Coastal Carolina Adventures: Exploring the Presbyterian Church on Edisto Island Graveyard, Part III

Most of the time, I know what I’m going to write about on the blog. But once in a while, something magically falls in my lap. That’s what took place last week. So often I focus on the stones but I’m hitting for the fences this time.

After reading Part I of my series on the Presbyterian Church on Edisto (PCE), I was contacted by Dr. Anne Chandler Howell. A sociologist and author, Dr. Howell has taught at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, Suffalk University, Wellesley College and Cheyney University.

Currently, Dr. Howell is doing research on shipments made by the Robert Wood Ornamental Ironworks of Philadelphia, Pa. She saw my pictures of the PCE graveyard and noticed that one of the fences looked familiar. After she looked at the additional photos I sent her, Dr. Howell confirmed that some of the fencing had indeed come from that company!

This first one surrounds a number of plots, which includes the Legare, Seabrook and Edings family members. It’s what I think looks like a “knotty wood” pattern with intertwined leaves and vines, while the posts resemble nubby trees and branches.

Here’s a large view of the cast iron fencing with a woody-type design.

You can see the detail of the design a little more in this photo.

Three members of the Legare family are buried in front of the fence.

Fortunately, there’s a copy of one of the company’s catalogs online (by that time it was called Wood & Perot) and I was able to pinpoint which one I think it is. You can see what it looked like below.

This is from a catalog customers might have perused before making their choice.

It turns out that Robert Wood opened his forge in Philadelphia in 1839. He operated under the name “Robert Wood” until 1849, when the business expanded. He changed it to “Robert Wood, Iron Rail Foundry and Manufacturing.” By 1853, Wood’s business had grown into nearly an acre of workspace with 200 employees.

Ornamental cast iron was very popular from the late 18th century through the late 19th century. I learned that cast iron differs from wrought iron because it allows for greater plasticity and more elaborate designs, including raised relief which cannot be accomplished with wrought iron.

This is an 1867 lithograph by William H. Rease showing Robert Wood’s Steam Iron Railing Works. (Photo source: The Library Company of Philadelphia)

Wood’s business grew bigger when he partnered with Elliston Perot, becoming Wood & Perot, from 1857 to 1865. In its last incarnation, the foundry became Wood & Perot Ornamental Iron Works from 1865 until the company went bankrupt and the foundry closed in 1878.

Wood started his career simply making window guards and awning posts, working his way up to large bronze statues. The biggest was a 15-foot sculpture of Henry Clay for the town of Pottsville, Pa. Perhaps his most prestigious creation was President James Monroe’s tomb at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va., created in 1859. In 2015, Monroe’s tomb received a $900,000 makeover from the Department of General Services in the state of Virginia.

President James Monroe’s tomb, erected in 1859, was designed by the German-born architect Albert Lybrock. Wood & Perot created the cast iron elements. (Photo Source: Joe Lamastus)

Wood & Perot’s factory along Ridge Avenue in 1858 by photographer James McClees. (Photo Source: The Library Company of Philadelphia)

According to an article by Karen Chernick, projects started in the pattern room, where a wooden model was created to size. This alone could take several weeks. Final designs were taken to the foundry where a mold was made from the pattern. Because it took so much work to produce these patterns, they were kept in a storeroom for future projects. In 1853, Wood’s pattern room was filled with between 3,000-4,000 patterns, 150 of which were fence patterns.

While the molder worked, the charger prepared a cylindrical 12-foot tall by 38-inch wide cupola (or melting pot). The inside of the cupola had to be continually stacked with sand, wood, coal, imperfect castings from the previous day, and then more coal and iron. Once the contents of the cupola were lit, it took about two hours for the iron to melt. Workers then spent the afternoon bringing ladles to an opening at the bottom of the cupola and filling molds situated all over the room with the liquid iron.

Dr. Howell told me customers often chose what designs they liked in the showroom and then customized them to meet their needs. I saw that whomever bought the woody patterned fence had also chosen a Woods & Perot arch. In the photo below, you can see what it looked like in the catalog, but with a different fence design.

This is what the arch looked like in the Woods and Perot catalog.

Here’s how the actual arch looks in the PCE graveyard now.

You can see how the leaves on the ends bend down, just like the ones in the catalog.

Since the Seabrook family (the most likely candidates for purchasing the railing) lived on Edisto, they were quite a distance from Wood’s Philadelphia showroom. They may have simply flipped through the catalog, chose what they wanted and ordered it sent to them.

Dr. Howell was also interested in the fencing around the Mikell family plot so I sent her more photos. She confirmed it can also be found in the Wood & Perot catalog. She was especially interested in the gates.

Here you can see the fence design that the Mikells (who intermarried with the Edings and the Seabrook families) chose.

This Mikell plot’s fence style includes an arrow motif.

Dr. Howell told me that this style of railing was indeed No. 42 out of the Wood & Perot catalog, although the Mikells chose a different gate than the one in this illustration.

Instead, the Mikells picked out a gate that featured what appears to be two field workers with a Medieval-type feel to them. The top of the gate features oak leaves in the scroll work.

The name “J. Jenkins Mikell” is also on the gate. I think this is an error on Wood’s behalf because there is nobody buried in the cemetery by that name. There is, however, an I. Jenkins Mikell buried at PCE (the “I” standing for Isaac). Interestingly, Isaac’s third wife Aramintha’s monument states she is the wife of J. Jenkins Mikell so it looks like this was not the first time there was an error with Isaac’s name.

This gate’s figures are No. 108 in the 1848 Wood catalog.

I could not find the figures in the 1867 catalog that I had access to, but Dr. Howell sent me what she had from the 1848 catalog. You can see that the Mikells chose the two center motifs for the fence.

Images from the 1848 Robert Wood catalog, No. 108. (Photo Source: Dr. Anne Chandler Howell)

This is what they look like up close.

And here’s the other one. Both are very agrarian in nature, which supports how the Mikells, Seabrooks and Edings made their fortunes by growing cotton on their plantations.

I did a little research and learned that much like Julia Legare’s father, William Seabrook, Isaac Mikell (1808-1881) was a prosperous plantation owner. But what he’s probably best known for is the amazing home he built for his third wife Mary Martha Pope Mikell between 1853 to 1854 in Charleston.

Built from 1853 to 1854, the Isaac J. Mikell House in Charleston sold for $4.8 million in 2008. (Photo Source: Architectural Digest)

The Greek Revival residence was designed in the style of grand Italian villa and is still standing today. In 2008, the house sold for $4.8 million to Manhattan socialite Patricia Altschul. Apparently, the house is often featured on the Bravo television reality show, Southern Charm.

I knew when I visited the PCE graveyard that I was in a special place like no other. But I had little idea that the same company that had made some of its cast iron fencing had also created the tomb of an American president. I am very grateful to Dr. Howell for contacting me so I could learn a bit more about Robert Wood and his company’s place in cemetery history.

There are too many stories from the PCE graveyard to end just yet. Stay tuned for more.

Coastal Carolina Adventures: Exploring the Presbyterian Church on Edisto Island Graveyard, Part II

Today’s blog post might make some of you feel angry or disappointed. I expect some grumpy comments. That’s because I’m going to debunk a beloved ghost story that many people swear is true.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a suspenseful old yarn. Who doesn’t? The haunting tale of Julia Lagare is one of them. But when it flies in the face of actual facts, I can’t let it go unchallenged.

Before I start, many thanks to J’aime Rubio’s web page “Stories of the Forgotten”. She did a ton of research on this story and I’m going to be sharing some of it with you here. If you click on the link, you can get more details.

This grand iron archway features a tree branch/leaf motif, created by the Robert Wood Ornamental Ironworks of Philadelphia, Pa. You can see the reddish-colored Legare mausoleum in the back of the lot.

One of the reasons crowds flock to the Presbyterian Church on Edisto’s (PCE’s) historic graveyard is in the lone mausoleum located in the very back. Across the entrance is the name “Legare” (pronounced “La-gree”). There are three people interred inside. There is no door on the mausoleum, but a wooden lattice-type frame to keep people from going inside while enabling them to view the contents.

First, I’ll share the ghost story.

In the 1850s, a child or pre-teen girl by the name of Julia Legare was visiting family on the island when she fell ill from diphtheria and went into a deep coma. Her family, thinking she was dead, held a funeral then placed her body inside the family mausoleum at PCE’s graveyard. They left her there, shutting the door behind them.

The legend states that some 15 years later (some versions say seven) when her brother died, the family opened the mausoleum to place his remains inside. To their shock and horror, Julia’s bones were found right beside the door. Several accounts state they found scratch marks on the walls and door indicating Julia had awoken from her coma and fought without success to get out of the mausoleum.

Ever since, her spirit has haunted the cemetery. The legend also says that despite the fact people would shut the door to the mausoleum, it would be open the next day. So they took it off permanently and placed it in the woods

This tragic tale continues to get printed in tourist brochures and on web sites. The problem is that it isn’t true.

