Two churches, two races . . . one shared, difficult history . . .
coming together in a spirit of joy, to honor the past and celebrate the present.
The discovery of a tattered, old book takes us back in time into a world we can scarcely imagine today. A world of cotton and rice, masters and slaves, and a religious movement that brought the word of God to the enslaved who toiled on plantations throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry.
“In My Trials, Lord, Walk with Me”: What an Antebellum Parish Register Reveals about Race and Reconciliation explores this world through the eyes of the antebellum register of Saint Andrew’s Parish Church, the era’s official logbook of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials.
Not only does the register reveal historical surprises, it also documents the relationship between two Anglican churches named St. Andrew’s located not far from each other on Ashley River Road. One, the parish church built in 1706 and the oldest surviving church still used for regular worship south of Virginia (Old St. Andrew’s), and one, which began as a plantation slave chapel to the parish church in 1845 (St. Andrew’s Mission), these institutions share a troubled past that could have torn them apart and left them strangers to each other. But just the opposite has occurred, and what a magnificent story it is.
“It’s so special that the Lord’s chosen one black congregation, a mission church, and one white congregation, a parish church, to make this community look whole, look colorless, look seamless, look like the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t have a color to it,” says the Reverend Doctor Jimmy Gallant, vicar of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Mission Church. “I believe that anyone who reads this book or reads about what we’re doing will get excited about forgiveness and loving and kindness, how we’re walking in the cause of Christ.”
“This book contains a story that needs to be told, and a story that needs to be understood by all who seek true racial understanding and reconciliation in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, particularly after the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church,” says the Reverend Marshall Huey, the nineteenth rector of Old St. Andrew’s.
Net proceeds will support the ministry of St. Andrew’s Mission.
"IN MY TRIALS, LORD, WALK WITH ME"
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FROM THE PREFACE
“Have you heard about the new collection of materials on Old St. Andrew’s at the historical society?” Charles Simons asked me in January 2016. “I read about it in the latest issue of the South Carolina Historical Magazine.”
Charles comes from a family with deep roots at the church, formally known as Saint Andrew’s Parish Church, built in 1706 along the Ashley River just northwest of downtown Charleston and the oldest surviving church south of Virginia. Charles lives with his wife Daphne on the old Runnymede plantation north of St. Andrew’s. He and I love to trade stories about the church and the surrounding area.
“No, I haven’t,” I replied. “Are you sure it’s Old St. Andrew’s they’re talking about, and not another St. Andrew’s, like St. Andrew’s, Mount Pleasant?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s our church. Do you know what these materials could be?”
“Not really,” I said.
A few years earlier I had published Against All Odds, a history of Old St. Andrew’s. I thought I’d seen everything related to this storied church, so this new find intrigued me. “I guess I need to go to the historical society and see for myself.”
I did, and what a story I discovered.
The archives of the South Carolina Historical Society are housed on the third floor of Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston. SCHS is a treasure trove for historians and genealogists and a place I had visited frequently in my research on the church. I found the issue of the magazine that referenced the new collection and filled out a call slip for 515 Saint Andrew’s Church Records, 1830–1969. An archivist took it and disappeared behind the front desk into a secure storage area. He returned carrying a lone file box about five inches wide, which he set on a trolley for my inspection.
I found a number of items I’d never seen before, including a handsome portrait of “Daddy Billy” Fludd, the African American church sexton who had faithfully served Old St. Andrew’s for most of his adult life through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, and photos of the 1969 church restoration when the current stone and tile floor was laid. But I was not prepared for what I saw in the first folder in the box.
It took my breath away.
Here was the original parish register in which the Episcopal rectors had maintained the official log of baptisms, marriages, confirmations, and burials in the antebellum years 1830–59. With no original registers from this ancient church existing before 1947, this was a significant discovery.
