MR. TENNENT’S DREAM
Writing in The History of the Independent or Congregational Church in Charleston (1947), George N. Edwards says our Archdale Street building all started with one man, the one whose memorial still dominates the right hand side of the church entry. Edwards begins Chapter IV, “William Tennent Plans a New Church,” writing “REV. WILLLIAM TENNENT, (III) one of the most notable of pastors of this church, began his work (his ministry in Charleston on) April 12. 1772. He was the third generation in the line of a distinguished family of clergymen ranking high in both religion and literature (in Pennsylvania and New Jersey).” Born in 1740, graduating from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) (1758) and then obtaining an AM degree from Harvard (1763), he had a highly successful junior pastorate in Connecticut for about seven years; he was so popular, they tried to keep him from leaving. Edwards continues:
After only six months in Charleston he came forward with a clear and cogent appeal for the erection of a second church. (In a sermon preached on October 25, 1772, h)e asserted that there was not room enough room in the churches of the city for more than two thirds of the white population; that pews sold as high as ₤1900 in the Church of England; that people were finding it not possible to attend church unless ‘they imposed themselves on the real estate of others’; that the Independent church was too full for any additional pew-holders; that there was already a list of applications for pews in a new building. ‘The Dissenting Interest,’ he said, ‘should have an opportunity to grow; we are to be considered a frontier; another generation will see Charleston doubled….Indeed unless you build, where must your children go when they get families, if there is no room for them in the church?’ he queried. He clinched his argument with the announcement that ₤7000 was already subscribe, provided the plan should be adopted. It was adopted with but one opposing vote. The estimated cost of the building was ₤13000. The old and the new houses were to belong to one society. The church business was to be voted by the members and supporters as one body, and the old house on meeting Street was to be used for their meetings. There were to be two preachers, each one preaching every Sunday in both buildings, so that each congregation should have the privilege of hearing both pastors every Sunday. Thus each pastor would deliver his sermon every Sunday to two different congregations.
It is interesting to note the plans by which the double pastorate would be financed. A summary made in December, 1772 showed that by an increase to be made in pew rents there would be a total from this source of ₤1250, and ₤1050 from invested funds making ₤2300 current. Mr. Tennent’s salary was ₤1400 plus ₤500 for house rent (no parsonage had been built); ₤150 was allowed for the clerk and sexton (one person) and for repairs. This left ₤250 to go toward a salary for the new pastor; ₤300 more was promised ‘by a private hand’ and there remained a balance of ₤850 to be raised by subscription, to make the ₤1400 to be paid a second minister. A ‘pound current’ was equivalent to about 71 cents, making ₤1400 about equal to $1000 (when Edward’s history was published in 1947; or about $9000 today per Economic History Services. This account certainly makes Tennent look like the great persuader he is credited with being.)
After about two years of discussion the new building was started on the parsonage lot on Archdale Street. In January, of 1774, came a generous offer of the adjoining land fronting on King Street, given by Mr. Josiah Smith, not the minister of 1734-1749/50, but his son, who acted as Deacon and church Treasurer, both before and after the Revolutionary War.
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information still available today to provide us with a clear physical description of the Archdale Street building itself. The book, The Old and the New, Farewell to the Old Church, A Historical Discourse, 1852, quotes the sermon which Samuel Gilman preached on April 4, 1852, as the original building was closing for remodeling. Imbedded in this sermon is much of the detail we have on our first church building.
This short account also contains a three page Description of the (new) Building, reprinted from the Charleston Courier of April 3, 1854. From this portrayal comes this brief description:
The old building, so well known for its quaint and somber appearance, furnished the basis of the present church. This retention as far as possible, of the old structure, was due to a natural regard and respect for time-honored associations, rather than to any considerations of mere economy, for the cost of an entirely new edifice would scarcely have exceeded the repairs introduced and perfected, augmented as these have been by the difficulties surmounted in perforating the faithful old masonry to admit the new and lofty windows, and of compassing (i.e., encircling) the ancient massive tower to build one far more lofty and imposing.
