Not too long before he died, a gentleman walked into my office and asked the front office staff to see if I could step out for a couple of minutes. He had something he wanted to give me.

So I went out at the earliest opportunity, sat next to him and engaged in some amiable chitchat. He then presented a folder with some contents that he said I needed to have. In it were a few originals with copies of letters written to Charleston architect Gabriel Manigault (1758-1809) by family members on the eve of the American Revolution.

Now this kind of thing gets a little sensitive and I’m not clear as to why I was the chosen beneficiary, other than we got along well and he was aware of my personal genealogy. In any event, it was a very thoughtful gesture — and for the last 15 years or so I’ve been wondering what to do with these papers. I have to do something. They just can’t stay forever in a nondescript dark drawer without the appropriate preservation and historical classification techniques.

Manigault was a noted amateur architect who is credited with having designed the Joseph Manigault House, City Hall, South Carolina Society Hall and the Charleston Orphan House Chapel (since razed.) Both parents (Elizabeth Wragg and Peter Manigault) died in 1773, effectively orphaning the young man, who was then taken under the care of his grandparents Gabriel and Ann Ashby Manigault. What follows are a couple of letters for historical interest, starting first with a note from his mother (the most legible and easy to transcribe, I might add.)

To Master Gabriel Manigault


Charles Town

June 16, 1772

Dear Gabriel,

I received your letter with great pleasure and was glad to hear you had been to Dr. Moultrie if your teeth are not cleaned. I think you had better ask the doctor what will be good to prevent the gums from bleeding. I was very sorry to hear of the death of Mrs. Smith. We all keep our health very well but hope our House will be finished time enough for us to be down before the sickly time. Nancy joins me in sending her Duty to her Grand papa & Grand mama & love to you and Joe. We shall be glad to see Mifs Hafsel and Mifs Bamburg. You must excuse me sending you such a little bit of paper as your Papa is just out of paper.


Your Loving Mother

Elizabeth Manigault

And this from his paternal grandfather while his namesake was studying in London (difficult to read and transcribe and in part):

July 8, 1775

“Dear Gay,

I wrote you about the Reverend Wm. Purcell, since which nothing very extraordinary has happened, except the proceedings of the people in the Colonys with G. Britain which you will see by the papers that go to England. We have been alarmed by reports that the Dragoons intended to ride, which on examination proved to be of less consequence than was expected. However, a strict watch has been kept for fear of the worst. I long to hear of your safe arrival in good health and that you find everything to your satisfaction. I am sure that you will meet with some very good friends in England. Nothing shall ever be wanting in me to make every thing agreeable to you in this World, to the utmost of my power and without doubt but that you will do everything in your power to reap the benefit of my endeavors and make them serviceable to you in all respects — which will reward me to the utmost of my desire…Your brother and other friends, your Grand mama wishes and are well and I remain

Your affectionate G. Father

Gabriel Manigault”

I think it’s fascinating that, although we communicate differently and our mores have changed, one gets the feeling that 240 years of separation could be 240 seconds.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@