Still in Charleston!
I wrote about St. Philip’s Episcopal Church back in 2013. However, it wasn’t a lengthy post because of an encounter I had there with a lovely woman named Dotty who (as it turned out) was personally connected to one of the graves I was looking for. I felt that story needed its own post because it was so special.
Churchyard and Cemetery
I wanted to write about St. Philip’s again because it has such a delightful combination of funerary styles. It also has the distinction of having both a churchyard (graves surrounding the church building itself) and a cemetery across the street. As I wrote back in 2013, the West Cemetery of St. Philip’s (which is across the street from the church) is said to have opened for “strangers and transient white people.”
Members, however, were later buried in the cemetery as well when space in the churchyard filled up. It is an active cemetery and St. Philip’s has a growing membership. So if you go on Find a Grave, just look for St. Philip’s Cemetery because it lists both burials at the churchyard and the West Cemetery.
I’m going to focus on the church and the churchyard in today’s post. If you look up at the permanent banner of this blog on top of the page, that photo comes from St. Philip’s churchyard. My husband, Chris, took that picture in 2013.
Established in 1681, St. Philip’s is the oldest church congregation in the state of South Carolina. After they moved to their Church Street site in 1710, they built a church that lasted until it was wiped out by a fire. The current building was constructed in 1835 and boasts a beautiful, tall steeple.
Highest Point in Charleston
A gentleman we spoke with at St. Philip’s in 2013 said there’s a local law on the books that no building in Charleston can be built taller than the steeple. At one point during the Civil War, it was used for sighting during the Union’s bombardment of the city and suffered damage. St. Philip’s chapel bells were actually melted down for the Confederate war effort. You might recall that the same was done to the bells over at First Scots Presbyterian Church.
The interior of St. Philip’s is stunning so if you’re exploring the churchyard or cemetery, go inside the church and look around. It’s usually open, with helpful guides to tell you all about it.
We could have spent hours staring up at the detailed carvings amid the rich wood accents.
There are some memorials lining the walls of St. Philip’s and Chris photographed this one for William Mason Smith, which I recently re-discovered. Here’s the story behind it.
Born in Charleston in 1788, William Mason Smith was the son of the Rev. Robert Smith, who was made Bishop of South Carolina in 1795, and Anna Maria Tilghman Smith of Maryland. After graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island, William did a stint in the Navy before marrying Susanna Pringle. His brother had married Susanna’s sister, Elizabeth in 1812.
In addition to owning a large plantation called Smithfield that was 30 miles from Charleston and a handsome townhouse on Meeting Street, William was active in St. Philip’s Church and eventually became a vestryman there. He was also on the committee that helped in the rebuilding efforts in 1835.
After William died at the age of 50 on Aug. 7, 1838, Susanna commissioned this handsome memorial for him from famed sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey. Known for his statue of King George IV in London’s Trafalgar Square, Chantrey was a leading portrait sculptor in Regency-era Britain. You can see his name on the base of the memorial below the figure’s foot. Chantrey died in 1842, just a year after it was installed at St. Philip’s.
William and Susanna (who died in 1846) are both buried in St. Philip’s churchyard but both of their stones are now part of the walkway, although the inscriptions are still readable.
Wandering the Churchyard
I didn’t know that our visit in 2013 was going to be the one time I would get to freely wander around St. Philip’s churchyard. On the occasions that I’ve stopped by since that time, most of it has been closed off to visitors because they were doing restoration work. Here’s my picture of the right side of the churchyard, which is similar to Chris’ photo at the top.
One person I don’t want to leave out is one of the churchyard’s more famous burials. Charles Pinckney (1757-1924) was a United States Constitution signer, a U.S. senator, a U.S. congressman, and a four-term governor of South Carolina.
