Selden B. Hill – A Tour of the Brick Church at Wambaw- St. James-Santee Parish Episcopal Church- 3.2.2018. This was originally recorded, and the text below is a transcript of that recording. Transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
Welcome. My name is Bud Hill. I'm the Director emeritus of the Village Museum at McClellanville, SC. Welcome to the Brick Church at Wambaw or St. James-Santee Parish Episcopal Church. I'd like to tell you a little bit about the church building since this year is a wonderful occasion in its history. This year, 2018, our church building will turn two-hundred and fifty years old.
Two-hundred and fifty years is longer than America has been a nation, and that is a great reason to celebrate the building of this particular building. While the church building is that old, our parish is much older. St. James-Santee Parish is the second oldest parish in the state of South Carolina. Only downtown Charleston is a little older than we are.
I want to tell you a little bit about the parish first and then we'll get to the present church building. Our parish was founded in 1687 when a few Europeans came and settled here at a place called Jamestown. Even today, there's a little small community inland from here named Jamestown.
There were two boatloads of French that came into Charleston to settle there, and u they quickly discovered that they weren't wanted there. Onboard these two ships were artisans and craftsmen. The problem was that, in Charleston, there were already English artisans and craftsmen. Any time a community or a colony is established, the first people to come in are the craftsmen and the tradespeople who establish shops and build things.
Well, here come two boatloads of French to do the same thing. The English, who had first come in 1670 – seventeen years earlier- didn't need or want any competition in Charleston so they decided among themselves to send away "those French" as they called them. The French settlers were creating a problem so the English decided to send them out into the wilderness - thirty, forty miles away from Charleston onto the banks of the Santee [River].
Now, this created a great problem for the French settlers because most of those [people] had soft hands. A lot of them were shopkeepers who had never grown anything in their lives. They'd never planted corn or potatoes or the basics of life. They'd never chopped trees down. They'd never built a home, and they didn't have a lot of money.
It was a great challenge to “those French” to establish a settlement there on the Santee. We all think about planters sitting on horses watching other people do the building and the farming. Well, these men, their wives, and their children had to work on each end of a whipsaw and to cut logs into timber in order to build homes.
Their first nights on the Santee were spent under sails they had brought from Charleston. The little boat sails were stretched between trees. If it hadn't have been for the Native Americans in the area, the Sewee and the Santee Indians, those French wouldn't have made it because they were almost starving to death. It was some time before they even had a loaf of bread.
It was the Native Americans who came and taught them how to plant crops and how to cut the trees and how to build some little structures to sleep in. They did prosper, though. They made it. They survived. The second and third generation did real well because the land was perfect for growing crops such as indigo and cotton and, later, rice. They not only survived but they prospered. Those French end up with fine homes in Charleston, being accepted in Charleston, and marrying into a lot of the prominent families there.
We have ties into all of the communities in Charleston and this end of Charleston County as well as the larger parish. Our parish, St. James-Santee Parish, starts at Awendaw Creek and comes up to the mouth of the Santee. At one time, it also went straight inland. Nobody knew what was back there. The lines just went on indefinitely. Later, other parishes were broken off from the parish.
When the French settled at Jamestown they established a church there. It was a Huguenot church - they were French. Some time passed and they petitioned the English to create a parish - St. James-Santee Parish- and it was done in 1704*. Of course, with the English being in charge of the country, it was their country, and the church that was established was an Anglican church. Over the years, it has evolved into the Episcopal church we celebrate today.
The French were later joined by some English. When you stand in our church today all the land on the backside of the church is called French Santee. All the land on the frontside is English Santee. The dividing line is where Hampton plantation is today. Everything above Hampton is French, everything below was settled by English and Irish-Scots.
Back behind the church were great families like the Porchers, the Ravenels, the Gaillards, and the Bonneaus. Many other French families settled there as well. On the lower portion were the Rutledges, Pinckneys, McGregors and McClellans as well as many other families.
They got along very well. It's often said that the French came into what is now the back of the building, entering through a door there, and the English came in through the front door. It's kind of implied that perhaps it's because they didn't get along well.
It's not so. There was a road that swept down to the backside of the church and that's how the French came to church. The English came on the present road called the King's Highway. They came in that way because that's the closest place to the parking lot [the area where they lived]. They came in and sat together in church and there were many great marriages between the English and French communities.
