Tuesday, June 30, 2015

St Helena's Chapel of Ease


Over the weekend we spent some time on St Helena's Island, one of the larger sea islands, or barrier islands, on the coast of South Carolina.

St Helena's has an interesting and unique history as it was later owned by slaves who worked on the plantations for generations before the Civil War.

But, more about that in a later post.

In the days of rice plantations there were thousands of slaves who called the island home and only a few white people who lived and worked there full time. The big plantation houses were summer homes for the families of the owners to escape the heat in Beaufort and enjoy the cooling sea breezes.


This small church, built in 1740 as a "chapel of ease," served planters from Beaufort when they could not regularly attend services in Beaufort.

It was once known as the White Church, as the tabby construction, a mixture of oyster shells and lime, caused it to appear to glow with a white light when it was new.





Tabby is made by burning oyster shells to create lime, then mixing it with water, sand, ash and broken oyster shells. The oyster shells came from huge piles of shells built up from Indian camps over many generations.





On November 4,1861, the Sunday service at the chapel was interrupted by a messenger with news that Beaufort was about to be invaded by Union troops.










A beautiful vault was built for the Fripp family who were instrumental in getting the church built. All the planters fled from the island with the arrival of Union troops in 1861. The vault was opened by vandals and Union soldiers bricked up the opening to repair it. The next morning most of the bricks had been removed and stacked neatly to the side.

People were convinced that supernatural forces were at work and the vault has been left as it was, only partially closed.

Union soldiers used the building for services during the Civil War, as did northerners who came to the area after the war to educate and train the freed slaves.

It was destroyed by a forest fire in 1886 and never repaired.

By 1812, the population of St. Helena Island had increased to the extent that the chapel of ease was designated a parish church. The church was virtually abandoned when the planters evacuated the island in the fall of 1861.


  1. Interesting post - especially Union troops being in that area from 1861 onwards???
    From a military point of view, I would have thought the South would have done
    everything possible to remove these troops from the area, especially considering
    the proximity of the city of Charleston, SC.

    The supernatural forces and neatly stacked bricks - well my imagination and
    biblical fantasies don't run quite that far. Still it is a nice kind of myth????

    Colin (Brisbane. Australia)
    PS; One of those days after a perfect one yesterday, one just
    wouldn't have a clue what the weather will do today - everything
    would be possible - except SNOW!

  2. I can only imagine what it was like when it was newly built. I imagine the local folklore abounds! Supernatural forces...perhaps or a grave robber:)

  3. Another interesting post about your new state.

  4. Such an interesting place to visit, and very grand I would imagine in all its former glory. I love some of the old superstitious tales.

  5. Cynthia the nature there is awesome especially trees with ham=nging branches. It is very interesting post of South

  6. There is such interesting history here. Thank you for sharing some of it with us, Cynthia. It's amazing that they figured out how to make lime by burning the oyster shells.

  7. I am also amazed at the knowledge of people when it comes to building materials. I can understand them crushing shells for building materials but who discovered burning them would create lime. Fascinating history.

  8. I like to read the history of the places you visit, very interesting and not always a pleasant one. Wars comes and goes over the centuries.

  9. Interesting, but weird happenings though. Passed down through the years I expect.

  10. You discover some of the most unusual and interesting places. This post gave me goosebumps. I love reading aboutand seeing these places you visit.

  11. I didn't even think you would be able to burn shells! Interesting. When you look deeper into an old ruin there are great stories - a good base for a historical novel.

  12. What interesting information and historical facts. If the shells of ancient buildings could only talk!

  13. Such an interesting history. What remains of the chapel is intriguing.

  14. Most interesting history. We saw huge Indian mounds of seashells in a state park in Florida last winter...

  15. That's a very interesting piece of history.