Gilman’s own words on the closing of the old church for remodeling in 1852 not only speak to his great feeling for the old structure but also make an impassioned defense of the project the church was about to undertake (The Old and the New):
Notwithstanding our attachment to its present configuration; notwithstanding that many of us have often declared that every brick and fragment of it is precious to our hearts; notwithstanding that that the thought of separating from numerous old and endearing visible associations here, has darkened many an eye, and saddened many a spirit among us; yet the moment has at length arrived, when we worship for the last time amidst these hallowed and venerable accommodations. We all feel the necessity of change. The crumbling cornices threatened our lives from without. Increased economy of space was demanded for worshippers within. The very spirit of the age urged upon us a reconstruction of a more impressive and imposing character – we felt ashamed that our houses, and equipages,” (equipment, belongings) “and banks, and civic halls, should throw the church of God into the shade – and therefore, with willing yet pensive hearts, we are going to retire awhile from this consecrated scene, and as we look back upon it with a good deal of melancholy regret, we are sustained by the unavoidable conviction, that old things MUST pass away.
The Old White Meeting House, the church which gave its name to Meeting Street, was the first Independent Church in Charleston, that is, one dissenting from the English Anglican/Episcopal religion, and probably formed within one year of the settlement of the peninsula in 1680. It was a highly successful congregation, becoming the home for a variety of “protestant” sects, among them the French Huguenots and the Scots Presbyterians, which both grew quickly in Charleston’s welcoming atmosphere of relative religious freedom to the point where they broke away to found their own churches. The Huguenots left early on in 1687, the Presbyterians departed in 1731, but the Meeting St. church kept on expanding, which precipitated an addition to enlarge its building in 1732.
The church continued that growth pattern until just prior to the Revolutionary War. George N. Edwards continues in his history:
After about two years of discussion the new building was started on the parsonage lot on Archdale Street (previously donated by Thomas Lamboll). In January came a generous offer of the adjoining land fronting on King Street, given by Mr. Josiah Smith (mentioned above)…and by Mrs. John Thomas, widow of the former pastor (1767-1771) and daughter of Thomas Lamboll. This gift provided further income to be set aside for a co-pastor. The land was partly occupied by tenant buildings that ‘a large opening be left by which to see and to pass to the new building from King Street.
The church archives contain extracts from the Book of Accounts, Josiah Smith, Treasurer, showing disbursements for building materials used in construction of the new sanctuary building on Archdale St. beginning in 1774. Some interesting excerpts:
To George Smith, Jr., Pine Boards.
Samuel Waddington, Cypress.
To George Somers, 6000 shingles.
Shirley & Price, 1803 wt Bar Iron for the Roof Frame.
Samuel Waddington, Two Inch Plank.
Robert Taylor & Co, 3 box Window Glass.
Thomas Brought, Cedar Post for Pew Floor Joist.
To J. Roper, Turning Gallery Columns.
Timothy Crosby & Anthony Tooner, Building the Shell and Steeple using 308,500 bricks.
John Moore, extra Charge for Beautifying the Face of the Building.
T. Young, (for) for floating 162 Rusticks on the Steeple…ditto over doors and windows.
John Fullerton, finishing the Roof (with) 166 feet of large Cornish (sic) around the Eves (sic),
258 feet of Cornice (sic) with Dentil around the ceiling, Framing and Flooring the three
Galleries N. W. & S.
Job Palmer, for to build 1/3 of Galleries on The Ground Floor.
John Gaborial, for Two Third Pews on the Ground Floor.
