Less imposing than the most popular Old Sheldon Church Ruins off of Highway 17 in Beaufort, South Carolina, the Chapel of Ease Ruins are tucked away near where Martin Luther King Drive becomes Lands End Road on St. Helena Island.
Constructed around 1740, according The South Carolina Department of Archives and History, some of the rice and cotton planters who attended St. Helena Parish in Beaufort could not make the long trip to town each week to regularly attend services, so a “chapel of ease” was built as a more convenient place to worship.
Historically, and in short, the federal government gained control of South Carolina’s sea islands early in the Civil War. Plantation owners were forced to abandon their land, leaving their slaves behind, who found themselves in legal limbo – no longer enslaved, but not yet officially free.
Northern missionaries and teachers came south and with support from the federal government, established what came to be known as the Port Royal Experiment – the country’s earliest effort to educate and train former slaves to work outside of the institution of slavery.
By 1812, the population of St. Helena Island had increased to the extent that the chapel of ease was designated a parish church, but it was virtually abandoned when the planters evacuated the island in the fall of 1861. During the Federal occupation of St.Helena, the church was used frequently by several of the Northerners who had come to the island to educate and train the freedmen.
Once known as the White Church, as the combination of oyster shells and lime caused the structure to appear to glow this color, it was also used as a sanctuary by Methodist freedmen as early as 1868, but was burned by a forest fire in February 1886 and was never repaired.
Set among oak trees laden with Spanish moss, only the church walls and small cemetery remain.
Local lore has it that the ruins are haunted.
On November 4th, 1861, Sunday services were interrupted by a messenger who brought news of the impending invasion of nearby Beaufort by Union troops to a Captain named William Oliver Perry Fripp.
His ancestors had been instrumental in the building and upkeep of the chapel, and Edgar Fripp and his wife Eliza were interred in a mausoleum built for them in the site’s graveyard.
The mausoleum was built by Charleston stone-cutter W.T. White, and remains on the property today still seeming to be in quite good condition.
According to a diary written by such as Thomas B. Chaplin on April 13, 1852, “Said vault was a fine affair and did not have to wait very long for it’s occupants, Edgar & wife. The Yankees broke it open during the war hoping for treasure. It is now somewhat out of order.”
And still today, the vault remains out of order. The door of vault was ruined by the soldiers, and it was decided to brick up the entrance but, according to legend, workmen sealed the vault only to return the following day to find the bricks removed and neatly stacked beside the mausoleum. Convinced that the supernatural was the cause, the workers left the job remained unfinished.
Today the vault is empty, and the door is still half-sealed by bricks, left just as it was the day that the workers left their job undone.
In any case some visitors report hearing whispers, prayers and singing coming from the interior of the chapel, and others claim to have heard names being shouted in the silent burial ground and from the surrounding forest.
Some have also said to have witnessed a lady shrouded in white, walking among the tombstones with a child in her arms.
A big classic….but maybe the lady is the ghost of Mrs. Sarah Scott. It seems that her daughters both died at young ages and were buried in the graveyard at the chapel in 1833.
Caroline Mary Scott, age 3 years and 10 months was buried there, and then her sister, Adaline Matilda Scott, who passed away just three days later at the age of 5 years and 11 months.
Many feel it could be the ghost of their mother, who was in obvious despair at the loss of both of her little girls just three days apart.
But It could also be the mother of the little girls buried next to them, Anna Catherine and Sarah Jenkins Pope, who both died as infants in 1851 and 1853.
Whether you believe in the ghosts or not, the Chapel of Ease is home of 500 years of history, and who’s to say it’s not haunted?
Find out for yourself….
Well…about history, not by chance the ruins were added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 6, 1988.
Images from web – Google Research