Designed by James Hoban, Seabrook House was where Julia grew up. It was built in 1810 under the direction of her father William. (Photo source: Charlotte Huston Webb’s web site Charleston Through an Artist’s Eye)

Born on Nov. 19, 1829, Julia Georgiana Seabrook’s parents were William Seabrook and his second wife, Elizabeth Emma Edings. William’s parents were John Seabrook and Sarah Lawton Seabrook. William was quite successful at managing his mother’s estates and is thought to be one of  the first plantation owners to cultivate Sea Island cotton (or black seed) successfully. In addition, William owned and operated the Edisto Island Ferry that carried passengers between Charleston and Savannah (in addition to other island areas).

Julia grew up on her father’s plantation, playing in the rooms of the elegant William Seabrook House that still stands today. William chose the designer of the White House, James Hoban, to draw up the plans. The home was built during his first marriage in 1810. Julia was his youngest child with second wife, Elizabeth.

Unlike other plantation homes that burned during the Civil War, the Seabrook House is still standing because it was used as a provost and headquarters for the Union Army. I last read the fully renovated home, situated on 350 picturesque acres, was for sale in March 2017 for $8.5 million.

There is no door on the Legare mausoleum. It was not inside of it, nor did I see it in the woods. So I couldn’t testify to any scratch marks the legend swears are on it.

Julia was about 18 when she married plantation owner John Berwick Legare in 1848. Soon after, Julia gave birth to their son, Hugh. Little Joseph came soon after. They were all living together in 1850, according to census records. The cause of her death is unknown, but Julia died at the age of 22 on April 15, 1852 (which is inscribed on her marker). She was the first person interred in the Legare mausoleum.

There is no door on the mausoleum so I cannot testify to any scratch marks the legend refers to. I couldn’t see anything resembling scratches on the walls, just the expected aging. I imagine that so many people wanted to see inside over the years, the church gave up and left the door off (which may have been scratched up by tourists themselves). The wooden frame keeps people out while letting you get a good look inside and take pictures.

The inside of the Legare mausoleum as it looks today. Julia’s stone is in the middle and she is flanked by her husband and her oldest son.

The idea that the Seabrooks simply left Julia’s remains inside the mausoleum is hard to swallow. There’s not much room in there. Most of the time, the casket is slid into a hole in the wall that is sealed or buried beneath the mausoleum floor and then covered by stone. The casket wouldn’t simply be left in the open. So the notion that her bones were found by the door doesn’t make any sense.

This is the closest I could get to the stones.

Julia’s son, Hugh Swinton Legare, died at the age of six in 1854. He is interred to her right. Her husband, John, died two years later in 1856 at the age of 36. He is interred to her left. Son Joseph would have been about six at the time of his father’s death but his whereabouts are unknown. He may have grown up under the care of one of Julia’s sisters.

You’ll notice that this is the Legare mausoleum. Not the Seabrook mausoleum. Her 31-year-old brother, Robert Chisholm Seabrook, died only six months after Julia. Not 15 years later as the legend states. So they wouldn’t have opened the mausoleum to inter him there. He is buried near the mausoleum with his own towering monument that was put up by their mother. It’s the tallest one in the cemetery.

Robert Chisholm Seabrook, Julia’s brother, was 31 at the time of his death.

Robert Seabrook’s monument is the tallest one in the cemetery.

William Seabrook died in 1836 and is buried in the Whaley-Seabrook Cemetery on the Seabrook House grounds (described on Find a Grave as being in very poor condition) on Edisto Island with his parents and first wife, Mary Ann Mikell Seabrook. His second wife, Elizabeth, died in 1856 and is buried in the PCE graveyard near Richard and a daughter, Mary, who died in 1834 at the age of three.

Daughter Carolina Seabrook Hopkinson outlived most of her family, dying at the age of 54.

William and Elizabeth also had a son, Joseph, in 1823 who was one of the eight church members who tragically died on the Steam Boat Pulaski in 1838. Daughter Carolina, born in 1825, married James Hopkinson. She died in 1879 (outliving most of the family) and is also buried at PCE near her mother, brother and two sisters (Julia and Mary).

So that’s the true story of the life and death of Julia Legare. While it’s not as romantic or spooky as the legend that continues to surround her, her family does have an important history worth noting. And while it is true that there are cases of people who were buried alive when their family thought they were dead, this isn’t one of them.

Next time, I’ll talk about some new revelations about the ironwork railings at the PCE graveyard and more of the history of those interred there.

Coastal Carolina Adventures: Exploring the Presbyterian Church on Edisto Island Graveyard, Part I

Charleston, S.C. is a wonderful city filled with historic cemeteries and I’ve seen the majority of them. However, last summer I was eager to venture out a bit from my usual stomping grounds and check out the surrounding areas like Edisto Island.

I already knew there are many small family cemeteries secreted away deep in swamps, forests and old plantations. However, they’re also mostly on private land and the owners don’t welcome uninvited guests. So I ended up going to the bigger church ones, which were certainly amazing in their own right.

One of the signs I saw when I drove onto Edisto Island.

The Edistow (that’s how they spelled it) Indians were living on the island when Spanish Jesuits established a mission there in the 1500s but abandoned it within the year. Those Indians were all but gone by 1750 due to displacement and disease.

English Lord Proprietors who held dominion over North and South Carolina purchased land from Indians, then granted land on Edisto and other islands for planting rice. The Paul Grimball family (at Point of Pines) were the first Europeans to live on Edisto in 1683. Spanish pirates destroyed the Grimball house in 1686, but its ruins remain.

During the 1700s, South Carolina, including Edisto, exported record amounts of rice to Europe and Caribbean buyers. For a short period they exported indigo, too. During the Revolutionary War, most planters fled to the mainland. The British destroyed property and sold many slaves to the West Indies. In 1785, Edisto began growing long-staple cotton from seeds locally developed.

I did make a stop at the Geechie Boy Market and Grocery Store, having heard that their doughnuts were pretty tasty. The Johnsman family has operated a mill on their local farm since 2007, selling hand-milled grits, corn meal and other grains. And by the way, those doughnuts lived up to their reputation. Delicious!

Stopping for doughnuts at the Geechie Boy Market and Mill is a must. So is sitting in their giant red Adirondack chair!

Not far down the road you’ll find the Presbyterian Church on Edisto (PCE) and its graveyard. The congregation is thought to have started meeting in the 1680s, but the first official pastor was not installed until 1704 with the Rev. John McLeod, a Scottish native. The current church was built in 1830, with updates and renovations over the years.

The Presbyterian Church’s current building dates from 1830. But the graveyard has burials as early as the 1780s.

By 1860, Edisto’s slave population of about 5,000 made possible local prosperity from sea island cotton. Wealthy planters built antebellum homes on the island and some of them were members at the church. But all that changed when the Civil War started.

With the fall of Port Royal in 1861, white residents of Edisto evacuated under orders from the Confederate government. Union troops soon occupied Edisto and remained for many years. Black residents also remained. Those who were members of the church came down out of the balcony, then elected a session and pastor while continuing the worship of God.

The Presbyterian Church on Edisto currently has a membership of about 150.

Two years after the war’s close, Dr. William States Lee (the church’s pastor since 1821) and several white members got a writ from the occupying Federal government returning the church sanctuary and grounds to the white members. The black members went down the road and founded the Edisto Presbyterian Church. According to church literature, Dr. Lee wrote that the event was peaceful while others remembered it as very tense. Today, both congregations are members of Charleston-Atlantic Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The graveyard that surrounds the church dates back to the 1770s and boasts a wide variety of monuments and markers. Some of are very worn and difficult to read. The grandest ones representing the wealthier church members are around back and closest to the church itself.

Names like Seabrook, Mikell, Whaley and Eding can be seen in the graveyard.

Near the front is a memorial to those who perished in the June 14, 1838 wreck of the Steamboat Pulaski. Eight church members, including pastor Rev. James Joseph Murray and his family, were among the victims. A total of 130 passengers and crew died in the tragedy. The death toll was said to have been the greatest suffered to that point by a steam-powered vessel.

When the Pulaski’s boiler blew up, the explosion swept some passengers into the sea and scalded others to death.

The Pulaski (bound for Baltimore) left Savannah on June 13, 1838, and arrived in Charleston later that day. After taking on passengers in Charleston the following day, it headed north with nearly 190 passengers and crew.

At around 11 p.m. on June 14, one of the Pulaski’s boilers exploded. The explosion blew off the ship’s promenade deck, according to an account published by survivor Rebecca Lamar in 1854. “At the same time the bulkhead between the boilers and forward cabin was stove in, the stairway to it blocked up, and the bar-room swept away,” she recalled.

The explosion swept some passengers into the sea and scalded others to death. Irreparably damaged, after 45 minutes it split in two with a crash. Shortly after, both halves sank.

