Christensen writes about “Red Saturday” in his Journal

Susan Rice Photo
Old Oaks Plantation circa 1900, BDC

Frederik Holmes Christensen (second person  seated on far left in the photograph) was born on September 9, 1877 to Niels Christensen and Abbie Holmes Christensen. For more than 50 years, he kept a journal that included family, business, and community news and his observations of same from 1893 until his death in 1944. According to obituaries published in the Beaufort Gazette and Beaufort Times, “Mr. Fred” was quite active in business and community affairs. He worked and managed the N. Christensen Hardware Store and associated businesses for almost 50 years. He founded the Beaufort Rotary Club, served on a fire company in his younger years, was a member of the Beaufort County Historical Society, a Board member of the Beaufort Museum, volunteered with the Boy Scouts and was famous for his sense of humor, rendition of Gullah tales and his stirring Negro sermons in dialect. (“On one occasion, Archibald Rutledge [South Carolina’s Poet Laureate, 1934 – 1973], who was giving an address here, heard “Mr. Fred” deliver a negro [sic] sermon. He praised it highly, saying it was the best he had ever heard.”) He “was one of Beaufort’s most outstanding citizens” and always “interested and cooperative with everything concerning Beaufort’s welfare and progress, and gave the townspeople his whole hearted support in every public movement.”  (Beaufort Gazette, 8 September 1944, p. 1)  The Beaufort Times (7 September 1944, p. 1) reported that Christensen had been improving against Brills fever (a type of typhoid) when he died quite suddenly in the Beaufort Hospital on September 5, 1944, probably as the result of a blood clot. A lifelong teetotaler, Christensen was said to have been drinking a glass of milk in his hospital bed as he was struck down by death. His body lies interred in the Baptist Church of Beaufort’s churchyard.

The original series of manuscript diaries are now preserved by the South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina. We are glad that the University of South Carolina distributed a set of bound photocopies for each child and grandchild of the diarist in 1986. Erik Christensen, a grandson of the diarist Frederik Holmes Christensen (1877 – 1944), and Erik’s wife, Catherine, generously offered us a bound 12 volume set of photocopies of his grandfather’s diaries in 2010. As our interest is strongest in the content or substance of the historical information provided, the photocopies of the diaries are a fine addition to our local history collection.

Mr. Christensen’s observations about the Fire of 1907 appear in volume 5, pages 182-184. His entry was transcribed by our spring break intern Hayden Price from Beaufort Academy.  She shadowed Amanda and me for one week in March and performed some library and archives work tasks to get a flavor of what happens in a special collections and archives unit. We were delighted to have her here and gratified to read that “Not only did I learn a lot, but I discovered a brand new passion for history that I didn’t know I had! I’m excited to be headed off to college now with an idea of what I want to do.” It cannot get much better than that!

Frederik H. Christensen wrote:

Red Saturday                       Jan. 19, 1907

     The past week has not been particularly noteworthy. On Tuesday took Lady  up to Sheldon. Walked her most of the way because of her lame leg. Wednesday all of my 70 odd truck customers in that section came down to the depot for fertilizer. Sam brought two or three teams. We kept the platform lined most of the day, with a good many others waiting for an opportunity to get up. My checkings [sic] after handling over a thousand sacks showed 19 sacks short! Lost in the rush. Am glad twas no worse. Tuesday Thursday there was some hauling done and Friday I rode home.

     Just as I had sat down for dinner about 1:30 the fire bell rang. The smoke was coming from direction of the lumberyard. I soon found twas Scheper’s store. Don’t know what started it, but it is supposed that a couple of small boys (have heared [sic] Pierce Wiggins and Bero’s little boy) were smoking cigarets [cigarettes] on Scheper’s wharf and started a fire in the straw laying around the stable. When I reached there fire was  f burning fearcely [fiercely] in his Scheper’s ware house and stables. The stream of water being turned on seemed to have little le effect. The wind coming up the harbor was strong and was driving the fire on. At first I did not think our place was doomed, but got extinguishers and ran the store’s hose[?] up on to the roof in front of the store hoping to keep the front wet but the watr [sic] pressure was not sufficient to wet over the front of the store. It was soon apparent that it was only a question of a few minutes before the fire would cross the street. We took all books and papers out of the safe and office and the packing room. Mr. Long took the box containing between $1200 and $1300. Most of the books and a good deal of stocks were never carried off in the wagons to the house and yard. When the store caught I went to the yard and got out the hose there and had some one wet down the shavings, wood and lumber and Mr. Jenkins house and an old one of McGills  across the street and the grass in Politzer’s yard. Mean time flying sparks had caught the Talbot [sic] house up on the point, a couple of houses near Mr. Rice on the point East Street, and a couple of houses near Watson’s church. The Main house had crossed the street and burned the Wallaces and Thomases next to it. The Waterhouses were scortched [sic], but good work saved it. George had the women out of his cotton house carrying water. Had that gone I fear the sparks and fire brands would have come over into the lumber yard. One of McGill’s houses facing Thomases two houses on Port Republic house street went with the rest, while the house Shatswell lived in, built by Will Waterhouse, and the one next to it owned occupied by the Danners were saved. The fire went on up the West side of Carteret street sweeping everything on the East side of those blocks including old ramshackle buildings of Holmes and Talbird as well as the engine house, the market, the council chamber. The Arsenal caught but was saved. The house next south of the methodist [sic] church, owned by O’dell, was the last in that direction to go. The house on Cor [corner] of Craven and Carteret occupied by Cohen and owned by Mrs. C. C. Scheper cought [sic] but was saved. The department did excelent [sic] work. They checked the fire after it got West on Bay street as far as the dispensary on the South side and Levins on the North side. The first was a brick building the last was brick or taby [sic] on lower story and stood next west of the old Mayo building owned by Holmes and occupied by Mrs. Corey. The dispensary was destroyed and Levins practically so. Mr. Myers in his yacht went to the fort and brought up a sargent [sergeant] and eight or nine men with gun cotton about 7 p.m. As the fire was then under control they were asked to do patrol duty and were around at the arsenal. A number of the B. V. As. also went on duty. About 1:30 p.m Wm Bennet the painter, and leading cornet in the band who always plays our dances was shot by one of the patrols (Benett [sic] is said to have accused Stradley the white painter before he died). He was very assertive and impudent when he was drinking, probably had been chalenged [sic] and refused to obey or was sassy. About 9 or ten p.m the magazine to the arsenal cought [sic], and promised to make a serious fire for there was considerable powder stored in there, and the colored men who had charge of the hose were mostly under the influence of liquor and would not listen to reason. But Kinghorn came up and succeeded in managing them so as to put out the fire. The powder must have wet. [sic] By nine p.m Niels was wiring for information and the Savannah and Augusta papers were wiring to Niels, thinking him here for information. I turned in. Had the fire started in the North end of Scheper’s store or any where where it would have been shielded from the wind it could have been handled with little loss. Or had there been rain enough to s wet things down its spread might have been prevented. But it was dry and winded. I counted from memory 40 houses and buildings large and small destroyed. Scheper had some $11,000 insurance, Thomas $3,000. I don’t know whether any of the [caret] other [end caret] losers have any security insurance. We had none. We have not taken account of stocks since I have been connected with the business but Carsen thinks we had a 25,000 or 30,000 stock. The house [and] buildings may have been worth 3,000 to 5,000 more.

You can read all of the Christensen diaries in our Research Room.  

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