Our church has box pews. Most people who come and visit ask two questions. Why is the church here in the middle of nowhere and why does it have box pews? The answer to the first question is that it was not in the middle of nowhere. It was in the middle of the Rice Kingdom, a powerful bunch of people who lived in this community and this was their church close to their homes. It was not too far from the great centers of Charleston or Georgetown and it was near their homes- close enough for them to come and worship.
The other question…. When you came to church in the wintertime, it was cold! The box pews kept the drafts away from the family. Some coals in a pan could be brought in to warm the pews and blankets to keep you warm as well. The main thing, though, was that the pews were a way of bringing revenue into the church. You rented the pews and for a fee you got to sit closer to the front if your fee was high enough and you could see the minister much better from the front pews.
The other question about the pews of course is, well, they're box pews. Can you see over the walls? How do you see the priest? Well, that's no problem. Sit down and look around. You can look right over them and see the priest because the priest is standing up looking down at the pew.
Families gathered there. I like to sit in the pews and imagine which family sat here because we had great families. This church had among its members, people who ran for president and the Pinckney brothers. We had Thomas Lynch, who signed the Declaration of Independence and went to church here. Eliza Lucas Pinckney gave us indigo. She and her family went to church here. Great [figures] from colonial history came to church here. It's said that George Washington on his 1791 trip stopped off at the church. I don't know whether he went to a service there or just stopped at the church. We don't know for sure but it's said that he did.
Great men have come to church here and great ladies. When you look back at those people who came out of this congregation and what they did for the state of South Carolina, they were the people who established this state and went to Washington and helped form our nation. When you have a young man from St. James-Santee who puts his name on the Declaration of Independence - pretty powerful people. We're proud of those people who came out of our community.
The building we're celebrating this year is unlike a lot of the churches that you see throughout the South - the beautiful white clapboard houses with the steeples. This is a colonial period church. Many of the churches during the Colonial period are beautiful and have a unique style but they were also built the way they were because the builders wanted a church made of materials which would require less maintenance.
Our church is made of strong brick. The wooden construction is of cedar and cypress. Look at the beautiful vaulted ceiling. It gives the building absolutely magnificent acoustics. The builders wanted beauty but they also didn't want to spend a lot of time maintaining a church. They wanted one that would last. Because this church is celebrating 250 years, I'd have to say they were successful in building a church that would last.
Today I believe it has another 250 years to go because it's in as good a shape today as it's ever been. Look around our church at the wonderful craftsmanship. These craftsmen were black men, probably enslaved Africans. These were craftsmen who had learned boat building and other trades because some of that is evident in the construction, up in the ceiling of the church. The way that they fashioned the vaulted ceiling is very reminiscent of a ship itself.
Brick masons of extraordinary talent formed the bricks. Some of them right here on site. Others were imported in the holds of ships - ballast bricks. These were used for the outer structure.
Look at the columns that surround the church. Those bricks were made onsite. For the first five feet they go straight up as an arrow. Then they taper in slightly. When you stand back from the columns, they look like they're tapered from the base to the top but they aren’t. The first five feet are straight and all the rows of brick that go around were of the same dimensions. Once it started to taper that brick mason had to recalculate that row, reform his molds, make the bricks for that row, put them in place, and then calculate the next row.
To keep it from having a jagged edge they would take and put the bed of mortar down, put the brick in place, tap the back end, and slant the front edge backwards a little bit so it'd have a nice incline all the way up. If you were able to look inside those columns you'll see that these are not ordinary rectangular bricks. They're cast a curve on the front and they're pie-shaped bricks. They go into the column almost to the center. There's only a small opening in there that had to be filled. They're strong, stout columns, and they're going to stay with us for many, many years.
The style of them are very reminiscent of another church near Yemassee in the lower part of the state. It’s known as Old Sheldon. At Old Sheldon, the columns are very much like ours but being a little biased towards Brick Church I think that the brick mason here had a little bit more talent than the other man in the lower part of the state because ours look like they were just built yesterday. It's amazing.
I'd like to take you on a quick walk around the graveyard at Brick Church. I was instructed years ago that there's a difference between a cemetery and a graveyard. A cemetery is freestanding. A graveyard is attached to a church. I didn't know that. I used to call this the cemetery but I was corrected. This is a graveyard.
