Against All Odds: History of Saint Andrew’s Parish Church, Charleston, 1706–2013 tells the remarkable story of the oldest surviving church structure south of Virginia and the only remaining colonial cruciform church in South Carolina.
“The church is a monument to faith,” says the Reverend Marshall Huey, the nineteenth rector. “Faith in God, faith in its people, faith that, no matter the odds, we would prevail and we would continue to grow. And we have.”
The author, Paul Porwoll, is a parishioner who fell in love with Old St. Andrew’s the first time he walked through the graveyard and stepped inside. His passion for history, research, and writing compelled him to tell the story of this wonderful place, its remarkable people, and its extraordinary past.
Royalties support the ongoing preservation of the church.
Against All Odds is 454 pages long and includes 94 black and white images and seven appendices, including notables buried in the graveyard. It is available on eBay and the church office at 2604 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414.
COLONIAL MINISTRY: EXPANSION FOR THE SETTLERS (1723)
From 1705 to 1721, the parish went from having no church, to building a small one in 1706, to needing a larger one fifteen years later. Expansion required both a growing economy to provide the funds and a sound relationship between the rector and his parishioners to provide a stable environment. Reverend [William] Guy was “well esteem’d of in [his] Parish,” wrote Commissary William Tredwell Bull to the Bishop of London....
The rectangular 1706 church was enlarged to a cruciform shape that is the footprint of today’s Old St. Andrew’s. This style was a popular way to expand a church in South Carolina—all three building additions funded by the assembly were constructed in the shape of a cross.... Of the cruciform churches in colonial South Carolina, only the Latin cross St. Andrew’s remains....
When the enlarged St. Andrew’s Parish Church had been completed, the effect was one of simple elegance, or as a commentator on early English churches in America put it, “a quaint severity combined with great charm.” The church “reflected many of the essential design features that characterized eighteenth-century church architecture in South Carolina,” said Louis Nelson....
“For [Edward] Brailsford [a devout parishioner and medical doctor],” said Nelson, “the church in rural St. Andrew’s Parish, South Carolina, was home of the perfect, sovereign, triune God.... Once inside, the lofty, vaulted ceiling lifted Edward’s spirit; it seemed to him to be the cope of heaven itself.... For Brailsford, this building demanded pause and reverence as no other building in the colony could.”
ANTEBELLUM MINISTRY: EXPANSION TO THE SLAVES (1840s–50s)
Throughout the antebellum period, this once prosperous parish had been reduced to a shadow of its former self. Clerical instability and vacancies were more the norm than the exception. While a minority of wealthy landowners continued to play key roles in church affairs, ministry shifted to the vast majority of the population, the enslaved Africans....
St. Andrew’s was one of the earliest of many Episcopal churches that ministered to its plantation slaves during this period. Following the halting efforts of [Reverends and rectors] Paul Trapier and Jasper Adams, outreach began in earnest under Stuart Hanckel. During his rectorship, Hanckel and his parish planters established three slave chapels, and possibly as many as five....
A third chapel, at Magnolia plantation just three miles north of the parish church, was located on the grounds of a diocesan candidate for Holy Orders, John Grimké Drayton. From the earliest days, Drayton possessed an unshakeable faith in his slave ministry. He was convinced that religious instruction made his enslaved workers better people; in fact, he made it clear that they were indeed people and not merely disposable assets. His slaves, Drayton said, could teach their white masters a thing or two about living their faith.
Almost all the adults have become savingly acquainted with the truth as it is in Jesus: they give evidence of this in regulated lives; a perceivable improvement appears in all their domestic relations—in their virtue, honesty and fidelity. For years I have not been robbed of the value of a pin.... Much has been said slightingly of the piety of our negroes. Many suppose it little better than a compound of psalm-singing and animal excitement. I take a different view. I have never seen clearer examples of undoubting faith—of holy love, and of a meek and consistent walk than among them.
NEW BEGINNING: A CHURCH REOPENED (1948)
The idea of establishing a chapel separate from the parish church faded. Reopening the mother church was no easy decision. It was located nearly at the end of civilization, a long commute and the last stop before striking out on the long road to the Ashley River plantations. Driving time aside, the condition of the church was dreadful. “You can imagine how our hearts fell when we went out to inspect the grounds and building,” wrote Mrs. Gene Taylor, one of the early members who became parish historian and a tireless promoter of the church. “A veritable forest surrounded the church, and plaster was hanging from every side, and remember, there were only a very, very few of us, none with fat bank accounts.” Parishioners and clergy took a deep breath and plunged forward. They entered the future by restoring the past....