And then came the Revolution, forcing the church toclose and construction to be halted. The Reverend Tennent dies in 1777, but no one is called to replace him, and there are few services. Defending Charleston in 1778, American troops are barracked in the church and destroy the pews. From unattributed material in the church archives: “The attacks being made on Sullivan’s Island by the British forces in June 1776, The Militia order’d down from the Country to our Assistance were partly placed in the Church as Quarters, by which means all our newly made pews were destroyed, and the Possession of Charleston by the Enemy, put a stop to any repairs till the year 1786.” The British invade and control the city from 1780-1782, occupying both the Meeting and Archdale St. buildings, and continue wrecking both structures. Gilman reports in his farewell sermon:
The walls, the roof, and most of the pews, (of the new building) were completed a short time before the Revolution, which commenced in 1775....The times of the revolution were greatly disastrous, both to the two edifices and to the joint congregation who were intended to occupy them….I have understood that the building in which we now sit (Archdale St.) was occupied by the British as a barrack, some say as a stable. The fact seems very probable, though I have nowhere seen it recorded. There is no reason why the enemy should have acted more tenderly to this edifice than to the other (Old White Meeting)…. Especial favor was shown by the British to the Episcopal Churches, and contempt and abuse lavished upon those which at that time bore the epithet of Dissenting. When the enemy evacuated Charleston, they left the shell of the venerable old White Meeting House, but nothing more…
And our church did fare poorly as well, however, today, the stabling of horses in the Archdale St. building is generally treated as myth.
The Revolutionary War ended with the interiors of both the Old White Meeting House and the partially completed building on Archdale Street in shambles. Samuel Gilman provides these details in his Farewell to the Old Church:
The pulpit and the pews (of Old White) had been taken down and destroyed, and the empty enclosure used first as a hospital for their sick, and afterwards as a store-house of provisions for the royal army. It remained without a settled minister for six years, and divine service was wholly discontinued in it for nearly half that period. During the bombardment of the city, the men were engaged night and day on the lines; and on the Sabbath, while a few women and invalids were worshipping in the church, a bomb fell and exploded in the cemetery. The worshippers immediately dispersed, and assembled no more until happier times.
As for the Archdale building, Charles Fraser, in Reminiscences, 1854, says: “(W)hen Charleston was a British garrison, a building in which powder was stored in (the church) vicinity…exploded, and a fragment striking the north-west angle of the tower knocked out a part of it.” Noted Charleston author William Gilmore Simms, in an article entitled “Charleston, The Palmetto City”, from Harpers New Monthly Magazine, June, 1857, provides this more horrific account:
In the Revolution…(the church) stood on the very confines of the city, on the west. There were only a few dwellings near it; some public structures only. One of these was a ‘pest-house’(a hospital for communicable disease) and ‘house for the insane and poor’ and, lastly, ‘an arsenal’ and ‘place of arms.’ Not far off was one of the city bastions or batteries, and close by, a powder magazine, one of the largest in the place; there were also barracks for soldiers. On the surrender of the city (to the British in 1780), the citizens were ordered to bring all the arms and munitions of war in their several houses, and deposit them at this arsenal and place of guard. They did so, very sullenly, and with the natural feelings of ill-suppressed pride, mortification, and the rage which ‘does not dare to speak, but shows its teeth,’ they threw down their guns, fowling pieces, rifles, muskets, pistols, all crammed to the muzzle with the remaining cartridges of their late proprietors; cartridge-boxes, powder-horns, all recklessly into one heap. The result was an explosion which shook the city to its foundation. Some twenty thousand pounds of powder were probably ignited. How it failed to overturn every thing is a mystery. The lunatic asylum, poor-house, guard-house, arsenal, barracks, were all tumbled into chaos. The British Guard, to a man torn in pieces; lunatics, paupers, invalids; and many of their lifeless carcasses, were hurled against the walls and towers of this old church, which bore, for a long time after, the ‘spattered blood and brains’ of the victims.
From the historical entry at the Circular Congregational Church website: When the British captured Charleston in 1780, this church was bitterly rewarded for its love of freedom by the illegal exile of 38 heads of families to St. Augustine (in Spanish territory) and then to Philadelphia. Their families were left destitute in an occupied city….” Gilman adds:
Even the rights of sepulture (burial) in the Old White Meeting Churchyard were denied to the families of worshippers, who were in Charleston after its capitulation, in the character of prisoners of war.” The Circular website continues; “Yet these years of suffering were a furnace that forged the Independent Church into an Instrument that would exert great influence on the political, religious, and cultural renaissance of its city after independence. In 1782, acting in astonishing faith, the church-in-exile held a congregational meeting in Philadelphia where they made arrangements to call a minister to Charleston (replacing Tennent) ‘as soon as may be feasible.’…
As soon as Charleston was evacuated (the very week it happened, according to the Circular Church website), in 1782, those members who were on the spot, and had continued prisoners in the city, immediately devised measures for repairing their dilapidated place of worship in Meeting-street. A subscription was opened for raising a sum of money to defray the expenses of repairing it: to this many of the inhabitants, though not particularly connected with the church, liberally contributed. The repairs, which cost six thousand dollars ($130,000 in today’s money) were urged with so much expedition, that the renovated house of worship opened for divine service on the 11th of December, 1783….” at which the “recently arrived pastor, the Rev. William Hollinshead, from Philadelphia, who had been procured, I presume” Gilman speculates, “through the influence of the Philadelphia exiles” preached the sermon.
