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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

April 2011

Your Chance To Call the Shots

No long blog post, today.  Just an invitation. 

I'll be getting back to writing "The Road to Frogmore" starting today, but I'll still be thinking about using these blog posts to put together a guide for writers. So what do you want to know?  We've chatted about choosing publishers and publishing method. We've looked briefly at points of view and characters, at things that get in the way of writing and tools that make writing easier. We've discussed marketing and blogging, research and editing.

What's missing?  When you think about writing a book or an article about a subject you care about, what are the questions that bother you?  What makes you say, "But how do I . . . ?"  Or "I don't know how to. . . ." or "I don't know where to go to find . . . "

I won't promise to have the answers, but if I've faced the same problem, I'll be happy to discuss the solutions I've found.  Everyone has questions.  Right now mine is "What do I write about next?" Please toss your ideas and questions at me in the comments below.

The Chapel Of Ease, St. Helena Island

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In This Sacred Place: St. Helena Parish Chapel of Ease Ruins
The St. Helena Parish Chapel of Ease ruins are located on St. Helena Island, SC To purchase a copy of this program, please visit the ETV store @ http://etvstore.org/products/detail.asp?pid=2084626841




Just a mile or so down the road from the Brick Church, we found the ruins of another place of worship associated with the Gideonites and slaves of St. Helena Island. This Episcopal Church was built in 1748 to serve the white plantation owners of the island.  Unike the Brick Church, it made no provision for the slaves to worship there, giving it the name of "The White Church." That policy also meant that when the church was abandoned in 1861, the black population made no attempt to re-open it.

The White Church had one feature, however, that drew the attention of some of the Gideonites. Its organ still worked, and the some of the missionaries began using the building as a social gathering place on Sunday afternoons, where they could listen to music or have a sing-along. Those gatherings lasted until a group of Union soldiers from the 24th Massachusetts regiment discovered the organ and carried it off to their camp.

By 1863, during a cantankerous debate among the missionaries over the meaning of communion, the church took on a more unfortunate function. While some of the Unitarian teachers, like Laura Towne, believed in "open communion" for black and white parishioners alike, others advocated a "closed communion."  When communion was offered to the freedmen at the Brick Church, the closed communion group left the building and went to The White Church to hold their own sacrament. How ironic it might have seemed, had the advocates of abolition who came to the island to help the freed slaves realized that they were actually  creating a tradition of segregation.  (And I'll step off my soapbox, now!)

There are other features of interest on the grounds of The Chapel of Ease.  When the church burned during a forest fire in the late 19th century, its bricks and woodwork disappeared, but the tabby skeleton of the church stands strong, giving us a glimpse of the permanence of that construction material.  Tabby is a mixture of convenience, combining lime and water with the ever-present supply of sand and oyster shells on the island.  The result is a type of concrete that sparkles in the sun and remains impervious to wind and rain.


The remains of a mausoleum are also located in the cemetery of The Chapel of Ease. The structure, erected in 1853, at one time contained the remains of three members of the Fripp family.  Today, the door stands open and the tombs are empty.  Local lore says that Union soldiers were also responsible for this destruction because they needed the slabs on top of the tombs to serve as operating tables for their wounded. I've not been able to verify that explanation, but I admit it sounds a bit better than simple vandalism.

We had a fantastic trip to Beaufort, and now that I've shared a few of the high-lights with you, it's time to get back to writing.  The sights and sounds, the stink of pluff mud and the sting of "no-see-ums," the narrow streets and massive plantation houses, the gossip and the superstitions, the dangling Spanish moss, the looming oak trees, and the ever-changing tides will all find their way into my next book, as will the places we've just visited.

Gullah Traditions: From a "Nyew Testament" to Frogmore Stew

Today, I thought I'd offer just a couple of "tastes" of the Gullah culture that so permeates the area around Beaufort, SC. The slaves of St. Helena were among the first freedmen in South Carolina during the Civil War.  Their owners left them behind, throwing them onto their own resources.  Most planters probably did not expect them to "free" themselves. They thought the helpless slaves would either be forced to follow their owners into the interior or they would die. Instead, they went back to work.  There was little or no looting or rioting among the slaves of St. Helena Island, as there was in Beaufort.  The people were too busy marshaling their resources, putting in winter crops, taking over the Brick Church for their own worship services.  And once the Gideonites arrived, they threw themselves into educating themselves so that they could read, write, cipher, and manage their own affairs. Both the lyrical language and the recipes that mark Gullah culture had their origin among these resourceful people. 