The Pulaski left Savannah on June 13, 1838, and arrived in Charleston later that day. After taking on passengers in Charleston the following day, it headed north with nearly 190 passengers and crew. (Photo source: The Cotton Boll Conspiracy Web site)

Several dozen passengers and crew survived the explosion and found themselves in the water as the ship sank, either in lifeboats or floating amid debris. Two of the lifeboats started rowing for the North Carolina shore. But other survivors aboard a third lifeboat and a raft were unaware others had made for the coast and spent several days at sea.

Eight church members died when the Pulaski went down. A total of about 60 people survived among the 190 passengers and crew on board.

Over the next few days, several in the second group would succumb to injuries, exhaustion or thirst before the schooner Henry Camerdon, headed to Wilmington, N.C., came upon the survivors and rescued them.

An inquiry concluded that the engineers had improperly operated the boilers on the ship, causing the explosion. Gradually, public opinion led Congress to pass regulations that governed steamer inspections. The tragedy soon faded from memory, except for those whose families were touched forever by it.

Two of the victims that were church members were Sarah Ann Mikell Edings (27) and her daughter, Sarah Josephine (5). She left behind husband William Edings and their children. She and her daughter’s bodies were never recovered.

A prosperous planter, William Edings’ first wife died in the Steamboat Pulaski tragedy. The Edings family had deep roots on Edisto, the resort village of Edingsville Beach having been named after them.

In the back of the graveyard is the elaborate monument for William Edings, a prosperous planter.  After the death of his wife and child, William married the widow Hess Marion Waring Smith Mikell in 1844. She had three sons of her own. She and William would have several children together, a number of whom died in childhood and are buried beside William. He died in 1858 at the age of 49.

I believe the famous Charleston stone carver William T. White created William’s grand monument, a column cut off at the top to signify a life cut short. I didn’t see his name on it but White’s name does appear at the bottom of his sons’ markers located behind his in the plot.

“A bright bird parted for a clearer sky”…

Buried beside these are two other children, William Seabrook Edings and Horace Waring Edings, both of them slab markers done by White. Son William Smith Edings lived to adulthood and is buried in the family plot.

The detail of the angel bearing aloft a child is quite intricate. Not surprising considering who carved it. I have seen this motif often on Southern grave stones, but this example is one of the best.

Hess struggled after William’s death and the ensuing Civil War. She fought to get a certificate of ownership of the family’s land on Bayfield Plantation after the war, and was only able to do so by sending a desperate letter to a general who helped her. After receiving the certificate in May 1865, she was about to support her family with crops raised on the plantation despite the fact the family home was burned.

William S. Edings was only eight years old when his father died. But he eventually took over running the family plantation with his brother David.

From census records, it appears she lived on Edisto with a maiden daughter (Juliet) and two of her bachelor sons (William and David, who ran the place). The 1900 U.S. Census sadly noted that of the 12 children she had given birth to, only three were still alive. She died in 1906 but her burial site is unknown. William and sister Juliet shared a home until his sudden death from a heart problem in 1918. He is buried at PCE in the Edings plot. David and Juliet’s death dates and burial sites are unknown.

Next time, I’ll be back with the “ghost story” of Julia Legare. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about her, but she was a real person who is indeed buried in the PCE graveyard.



Stopping by St. Lawrence Cemetery: More Adventures in Charleston, S.C., Part III

I’d like to wrap up my series on St. Lawrence Cemetery by showing you some more of the monuments and markers that got my attention while I was wandering around.

The one that got me the most excited was this one. Seeing an Abrams cast iron grave cover is like winning a lottery in my world. I let out a shriek of joy in my car when I caught sight of it.

You may remember I did a post on Joseph R. Abrams, inventor of the cast iron grave cover, a few years ago. I first saw one in Fairburn City Cemetery and have delighted in discovering them ever since.

A successful businessman, Abrams designed and received a patent for a unique cast iron grave cover in the 1870s. They’re usually found in Southeastern states but you can occasionally find one in Texas or the Midwest. Abrams spent his last years in Alabama and is buried there in Greenville Cemetery, where you can see a big collection of these markers. He died in 1880, only a few years after his patents were granted. They were made mostly for children’s graves because of their smaller size.

This is the first time I’ve seen an Abrams grave cover in this color before.

What sets this one apart is that it’s painted a coppery color, which I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if it was this way originally or if someone painted it later. It certainly made it easier to spot from my car.

If you look closely, you can see Abrams’ name and the years of his patents (November 1873 and Mary 1874) on the edge of the marker.

These graves covers, when originally made, had a name plate attached to the back. Because of the nature of the metal aging over time, most have broken off. The only identification is the name R.C. Millings on the plot border. Born in 1833, Richard Millings was a Charleston merchant who sold various items over the years, from boots/shoes to furniture.

The seashell finial on top is cracked but still intact. Other covers featured an infant underneath flowers or an open book.

I don’t believe this is the grave of Richard Millings but for one of his children. These covers were manufactured in the 1870s and early 1880s. Millings died at the age of 80 of dysentery in 1905, long after these stopped being made. His wife, Emma, died in 1913 and is buried in a different plot with her own slab marker. It’s possible he is buried beside this child in this plot, but I don’t know for sure.

One of the more unusual monuments was for Barnard Fitzsimons, erected by his sister Mary Ann. I had little idea that there was quite a story behind the settlement of his estate. There’s even a clue on the monument itself.

Upon first glance, you wouldn’t know the drama behind this monument.

Barnard Fitzsimons and his sister, Mary Ann, were natives of County Down, Ireland. They came to America as children and were living in Charleston by 1850. Barnard was a successful saddler, operating a harness store. Sometime between 1850 and 1859, Barnard (then in his 30s) married Pamela Carre (or Carrie) from Augusta, Ga. Their only daughter, Eugenia, was born in 1857.

This detailed hourglass on the Fitzsimons monument was a motif more common in the early 1800s. It was done by R.D. White, one of several Whites who were carvers that created stunning monuments throughout Charleston and the Carolinas.

The trouble started after Barnard died in 1859 at the age of 42 (according to his death records, it was from “brain compression”). His will left his entire estate to Mary Ann and Eugenia, even leaving the young child in her care. As this was on the eve of the Civil War, the timing was unfortunate. Pamela took Eugenia and headed for Augusta before settling in Savannah to live with family. Needless to say, Mary Ann was not happy with her sister-in-law.

Mary Ann filed a lawsuit against Pamela that reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1867. Being that Confederate bonds backed the estate, who got what became even messier. After reading the case report a few times, I still don’t understand what the result was.

An inscription on Barnard Fitzsimons’ monument. I’ve not seen it on any other monument before.

From what I can gather, Eugenia remained with her mother in Savannah and never lived with Mary Ann in Charleston. Mary Ann is listed in the 1879 Charleston directory as living alone. In the 1880 U.S. Census, Eugenia is listed as living in the household of her aunt and uncle along with her mother. Pamela died in 1900 and is buried in Savannah’s Catholic Cemetery. Eugenia never married and died in 1935. She is buried beside her mother.

Mary Ann must have smarted over the loss of her brother and felt animosity toward her sister-in-law. That can be inferred from an inscription on the side of Barnard’s monument in which she claims it is erected “By the only surviving relative to mourn his loss. A most devoted sister.” She died of typhoid in 1889 in Charleston and is buried at St. Lawrence but has no marker of her own. I suspect she is buried beside her brother.

Barnard’s sister had to have the last word.

By contrast, the grave of little Alice Croak is quite humble. It is a metal enclosure with a simple battered sign on one end. She does have a stone beside it that I think came later. The child of New York natives James Croak (a pipe fitter in a shipyard) and Jenny Connor Croak, she only lived about a year before she died of “general biliary tuberculosis.” I’m thinking her father, skilled in working with metal, might have made this simple marker for his little girl.

Little Alice Croak’s father, a pipe fitter, may have made this humble marker for his daughter.

Alice’s sister, Agnes, would died five years later.

I didn’t get a picture of it, but Alice had an older sister named Agnes who is also buried at St. Lawrence. Born in 1911, she died five years after Agnes in 1920. Her cause of death is listed as “encephalitis lethargica”.

The term puzzled me until I learned that Agnes was one of about a million people around the world affected by the malady known as “sleeping sickness” between 1915 and 1926. A third died in the acute stage of the illness. It often started with an influenza‐like illness, followed by increasing drowsiness and confusion, progression to continuous sleep, stupor and finally coma. If you saw the 1990 movie “Awakenings” starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, you have some idea of what it was.

This unusual mosaic-tiled obelisk marks the grave of immigrant Pietro Celotta. Born in 1861 in the Northern Italian village of Vodo Cadore, he arrived in New York in 1885 with his father, Michelangelo, and brother, Constantine. The ship’s manifest lists them as bound for Alabama.

Pietro Celotta had only been living in Charleston about 19 months when he died.