In our graveyard there are just a few graves. The reason for that is most people during the colonial period were buried on their properties at their plantations. If you go to the plantations nearby everyone has a cemetery there for the families that owned it and for the slaves that lived there.
Here, though, when this church was built 250 years ago they started burying a few families here. There are some notables in the crowd. Go to the left side of the graveyard. If you face the church and go to the far fence, there's the McClellan family there. Among those few stones that belong to that particular clan is Archibald James McClellan, one of the founders of McClellanville, the little community that's near the church today.
He and Richard Tillia Morrison teamed up and they leased and sold some lots that would become the little village of McClellanville. There are also some interesting stones on the other side. One is the resting place of Reverend Samuel Fenner Warren and his son, Colonel Samuel Warren. These two men were important to the history of this parish.
Reverend Warren was a very popular man. He married people, he buried people, he saw to the sick and the dying. He was loved from St. James-Santee Parish all the way up to Georgetown. He was greatly respected.
When the war came with England he had the bad luck of being in England visiting family and had to make a big decision. His decision was, "What do I do? Do I stay in my homeland or do I come back to my adopted home?" He decided to come back to America.
When the family in England heard of his decision they were furious with him. They were even madder at his son, Sam, because Sam decided he was going to fight the homeland and stand with the Patriots. Two old maid aunts raised that boy over in England. They were furious at his decision and they wrote him a nasty note and said, "We hope you get an arm or leg blown off in the war."
Sure enough, he was down at the Siege of Savannah and was wounded in the leg and they had to remove his leg to save his life. He took his leg and put it in a container of alcohol and shipped it to the old girls. I believe that Colonel Warren got even. They got their wish. He was quite a character.
We have some modern characters buried here. We have Peter Manigault, a great newspaper man and comes from an old Huguenot family. He and his son Pierre have been great stewards of the land that surround Brick Church and more land that's on the Santee. For generations and generations they seem to have [children] who feel the same way about protecting the land in this particular region. We were lucky to have the Manigaults in our community.
Most of the land surrounding the Brick Church today is protected land in some kind of conservation easement so it'll never be built on. The 100 acres directly across from the front of the church was purchased by the Village Museum and later deeded to the Brick Church Restoration Committee to protect the viewscape of our church.
It will always be the same view. If you stand at the front door of this church 100 years from now you'll still be looking at pine trees and not developed land. That was the goal of the purchase and in the conservation of the land that surrounds the church. Most of the land from the Santee all the way down the Old Georgetown Road that runs in front of the church is protected in some fashion today. It'll always be what you see today.
The road itself, the King's Highway as it was better known, is today called the Old Georgetown Road, but at one time it was the King's Post Road, the mail went up and down this road. Any man or woman high or low in station used this road, whether you walked or you rode in the finest carriage. That's the road that took you from Charleston to all the northern cities. That's the road that took everybody from up north to Charleston, the great city of the south.
Everybody has used the road and today it's on the National Register as is the building itself. Both are protected forever. We can't do anything to the road or to the church that would harm its present condition. That's a good thing that we protect it. Today, the continuing congregation of St. James-Santee Parish Episcopal Church has stewardship of the building and is strongly supported by the Brick Church Restoration Committee – a non-profit.
Even though St. James-Santee Church in McClellanville has stewardship of the building and Charleston County has stewardship of the King's Highway, we are just that. We're stewards. We are the people that have been selected to take care of this historic church building and the King's Highway.
If we all can work together and do some intelligent preservation and protection of the land that surrounds the church, the church will have a great history to come. And, it’s not all just in the past because it still serves the community. Brick Church is the one building in the parish and in this end of Charleston County that unites us all. Granted there are parts of the history with both good and bad sides, but the church building roots us all.
Families who have been here for generations and generations still consider this their mother church. It doesn't matter whether you go to the Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist or Episcopal church or if you are like me, you don’t go as often as you should.. You still can feel the same about this church building when you go in there.
I have watched many people visit the church from somewhere else. The thing they comment on the most is how it makes them feel - How they feel when they sit in those pews. It's still a sacred place.
* More likely, 1706- Church Act