William Hugh Suder was the last of his immediate family to live in Charleston in 1870. He had lived half of his life in a city under siege, empty and desperate, and the other half as an inmate. His mother died in a tragic explosion, his father was killed moving soldiers to safety, he had been given away by relatives, and his only brother was taken from him.
He was ten years old.
On June 4, 1866, a year after the deaths of William Henry and Lizzie Suder, Jim Meyers passed through the gates of Charleston’s Orphan House and approached the imposing building with the Suders’ two small boys. The administrator of the Orphan House contacted the Meyers after a year, telling them it was time; now there was room for William Hugh and John Henry Suder. William was six and John four.
James Doughty Meyers, a store clerk at 33, was the husband of Catherine Ann Skipper Meyers, Lizzie’s sister who agreed to take the boys temporarily until William Henry returned from war. He didn’t. Jim and Catherine couldn’t raise the boys; not on Jim’s salary, and not with two of their own and a third on the way.
After the war, the Charleston Orphan House was overflowing with refugee children - inmates they were called. Orphans with no family came first so it took time to get the boys accepted, and the money left by the parents, Catherine’s sister, ran out quickly. But in June of 1866 the time came to admit William and John.
The applications are sparse: Admitted June 14, 1866, by J. D. Meyers, uncle; Parents, no names, died in the war; Born in Charleston; Lives at 38/39 Hanover Street. It was more than was known about many orphans. The Orphan House was home to around 450 boys and girls of all ages. The house was divided into two wings: one for girls and the other for boys. William and John were assigned to Dormitory Four.
“The large building and grounds occupied fully three-quarters of an entire city block, being surrounded by a wall six or seven feet high, with a beautiful garden of flowers in the front and a vegetable garden in the rear,” according to William Hugh Suder. “There were right and left wings, a beautiful front entrance and a long extension at the rear which housed all the necessary adjuncts required for a building of its size.”
William Suder always recalled the Orphan House with fondness and respect; a place where he experienced the best times of his childhood. “We were well-educated, well-clothed and well-fed,” remembered Suder. “It was an ideal home with an efficient corps of teachers and elderly matrons, all under the supervision of a very well-advised lady selected by a special committee of citizens.”
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