At some point, Pietro moved to Charleston and worked as a confectioner. He had only been living there for 19 months when he contracted influenza and died in 1891 at the age of 30. He never married.

It looks like various repairs have been made over the years to the mosaic-pieced monument.

I was drawn to Fannie Moore Bickley’s grave for its beautiful profusion of blowers beneath a dove. The detail is stunning. The wife of John Bickley, Fannie died in 1895 at the age of 31. She suffered from Bright’s Disease, a kidney ailment.

A dove (one wing is chipped) sits amid a profusion of blooms.

The craftsmanship of this old iron gate to the Henry Oliver plot caught my eye. Despite the fact it is 118 years old, it has aged fairly well all things considered.

Despite its age, the gate to the Henry Oliver plot is in good shape.

This final monument I included because I’ve seen one quite like it in Augusta, Ga. at Magnolia Cemetery (not the Magnolia Cemetery next door). They were actually carved the same year, 1888. The two women died about two months apart. The extreme draping, held by an angel, must have been a popular motif at the time.

Here’s the one I saw in Augusta. Notice that the draping covers Maude Mathewson’s last name. I had to look it up on Find a Grave to find out what it was.

Maude Mathewson’s grave marker in Augusta, Ga. looks a lot like Henrietta Murray’s.

A native of Ireland, Henrietta died of heart disease at the age of 53. She was married to steamboat captain John Murray.

In this case, because her husband John’s name is inscribed in full below hers, we know that Henrietta’s last name was Murray. That’s a lot more helpful (in my mind) than what the carver did on Maude’s monument. The intricacy of the draping is more elaborate than Maude’s as well, detailed with lots of fringe and a tassel.

So it’s farewell to St. Lawrence now and hello to Edisto Island, an hour’s drive from Charleston…

Stopping by St. Lawrence Cemetery: More Adventures in Charleston, S.C., Part II

When we were last at St. Lawrence Cemetery in Charleston, I shared stories about some of the more wealthy and successful Catholic residents of the city. This week, the pendulum swings in the other direction.

It’s not unusual to see a lot of children’s graves at an older cemetery like St. Lawrence. Child mortality rates were sky high before the advent of antibiotics. But I noticed that in more than one place, there were specific plots filled with small stone crosses. I believe they mark the graves of children whose parents probably couldn’t afford a marker for them.

The first plot I saw was near the front gates. These crosses have no names attached to them. I saw a few regular children’s markers (with names) mixed in with them. Most of the names on the markers around them appears to be of Irish origin.

The first children’s plot is near the front gates.

Closer to the middle of the cemetery to one side, I found another plot of similar crosses. I’m not 100 percent sure they are all children, but that’s my guess.

I found another children’s plot closer to the middle of the cemetery.

In this plot, I noticed a handful of metal crosses with only numbers on them. I don’t know when these were placed. Part of me wonders if these were from the local Catholic orphanage. The only other time I’ve seen numbered crosses was at a cemetery for a mental institution.

Was this child perhaps an orphan?

The last children’s plot is located in front on a group of nun’s graves.

This plot of children’s grave is located in front of a plot for nuns.

The tall white markers behind the little crosses represent the nuns in service of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM), once simply known as the Sisters of Mercy. They started burying the nuns at St. Lawrence in 1854, not long after it opened. This group in the photo are more recent burials. The group buried to the right of them (past my red CRV) include some of the first nuns that were part of the order.

The actual order was established years before St. Lawrence opened. The story begins in 1829, when Bishop John England traveled from Ireland to Charleston to begin a ministry for orphans. The frequent yellow fever epidemics left many children without parents. But Bishop England soon realized he needed help.

St. Lawrence Cemetery founder Bishop Ignatius Reynolds based the new order’s constitutions on those of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth  and on the simple Rule given to the Sisters by Bishop John England, was based on the Rule of Life of St. Vincent de Paul.

While in Baltimore, Md., Bishop England met Irish nuns (and literal blood sisters) Honora and Mary Joseph O’Gorman. With them was their niece, Mary Teresa Barry, who was only 14 at the time. Bishop England invited them to join him in his work in Charleston. Their main goal was to open schools for orphans. Thus was started what is now known as the Sisters of Mercy of Our Lady of Mercy (OLM).

Photo of Sister Mary Teresa Barry seen in “Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, Volume 15”. Taken from an oil painting done in Rome, Italy in 1888. She would have been around 84.

In 1830, the Sisters established the Academy of Our Lady of Mercy in Charleston, a day and boarding school that offered a basic education along with music, art, and embroidery. Students of all faiths were welcome. The Academy operated
until 1929.

Children and nuns at the Our Lady of Mercy Academy in 1917.

Bishop England also wanted “to have a school for free colored girls, and the religious instruction of female slaves.” This objective was achieved in part in 1835 when he established a school for free colored children in Charleston. Two students from the Diocesan Seminary were placed in charge of the boys and two OLM Sisters were assigned to teach the girls. In a few weeks, they had over 80 children in the school. Unfortunately, pressure from outsiders forced the closing of the school within months.

In 1841, Bishop England tried again to open a school and put Sister Teresa Barry in charge. The school was initially located on Queen Street opposite the Medical College. Later, it was moved to the grounds of the OLM Motherhouse on Queen Street. In 1844, the OLM Sisters elected Sister Teresa to be their Mother Superior.

Mother Mary Teresa Barry tended to the Confederate wounded during the Civil War. She also had a love of learning, teaching both black and white children during the 1840s.

In November 1844, at the request of Bishop Ignatius Reynolds (who established St. Lawrence Cemetery), the OLMs moved the school from Queen Street to rented rooms on King Street where it remained until it was closed in 1848. However, Catholic almanacs from 1849 through 1853 show that the Sisters gave instruction to “colored persons” four evenings a week. After the the Civil War in 1867, Mother Teresa wrote to the current bishop with hopes of reopening a free school for black children but was denied.

It wasn’t until 1904 that the OLM Sisters were again able to teach black children. They taught at the  Immaculate Conception School operated from 1904 to 1917 (along with a school at St. Peter’s, a church for black Catholics). In 1917, the Oblate Sisters of Providence of Baltimore were invited to take over teaching duties at St. Peter’s and Immaculate Conception Schools.

Listed third on the crypt is Sister Mary Joseph O’ Gorman, one of the original founders of the Sisters of Mercy.

During the Civil War, Mother Teresa and five OLM Sisters traveled to Greenbrier White Sulphur Springs, Va. to staff a Confederate military hospital. As the Union Army advanced in May 1862, the hospital moved to Montgomery White Sulphur Springs. When the war ended, there were more than 300 soldiers in the hospital. Despite shortages, the Sisters stayed until the patients were discharged or died.

Sister DeChantal Clary served with Mother Teresa in nursing the Confederate wounded. When she died in 1901, a Charleston newspaper reported, “It was said of her that her touch was a balm, and her smile carried hope to many a weary and suffering soldier.”

Mother Teresa died in 1900 at the age of 86. Father Patrick Duffy, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, called her “a valiant woman, tender mother, courageous to suffer and quick to sympathize.”

When the OLM celebrated its 100th birthday in 1929, its numbers included 86 professed sisters and four novices. Today, there are only about a dozen OLM sisters still living, all of them elderly.

However, the efforts of the OLM are still felt in Charleston. Our Lady of Mercy Sisters of Charity convent on James Island runs the Neighborhood House, which has a daily soup kitchen to feed the poor and offers education classes to help people receive their GEDs.

I’m not quite done with St. Lawrence yet, too many unique monuments to talk about and stories to share. Stay tuned for Part III.

Italian immigrant Louis Alchisio died in 1858 of yellow fever at the age of 37. This angel graces the top of his marker.


Stopping by St. Lawrence Cemetery: More Adventures in Charleston, S.C., Part I

So I’m still in Charleston, this time at St. Lawrence Cemetery. Located next to the massive Magnolia Cemetery (I’ll be writing about that one later) and just down the street from Bethany Cemetery. There’s a Jewish cemetery to the right, but it was locked up the day I went to visit. Maybe I’ll get a chance at it this summer.

A note of caution. St. Lawrence Cemetery is located in front of a large housing project, not exactly the safest part of town. I advise anyone to do what I do at every cemetery I visit. Leave your valuables at home and not in your car. The day I was there, two police cars were parked across the street from the cemetery entrance as I drove in. When I drove out later, they were handcuffing someone.

St. Lawrence Cemetery is not very big. But it’s definitely worth a stop.

According to Find a Grave, St. Lawrence has about 8,000 recorded burials. As the third Catholic cemetery established in Charleston, it came from the initiative of Ignatius Reynolds, second bishop of Charleston. Prior to establishing St. Lawrence Cemetery, interments were either at St. Mary of the Annunciation burial ground, established in 1793, or St. Patrick burial ground, often referred to as the Catholic burial ground, established in 1831.

Due to overcrowding, Bishop Reynolds purchased 18 acres from Edward Tharin at a cost of $2,500 in 1851. Reynolds officially opened St. Lawrence Cemetery in 1854.

