This week, while re-reading the 1706 journal of the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly, I came across a bit of colorful text that had previously escaped my attention, and I thought others interested in Charleston’s early fortifications might find it interesting.On 7 March 1705/6, at the opening of a new legislative session, Governor Nathaniel Johnson delivered a speech in which he reminded the House of its duty to provide for the proper defense of the young colony. As was customary, the House then appointed a committee to draft a formal reply to the governor’s speech, and on 12 March they presented their draft before the full House. After it was read and approved, the Speaker of the House, Lt. Col. William Rhett, affixed his signature to the message and then ordered it to be sent to the governor. Among the obligatory formal language contained in the reply, the House expressed its concurrence with the governor’s concerns about the state of the fortifications, and included this metaphorical phrase:

It is no Doubt a Duty which we owe to God and ourselves[,] to the present Age and to Posterity[,] to Improve the Opportunity God gives us of ffenceing [sic] our Vineyard; and makeing [sic] the Hedge about it as Strong as we can.

At this time, Charleston (then called Charles Town) was a heavily fortified, walled settlement. It was the political capital of the infant colony, the sole port and market, and the store of nearly all the provincial armaments. In comparing the town (and, by extension, the colony) to a vineyard surrounded by a hedge, the members of the Commons House used their linguistic skills to help us, more than 300 years later, to understand the importance and value of their efforts to defend the once struggling colony that we now take for granted.

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