Vesey to instigate the rebellion. In consequence, his church at Hanover and Reid was burned to the ground and both of the smaller churches in the Bethel Circuit – those in Ansonborough and the French Quarter at Cow Alley – were closed. Brown fled to Philadelphia where he became the second bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (The African Methodist Episcopal – or AME – denomination grew out of the Free African Society.)
Members of the Hampstead Church continued to meet until 1834 when a ban outlawed black congregations in Charleston. The congregants then convened secretly until after the Civil War. In 1865, the church was reorganized as Emanuel AME and a sanctuary was built on Calhoun Street. Mother Emanuel is now considered the oldest AME church in the South.
4. Duelers Alley
As interesting as the above mysteries are, what we now know as Philadelphia Alley was also once – and occasionally still is – referred to as Duelers Alley. Unofficial sources claim the path was a popular spot for duels during Charleston’s early years. (Local tour guides commonly give the number as 22, which is a figure impossible to factually support.) While we don’t know whether this is true, we do know that in 1786, a dispute erupted here that claimed the life of a 22-year old doctor named Joseph Ladd.
There are wildly different accounts of Ladd’s life and death, and almost all of them should be taken with a grain of salt. What we know for sure is this:
Joseph Brown Ladd was born in 1764 at Newport, Rhode Island. He studied medicine under Dr. Isaac Senter. At age 10 he published his first poem, An Address to the Almighty, in the local newspaper. He later adopted the pen name Arouet.
Ladd fell in love with an orphaned heiress whom he called Amanda, at least in his poems. Her trustees disapproved of the match, and he was induced by his friend, the well-known Revolutionary War veteran General Nathaniel Green, to try to build his fortune in the South. Dr. Ladd obtained his medical license in 1783 and moved to Charleston at the age of 20.
Dr. Ladd boarded at 59 Church Street (now known as the Thomas Rose House) with two sisters, Fannie and Dellie Rose. He engaged in a duel in October of 1786 and died shortly thereafter, on November 2, possibly of gangrene. His assailant was Ralph Isaacs, III.
Ghost tours in Charleston commonly allude to “the whistling doctor,” who is said to haunt both Philadelphia Alley and the Thomas Rose House at 59 Church. The historic home is the only one with a plaque issued by the Preservation Society that mentions the presence of a ghost. If you visit the landmark and read the plaque, please be aware that Dr. Ladd’s middle and last names are transposed on the marker.
The tool embedded at the top of this section will allow you to learn more about Ladd’s life and also enjoy some of his poems.
5. Coon Alley
And last but not least, a book entitled Historic Towns of the Southern States was published in 1904 and features an image of Philadelphia Street co-labeled Coon Alley. This is the only mention we have been able to locate of this appellation. We suspect it was not widely used. “Coon” may have been a racist slur alluding to the fact that the road was used by black people, as seen in the photo below. Another possibility is that “Coon” was simply a misprint for “Cow.”
Note that the photograph must predate the book’s 1904 printing as it was used as a source for a sketch that appeared in the New York Times on January 7, 1894. The sketch is labeled Cow Alley, not Coon Alley, lending credence to the theory that the book’s editors simply made a mistake.
The article accompanying the sketch recounts another alleged duel. Although we have unable to confirm its veracity, the story involves the famous American hero William Moultrie and is so entertaining, it bears retelling regardless:
Cow Alley (Philadelphia Street) still has two buildings of the colonial period, and will be remembered as the scene of a duel one bright Sunday morning, when Gen. William Moultrie “pinked his man in beauty’s quarrel.”
Gen. Moultrie had had some difficulty with the gentleman previously, and, meeting him at the corner of Queen and Church streets, proposed that they proceed to the alley and settle the matter, without seconds, with the short sword which in that day was part of every gentleman’s outfit. The proposition was accepted, the duel began, several passes were made, when the General succeeded in running his sword through his antagonist’s arm. He immediately withdrew it, wiped the blade, and after courteously saluting his antagonist, turned the corner and attended divine service at St Philip’s Church, the earliest foundation of the Established Church in South Carolina, and whose tall steeple still looms over the alley, casting a mighty shadow at sundown.
Philadelphia Alley – Notes and Sources
1. In this case, “mystery” is actually a twisted euphemism for “punishingly complex and literally not possible to understand” – a burly wildebeest that brought me to the brink of insanity. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this two-bit glorified driveway would cost me so much time! Naturally, I enjoyed every minute of it.
No one is perfect and if I have missed sources used to justify the city’s claims, I wholeheartedly apologize in advance. I did visit the city’s offices and was directed by the Board of Architectural Review (which maintains historical markers) to the Charleston County Library. There, I received first-class help from the librarians in the South Carolina Room. I also spent several hours in the Charleston County RMC office, where I was assisted – and entertained! – by some of the kindest and most talented historians I have ever met, including and especially Doreen Larmier, who it turns out is a fan of – and a donor to – the South Carolina Picture Project!
Finally, it goes without saying that neither this page nor any other page in SCIWAY or the South Carolina Picture Project would exist without my partner in crime, Kerri Fitts, whose superhuman sleuthing skills blow me away on a daily basis.
(Robin Welch, 2017)
2. Nic Butler, PhD. Walled City Task Force. Streets in the “Crisp Map” of 1711. (Retrieved June 1, 2017.)
See this article for a brief but excellent account of the evolution of Charleston’s street names.
