The expeditionary force got out of two cars and ambled, with less than military precision, across the baking car park.
This one was mixed: British and American. Young and forever young. Phil, Me, Andra, Michael, Cayleigh, Maddie, Felix. All with one common aim: to find air conditioning, fast.
The Museum at Fort Moultrie has aircon, and is blessedly dark and quiet. I gazed puzzled at the grey skies outside.”Oh,” I pealed like a rather insistent British bell, “is it overcast outside? That was sudden.”
It needed Charleston belle Andra Watkins, with that famous combination of manners and straight talking to point out that I was looking through heavily tinted glass.
We don’t have glass that tinted in England. We’d need torches if our glass was that dark. Works well on Sullivan’s Island, though.
The military gentleman behind the desk welcomed us cordially. This space was the Fort Moultrie Museum, he said, and we could watch a 25 minute film about Fort Moultrie in the Fort’s purpose-built cinema (how Poe would have loved that) before making our way out to the Fort itself and gazing over that well-guarded approach to Charleston Harbour.
As we spread out and tactically appraised the museum exhibits, the Museum Attendant smiled with an engaging impish unease. “Er…..the film’s a little anti-British in places,” he warned me, half sheepish, half delighted. “Hope you don’t find it offensive….”
I grinned, and assured him that I have the emotional hide of a rhino.
At which he directed me wickedly to the exhibit about the English Commodore who got his pants shot off.
Before we go any further, these are American pants, which to British readers means trousers. Or possibly britches. Hose. Not undergarments, though I have no historical evidence that the Commodore was, or was not actually wearing any of those.
His name doesn’t help: he’s named for Spiderman, or Spiderman for him. Sir Peter Parker, 1721 – 1811, was born in Ireland and made it big in the Royal Navy.
Parker’s career took an ignominious turn when he was sent with a force providing support for loyalists in the Southern Colonies: and Charleston promptly threw a tea party similar to Boston’s, urging all importers of British East Indian Tea to throw it in the harbour.
Which they did.
Sir Peter’s job was to take up the gauntlet. The inhabitants of Charleston knew his ships were on their way, having set out from Cork. And they wasted no time in making a fort out of something so spongy and porous it would make light of bombardment from British ships by simply absorbing the impact: those famous, fleshy palmetto logs.
Accounts of the battle are many and varied, and I am no military historian. But it is probably fair to say (correct me if I’m wrong, Charleston) that the British misjudged the topology of the rivers and their tides, and indeed the stubborn inscrutability of those palmetto logs. And the Americans fought back with the zeal of caffeine and the New World.
Long and short of it is: Sir Parker, Commodore, knight and first baronet, managed to get hit by what the British to this day term ‘a flying splinter’ . American Military historian Maurice Matloff says his pants were set on fire. On one thing, however, everyone is agreed: the Americans blew his pants off, fair and square.
The Museum attendant’s eyes twinkled remorselessly; but he wasn’t going to get a rise out of me. He had forgotten, as so many do, of our British love of farce, and bottoms without pants on are at the heart of farce. I found it every bit as amusing as he did.
And just a tiny bit of me wishes I had been there to witness it.