So while St. Lawrence is not exactly huge, it’s worth a look. The variety of monuments and the history they reveal is stunning. Some Catholic cemeteries I visit are often a little dull because they stick to featuring the Saints and that’s about it. St. Lawrence is not like that at all.

When you drive in, you cannot miss the iron cross smack dab in the middle of the drive, which apparently is still a plot. Under it are the remains of German native Christopher Werner and his wife, Isabella. She provided it to the cemetery to use as her husband’s monument when he died in 1874. Christopher had created it himself.

This intricately detailed wrought iron cross was created by the man whom is buried beneath it, Christopher Werner.

A native of Munster, Germany, Christopher came to America sometime in the 1830s and became a citizen in 1839. The son of a blacksmith, he learned the trade from his father. In Charleston, he was known as a blacksmith, carriage maker, wrought iron worker, and a skilled businessman. He married Isabella, a native of England, in 1841 and they had six children together, one dying in childhood.

Christopher Werner is responsible for some of Charleston’s most beautiful ironwork.

With a foundry located on the corner of Cumberland and State Streets, Christopher’s business expanded from carriage making into a large, diverse enterprise throughout the state. He had a reputation for quality work and was sought after for his skill. I was thrilled to learn that some of the beautiful wrought ironwork over at Bethany Cemetery was done by his hand. You can still see it all over Charleston today.

One example of Christopher’s work is the Palmetto Regiment monument that still stands at the South Carolina courthouse grounds in Columbia. He created it to honor the Palmetto Regiment of Volunteers of South Carolina, an infantry regiment that participated in the Mexican American War (1846-1848).

The Palmetto Regiment monument stood on the Capitol grounds until it was shattered by a tornado in February 1939. It was designed by Henry Steenken, who worked in Werner’s shop. The monument was later restored. (Photo source: Brian Powell)

According to a 1907 newspaper report, Werner’s ironwork could also be seen at Mayor R. Goodwyn Rhett’s house on Broad Street in Charleston, now the John Rutledge House Inn (Rutledge built the house for his bride in 1763) when Werner did the wrought ironwork for then-owner Thomas N. Gadsden. You can see it there today.

Now known as the John Rutledge House Inn, the house was owned by Thomas Gadsden when Christopher Werner added the wrought iron work to it. (Photo source: Trip Advisor)

Christopher Werner died in 1874. Father Daniel J. Quigley, a priest from Charleston’s Roman Catholic Cathedral officiated at the funeral. Isabella died in 1894 and is buried with him. According to Find a Grave, when the monumental cross was dismantled to be restored, the remains of both were found.

You may remember last week I featured the monument of Behrend Hollings, a German immigrant turned successful grocery merchant. I found one of his sons, Edward, buried at St. Lawrence. An attorney, he was married to Anna O’Rourke in 1886 and had two children. He died at the age of 39 of malarial fever.

Lawyer E.B. Hollings left behind a wife and two children when he died at the age of 39. The calla lilies on his monument are in excellent condition.

There are several Irish families buried at St. Lawrence. The Darcy monument says “erected by their sister” and I’ve deduced that it must be the latest name on it, Margaret Darcy Sheridan, who died in 1910. A large marker simply reading “sister” is next to it. John, Tim and Patrick are also listed on the other sides. All hailed from Tipperary, Ireland.

The Darcy siblings are featured on this beautiful monument.

I’ve always liked the “angel as scribe” monument style. There’s one in Rome, Ga.’s Myrtle Hill Cemetery.

Tim and John died in their 20s and 30s but Patrick lived into his late 60s, a long-established owner of a shoe and boot store on King Street. He also owned several properties in Charleston when he died in 1906.

Several Italian families are also buried at St. Lawrence, including 24 members of the Sotille family. Descended from five brothers (Giovanni, Nicholas, Santo, Albert, and James) who emigrated to Charleston in the 1880s from Gangi, Sicility, there are still Sotilles living in the area today. Their mausoleum is lovely.

Salvatore and Rosina Albergamo Sottile of Gangi, Sicily, had a total of seven children who emigrated to the United States. Five brothers came first. After Salvatore’s death, Rosina came to America with daughter Marie and son Joseph.

As president of the Pastime Amusement Company, Albert Sotille built what was originally called the Gloria Theater in 1922. With 2,000 seats, the Sotille Theater was the largest of its kind in the state and also served as a vaudeville house. The South Carolina premiere of “Gone With the Wind” was held there with most of the cast present. After closing in 1975, the Sotille Theater was eventually purchased and restored by the College of Charleston. It now hosts a wide variety of performing art events.

The stained glass inside the Sotille family mausoleum.

Another mausoleum for an Italian immigrant got my attention. It’s quite different from the polished Sotille family tomb. This one houses only one person, Rosa Cervetti. She was a native of Chavari, Italy and born in 1834. I don’t know her maiden name but she married Angelo Cervetti in 1870. His profession is listed in some places as a cigar maker or shoe retailer, and as a fisherman in others.

Rosa Cervetti’s mausoleum is in poor condition and looks unfinished.

Rosa died in 1907 at the age of 73. I learned that Angelo remarried to a woman named Nellie. But Angelo’s demise is shrouded in mystery. By doing a search, I was surprised to find a “missing” poster seeking his whereabouts. You can even purchase this notice on eBay or Amazon.

The mystery of what happened to Angelo Cervetti has not been solved as far as I know.

I don’t think Angelo and Rosa had any children and if they did, they are not listed as being buried at St. Lawrence. Angelo is not listed on Find a Grave. So if he ever did come home to Nellie, it was never reported.

The last mausoleum I wanted to share is for the Hunt family. It has no door on it so you can actually walk right in, a rarity in my experience. The last interment was 1982. While it was a treat to be able to go inside, it worries me that the stained glass is exposed to the elements and possible vandalism.

I don’t know what happened to the door of the Hunt family mausoleum.

The son of Massachusetts native Nathaniel and Anne Rivers Hunt, Nathaniel A. Hunt was born in South Carolina in 1842. He married Catherine Goodrich in 1872 and they had at least two children, Florence and Alvah. Like Patrick Darcy, he did well as a wholesale shoe merchant and at some point, was vice president of a bank. Son Alvah was an 1894 graduate of the College of Charleston and also attended Yale.

The last interment in the Hunt mausoleum was in 1982 with the death of Florence Hunt Maxwell.

Catherine died of tuberculosis in 1902 at the age of 52. Nathaniel died in 1918 of kidney disease. Their son, Alvah, died the same year in October of tuberculosis. His occupation is listed as “retired” on his death certificate. His wife, Emily, may have remarried since she is not buried in the mausoleum with him.

Hopefully, the stained glass in the open mausoleum will not be a target for vandalism.

Next time, I’ll share the story of the Sisters of Mercy buried at St. Lawrence Cemetery.

Another Charleston Ramble: Visiting Bethany Cemetery, Part II

Last week, I introduced you to Charleston’s Bethany Cemetery. Many of the city’s German immigrants who found success are buried there. We’ll spend some more time learning about them today. But I’ll also share the tragic story of a not-so-wealthy family who suffered great loss.

Like many Charleston cemeteries, Bethany has plenty of Spanish moss-laden trees lining its paths.

The Hollings monument intrigues me because its main feature is a stack of books.

Grocer Behrend Hollings died in his 40s but wife Catherine lived 30 years after him.

Like Jacob Seebeck (see last week’s post), Behrend Hollings was a German immigrant but he arrived in Charleston many years earlier. He, too, went into the grocery trade. The 1860 U.S. Census indicates he was operating a store with his brother-in-law, Adolf Carstens. Jacob was married to Adolf’s sister, Catherine, and together, they had several children.

I don’t know if Behrend Hollings was especially intelligent or a book lover. But the detail on the stack is quite nice.

Sadly, Behrend died at the age of 44 of pneumonia in 1863. But the Hollings sons went on to run the family business for many years after that. Catherine died of apoplexy in 1893 at the age of 66.

One of the grandest monuments at Bethany is for the Bischoff family. Like the Hollings and Seabeck families, Henry Bischoff had a successful grocery business but his wealth was considerably greater than that of his peers.

Henry Bischoff added to his already considerable wealth by selling patent medicines.

Henry arrived in Charleston before the Civil War and married the daughter of another prominent German immigrant, Jennie Melchers. During the Civil War, he was a Second Lieutenant in Theodore Cordes’ Company, South Carolina Cavalry Militia (German Hussars). In addition to his grocery business, he made quite a bit of money with a patent medicine enterprise selling something called Carolina Tolu Tonic.

According to the 1870 U.S. Census, Henry Bischoff was worth about $90,000 at that time. Not too shabby.

Thanks to an article by Dr. Susan Millar Williams, I learned that in addition to the South American herb for which it was named, Carolina Tolu Tonic had plenty of sugar and whiskey. While it may not have had much of a medicinal impact, those that took it were surely pleased with the effect. Here’s an advertising card from that era promoting the product.

