William Deas and She-Crab Soup

william deas
William Deas

Charleston has a rich culinary history.

Over the course of its 350 year history, you might imagine that there have been countless restaurants, hotels, inns, taverns, and bars that have put Charleston on the culinary map, and there are interesting stories to be found just around every corner.

There are many dishes for which Charleston is well-known, and one of those is She-Crab soup. The story behind the creation of She-Crab Soup is one of culinary innovation and presidential visitation.

Taft Comes to Charleston

In the early 20th Century, William Deas was the butler to R. Goodwyn Rhett, who was Mayor of Charleston. At the time, Mayor Rhett lived at 116 Broad St., the home that is now the John Rutledge House Inn.

Mayor Rhett was also good friends with then-president William Howard Taft. They were such good friends that the Rhetts hosted the president during his visit to Charleston in 1919.

Legend has it that Mayor Rhett asked Deas to do something to their crab soup recipe to make it unique and worthy of a presidential tasting.

As a result of Rhett’s request and Taft’s visit, Deas took the pedestrian crab soup recipe and added crab roe from local crabs and sherry to the soup, giving the soup its distinctive redish hue, and She-Crab soup was born!

Deas’ Legacy Lives On

rutledge house inn
The John Rutledge House Inn

Since the first time Deas served it to President Taft, his She-Crab soup recipe has spread throughout the country and is considered the gold-standard of She-Crab soup recipes.

Deas would eventually leave the Rhetts, but his recipe for She-Crab soup would live on. William Deas is one of the many people who have made significant contributions to the culinary story of Charleston.

And the next time you see She-Crab Soup on a menu, you can remember that it was a creation of Mr. William Deas– “The Rhett’s Butler!”

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