“Pessimists said we were fighting a losing battle,” Gene Taylor recalled, “and would never accomplish anything.” But the pessimists were outnumbered. Men, women, and children from All Saints’ Mission readied the church for its first service. With sixty-seven worshippers in attendance, St. Andrew’s Parish Church reopened on Easter Day, March 28, 1948, with Rev. Stanley Jeffery officiating at the 4:00 p.m. service. This day of Christ’s resurrection promised new hope that this church, written off for dead fifty-seven years earlier, would survive to serve future generations.
NEW LIFE: A CHURCH RESTORED (2005)
In November 2002 [architect Glenn] Keyes issued his report, describing every architectural feature in the church and providing an assessment of its condition, with recommendations for correcting deficiencies. The findings were shocking; so many critical issues required attention. What began as a prudent exercise to keep the church in good order would become an effort to save it from collapse. For the next three years the restoration would dominate the life of the church.... Or as one parishioner overheard in conversation, "The church seemed held together by paint and the grace of God...."
Fifty-seven years after Rev. John Grimké Drayton died and the church became dormant, St. Andrew’s reopened on Easter Day 1948. Fifty-seven years after that Easter reopening, the church again was reopened, on Easter Day 2005. The Great Restoration was finished. The services that day were filled with praise, joy, and thanksgiving....
Father George [Tompkins, the eighteenth rector] praised the dedication of his people. “For whatever else we may be remembered, by the grace of God and your courage and sacrifice,” he said in his annual rector’s report, “we have done something for which generations will be grateful. Storms, earthquakes, moisture, insects, design flaws, enlargements, previous restorations, generations of well intentioned ‘do-it-your-selfers,’ and, above all, time—that ambiguous asset and liability of all that is material—had brought this house of prayer to the point of near collapse.” New St. Andrew's Parish Church was now beautifully old and structurally sound.
1 Prelude (1670-1706) 1
2 Difficult Beginning (1706-1717) 15
3 Stability, Expansion, and Prosperity (1718-1750) 45
4 Prosperity, Fire, and Revolution (1751-1785) 74
5 Antebellum Reorientation (1785-1851) 99
6 Into the Storm (1851-1865) 132
The Beauty of Saint Andrew's Parish Church 152
7 Ruin and Recovery (1865-1891) 160
8 Dormancy and Decline (1891-1948) 183
9 Rebirth and Reestablishment (1948-1963) 210
10 Reversal and Uncertainty (1963-1985) 241
11 Confidence Regained (1985-2006) 276
12 Shaping the Future (2006-2013) 307
1 Building Dates of Church Act Churches 333
2 Rectors 334
3 Known Wardens 335
4 Known Diocesan Convention Lay Delegates 339
5 Presidents, Women of the Church 344
6 Notable Burials in the Graveyard 345
7 Timeline 352
“Against All Odds is without a doubt one of the best researched, most cohesive, and entirely engaging church histories I have ever read. You are to be congratulated for your scholarship and for having revealed so many interesting facets of St. Andrew’s story through the years.... I think the design is beautiful and the illustrations are well chosen.
- Larry S. Leake, Richard Marks Restorations, Charleston
“I have traveled throughout South Carolina for the purpose of photographing our state’s rich collection of historic churches. To be sure, I enjoyed my visits to those located in our larger cities, but the rural churches, with their more hidden histories, were my favorites. If only the walls could talk, I often felt, as I would walk around the church grounds, wondering about the church’s former members and ministers, controversies and schisms. Thanks to Paul Porwoll, and his impeccably documented and beautifully written book, the walls of the very historic St. Andrews Parish Church in Charleston do indeed talk.
The strength of the narrative is the graceful and interesting way in which Porwoll connects the church history with the comings and goings of the greater society, no better exemplified than by his descriptions of the eras before and after the Civil War. In the former case, we feel the church’s prosperity as it served, among others, those who owned and operated Middleton and Magnolia Plantations; in the latter case, its struggle to redefine its place and mission when the “way of life” had ended. It is in this “rebirth” that we meet the remarkable Reverend John Grimke Drayton, a man who was to serve the church, minister to the former slaves, and serve God, for nearly forty years.
Against All Odds is impressively documented, the author’s attention to detail evident throughout the narration…. This is not your ordinary “church history.” When I turned the last page, I felt like I had just been treated to a semester-long course on South Carolina history that just happened to pivot around the life and times of the remarkable St. Andrews Parish Church.”
- Bill Fitzpatrick, photographer and author
“Sincere congratulations on publication of your history of Saint Andrews. It’s a work that will be significant for the most discriminating student of colonial SC and to readers devoted to history of Anglican and Episcopal history of the South.”
- Alex Moore, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia
“What a magnificent history! Many, many congratulations! I enjoyed it from beginning to end.”
- Drayton Hastie, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, Charleston