A published Gullah version of the "Nyew Testament" is one of the most interesting contributions to result from the efforts of the Penn Center.  Here are some selections from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-7) to give you a taste of the Gullah language.  Read it out loud if you have difficulty deciphering it, but be aware that this is not a translation but rather a retelling of the story in the language spoken by the people. The Nyew Testament uses recognizable English characters to approximate the rapid and melodic sounds of Gullah.

1 Wen Jedus see all de crowd dem, e gone pontop one high hill.  E seddown dey, an e ciple dem come geda roun um.

2 Den Jedus staat fa laan um. E say,

3 Dey bless fa true, dem people wa ain hab no hope een deysef, cause God da rule oba um.

4 De bless fa true, dem wa saaful now, cause God gwine courage um.

5 De bless fa true, dem wa ain tink dey mo den wa dey da, cause all de whole wol gwine blongst ta um.

6 De bless fa true, dem wa hongry and tosty fa wa right, cause dey gwine git satisfy.

7 De bless fa true, dem wa hab mussy pon oda people, cause God gwine hab mussy pon dem.

Like most churches at the center of a community, The Brick Church sponsors many community activities, and Frogmore Stew is sure to appear at their church suppers. The origins of Frogmore Stew are cloudy, and conflicting claims only add to the confusion.  Frogmore was the name of the plantation that Laura Towne and Ellen Murray purchased in 1867 to house their new school.  It also is the current name of the small community at the corner of the Cross Island Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Most likely, this dish was simply a down-home staple of the people who lived around the Frogmore communities. Here's a recipe provided by the South Carolina Bureau of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.

FROGMORE STEW RECIPE

Frogmore Stew features three main ingredients, fresh shrimp, spicy sausage, and newly shucked yellow corm, but most anything that is good boiled, such as crabs, redskin potatoes, and even crawfish can be added. [It does NOT contain frogs!] Two keys to making a successful Frogmore Stew are:
1.        Stagger the addition of the ingredients and
2.        Don’t overcook the shrimp!


INGREDIENTS:
   •   2 tablespoons crab boil seasoning per gallon water (or more to taste) [I bought a container of spices called "Gullah Love" to flavor mine.]
   •   several lemons, halved (optional)
   •   redskin potatoes (depending on size, 3 or more per person)
   •   spicy smoked sausage, cut into 1-inch slices (¼ pound per person)
   •   fresh corn, broken into halves or thirds (1 ½ ears per person)
   •   shrimp (½ pound per person)
   •   butter, melted
   •   cocktail sauce
   •   sour cream
   •   ketchup

PREPARATION:
Fill a large steamer pot halfway with water. Add crab-boil seasoning (or more to taste). Several halved lemons may be added as well.
When the seasoned water comes to a boil, add redskin potatoes and boil for 20 minutes; then add one-inch slices of spicy smoked sausage and boil for 5-10 minutes. Add the corn) and boil another 5 minutes. (Begin timing immediately. Do not wait for it to boil again). Then add the shrimp. Cook for 3 minutes, drain, and pile on a table.
Serve with lots of paper towels and icy beverages, plus melted butter for the corn, cocktail sauce for the shrimp, and sour cream or ketchup for the potatoes.




The Brick Church of St. Helena Island

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In This Sacred Place: Brick Baptist Church
Brick Baptist Church is located on St. Helena Island, SC. To purchase a copy of this program, please visit the ETV store @ http://etvstore.org/products/detail.asp?pid=2084626841








In 1855, the slaves who belonged to Baptist plantation owners on St. Helena Island built an elegant brick and mortar two-story church to serve as the island's center of worship.   Here's a picture of it taken around 1865.
Inside, a roomy sanctuary provided seating for the island's wealthy white population.  Their slaves were allowed to occupy the second-story balcony, where they could attend the services without actually rubbing elbows with their owners. Outside were burial grounds for those planter families, including plots occupied by the family members of Daniel Pope, who owned the massive Oaks Plantation just across the river from Beaufort. The three tall obelisks in this recent photo are Pope memorials:

When Union forces captured Port Royal Sound and the surrounding islands, the white planters fled, leaving their slaves to inherit this church.   Gideonite teachers and missionaries who occupied the abandoned Oaks Plantation joined them for services in the Brick Church, which would become the center of their social lives.

