Black History: Chapel of Ease

By Dawn Baker email | bio

ST HELENA ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Saint Augustine, Florida boasts of being the oldest city in America, but as we continue our celebration of Black History, there's another city right here at home that could rival that title.

St. Helena Island in Beaufort County could very well give them a run for their money. There is proof that the Spanish were in the Low Country during the 1500s. Many believe that some of the architecture that exists today date back to the 1600s, before Saint Augustine was founded.

One of those historic structures in called the Chapel of Ease. It's hard to miss. It was once an Episcopal Church, the primary place of worship for slave owners built back in 1740. Slaves built this tabby style church, a mixture of oyster shell, sand, lime and water.

You don't see this art form anymore. Although the slaves built the church for their owners, so much of this facade is about the builders from the far away African continent.

"In the sea islands and all throughout South Carolina, you'll find that when Africans built those buildings of worship, they would do these subtle things facing those religious buildings toward the east even though there may be a western frontage, usually on that eastern side it would be a little more ornate. Also where the churches have burial grounds, you'll find that most of the graves will face eastward. Usually there is a bush or some type of shrubbery there denoting tree of life, paying honor to God," explains Kitty Green, the owner of Gullah-Geechie Mahn Tour Company.

Around 1852, during the Battle of Port Royal, the slave owners fled the island and went back north, but the slaves continued to worship here. Eventually a forest fire burned it down so only the exterior walls stand today.

To learn more about history on the Low Country, go to

On Wednesday, we'll continue our tribute to Black History as we look into the role the Haitians played in saving the City of Savannah during the Revolutionary War.