It has been an observed fact that wealthy members of society have moved with greater degrees of ease through out their respective societies than members blessed by less amounts of wealth. As a corollary, these wealthy individuals frequently leave their marks on that society in much greater ways than less wealthy men or women. Such, is the case with Alexander Gillon, prominent Charlestonian merchant.
The first active social involvement that Alexander Gillon participated in was as an early member of St. John's Lutheran Church in Charleston, SC. Lutherans had been present in Charleston, SC from at least 1742, when Henry Melchior Muhlenberg had been sent from Europe to assist in the organization of the Lutheran faith in the colonies. He spent about three weeks in Charleston, preaching sermons to the faithful and catechizing their children (Ficken, p. 6). In 1753, two pastors from the Georgia Saltzburgers (Lutherans from Saltzburg, Austria who had settled in the colony of Georgia in 1734) came to Charleston and conducted divine services for a short time. In 1755, the congregation felt strong enough financially to call a pastor to minister to them full time. This call was extended to and accepted by Rev. John George Friederichs, who would serve the Lutheran congregation until 1760. "Pastor Friederichs was a man of ability and energy, and earnestly encouraged the congregation in their efforts to erect a church edifice of their own. Plans were soon adopted, and on the 1st of December, 1759, the corner-stone of the proposed building was laid..." (Ficken, p. 7). In 1763, Rev. John Nicholas Martin was elected pastor and would serve until 1767. "The church building was completed during his term of service, and dedicated on St. John Baptist's day, 24th of June, 1764, under the name of St. John's church" (Ficken, p. 7).
All of the dates cited above predate Alexander Gillon's permanent arrival in South Carolina. He did moor his vessels, first the Surprize, then the Free Mason, in Charleston's harbor, respectively, in 1765 and 1766. He may well have been aware of these religious developments and might have had a hand in contributing to them, at least financially. After his marriage, he was active in the church as it grew and had its impact on Charleston society. The Ficken historical address contains the following words: "Among the earliest members of the infant church the records contain the following family names, well and favorably known in this community..." (Ficken, p. 7). The list then cites the names of fourteen families of Charleston, at the end of which appear the names of Michael Kalteissen and Alexander Gillon (Ficken, p. 7). Thus, he may not have been technically a founding member of the church but, Alexander Gillon was definitely an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church and probably, due to his influence and position within the elite of Charlestonian society, an important member.
The second of these social involvements of Alexander Gillon is an organization that we are not completely sure he was involved in organizing or even possessed membership in. But, as this writer hopes to illustrate, there is a great possibility he was indeed involved with this organization. The organization is the German Friendly Society of Charleston, SC. Sources state that this organization was founded after the completion and dedication of the main Lutheran church in Charleston, SC - St. John's Lutheran Church - on June 24, 1764. "Having completed the building of their church structure, the members next resolved to form a charitable society to provide for the wants of their poor and needy ones. Accordingly, Michael Kalteissen and fifteen others met on the 15th of January 1766, and organized the German Friendly Society..." (Ficken, John F. "St. John's Lutheran Church of Charleston, S.C.", unpublished historical address, 1918, p. 7). The provision "...for the wants of their poor and needy ones..." entailed giving "...assistance to new immigrants and orphans and widows" (National Parks Service website, entry for "Charleston's German Friendly Society", n.d.). The society is still in existence in Charleston, SC today and is preparing to celebrate two hundred and fifty years of charitable community service as of this writing.
(Note: The original building housing the German Friendly Society of Charleston was located at what is today 27 Archdale Street. In 1864, during the shelling of Charleston, SC during the American Civil War, the building was set on fire, supposedly by a Federal shell, and completely burned down.)
Once again, one cannot be absolutely sure that Alexander Gillon was indeed a member of the German Friendly Society of Charleston. There exists, as far as the writer of this blog knows, no complete listing of the original members or even a complete list of the membership of the Society, then or now. But, there are a few references that may well throw light on this subject but, still, do not completely resolve the matter. Judge for yourself.
The Ficken source cited above lists sixteen individual's names, among which was Michael Kalteissen, as founding the German Friendly Society on January 15, 1766. There is slim possibility that Alexander Gillon was one of these because he did indeed arrive in Charleston, SC in 1766. But, it is equally likely that the Society was founded before he arrived. Still, a very successful and prosperous Charlestonian merchant, a fluent speaker of both Dutch and German, and an individual given over to philanthropic deeds could not have stayed out of this society for long and was almost certainly asked to join at some point in time. Again, sources that do mention membership of the society only mention Michael Kalteissen by name and no others at all. And, for one last piece of circumstantial evidence, this was the very same Michael Kalteissen who would serve as Commodore Alexander Gillon's "Captain of Marines" on board the frigate South Carolina when she set sail from the Texel, Holland for the New World on August 4, 1781.
Alexander Gillon is also credited with founding the first Charleston Chamber of Commerce in 1773. He acted as the first president of this business organization. The website for the current Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce (www.charlestonchamber.net) carries the following citation in the section entitled "About the Chamber". "Established in 1773, Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce is distinguished as the first municipal Chamber of Commerce in the United States and the longest continually operating business membership association". This is quite an accomplishment in and unto itself. Alexander Gillon founded the oldest, continually operating Chamber of Commerce anywhere in the United States on America. This is a reflection on the importance of commerce and business in the life of the city and port of Charleston, SC and in the life of this merchant who was important in the commercial life of the city of Charleston.