In 1862 Laura Towne and Ellen Murray began teaching a few slave children in the living room of the Oaks. But when the number of eager pupils swelled from 9 children to over 80 blacks of all ages, they moved the classes to the Brick Church.  Laura describes the scene in the sanctuary, where some 200 freed men, women and children took part in lessons, a group in each corner of the room, all shouting their ABC's to make themselves heard over the other classes.

Today the church looks much as it did 150 years ago. It still has an active congregation with services held every Sunday. The building has been refurbished but not fundamentally altered.  Outside, along the sidewalks, bricks carved with the names of the descendants of the first slaves to worship here reveal the continuity that marks this community. 

The church stands just across Land's End Road (now  renamed Martin Luther King, Jr., Drive) from The Penn Center, where a museum and conference center commemorate the work that Laura and Ellen did here. Over the years, the mission of the Penn Center expanded from teaching illiterate slaves to providing vocational training for their descendants. Now, no longer an active school, it concentrates on preserving and expanding our knowledge of the Gullah culture that developed among the African-American population on these islands.

Luxurious Surroundings and Kitchen Filth

The Paul Hamilton House, known as "The Oaks" stands at 100 Laurens Street in Beaufort, just across the street from Tidalholm, although it faces away from its neighbors to capture the best view over the water.  Col. Paul Hamilton, grandson of the Paul Hamilton who served as Secretary of the Navy under President James Madison, built the house in 1855.  

Like Tidalholm, the house is built in the Italianate style. Its two-storied verandas extend across the front of the house and around both sides until they meet the wider back portion of the house. The back rooms feature bay windows that stretch from floor to ceiling.  Inside, unusual carved mantles extend on three sides of the chimney, echoing the design of the exterior.   

                                                      West Rear of the Hamilton House


When the Gideonites arrived, they selected this house for the twelve women who accompanied the group.  Here is the description recorded by Washington socialite Susan Walker:  

Tuesday, March 11, 1862:

Went with Mr. French escorted by the Provost Marshal in search of a house large enough to accommodate 12 ladies. Twelve women together! This is fearful. We found a splendid house near the water and therefore pronounced healthful  It must be thoroughly cleaned for the "chivalry" look not to corners and cupboards. They leave this to the poor despised "mudsie" of the north. Such a kitchen as supplied their luxurious tables would nowhere else be suffered. Bah! What filth—years only could have so matured it.  


                                         The Cookhouse at the back of the Hamilton House


Wednesday,  March 12, 1862: 

Here we are at last in possession of Hamilton's superb mansion. Slept last night at good Dr. Peck's but tonight must occupy the pleasant room assigned me in our new home. Unfurnished, of course, for every house has been stripped of furniture. I have a frame of rough boards to support my narrow straw-stuffed mattress. My table is a packing box, my candle-stick a potato, and a small wooden bench my only seat. I have a single piece of furniture—a marble-top mahoganywash-stand, which kind provost Belcher has brought, he says, "expressly for you." I expect to have wash-basin and pitcher some time. Having neither pillow case nor sheet, I split open a white peticoat and slipped myself between. Friends have sometimes called me fastidious, am I so?  

Thursday, March 13, 1862: 

My window east opens upon a little porch with mosaic floor. From this what a glorious sunrise over the river. Rosy Aurora tints sky and water. A magnificently spreading Live Oak fringed with long pendants of grey moss stands between me and the river promising charming shade when summer heat demands out-door breezes. My window north reveals orange trees and negro cabins and a pretty white henhouse made of lattice work and looking like a fanciful summer house. Window south opens upon a broad verandah exposed on two sides to the sea or river rather, but it is an arm of the sea and salt. A dressing room belongs to this room but is not spared for me. I have a fire-place and fire is required night and morning.   

Within a few weeks, the women Gideonites, too, moved to their assigned plantations to begin teaching and caring for the abandoned slaves.  The Hamilton, like its neighbor, became a Union Hospital # 1 until the end of the war. 

The northern teachers who remained in the Low Country at the end of the war must have been horrified to learn that the previous owner of the Hamilton House declared he would pay "a million dollars to keep his home from becoming a school for Negroes."  When he could not raise the full purchase amount within the three days allotted to him, the citizens of Beaufort banded together to purchase the home in his name.  It returned to being a private residence.