Not that its contents weren’t already known. The original antebellum register had been copied and made publicly available in typewritten and holographic form more than a hundred years ago, but it had disappeared sometime in the twentieth century. I had used the transcribed register for my book and was familiar with its ten pages of entries….
I carefully laid the folder containing the register on a work desk, untied the two white ribbons that secured it, and inspected the old book….As thrilling as it was to see the original eight-by-eight inch, leather-bound volume, its brittle covers, shattered spine, and chipped edges were an unfortunate testament to age and use. Opening it, I saw the original entries in the faded, distinctive scripts of the priests who had inscribed them. Years of neglect had obliterated many of the notations along the edges. With the transcribed copies that are available, however, it is possible to reconstruct complete entries.
I wasn’t prepared for what I found inside. It didn’t occur to me that the original register would be different from the copies I had seen and used.
It was very different.
After viewing a few pages in various sections of the book, I had an uneasy feeling that the register contained many more entries than had been copied….
I then went back into the original register and examined it more closely. The pages were filled with entries for specific baptisms, marriages, burials, and confirmations for specific slaves on specific plantations. The more pages I scanned, the more slave entries I found. I later calculated that the original register contained six times as many events as the copied versions. I would also learn that the St. Andrew’s register contained six times the number of slave events as were recorded in the antebellum register of her sister parish to the south, St. James Episcopal Church on James Island.
Why this discrepancy? How did these materials make their way to the South Carolina Historical Society? These were questions I had to answer….
Thus began a journey that was part discovery, part detective story, part a glimpse into a world long past, and part viewing this past from our own perspectives today. I knew I had to transcribe the register properly and make all of it available. But the questions that leaped at me made me realize that a simple transcription wouldn’t do. I had to put these entries into their historical context and learn why so many had been left out in the first place, and what this means for us today.
That’s why this book is organized into three parts.
Part 1 (Record for the Ages) opens with the establishment of the register by Rev. Paul Trapier in 1830 and continues through the ministry of each of the three men who followed him, focusing on examples from the register. Chapters that discuss the parish system and the Christian rites of passage that are contained in the register add texture to the information contained in the first two chapters.
The appendix provides a transcription of the complete St. Andrew’s antebellum register, whose events are illustrated in the first two chapters.
Most register events occurred on plantations, not at the parish church. So it’s important to frame what occurred in St. Andrew’s Parish within the larger context of Protestant slave ministry in antebellum South Carolina and within the church’s own missionary efforts from its earliest years. That’s the focus of Part 2 (Plantation Slave Ministry). The slave entries in the antebellum register represent but a microcosm of what was happening throughout the South, and especially the Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina, in churches, at chapels, and on plantations in the decades before the Civil War. Chapters on the owners whose names are listed in the register and the enslaved we can learn about mostly from accounts outside the parish examine the period from each perspective....
The slave system discussed in this book is impossible for those of us in the twenty-first century to comprehend. How could one group of people keep another in bondage for more than two centuries? Why didn’t people muster the courage to overthrow this system and emancipate the enslaved long before it took a bloody civil war to do so? Why couldn’t they see the obvious, or what to us today is obvious?
The answers may appear simple (among them, the forces of racism, power, control, economic gain, and maintaining cultural tradition), but they are embedded in layers of complexity that are often dismissed. While under no circumstances condoning slavery, this book attempts to introduce the reader to the layers of complexity that white people involved in plantation slave ministry—clerics and planters alike—faced within this system.
Paraphrasing a Methodist minister of the era, those in this ministry took their world as they found it. They did not try to overthrow an entrenched culture, which would have precluded them from even working among the enslaved, but tried to do the best they could to improve the lives of the enslaved caught within that culture.
You may agree or disagree with their motives, but it is naïve to think that we would have acted differently under the same situation. The fact is, we wouldn’t have. The Grimké sisters were exceptional precisely because they took a stand, left their homeland, and pressed for radical social change. That there were very few people like them in the South who took such bold action speaks to the enormity of the task they attempted.