Patent medicine was big business in the late 1800s, even being sold to cure children’s ills. (Photo source: Bottles, Booze, and Back Stories, a blog by Jack Sullivan.)

In 1874, Henry bought three rice plantations along the Edisto River near Jacksonboro, S.C. and renamed them collectively as Rice Hope. I wanted to post a photo of the remaining plantation home that stands but the only photo I could find required written consent to use.

Henry Bischoff was only 56 when he died of “hepatic dropsy” (a form of liver disease) in 1878.

Henry died in 1878, leaving Jennie to manage his fortune. The plantation stayed in the family until 1918. Jennie died in 1906 and is buried with Henry at Bethany, along with several of their children.

The men I’ve featured thus far have been “Switzers” or German immigrants who were from the merchant class when they arrived in the 1800s. But I’d like to highlight a Palatine who shares some qualities with my ancestor Jacob Claar, who arrived in the 1700s in Philadelphia as an indentured servant from Germany. Michael Kalteisen, however, went much further than Jacob ever would.

German immigrant Michael Kalteisen is shown in the uniform of Colonel of Artillery in the Patriot cause. (Photo source: The Moultrie News)

A native of Wuerrtemburg, Germany, Michael was the son of an educated but large family with little money. He arrived as an indentured servant in South Carolina in 1747. In other words, he had to work long enough to repay his master what it had cost to bring him to America. He had few rights and faced a lot of hard work.

After completing his indenture in the mid-1750s, Michael applied for and received 50 acres on Indian Creek between the Saluda and Congaree Rivers. In 10 years, he amassed more than 2,000 acres in the colony and had a spacious home that he and his wife turned into a wayfarer’s inn. He also operated a mule train between Charleston and the settlements of the upstate.

Michael was elected to both Provincial Assemblies in the mid-1770s and was awarded a captain’s commission so that he could coordinate the logistics of war materiel from the fork of the Saluda and the Congaree down to the coast. He acted as an intermediary for German Whigs in their struggle against the Tories in the center of the state.

Fort Johnson, on James Island, was one of the federal fortifications seized by South Carolina after its secession. No trace of it exists today.

Michael was also one of the founders of St. John’s Lutheran Church and first president of the German Friendly Society in 1766, the second oldest German Society in America. He was serving as colonel and commanding officer of Fort Johnson when he died in 1807. He was originally buried in front of the German Friendly Society’s building in Charleston but in 1908 when this monument was installed, his remains were moved to Bethany.

When Michael Kalteisen died in 1807, he was buried in front of the German Friendly Society building. His remains were moved to Bethany Cemetery in 1908 when this monument was installed in his honor.

Kind reader Sandy O’Neale shared this final tragic tale with me via e-mail. She’s done a great deal of research into her husband’s family. It’s the story of a couple who were the children of German immigrants. They were not wealthy like the Bischoff or Hollings families by any means. However, their names were known by all of Charleston when the tragedy was over.

Theodore Knickmeyer and his wife, Rebecca O’Neale Knickmeyer, were of humble means. The son of an orchestra leader, Theodore was a carpenter by trade and a fireman by night.

Rebecca was the daughter of carpenter William O’ Neale, who was also trained as an organist. Her uncle, Thomas, was a respected music professor and organist at the French Huguenot Church. After the 1865 fall of Charleston, Union soldiers dismantled the church’s organ and were loading it onto a New York-bound ship when it was saved by a group led by Thomas O’Neale, who begged the soldiers to leave it in Charleston.

With the staircase destroyed by fire, the Knickmeyers were trapped in their third-floor apartment.

By 1898, Theodore and Rebecca had six children and were living in a third-floor apartment on Church Street. Rebecca’s father and her two brothers, Albert (16) and Caswell (14), were residing with them as well. Theodore had just brought his nephews home from the orphanage they had been living in to get a new start.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 28, 1898, fire broke out in the rear of the front room on the ground floor, spreading rapidly. A couple living on the second floor with their two children were saved, one of their children tossed out a window to a waiting fireman below. Another woman on the second floor was saved. But the fire, which  consumed the stairway that ran up the center of the building, cut off the Knickmeyers and O’Neales living on the third floor.

Nine lives were lost in a tenement fire on Feb. 28, 1898. Almost an entire family died in a matter of minutes. (Photo courtesy of Sandy O’Neale)

In those dark hours, wife Rebecca (35), Josephine (17), Katie (16), Leonora (9), Frances (6), Lillie Mae (3) and month-old Anna all died of smoke inhalation.

After breaking out a window, William O’Neale climbed out onto the roof of a shed to await rescue. But Albert and Caswell perished, too overcome by smoke to follow him.

Theodore, on duty that evening, heard the alarm and arrived at his family home too late to save his loved ones. A fund was set up to pay for their funeral expenses and they were buried together at Bethany Cemetery. Theodore remained a fireman for the rest of his life, moving to Augusta, Ga. for a time before returning to Charleston. He remarried and the couple had a daughter. He died of heart failure in 1920 in Charleston.

Theodore Knickmeyer’s brother, Albert, was also a fireman. He died in a tragic accident in 1910.

A tragic footnote to this story. Theodore’s brother, Albert L. Knickmeyer, was a longshoreman and a fireman with Charleston’s Engine 6. He died on Oct. 6, 1910 when he was running to the scene of a fire and was knocked over by the ladder of the fire engine as it turned the corner. He died two hours later. A widower whose wife had died of tuberculosis in 1902, Albert left behind six children. He is also buried at Bethany, his grave unmarked.

Thank you, Sandy, for sharing this story with me so I could share it with my readers today. It’s one I will never forget.

Next time, I’ll be down the street at St. Lawrence Cemetery with more Charleston stories.

While the metal surrounding this family plot at Bethany is rusted, the detail on the angel’s face remains.

Another Charleston Ramble: Visiting Bethany Cemetery, Part I

Back to Charleston!

Before I dive in, I have a confession to make. The first cemetery I’m featuring is not from my Summer 2017 visit (from which the rest of my posts in this series will come from). It’s from Summer 2016. I posted a lengthy series on the African-American burial society cemeteries from that visit. Somehow, Bethany Cemetery got left out.

That fact nagged at me so when I circled back to Charleston again, I was not going to let Bethany remain ignored! Having uncovered what I did, I’m very glad I made that decision.

This is the best picture I got of the office.

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church opened Bethany Cemetery in 1856 after its first cemetery (Hampstedt Cemetery) on Reid Street was filled after several yellow fever outbreaks devastated Charleston’s immigrant German population. In the 1930s, the property Hampstedt Cemetery was located on was sold at auction and divided into lots when assessments for a street paving project weren’t paid.

Lo and behold, the Charleston Housing Authority discovered human remains on the property in 1981 whilst preparing to build on it. How they didn’t know seems a bit far fetched to me but nevertheless, close to 500 of those graves were moved to Bethany Cemetery in 2009.

Situated on over 50 acres, Find a Grave lists about 11,300 burials at Bethany. While it started as a Lutheran Cemetery, it is open to all faiths and is home to a large number of Greek burials. When I spoke with the manager, he told me he didn’t know how that happened but that they were happy to have them.

The scrolled metal work can be seen throughout the cemetery.

What was a chapel at one time is now the cemetery office. It is not in the best condition, nor is the receiving tomb beside it. The receiving tomb is now used as a maintenance building to store equipment, it appears.

Nearby neighbor Magnolia Cemetery has a receiving tomb that is about half the size of this one.

Both Bethany and neighbor Magnolia Cemetery have receiving tombs. These are mostly found in the North because snow/ice would freeze the ground, causing delays in burial. South Carolina doesn’t have that problem. But my guess is that like Atlanta’s Westview, sometimes they had long stretches of rain and burials had to be delayed due to muddy conditions. They had to store the bodies somewhere.

There are plenty of monuments to see at Bethany, like this one.

And this one.

Most German-speaking immigrants arriving in Charleston during the Colonial period were from one of of two groups: German-Swiss (Switzers) and Palatines (from upper Bavaria and parts of southwestern Germany). The Switzers tended to be more prosperous, while the Palatines often arrived as indentured servants. I have ancestors who came to Philadelphia in the 1700s that were Palatines and indentured servants, so this makes sense to me.

While many of the colony’s German-speakers sided with the patriots, another sizable group supported the Loyalist cause. In May 1775 Charleston’s Germans formed the first German military company in America, the German Fusiliers, which distinguished itself at the Battle of Savannah.

Charleston’s German-Americans were prosperous in the 1850s, with several German groceries/retail stores, its own newspaper (the Deutsche Zeitung), a firefighting company, several fraternal and sports organizations, six militia companies, and two Lutheran churches. During the Civil War, South Carolina’s German immigrants adopted the values (states’ rights and slavery among them) of their new home. Many Germans fought for the Confederacy, resulting in their almost complete assimilation into South Carolina society.