Peace now being established with Great Britain, and the affairs of our young country springing forward with an elastic vigor, the church in Meeting-street sympathized (shared) in the general prosperity, and as her stakes were strengthened, she found it necessary also to enlarge her cords. An increased demand for pews pointed out the propriety of opening a subscription for raising money to complete the unfinished shell of the new church in Archdale-street. This was accomplished, also, for about six thousand dollars and it was opened for public worship by the Rev. Dr. Hollinshead, then sole pastor, on the 25th of October 1787….(T)he next year after the dedication, of the building, the Rev. Isaac Stockton Keith was regularly settled as co-pastor. The worshippers in both houses…formed but one corporate body, and they severally heard, or might hear, two distinct sermons, from two preachers, who preached alternately in each house the same sermon, both on the same day (morning and afternoon). Such was the rule adopted in a by-law of the two churches. There must have been an exceeding mutual attachment among the members of the two bodies, to institute so very complicated and intimate a union. I am not aware that there is an exactly similar example in the ecclesiastical history of our country….(For) here were two assemblies, who had a common and undivided property in two ministers, and in the places where they officiated.
This “joint ministry” lasted for over 25 years.
Entries in the Book of Accounts of the church after the revolution tell a continuing tale of the construction and reconstruction leading up to the dedication of the building in 1787. One (of several) payouts held in abeyance until after the war, cash being so tight, is finally made in “1787: to Palmer & Miller for Boarding up Lower Windows of the Church after the British attack on Sullivan’s Island in the Year 1776.” Other payments made show the scope and detail of work required to either complete the construction of, in Samuel Gilman’s words, “the unfinished shell”, or to rehabilitate wartime damages to the Archdale St. building are shown below. The descriptions provide a written portrait of how the church looked in its earliest times. Note that the payments continue through 1789, two years after the dedication:
To Sawyers…for the framing of the two Side Galleries.
Sims White…toward Brest (sic) Work (architecturally, a breastwork can be a railing used to protect
the edge of a gallery or a parapet).
James Hamilton for 3 large Logs for Posts to the Church Pallisade (sic) Fence (made of small or
Midsized trunks of trees aligned vertically, with no spacing in between).
McCauley & Davis…for Railing to the Pallisade.
Daniel Cannon…for Girders and Columns.
Robert Norris…for the new covering of the Steeple.
Cochran & Powell for patching the Roof…and pine boards for Pew Seating.
William Moir …for Fencing the passageway to King Street.
John G. Mayer for Gallery (Balcony) Steps.
David Cruger…for 18 pieces large square Timber for the two Side Galleries…for Steeple…Fencing
Alexander Shirras for 700 Inch Screws for Pew Work.
Winthrop, Todd & Winthrop for…Pew Hinges.
Joseph Roper for Gallery Columns, 5 Bannister Rail Posts, and 8 dozen of Stair Bannisters (sic) and
for 8 Heads to the Posts of Pallisade Fence.
To Palmer & Miller’s Account for Repewing, Flooring and Finishing Seventy Pews on the Ground
Floor…and for making and fixing ten Setts (sic) of Folding Blinds and Casements within the South Windows and two Compass Heads (a term for windows with round arched tops) to the Galleries.
Thomas Bennett’s Account…Flooring and Finishing the Three Galleries (in the) South, West and
North parts of the Church with a neat Breast (sic)Work to the Whole…for erecting Forty pews therein with Bench Seats…Repairs to Cornish (sic)…a Circular Head Door to the Steeple Arch…Benches made to the Ayles (sic).