Some have portrayed ministry to the enslaved as an insidious mechanism to maintain the plantation slave order. The reality was far more complex. Clergy and planters used the Bible to justify the “peculiar institution” and define the relationship between masters and slaves and slaves to masters, relationships that had been part of the culture since the very founding of the Carolina colony. These same clergy and planters, however, spent far more time bringing the word of Jesus Christ to the vast mission field of enslaved blacks. To condemn plantation slave ministry out of hand because its clergy and laity did not become what we would have liked them to have become—ardent abolitionists—would be grossly unfair and a grave historical disservice.
One historical disservice that this book hopes to rectify, at least in some small measure, is to illuminate the life of the Reverend John Grimké Drayton. As rector of St. Andrew’s Parish Church over five decades of the nineteenth century, Drayton has remained in the shadows, an unsung hero—priest, planter, and slave owner. He was quite unlike his abolitionist aunts, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, whose names history remembers reverentially. But in his ministry to the enslaved before the Civil War and to the freedmen after it, Drayton focused his life on improving the condition of people of color—every bit as much as the Grimké sisters did through their abolitionist writings and speeches.
Part 3 (Unraveling the Past) discusses why the record was disguised for so many years and how Charleston’s plantations are dealing with the issue of slavery in the twenty-first century. The answers help illustrate where we’ve been and how far we’ve come in addressing our troubled past.
The last section of the book also highlights the remarkable relationship between two churches situated just a mile-and-a-half apart on Ashley River Road and which share a common bond forged through a difficult history. Old St. Andrew’s, the colonial parish church established in 1706, is the book’s focus given the focus on its antebellum register and the parish’s plantation slave ministry. One of three chapels in the parish built for slave worship and instruction was founded in 1845 on Simon J. Magwood’s plantation. In the 1890s this chapel was formally established as its own church, named St. Andrew’s Mission, after the mother church. (Black congregations in the Diocese of South Carolina at that time were formed as mission churches as part of the Archdeaconry for Colored People. Today parish churches are fully self-supporting, while mission churches are not.)
These two churches would continue on their own separate paths, through periods of dormancy, growth, and stability in an era when black people were not welcomed to worship at Old St. Andrew’s into the 1960s. But that was then, and this is now. Rather than let their shared past, which includes the pain of slavery and segregation, drive them apart, these churches, one predominantly white and one predominantly black, and in particular their clerical leaders, have intentionally chosen to use their shared history to build bridges of understanding. It’s an inspiring story that needs to be told and a testament that these two churches are jointly publishing this book.
More than anything, this book is a long overdue tribute to these otherwise faceless people whose names now appear in the register—people of a different skin color from the white planters who owned them, people who toiled against their wills, in the rice and cotton fields, in gardens producing food for the table and beauty for the soul, and in managing the never-ending affairs of the household. May their names live on as a testament to their accomplishments, their struggles, their hopes and aspirations, and above all, in their belief in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ.
Foreword, by Rev. Marshall Huey ix
Foreword, by Rev. Dr. James S. Gallant III xiv
Part 1—Record for the Ages
1 A New Day 3
2 More Like a Negro Church 20
3 The Parish Register 32
4 Christian Rites of Passage 39
Part 2—Plantation Slave Ministry
5 “Dry for God’s Word”: Plantation Ministry in the
6 “Savingly Acquainted with the Truth as It Is in
Jesus”: Slave Ministry at St. Andrew’s Parish
7 “Necessity Is Laid upon Me”: The Owners 104
8 “Tender Affection [?]”: The Enslaved 136
Part 3—Unraveling the Past
9 Antebellum Register or Registers? 167
10 Who Altered the Antebellum Register, and Why? 172
11 What Does This Say about Us Today? 181
Appendix—The Antebellum Register of
Saint Andrew’s Parish Church 199
Note on Terminology 244
General Index 282
Register Index 300