Episode 23: Murder in Charleston

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You may not have heard of David Ramsay, but if you lived in Charleston, South Carolina in the second decade, you would probably know him—if you were part of the city’s rich white elite, that is. Ramsay, born in Pennsylvania, Princeton-educated, served in the South Carolina State Legislature and the Confederation Congress, was a protegé of revolutionary doctor Benjamin Rush—a signer of the Declaration of Independence—and tried to rid Charleston’s steamy streets of yellow fever by predicting the weather. His life was tragically ended by a deranged assassin, convinced Ramsay (and everybody else) was out to get him, who blew away the good doctor with a “horseman’s pistol” in broad daylight on one of Charleston’s busiest streets in full view of hordes of witnesses. This odd story from the 1810s shines a fascinating light on Ramsay’s life and personality, and also on the precarious world of Charleston in which he lived, which was built on the backs and the labor of the city’s enslaved African-American population.

Dr. Sean Munger presents the fascinating life of Dr. Ramsay, and his unusual death, in a colorful manner that illuminates various broader themes of the Second Decade era. In this episode you’ll rub shoulders with Charleston’s elite, and perhaps share their thinly-veiled discomfort at the monstrous injustice upon which it depended. This is a picture of a city—and a country—split down the middle, foreshadowing the terrible divisions that gave rise to the Civil War.

This is the last episode in Season 1 of Second Decade. The show will return in fall 2017 with brand-new episodes.

(Some background music for this episode licensed CC3.0 by Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston).

Additional Materials About This Episode

(Above) David Ramsay.

Here is a link to one of Ramsay’s books, The History of the American Revolution, Vol. I., available online.

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