Last week, I introduced you to St. Philip’s Episopal Church and its churchyard in Charleston, S.C. Now we’re going to step across the aptly-named Church Street to visit St. Philip’s West Cemetery.
I wrote about the most famous person buried in St. Philip’s West Cemetery back in 2013 so I’m not going to repeat it all here but he’s worth mentioning. John Caldwell Calhoun served as U.S. Vice President from 1825 to 1832. He was a controversial figure then and after his death, so much so that his remains were moved across the street to St. Philip’s Churchyard during the Civil War to keep them safe. They were returned to the West Cemetery years later.
One of the older graves in the West Cemetery belongs to Col. William Rhett (1666-1722), a native of London, England. He’s interred in an above-ground box tomb. There is no easy way for a short person like me to properly photograph the inscription on top of it but thankfully, someone erected a sign telling you exactly what it says.
Rhett arrived in America in 1694, along with his wife Sarah. In addition to becoming a a prominent rice farmer, Rhett was a member of the South Carolina Assembly. Eventually, he became colonel of the Provincial militia, receiver-general of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, surveyor, and comptroller of customs for Carolina and the Bahama Islands.
But it was his actions on the high seas that garnered him the most attention. Rhett was an active merchant captain, sailing the vessel Providence between the Carolinas and the Bahamas. In April 1699, the Providence was attacked by Dutch pirate Hendrick van Hoven (alias Captain Hyne or Hind). He was known as “the grand pirate of the West Indies.” Rhett survived the attack and lived to sail another day.
In 1716, Rhett provided two vessels to be fitted out as pirate hunters – the Henry and the Sea Nymph. He served as captain of this small flotilla and led it to victory in the 1718 Battle of Cape Fear River, capturing the infamous Stede Bonnet, the so-called “gentleman pirate.” Bonnet was close friends with Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, who gave him many pointers on how to (ARGH!) be a pirate.
Bonnet escaped from jail with the help of local merchant and fellow pirate Richard Tookerman. He made it as far as Sullivan’s Island before Rhett again captured him. On Nov. 10, 1718, Bonnet was charged with two acts of piracy. Judge Nicholas Trott sentenced Bonnet to death. Bonnet was hanged in Charleston on Dec. 10, 1718. A marker on the Battery in the area formerly known as White Point Garden notes the event.
In 1721, Rhett was appointed governor of the Bahamas, but died in Charleston on January 12, 1722, just as he was preparing to leave for his new responsibilities. He was 55 years old.
The Bones of Thomas Pool
I talked about Thomas Pool’s marker back in 2013 but his marker is just too cool not to share again. I mean, how often do you see a skeleton reclining against an hourglass?
Born in Bosport, England on April 20, 1717, Thomas Pool was a sailor. He met his untimely end in a shipwreck on March 20, 1754. The final lines of the inscription (spelling errors and all) on his marker are as follows:
He was a sober industrious and skilfull pilot
Obliging in his Conversation, a kind
Husband, a tender Parent, and a usefull
Member of Society & was much regretted
by everyone that knew him.
The words written above the grinning skeleton are “Yesterday for me, is to Day for thee.” Note that the final “e” in “thee” is vanishing into the skeleton’s teeth. Not only do we get a grinning skeleton, he’s leaning against a winged hourglass, emphasizing how “time flies”. These motifs fit in well with the notion that the living are destined to die and nobody can escape it.
The Classical Influence
A less ghoulish marker was carved for Thomas Moore, whom we know little about. He was born in 1750 and died on April 4, 1794 at the age of 44. His stone is topped by am elegant draped urn, which I’ve talked about before. It appears on many grave markers. But as I researched this particular stone, I learned a bit more about why the urn was so popular during the mid to late 1700s.
With America becoming a new republic, comparisons were being made to the old Classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. Urns became popular since that was part of the celebrated architecture and art of that era. It was also quite common to see thes themes incorporated into English homes at the time.
Moore’s sandstone marker was carved by transplanted Scotch carver Thomas Walker, who began a carving dynasty that carried down to his sons, sons-in-law and grandsons. He was echoing what he had seen in the U.K., especially the work of architect Robert Adam.
The part of Moore’s inscription that I can make out reads:
Lo where this silent marble weeps
A Friend, a Husband, a Father sleeps
A Heart, within whose sacred cell
The peaceful Virtues loved to dwell
Affection Warm and faith sincere.
The Widow & the Urn
This next stone was carved over 50 years after Thomas Moore’s and also features an urn but includes the “weeping widow” motif we’ve come to know well in Charleston churchyards.
Fortunately, I found a death notice for Oliver. L. Dobson, who was born in Ireland sometime around 1788 to 1790. I say that because his obituary states he was 58 when he died but his marker states he was 60. At some point, Oliver came to America, married a woman named Naomi, and had at least one child, a son. He also had step-children. He “filled the offices of Assessor of Taxes and Eacheator of the Parishes of St. Philip and St. Michael, and several other posts of trust and confidence.”
I don’t know who carved this stone but it’s cleanly done and has stood the test of time. Note that the widow’s gown is contemporary to the era in which is was carved, the 1850s. Women’s attire featured defined waistlines and fuller skirts than the early 1800s. She appears to be holding a handkerchief as well.
Oliver died on March 26, 1850 of dropsy of the heart, which often involved fluid build up leading to congestive heart failure. He did leave a well, which left most of his estate to his wife, Naomi, with some bequests to his step-daughter, Elizabeth, and other family and friends.
Sweet Little Lamb
Off to the side of cemetery, it’s less orderly and more untamed. The ivy runs a bit wild there and you have to watch where you’re walking.
I’m going to finish my time at St. Philip’s West Cemetery with a simple stone that could be seen at just about any burial ground, even today. But for some reason, it hit me hard to see it. Because the last name of this child is unknown and all that we know about her is on the stone itself. She died on April 24, 1861, having lived only a year, six months, and 24 days.
Her marker done by William T. White, one of the best carvers in Charleston.
The inscription reads:
This lovely bud so young and fair
Called hence by early doom
Just came to show how sweet a flower
In Paradise would bloom.
Next time, we’ll be right next door at the Circular Congregational Church Burial Ground to wrap up my Charleston, S.C. adventures.