Joseph Bee…Window Sash work…Doors, Windows…for finishing Ox Eye (small round) Windows
to the East & West End of the Roof part….the Venetian Window (also termed a “Palladian” window, a three-part window with a large, arched central section flanked by two narrower, shorter sections having square tops) of the East end in a neat way both Inside and Outside….a Front Pallisade Fence with three Gates and Mouldings to the Heads of Six Brick Pillars on Archdale Street with a large neat double Gate and Frame on passage to King Street.
Anthony Toomer’s Account…repairs to Foundations…Plastering…also for repairing the Shot Holes
from the British Lines in the year 1780…for 772 feet of bead Moulding to the corner Jambs of the Doors and Windows…for paving work on the South Side and West end of the Church.
Joseph Badger for Glazing all the Windows and Door Heads and Two Ox Eyes to amount of 1344 Panes of Glass…for painting Inside of Church…and for Numbering of 112 Pew doors.
Smith, DeSaussure & Darrel for the following supplies since 1786…for Pew flooring…skirting…
a Crate of Sheet Glass purchased to Glaze Window Heads…3 whole Boxes of London 10/12 Glass chalk for making Putty…13 small Kegs of White Lead in Oil…ditto Yellow Oker (sic)…1 keg Venetian Red…ditto Prussian Blue…ditto Red lead…6 Brass Pullies (sic)…a large Bolt for the Chains to hang the Brass Chandeliers.
Duncan & Murdock’s Account of (or for) an Electrical Rod to the Steeple…& another to the East end.
On this continuing list of building materials used to complete the church on Archdale St., note that the term "new" begins to be appended to entries, presumably to mark the difference and to keep the accounts separate between the Archdale and the Meeting Street buildings:
To John Wyatt for making & fixing a neat Mahogony (sic) Pulpit and staircase of a winding kind
per Agreement, for repairs to same after the departure of the British Forces from Charleston, with extra work to the Type (Glen Keyes says that “Type” is a term used for a canopy over the pulpit), &c.
Henry Hainsworth for 16 feet of carved large Moulding….for a carved Thistle to the Type ….a neat
chain to hang the Type….for a full Sett (sic) of Inside Blinds to the Venetian (Palladian) Window (see entry above), fixing and paint….for 2 pair of Pulpit Hinges, Screw Bol(ts)…twisted Iron Barr (sic) & Guilding (gilding)
To Sarah Bricker (for) Ironwork to the two Ox Eyes (see 1788 entry above)….making Stools and
Shifting Boards for a Communion Table
Thomas Bradford for making a Pulpit Cushion of Green Velvet, Tassels, &c….for a neat Folio Bible
and Psalms & Hymns in One for Pulpit Use
By discount with Anthony Toomer for 6½ Yrs Rent of his Pew due the 25th of November 1777
To James Badge for….Railing, Bannister & Painting for the choir’s Seat in the West Gallery
Samuel Smith & John McQueen for 2 Brass Pullies (sic), 6 pair Small Hinges and 2 small Latches to Venetian Window in New Church….for 2 Green Curtains or Blinds to Gallery Windows….for Carting Willow Trees to N(ew) Church
Capt Lewis Fisher of Bristol ….for 300 paving stones for a pavement to be laid on the street front of
the New Church
paid a Negro 3½ days Work in Cutting of the Weeds in New Church Yard and clearing out
the passage way from King Street to said Church
Other undated entries of architectural interest “found in the unbound portions of the surviving ledger:”
For John Moore’s best Bricks Purched (sic) for Beutifying (sic) the Face of the Church….best Bricks
for Pillars to Pallisade (sic) of 37 ditto Rusticks (see 1772 entry above) over heads of Doors and Windows
To Joseph Roper for Turning 14 Columns
the best N. E. Pine plank….for making window blinds
Cypress Boards from Georgia for Pewing & Shingles
To Joseph Bee for Finishing Venetian Sash (in) back of the Pulpit
To Joseph Bee for making a large and neat folding door at the West End
To Anthony Toomer….for Tyling (tiling) all the Ayles (aisles) and belfry….finding all materials
Mundane though it may be, this “Bill of Materials” has provided many clues as to the representation of the building for which but “one lithograph survives,” according to unattributed material in our archives. Jim Polzois, an artist and our former sexton, used these accounts as resource when he created his front and rear elevations of the first Archdale building. The originals of these drawings, which formerly hung in Gage Hall, now reside in our archives for safety reasons, however, reproductions are used in the Docent displays to aid in telling the church story to our visitors. These drawings show a typical, formal, Georgian structure of red brick with white painted trim – think: “Williamsburg, Virginia.”
