St. Philip’s Church at 146 Church Street is the mother church of Anglicanism in Charleston. This English colony, founded in 1670, served as a beacon of religious tolerance, which was written into the governing document of Carolina. Anglicanism would have been the “state” religion since we were an English colony but other religions were welcomed here.
In 1680 the settlement moved from its original site farther up the Ashley River on the west bank to the peninsula, and in 1681 St. Philip’s was constructed of local black cypress on the site where St. Michael’s Church at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets now stands. By 1720, there were enough Anglicans to divide the parish into two, and St. Philip’s was completed by 1723 on the site where it is situated now. The original church was colonial and made of brick covered with stucco. Unfortunately, fire struck in 1835 and the original church was destroyed.
The present church dates from 1838, and the steeple was added around 1850; the church has survived the fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and a major earthquake in Charleston since that time. St. Philip’s has a graveyard that surrounds the church and also a cemetery across the street. The gate to the west cemetery is one of two pre-Revolutionary iron gates still standing in the city. Many times, ironwork was melted for cannon during war, so much of the pre-Revolutionary ironwork has disappeared.
For those who enjoy wandering through early graveyards or cemeteries, take your time in both the graveyard and the west cemetery of St. Philip’s. Among the famous are the graves of Edward Rutledge, signer of the Declaration of Independence, DuBose Heyward, author of the novel “Porgy,” Sir William Rhett who helped rid the area of pirates in 1718 and John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina senator who died in 1850. Calhoun also served his country twice as Vice President, Secretary of State and Secretary of War. Unfortunately, Calhoun was a vocal proponent for slavery, and during the Civil War when it became evident the South would lose, Calhoun’s friends here were concerned the Union forces would desecrate his grave. The friends moved Calhoun’s remains in the middle of the night, perhaps to an unmarked grave on the side of the church. Supposedly, the remains were again removed under cover of night after the Union forces left in 1880 and re-buried in Calhoun’s original grave.
One of my favorite Charleston traditions, the St. Philip’s Tea Room, runs 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday, April 29, 2019 through Friday, May 3, 2019. Get there early because the locals love to eat here; make sure you sit outside if the weather is nice. The food is delicious with some old Charleston favorites such as homemade okra soup, chicken salad and the best Huguenot Torte around (which is neither Huguenot nor a torte, but an experience not to be missed).
Next week we will continue to explore Charleston history through her places and people.