Beaufort Gazette coverage, January 24, 1907: Beaufort Fire, Mass Meeting

The Beaufort Fire of January 19, 1907 was the most disastrous fire to date. When the embers cooled 40 structures were damaged or gone.

The newspaper article transcriptions below are from a web page written by Dennis Adams (Information Services Coordinator, Retired) for the old Beaufort County Library website at various points between 1998 and 2007. The articles were transcribed and republished with permission granted by the editors of the Beaufort Gazette on  13 January 13, 1998.  Text appearing in teal was supplied by me. I also have chosen to supply punctuation to make the articles easier to read. – Grace Cordial 

The daily Beaufort Gazette dedicated most of its January 24, 1907 issue – the first issue published after the disaster since it was only a weekly newspaper at the time — to coverage about the Beaufort fire. Due to the extent of that coverage that content will be posted in a series of posts.

The people of Beaufort were incensed with the Savannah Morning News’ reports published on January 21, 1907. A public meeting was convened at which speakers,  prominent businessmen and residents of both races, were critical of Wilson’s reports and the presence of the troops. Robert Smalls called the Georgia newspaper’s reports “a ridiculous and malicious slander upon the people of this town.” Coverage continued in the Beaufort Gazette on January 24, 1907 with:

Mass Meeting

Some 50 or 60 representatives (sic) citizens of Beaufort, some colored, met in mass meeting at the Arsenal Monday afternoon. Mr. S. H. Rodgers was called to chair and Mr. R. R. Legare was appointed secretary.

Capt. C. C. Townsend, Intendant, addressed the meeting, and stated his reasons for requesting the presence of U. S. Troops, without arms, but with explosives, to aid in quelling the fire. Afterwards he had requested them to act as a patrol with the Naval Reserves, from which body they procured arms. He read his telegram to Lieut. Lawson on the subject. Finding the naval militia who were also fire men, tired out he had requested the presence of a squad of soldiers from Fort Screven, and they had come over Sunday, and had been acting as a guard.

Capt. Joseph Wheeler stated that he was here under orders of his commanding officer, at the request of the Intendant, to aid the citizens in maintaining order.

Dr. T. G. White, in a brief speech, saw no reason for the presence of troops, when the lives and property of citizens were not in danger. Commended the colored people for their good work at the fire. Thought citizens should deny the report in the Savannah Morning News sent in by a photographer who had only been here a few hours. Mr. W. H. Ohlandt asked the speaker “How much did you lose in the fire?” The answer was “Nothing.” Mr. Ohlandt said, “I did.”

At the request of Capt. Townsend, Mr. E. D. Raney stated that he sent a telegram, but did not send the one which appeared in the Morning News.

Collector Smalls, colored, looked upon this affair as a ridiculous and a malicious slander upon the people of this town, and believed there is a better feeling between the races now on account of the fire. White men came and assisted him in saving his home, and he was grateful to them. The article in the Savannah News is justly condemned by the best citizens, and he was pleased to hear the expressions of condemnation from them. I am sorry for those who lost. No word can be said against the behavior of the colored people at the fire, except through two or three drunken men. Thank God he lives in Beaufort, and that not a lady in town is afraid to walk the streets night or day, and there is not a decent negro man in town who would not defend them.

Mr. Charles E. Danner called the attention of the meeting to the fact that it had been called to condemn a report in the Savannah Morning News of 21st. He believed there is no harm in the Beaufort negro. Troops were not brought here to protect whites from colored, but for mutual protection.

Jas. Riley, colored, feels as keenly the calamity as anyone, and is surprised that, after working as hard as they had done, the colored race should be so unjustly written up. Our interests are the same. God forbid that any uprising was in the minds of the colored people.

Messrs. J. I. Washington and Geo. A. Reed, colored, citizens, made pertinent remarks.

Mr. F. H. Christensen offered the resolution condemning the piece in the Morning News, which will be found in this article. He said he felt that the Intendant was right in calling for troops to guard the ruins, as the Naval Reserves were worn out with their labor. Sheriffs (sic) posse would also have been worn out. Regular soldiers would be better able to enforce honesty. As one of the fire sufferers, thought the regulars had done good orderly work.

Capt. Geo. A. Crofut says troops were properly ordered out, and no good citizens should object. That he was ordered from the ruins of his own property, and obeyed.

Mr. Christensen’s resolution was seconded by Dr. N. J. Kennedy, colored, who said troops were not objectionable to good citizens.

Samuel Green, a colored orator, made a rattling good talk. He said he was helping to remove the stock of Mr. F. W. Scheper and saw parties pilfering. That he helped to remove the effects of the bank, although, if he has an enemy, it is the cashier of the bank. He said there was but one thing to condemn in the whole affair, and that was the article in the Savannah Morning News, and the killing of Bennett through overzeal in the effort to suppress the fire and its attendent confusion. If anything done was a blunder, it should not interfere with the peace and harmony which existed between the races. South Carolina is a power within itself, and the U. S. troops have no place here.

The resolution of Mr. F. H. Christensen, as follows, was then unanimously adopted.

Resolved, That the Secretary of this meeting communicate with the Savannah Morning News, condemning in unmeasured terms the article contained in that newspaper of the 21st instant.

The following is the communication of the secretary:

Beaufort, S. C., Jan. 21 — A mass meeting of prominent white and colored citizens of Beaufort, S. C., hereby express their unqualified condemnation of your report published in the Morning News of January 21, headed “Troops Sent in to Beaufort to Hold Negroes in Check”. The implication that the two races did not work in harmony for the preservation of life and property or that there was at any time during the fire friction or ill feeling between them is a gross injustice to this community.

  1. H. Rodgers,
    Chairman.
  2. R. Legare,
    Secretary.

Intendant Townsend asked on expression from this meeting as to the further detension (sic) of the troops. That he had been requested to retain troops until tomorrow.

Collector Smalls moved that the troops be dismissed tomorrow, 8 a. m. Adopted.

On the motion of Mr. F. H. Christensen resolutions of thanks to Capt. Wheeler, Lieut. Wheatley and the soldiers under their command for their prompt and laudable attention to duty were unanimously adopted.

In behalf of his command and himself, Capt. Wheeler thanked the citizens for courtesies.

On motion of Capt. George A. Crofut the action of Intendant Townsend was approved by a rising vote.

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