The marker for Anna M. Seebeck has “My Wife and Children” written at the top, but there are no markers beside her for those children. Her husband, Jacob, remarried and had several children.

Jacob Seebeck was one of those German immigrants who found success in Charleston. A native of Hanover, he arrived in Charleston in the 1860s and worked as a miller. He eventually owned and operated a successful grocery/liquor store that became JHC Seebeck & Sons. He did serve in the Confederacy during the Civil War in Melcher’s Company as part of South Carolina’s German Artillery.

The face of the angel is worn but is still beautiful.

I found little about his first wife, Anna, whose marker was beautifully carved and inscribed in German. She came to America from Germany in 1861 and died in 1869 of pneumonia. Jacob remarried to German native Christine Doecker a year later and they had several children (the eldest buried in nearby Magnolia Cemetery). She is buried near Anna. Jacob died in 1919 but has no marker.

I noticed at the bottom of Anna’s monument was the name D.A. Walker. You can barely see it in the picture. Charleston is one of the few places where I’ve been fortunate enough to find carver names on monuments.

David Walker was one of the sons of master carver Thomas Walker. A native of Scotland, Thomas arrived in Charleston after the American Revolution and worked from 1790 to 1836. He was best known for his “winged soul” markers found in many of the city’s cemeteries. Four of his sons, including David, went into the business and did well. Anna Seebeck’s marker is evidence of their talent.

It did not surprise me to find a number of children’s graves at Bethany because that’s pretty much the case whenever I visit any older historic cemetery. This one is for the Bittersohn children. But in researching their marker, I uncovered a story I was not expecting at all.

Claus Diedrich and Anna Bittersohn died in May 1886 within a day of each other.

Claus Diedrich and Anna Bittersohn (misspelled Bittesohn on the marker) were the children of saloon owner H.F. Bittersohn and Meta Meyers Bittersohn. Claus was 12 when he died on May 18, 1886. His little sister, Anna, was less than a year old when she died the next day. One can only imagine the heartbreak. The motif of a hand reaching down from Heaven is one I have only seen once before in Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Ga. for a young woman who died in her 20s. It means a life taken much too soon.

Like Anna Seebeck’s marker, there was a name at the bottom. I was surprised  to learn that Joseph A. Purcell was black. While Charleston was less rigid in its social structure than some major Southern cities for people of color (slave or free), that Joseph not only operated but owned his own stone cutting business blew me away. Yet it appears that this was indeed the case because he appears as early as 1888 in Charleston directories.

Joseph A. Purcell was a rare commodity in late 1800s Charleston — a black man who owned and operated his own stone cutting shop.

Joseph’s age is a bit of a mystery. On some census records, his gravestone and his marriage certificate list him as being born in 1858. But his death certificate says he was born in 1867. He was the son of Joseph A. Purcell (mostly likely white) and a mixed race mother, Laura Huggins. I never found them living in the same household in census records, so I don’t think they ever married.

I do think the Joseph Purcell, Sr. that operated the Mills House Hotel in Charleston in the early 1860s may be Joseph Jr.’s father. According to what I’ve read, “dozens of people, white and black, free and slave, found employment at the Mills House.” So it’s possible that’s where he met Laura Huggins, who may have worked there.

I didn’t know when I photographed Laura Huggins’ grave in Friendly Union Cemetery that her son’s work was in the cemetery across the street at Bethany Cemetery.

In census records, Joseph and his brothers are listed under the name Huggins until the 1900 Census when their last name changed to Purcell. Did Joseph Purcell, Sr. decide to do right by his children and assist them in their career pursuits? How else would his son, Joseph, have gotten the financial backing to open his business or son Herbert get the money to go to medical school?

The 1888 Charleston business directory lists Joseph’s stone cutting shop. Notice D.A. Walker is also listed.

I found very little about Joseph, unfortunately. The 1913 Journal of the National Medical Association notes that he contributed a cornerstone to the new A. Markley Lee Memorial Annex of the Hospital and Training School for Nurses, a facility for young black women. He and his wife, Mary Julia Perry Purcell, had a son and a daughter.

Joseph’s younger brother, Herbert, got his medical degree from the Howard University School of Medicine in 1894. After living in St. Louis, he shared a home with Joseph and Mary Julia in Charleston until he married a woman named Mae sometime after 1930. Brother Arthur worked as a tinsmith.

I remembered the name Laura Huggins because I had photographed her grave that same summer just across the street in the African-American cemetery, Friendly Union Cemetery. Also buried there are some of her children, including Joseph, Samuel, and Herbert. In looking through my pictures, I realized I had unwittingly taken a picture of Joseph’s grave while focusing on Mae Purcell’s grave.

Skilled stone mason Joseph Purcell’s grave marker at Friendly Union Cemetery, behind that of his sister-in-law, Mae Purcell.

When you put it all together, Joseph’s work is standing in a cemetery he could not have been buried in when he died in 1932. The laws back then were against it. Instead, he was buried across the street in a cemetery for the elite mixed race and black business and religious leaders of his time. It was as close as he could get.

More to come next time from Bethany Cemetery.

Old Ellsworth Burial Ground: Last Stop on the Maine Adventure, Part II

Last week, we spent some time at the front of the Ellsworth Old Burial Ground. As the ground starts to slope downward, you’ll notice that the organization of the markers get increasingly haphazard. Some are lying flat, others look like they might have been moved. Some are broken.

You can see that two of the markers for the Hale family have broken off from their bases entirely.

The Wooster family presented a bit of a mystery to me. Four of the five Wooster children are buried at the Old Burial Ground. But their parents, Daniel and Louisa, are not.

Born in 1814 in Hancock, Maine to Summers and Hannah Bowden Wooster, Daniel Wooster married Louisa Norris in 1843 and settled in Ellsworth. He was employed as a millwright and farmer. They had five children, the first of whom was Helen, born in 1844. She died less than two years later.

Helen was the first of Daniel and Louisa’s children.

Next came Oscar, born in 1848 and died a little over a year later. Like his sister, Oscar’s marker features a lone willow tree at the top.

Oscar was the first son for the Wooster family.

Another son, Watson, was born in 1850. But he, too, would die before his first birthday. His marker differs from his siblings in that it has both an urn and a willow tree on the top.

Watson’s marker looks like it has an urn on the top in addition to a willow tree.

George Wooster was born just a few months after the death of Watson in 1851. He almost made it to his third birthday, dying in November 1854. He is buried on the left side of the cemetery by himself while his other three siblings are all together further down the hill.

While he’s buried at a distance from his siblings, George Wooster’s marker features the weeping willow, too.

A few months before George’s death, daughter Mary Ella Wooster was born in August 1854. According to the 1860 U.S. Census, she was living with Daniel and Louisa in Ellsworth. She does not appear again with them in the 1870 Census. Daniel and Louisa Wooster both appear in the 1880 Census. The Ellsworth American reported the death of Louisa in 1882 and the marriage of a “Mary E. Wooster” in 1883. Daniel’s fate remains unknown.

The Herbert family also lost its fair share of children over the years. Their history is a bit more cloudy as it goes back a bit further than the Woosters.

Born in Deerfield, Mass. in 1778, George Herbert was the son of George and Honour Herbert. George Jr. came to Ellsworth to practice law in 1803 shortly after passing the bar. He is thought to be one of the first attorneys to practice in Ellsworth. He represented Ellsworth in the general court of Massachusetts from 1813 to 1815. In 1816, he was appointed county attorney of Hancock. He died at the age of 41 in 1820 of “consumption of the lungs”.

George married Charlotte Tuttle in 1808 in Littleton, Mass. They had at least five children during their marriage and three died in infancy. The first two were both named George and the third William. Interestingly, there is a photo on Find a Grave of two different markers representing all three boys. The one below is the marker I photographed.

The first George was born in late 1809 and died in October 1812. The second George was born in January 1813 and died in October 1816. William was born in 1819 and died the same year as his father, 1820.

George and Charlotte Herbert had three sons who died in childhood. Two were named George and one was William.

Charlotte lived many years after George’s death. The 1850 Census shows her living with daughter Charlotte and son, Charles. She died of paralysis in Springfield, Mass. in 1869 and is buried with her husband.

Another mysterious footnote to this story is at the bottom of the marker I photographed. A William Abbot, son of William and Rebecca Atherton Abbott of Castine, is mentioned with no dates. Why he is added to this marker is unknown and how he’s related to the Herbert sons. His brother, Charles, graduated from Harvard with the class of 1825, which included Jonathan Cilley (discussed here a few weeks ago).

I did learn that William Abbot Sr. was a distinguished attorney in nearby Castine and was a representative in the state legislature in 1823, 1824, and 1826. He later moved to Bangor where he served as mayor in 1848. He died in 1849 and his burial site is unknown, as is that of his wife, Rebecca. It’s possible he knew the Herberts because of his legal career or was related to them by marriage. But nobody truly knows.

