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.