From our archives: “In later years the original face of “John Moore’s best Brick” was to acquire a coating of stucco and plaster.” Samuel Gilman, himself, notes in Farewell to the Old Church that: “The appearance of this building, on my earliest connection with it, was that of a plain brick structure. It has been twice covered with plaster (stucco), and two or three times subjected to large and costly repairs.”
Over the years, many commentators have disparaged the look of that original Archdale building and it was referred to as “well known for its quaint and somber appearance” (Charleston Courier, April 3, 1854). William Gilmore Simms, in “Charleston, The Palmetto City,” an article in Harper’s Magazine, June 1857, writes about the remodeling, “This building...(has) been converted from a mere oblong square, with an unsightly tower….” True, the width to length ratio of the original building was about 4:5, whereas the transformed version, with its chancel extension, is an elongated 3:5, giving it a narrower, more “Gothic-like” relationship. Kenneth Severens damns with faint praise in Charleston Antebellum Architecture and Civic Destiny, providing these quotes in description of that first church building: “Venerable in age, but vernacular in appearance, the Unitarians’ ‘plain, neat building…’ did have a ‘projecting tower, rising in front above the roof’ (but) it was more a meetinghouse than a church.”
Gene Waddell, in Charleston Architecture, 1670-1860, notes the fact that: “The original structure …was largely undecorated.” And: “Most of Charleston’s Unitarians had been Congregationalists until 1839….Congregationalists were the least doctrinaire of ‘dissenters’….Having broken with traditional church teachings, the Unitarians were free to break also with the Congregational tradition of simplicity in architectural design. Although the first Circular Congregational Church had been unusually innovative in its form and structure, it had been intentionally plain.” The building may have been “plain”, but it was huge. Robert Mills’ design of 1804 was a mammoth domed rotunda 88 feet in diameter which supposedly held 2,000 people, with a steeple added in 1838 which rivaled St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s in height. Waddell again: “The Unitarians wanted a church which would be more contemporary in its style and less Puritan in its simplicity. Thus Episcopalians, Congregationalists, and Unitarians had very different ideas about what was most appropriate for their church buildings, and their churches differed considerably from the temple-form buildings constructed for Lutherans, Jews, Baptists, and Methodists.” It is interesting that “Gothic” meant “Contemporary” in 1852.
Waddell also points out that Gilman himself in Farewell, declares that his audience that day was assembled “to commemorate the grand law of decaying existence, by bidding farewell to the ancient structure that surrounds us,” despite the fact that it is but 65 years since its dedication. And as cited earlier, Gilman offered: “(T)he very spirit of the age urged upon us the reconstruction of a more impressive and imposing character – we felt ashamed that our houses, and equipages (equipment), and banks, and civic halls, should throw the church of our God into the shade….” Gilman can be accused of keeping up with, not the Joneses, but the Lutherans who built next door in 1816-1818 (Gilman arrived in 1819) and with other ecclesiastical buildings across town.
Back to our history. In 1852 as the Archdale St. sanctuary is about to close for renovation, Gilman picks up the history of the church interior in Farewell to the Old Church, A Historical Discourse:
The self-same pews and galleries in which you are now sitting, with some slight modifications, must have belonged to the church at its original dedication in 1787. At my own entrance on the ministry here (1819), more than thirty-two years ago, there was a large vacant space through the centre of the church, forming a continuation of the space at the entrance of the south door. It was soon after filled up by the insertion of six new pews, considered the most eligible in the house. On a line with the vacant space just alluded to, and on the north side of the building, there was, as I learn, a large pew devoted to strangers, occupying the space of two pews in that direction, but it had been modified before my connection to the church.