There are five Browns listed as being buried at the Old Burial Grounds, three of them being definitely connected. The first two wives of Enoch Lurvey brown share a marker.

Enoch Lurvey Brown’s first two wives are buried at the Old Burial Grounds. But where’s Enoch?

It wasn’t unusual for the wives of the same man to share a grave marker, especially if they died within a few years of each other. So seeing Julia and Louisa Brown on the same marker didn’t surprise me. But it did spur me to try to untangle the branches in the Brown family tree.

Enoch Brown was born in 1816 in “Eden”, Maine (which we now know as Bar Harbor) to James Pettus and Susanna Lurvey Brown. His mother died shortly after Enoch’s birth and the fate of the Brown children was in chaos as their father prepared to remarry to a widow with children of her own. Enoch was sent to live with various friends and family in the Cranberry Islands in his first years, then apprenticed out to learn the blacksmith trade. He married Julia Ann Mayo in 1838 and they settled in Ellsworth where he did quite well in his trade.

Enoch and Julia Ann had nine children during their marriage and most lived well into adulthood. Hamilton Brown, born in 1851, did not make it to his second birthday and is buried near his mother.

Hamilton was one of the few Brown children that did not live to adulthood.

Julia Ann died in 1858. In 1860, Enoch married 23-year-old widow Louisa Wilbur Devereaux. They had two children, George and Cora. Louisa died in 1864 at the age of 27. Three months later, Enoch married a third time to 29-year-old Cynthia Grindle and they had four children of their own, making Enoch the father of an estimated 15 children over his lifetime. At least one of his sons also became a blacksmith.

So what became of Enoch? He died of pneumonia in 1902 at the age of 85 and is buried at Woodbine Cemetery in Ellsworth by himself, his grave unmarked. Cynthia died in 1903 and is buried by herself in Hillside Cemetery in Bucksport, Maine. Why they are buried in separate cemeteries is unknown.

It may seem disrespectful to end on a humorous note, but I can’t resist. As I was looking down the hillside, I noticed that at the foot was the parking lot for the Ellsworth Bureau of Motor Vehicles. I wonder if the town joke is that waiting in line at the local BMV can suck the life right out of you, landing you in the burial grounds.

Hopefully, waiting in line at the BMV doesn’t take so long you end up in the burial grounds.

With all seriousness, our Maine adventure was more than I could have hoped for. As always, these feelings are coupled with the realization that there are so many wonderful cemeteries I didn’t have the opportunity to see. But I did get to spend some much-needed time with my husband and son hunting for sea glass, scrambling over huge rocks, taking in some breathtaking vistas and enjoying time on the water.

This fifth trip to Maine only confirmed what I already knew. This state captures my heart in a way few others have and demands even more visits to take in all it has to offer. So that means I’ll be bringing you back with me eventually.

I hope you’ll stick around until then.

Climbing rocks with my best buddy.

Old Ellsworth Burial Ground: Last Stop on the Maine Adventure, Part I

Saying good bye to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park was difficult, but it was time to head back to Portland to catch our flight back to Atlanta.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try to hit at least one more cemetery on the way to the airport. I chose the Old Burial Ground in Ellsworth for my final hop and it didn’t disappoint.

Situated on the Union River that feeds into Union River Bay, Ellsworth is one of those picturesque New England towns that typify the area. Lots of historic homes, places to grab a lobster roll or chowder, a quaint bridge. It’s a tourist’s dream.

The church’s sanctuary was built in 1846 by Thomas Lord, a master builder from Blue Hill. The building survived a 1933 fire which devastated much of Ellsworth’s business district.

Finding the Old Burial Ground was easy, they’re close to the bustling main artery that runs through town. You can find it behind the very handsome looking First Congregational United Church of Christ, organized in 1812. The current Greek Revival building was constructed in 1846, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Old Burial Ground, according to Find a Grave, has about 155 graves. Eighty percent of those have been photographed. It starts out level but then goes down a gradual hillside that ends in a parking lot for the Department of Motor Vehicles, of all things. More on that later!

You can see the back of the church from this angle.

Near the front of the cemetery, you can see two sets of three markers. In both cases, two parents are buried with an unmarried daughter between them. And in both cases, the wife died a few months after her husband.

Three Robinson graves are near the entrance, with the enclosed Chamberlains in the plot right behind them.

Born in Litchfield, Maine in July 1801, Thomas Robinson was the ninth child of William and Mary Stinson Robinson’s 10 children. He attended what was then Waterville College (later to became Colby College, of which he would become a trustee) and graduated in 1827. He moved to Ellsworth after that and studied law with the Hon. John Deane. At some point, he married Elizabeth Chamberlain. They would have five children over the course of their marriage.

Thomas served at least one term in the Maine State Senate in 1838 and may have served in other capacities. In 1844, he was president of the Maine State Whig Convention. When Thomas died in 1856 at the age of 57, his obituary noted that “He was a man of quiet but earnest character, and had gathered to himself many warm personal friends, who mourn his loss.”

Elizabeth died in 1849 at the age of 40. Thomas’ will indicates he remarried at some point to a woman named Margaret and they had two children, to whom half his estate was bequeathed. He left his only unwed daughter, Frances, $500. I was impressed at the detail of his will but since he was a skilled lawyer, he wanted his final affairs to be as orderly as possible.

Frances, who is buried between her parents, died at the age of 23 in 1864. She never married.

Buried behind the Robinsons are three members of the Chamberlain family, their plot surrounded by an iron fence. Judge John Chamberlain, his wife, Mary, and their daughter, Caroline are buried there.

Judge John Chamberlain wore many hats during his life in Ellsworth.

Born in 1781, John Chamberlain was the son of John and Mary Jackson Chamberlain. He married Mary Hopkins, daughter of James Hopkins, one of the first settlers of what is now Ellsworth.

Mary Hopkins Chamberlain’s father was one of Ellsworth’s founders.

A judge, John Chamberlain served as a justice of the peace, merchant, businessman, and farmer. He was also a Selectman and county commissioner during his life. He died in 1839 at the age of 59. Wife Mary died just a few months later.

It’s unknown how many children he and Mary had. But daughter Caroline is buried between them. She never married and died at the age of 29.

Caroline Chamberlain never married and died at the age of 29.

Judge Chamberlain built a Federal-style home that became known as the Chamberlain House. It was later purchased and used as a dentist’s office, known by many as the Whitney House. The building now serves as the site off the Ellsworth Historical Society and is being restored to its original glory.

Judge Chamberlain’s home now holds the offices of the Ellsworth Historical Society. (Photo source: Steve Fuller, The Ellsworth American)

Across the path, a much older slate stone marks the grave of Melatiah Jordan, the man for whom the church and the burial ground owe their existence.

The familiar motif of a weeping willow tree bending over an urn was common in the early 1800s.

Born in 1753 to Samuel and Merry Bourne Jordan, Melatiah came from a distinguished family that included the Rev. Robert Jordan, who came to Maine in 1640 from England. Samuel, a graduate of Harvard, was a member of the general court and a Town Officer in Biddeford for many years.

Samuel and Melatiah operated a lumber business together near Franklin, Maine before Melatiah settled in Ellsworth. He married Elizabeth Jellison in 1776 and they would have a total of 13 children over the course of their marriage. She died in 1819, not long after her husband.

A Revolutionary War veteran, Melatiah was often referred to as “Colonel Jordan”. He was commissioned to be the first collector of customs of Frenchman’s Bay by President George Washington. This basically meant collecting the duties imposed by the government on any vessels coming through the area, depending on the ship’s tonnage and goods carried. He served from 1789 until his death in 1818.

Elizabeth Jellison Jordan died shortly after her husband at the age of 62.

Apparently, it was a good time to be a customs officer because of the amount of smuggling that took place. Melatiah and his fellow collectors benefited greatly by dividing the profits that came from the seizure of ships carrying contraband. It made Melathiah Jordan quite a wealthy man over the years.

The Federal-style house Melathiah built in 1817 for his son, Benjamin, was called the Jordan House. Today it serves as the Ellsworth Public Library.

The Jordan family’s legacy continues through the use of their home as the public library. (Photo source: The Ellsworth American)

Not long before his death, Melatiah donated the land for the Congregational Church and paid for construction of a meeting house on it. The building was not completed until after he died. He also donated the land for the old burial ground, in which he is now interred.

Benjamin Jordan’s son Benjamin Jr. was married to his wife, Charlotte Saunders Parsons, by Thomas Robinson (who is buried directly in front of his parents).

Buried near his parents is son Benjamin Jordan. He and his wife, Sarah Dutton Jordan, had at least six children. They lived in the Jordan House for several years until he sold it to shipbuilder Seth Tisdale. Benjamin lived to the ripe age of 79.

Next time, we’ll make our way down the hillside at the Ellsworth Old Burial Ground.