The Pinckney name is well known throughout the state and there are 43 Pinckneys buried in St. Philip’s churchyard and cemetery. Charlest Coatsworth Pinckney, whom I wrote about earlier and is buried at St. Michael’s Churchyard, was Charles Coatsworth Pinkney’s cousin. The two men were both among the men selected to be South Carolina’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, Pa.
In between his third and fourth terms as governor of South Carolina, Pinckney served as the Minister to Spain from 1801 to 1805. He rounded out his career by serving a term in the U.S. House of Representatives before dying in 1824 at the age of 67.
St. Philip’s also boasts another South Carolina governor and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Edward Rutledge. But I didn’t get a photo of his grave, sad to say.
One of my favorite monuments at St. Philip’s churchyard is this one for Captain Edward Rutledge Shubrick. Perhaps he and Edward Rutledge are related in some way.
Born in 1793 in Charleston, Edward Shubrick was the third of four brothers that had distinguished careers as mariners. A captain in the U.S. Navy, he married Hester Mary Berlin in 1820. They had one son, Edward, in 1832.
Thanks to an article in the Mississippi Free Trader, I learned the fate of Capt. Shubrick that caused his death on March 12, 1844. He was in charge of the U.S. Frigate Columbia on a voyage from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Cadiz, Spain when he became ill, likely caused by a chronic liver ailment he suffered from. He died after 30 days.
“Beloved and Lamented Commander”
The letter that communicated his death from the ship written by one of the men under his command said, “He was universally loved and and esteemed by all who knew him.” On his monument, it says it was erected by the officers and mariners of the U.S. Frigate Columbia. I especially like the detailed depiction of the ship, which you can see below, including small figures standing on the rolled up sails.
I’m going to finish today on the other side of the churchyard. In the picture below, you can see the can see in the back St. Philip’s Parish House, built in the 1920s for church administration and events.
The last marker I want to share for you is for William Pritchard, whose marker has a bugle and a Masonic symbol on it. I was eager to unlock the puzzle behind this young man.
Born on Feb. 11, 1832 in Charleston, William was the son of William George Pritchard and Margaret Pritchard. W.G. died in 1838 of influenza at the age of 30 when his son was only six years old. It was the same age William, his son, would be when he died.
I could only find William identified as working as a clerk and there’s no proof he was married. But he was definitely a member of the Washington Light Infantry, Company A. Established in 1807, it’s one of the nation’s oldest militia units, founded when America was anticipating a second war with Britain, which became the War of 1812. The company fought in the Seminole Wars (1836) and the Mexican-American War (1842).
When South Carolina seceded from the Union in early 1861, the Washington Light Infantry reformed into three distinct companies and served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. A total of 414 men served in the unit during the war, 114 of which were killed.
In 1891, an obelisk meant to resemble the Washington Monument was erected in Washington Square in Charleston to honor the men of the Washington Light Infantry. William Pritchard is one of the names inscribed on it. He is listed as a private.
“Tribute of Respect”
Records note that William died on Aug. 15, 1862 of typhoid fever, a disease common in that era.
William’s fellow soldiers were so shaken by his death that one of them penned this moving obituary that appeared in the Charleston Mercury on Sept. 17, 1862.
William’s marker says nothing about his affiliation with the Washington Light Infantry. In fact, it says:
By the Officers and Members
of the Vigilant Fire Engine Co.
In Memory of
Their Late Vice President
Who Died Aug. 15, 1862
Aged 30 years, Six Months
And 4 Days
According to records, the Vigilant Fire Engine Co. may have been the first volunteer fire engine company in Charleston, submitting an application for incorporation in 1793. Many more would follow. It’s possible that William and his fellow volunteer firemen helped fight the infamous 1861 fire that destroyed much of Charleston.
The bugle on William’s marker, I learned, marked his high level of leadership as vice-president of the company. This indicates, as his fellow soldiers had, that the men with whom he fought fires also regarded him with respect and appreciation,
Next time, we’ll be across the street at the West Cemetery. I promise you won’t want to miss it.