The Rich History of the Organ in Early Charleston, South Carolina

The fifty years between 1750 and 1800 in the history of organists, organs, and organ music in Charleston were eventful: organists of this time were arriving in the colonies from countries other than England and Germany; women were becoming organists; and entire families were making organ playing their occupation. Church music took on greater importance and was improved.S2SS logo

Coming to Charleston between 1750 and 1800 were several important Englishmen and Germans. Succeeding Charles Theodore Pachelbel at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church was Benjamin Yarnold, the first of many Englishmen in Charleson. He served St. Philip’s from 1753-1764.

In 1768 St. Michael’s Church of Charleston received its first organ. The organ was built by John Snetzler of England. At this time Benjamin Yarnold was organist of St. Michael’s. Following Yarnold in this position was another Englishman, John Stevens. Upon his death, John Stevens’ son, Jarvis Henry, was defeated in his bid for the organist position by the first woman organist in Charleston, Mrs. Ann Windsor. Mrs. Windsor served as organist only from June to December 1772, but made her mark in history by being the first woman organist in Charleston.

Benjamin Yarnold returned to St. Michael’s in 1784 and was succeeded by his son William, the second father-son organist pair of St. Michael’s of Charleston. Another Englishman to serve both St. Philip’s Episcopal and St. Michael’s Episcopal congregations of Charleston was Peter Valton.

In 1786, the German emigrant, Jacob Eckhard was summoned from his home in Richmond, Virginia to come to Charleston, South Carolina to assume the office of clerk, organist, and schoolmaster for St. John’s Lutheran Church. With his arrival, a long line of Charleston organists of German descent was established. Jacob Eckhard, Sr. and his two sons, Jacob, Jr. and George filled the St. John’s Lutheran Church, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church organist positions until the 1830’s.

Probably the most infamous organist in Charleston history, though, is known not for his organ playing but his dueling. On December 4, 1809 a young organist named Charles Gilfert was hired by St. John’s Lutheran Church. The next curt notes in the minutes indicate that the young organist was involved in the fighting of a duel of May 16, 1811. On May 17, 1811, Charles Gilfert’s position as organist was declared vacant. There is no other record of Gilfert in Charleston after this entry.

From Charles Theodore Pachelbel, the son of the famous German composer Johannes Pachelbel to the dueling Charles Gilfert, the stories found in Charleston, South Carolina create a colorful story of the organ.

Jeannine PublicityDr. Jeannine Jordan has made music her life. She is a performer and teacher and loves sharing her music and helping others realize their goals of becoming organists and pianists. http://www.promotionmusic.org

Jeannine received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Oregon specializing in Classical Organ performance with additional studies in Class Piano Pedagogy.

She also actively performs throughout the world and is known for her unique programming which strives to bring music alive for her audiences. Find out more about Jeannine’s work in early American music at http://www.fromseatoshiningsea.net

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