The expression “south door” refers to an entrance on the side of the church facing what is now the churchyard. This entryway can be seen in the plan view of the church by Jim Polzois, artist and former sexton of the Unitarian Church in Charleston, found in Preservation Progress, May 1976, and illustrated below. The right hand side of this plan depicts the original footprint of the 1772-87 church, while the left shows the changes made in the 1854 remodeling. Polzois places a door at the center of the south wall flanked by two windows on each side. This is in conflict with the only known three dimensional rendering of the old sanctuary, an undated lithograph by W. Keenan which is shown below. With a viewpoint from the southwest, somewhere outside the fence in Archdale St., this drawing shows the church having five identical windows with round arched tops or compass heads on its south side…without any door at all. Polzois, however, assuming that Gilman’s mention is accurate, places the door in his plan view directly in the middle of the south side wall as other Charleston churches of the era have done (St. Michael’s, St, Philip’s, St. Luke & St. Paul’s, et. al.)
Further on, Gilman (Farewell) states:
Our present congregation I do not think much larger than that which welcomed me to the ministry (when he arrived in Charleston in 1819. The additions (referred to above) to the lower floor do not more than counterbalance the losses sustained in the galleries (which were not to be replaced; remember that this was written in 1852 as the remodeling is about to proceed and is a convincing statement that balconies would be lost, not rebuilt), which at that time were not an unfavorite place of sitting. (He minimizes this as a problem)…as the congregation has generally averaged about 400 souls (of which) two hundred and thirty-two white persons have united in celebrating the communion, in addition to thirty-three who were communicants at the beginning. Of the whole two hundred and sixty-five, about one hundred and ten still remain. Owing to the absence of efficient (sic) leaders, the colored portion of the communicants has generally been in a state of decline, in spite of my constant and earnest efforts to prevent it.
In Farewell, Gilman also includes a brief history of the church music program in the late 18th/early 19th Century:
At the beginning of my ministry, and, as I understand, for all preceding time, in this place, the services of the choir were conducted by only gentlemen. After a few years, one rich female voice, now departed from the earth, lent its aid for a while; and for some years after the erection, in 1825, of the organ (Bob Schulz describes it as a Thomas Appleton 2-manual pipe organ), which was purchased by a general subscription, a company of female singers joined the choir, and that gratifying department of the service, aided occasionally by eminent female singers….The front gallery received its circular alteration on the introduction of the organ in 1825 (It was given its current trapezoidal shape in 1852-54).
As we have seen, the original church building on Archdale Street had great meaning for its parishioners. A report from the Charleston Courier of August 27, 1853, while renovations were still underway, reads: “A certain degree of reverence for the old walls, induced the congregation to retain, and if possible, to adapt them to a more pleasing and graceful structure.” They were in love with their building even then.
Samuel Gilman had proclaimed in his Farewell to the Church sermon, as construction was about to start in 1852:
It may be an exercise of pleasing and profitable interest, on the present occasion, to dwell on such particulars connected with the history of this edifice, as the scantiness of records, the dimness of tradition, and the limits of our time, will admit. The history of a building like this is of little account as a mere study of curious antiquarianism – so far as it is a history of principle – a history of religious faith and progress – a history of human feelings and human conscientious endeavors and struggles – a history of our venerated predecessors, who led the way to our present spiritual privileges and advantages – it is surely not unworthy of our attention in this Christian service, and it may awaken within us many emotions harmonizing with the tender, expansive, and reverent spirit of the gospel. We have heard with our ears. O God, says the inspired psalmist, our fathers have told us what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. And our blessed Saviour (sic) himself so far permitted his feelings to be engaged by an outward material structure, that he not only would not permit the temple of his country and his ancestors to be desecrated, but lamented, in the sublime and pathetic strains of prophecy, over its approaching demolition.”
Wading through the 19th century Christian rhetoric you can find the very deep feeling that Gilman – and his congregation – had for their church building. This is borne out “(b)y a vote of the (church) corporation, in 1852, (whereby) the walls of the church were to be retained in the construction of the new edifice.” (Farewell)
David Elder, Docent