3. Ron Menchaca, Brotherly love: Residents ask city to clean up neglected Philadelphia Alley, (Charleston, SC: Charleston Post & Courier, April 13, 2000); Katherine Lowrie, Neighbors’ concerns gets makeover for quaint alley, (Charleston, SC: Charleston Post & Courier, March 1, 2001); Jason Hardin, Help on the way for colorful Philadelphia Alley, (Charleston, SC: Charleston Post & Courier, August 5, 2002); Robert Behre, Scruffy city lane gets a makeover, (Charleston, SC: Charleston Post & Courier, August 29, 2005).
7. Henry A. M. Smith, Charleston: The Original Plan and the Earliest Settlers (Charleston, SC: The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 1908), pp. 18, 22.
8. Susan Baldwin Bates and Harriott Cheves Leland, Eds., Proprietary Records of South Carolina, Volume Three: Abstracts of the Records of the Surveyor General of the Province, Charles Towne, 1678-1898 (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005-2007) p. 136; Charleston County Register of Means Conveyance, A3, page 1, 1751; Charleston County Register of Means Conveyance, Book A3, page 7, 1757.
Francis Kinloch and James Allen had a survey made for a portion of this land in 1739. Allen may have been a descendant of Pendarvis’s wife Elizabeth. Her daughter Priscilla married a William Allen. We do not know if Priscilla was Pendarvis’s daughter as well; Elizabeth and Priscilla arrived in Carolina the year before Pendarvis. Pendarvis hailed from Cornwall, England and came to Carolina as a the servant of Thomas Hurt. 1751 is the date of sale recorded on a release of land from Hugh Anderson, and 1757 is the date recorded on the release of land from John Cart.
9. Susan Baldwin Bates and Harriott Cheves Leland, Eds., Proprietary Records of South Carolina, Volume Two: Abstracts of the Records of the Register of the Province, 1675-1696 (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005-2007) p. 30.
10. Henry A. M. Smith, Charleston and Charleston Neck: The Original Grantees and the Settlements along the Ashley and Cooper Rivers (Charleston, SC: The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 1, January 1918), p. 8.
Because Pendarvis’s wife Elizabeth arrived in what is known as the First Fleet, he was entitled to land granted by the Lords Proprietors. Although his grants total roughly 250 acres, he did not actually take title to the full amount. According to this article, none of the original grantees received the acreage specified in their grants.
11. Henry A. M. Smith, Charleston and Charleston Neck: The Original Grantees and the Settlements along the Ashley and Cooper Rivers (Charleston, SC: The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 1, January 1918), p. 5.
Although it is often said that the area now encompassing the Battery was first called Oyster Point or White Point, this source explains that the Lords Proprietors commonly used the terms to describe the entire lower peninsula.
14. Susan Baldwin Bates and Harriott Cheves Leland, Eds., Proprietary Records of South Carolina, Volume Two: Abstracts of the Records of the Register of the Province, 1675-1696 (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2005-2007) p. 110.
15. Henry A. M. Smith, Charleston: The Original Plan and the Earliest Settlers (Charleston, SC: The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 1908), p. 22.
16. In his article, Mean Streets, Mannered Streets: Charleston, David Shields defines an alley as “a pathway created to accommodate a private dwelling or structure. Usually an alley was an access path wide enough to permit passage of a large barrow or cart from a lot in the interior of a block to a street.” While it’s ironic that this path only took the name “alley” after it was joined with Cumberland, the definition is still helpful in envisioning what the path’s earliest incarnation may have looked like.
18. A Catalogue of the books belonging to the Charleston Library Society (Charleston, SC: A.E. Miller, 1835), p. xi.
19. Rob Salvo, Francis Kinloch, a forgotten hero (Charleston, SC: Charleston Mercury).
20. A Catalogue of the books belonging to the Charleston Library Society (Charleston, SC: A.E. Miller, 1835), p. xi.
21. A Catalogue of the books belonging to the Charleston Library Society (Charleston, SC: A.E. Miller, 1835), p. xi.
22. Deborah B. Fenn, Charleston Library Society Foundation Collection c.1748 – c.1769 (Charleston, SC: The Charleston Reader, Volume XVII, No. 2 Summer 2015), p. 8.
23. Jack Roach, Names of Charleston’s Alleys Are Part Of City’s Folkore, Charleston Evening Post, January 1, 1958; Ron Menchaca, Brotherly love: Residents ask city to clean up neglected Philadelphia Alley, (Charleston, SC: Charleston Post & Courier, April 13, 2000).
In his article, Menchaca interviewed the intern who worked on this marker:
As part of its proposed refurbishing, the city had one of its intern[s] research the alley’s history.
College of Charleston student Cyndi Robbins, who is studying architectural preservation, was able to trace the street’s origin back to 1751, the year planter Francis Kinloch bought several pieces of land in the area.
The alley was known as Kinloch Court until sometime around 1810 when another property owner named William Johnson changed its name to Philadelphia Alley. Johnson, a prisoner of war in the City of Brotherly Love during the Revolution, “so much admired the city, he decided to honor it by naming the street after it,” Robbins said.
24. David J. McCord, Ed., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina: Acts relating to Charleston, Courts, Slaves, and Rivers. (Columbia, SC: A.S. Johnston, 1840), pp. 128-129.
26. Preservation Society of Charleston, Halsey Map, 19. Beef Market (1735) Town Market Place 1680
28. Douglas R. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), p. 111.
Philadelphia Alley Info
Address: Philadelphia Alley, Charleston, SC 29401
GPS Coordinates: 32.778487,-79.928694
Philadelphia Alley Map