Strawberry Chapel is located on private property. It is not open to the public except during its four annual services, held each October, November, March, and April. No valuables are ever kept at in the chapel; nevertheless it has been the victim of repeated vandalism.
Strawberry Chapel is the only remaining structure from the 1707 Childsbury settlement. Built as a chapel of ease in 1725 as part of the St. John’s Berkeley Parish, it is located at present-day Cordesville in Berkeley County. Established as a mission church to the main parish church at Biggin Church, its early minister was a French Huguenot.
Childsbury was one of the first towns to be laid out by Englishmen arriving in the Carolina colony. It was named after founder James Child, who established a Cooper River ferry and helped design the settlement. Child also donated 600 acres of land for inhabitants to use for farming. The ferry, known as Strawberry Ferry, served residents of the area as a direct route to Charleston. River were the main mode of transportation in those times.
Strawberry Ferry operated near the chapel, at the bottom of the bluff and about 100 yards from the modern dock there today on the Cooper River. It went across the river to Bluff Plantation, near Cypress Gardens, where a road would take travelers to the Broad Path (modern-day Highway 52), providing a direct route into Charleston. The photo below shows remnants of the ferry landing, on the chapel side, including wooden pilings and scattered bricks.
Farmers from Childsbury had a hard time competing with the prosperity of other Lowcountry plantations, and the town did not last. Eventually the settlement’s buildings were absorbed into nearby Strawberry Plantation (from whence the chapel gets its unusual name).
Part of the original Childsbury plan, Strawberry Chapel was built to make it easier for the villagers to attend worship without traveling to Biggin Church – which was 10 miles away in Moncks Corner. This chapel-of-ease was unusual in that the sacrament of baptism and funeral services, usually reserved for full parish churches, were regularly performed here.
The Harleston Family vault (seen above and below) served as a receiving tomb for the chapel. Bodies were stored here while plots were prepared for burial. The interior of the vault has a barrel (domed) ceiling made of brick with a dirt floor; it is partially underground, providing a cool environment to help preserve the remains of the deceased.
Strawberry Chapel is rectangular in plan. An anteroom at the rear of the church allowed the minister to change clothes and prepare for services. The ceiling is domed and the floor paved in stone. An entrance door exists on three of the four walls. These align with each other, as do the windows, in order to ensure proper ventilation in the heat and humidity of the Lowcountry. Written on the rear wall, under a circular window above the pulpit, are the words “Glory to God in the Highest.” Each letter was made using miniature pine cones.
Four times a year, services are held in this historical setting. The silver once used in services was unearthed from beneath the rice mill at Comingtee Plantation in 1946. Owner Keating Simons Ball buried the church silver used in parish services in 1865 when Union troops ravaged the towns of South Carolina at the end of the Civil War. It is said that he could not remember where he buried it once the war was over. The mahogany trunk bearing the silver was rediscovered by Comingtee managers Grover and Martha Sullivan some 81 years later. Strawberry Chapel’s Paten & Chalice are two of four of the oldest pieces of Southern silver to survive. These were made by Miles Brewton in 1705 and are on permanent loan to the Charleston Museum. The silver is never housed in the chapel.
The Legend of Catherine Chicken
The following information comes from a story which was first published in “The Youth’s Companion” in October 4, 1894 and later republished as a stand-alone book titled “Little Mistress Chicken: A Veritable Happening of Colonial Carolina” by Mrs. Arthur Gordon Rose.
Catherine Chicken, great-granddaughter of James Child, is said to have suffered grave abuse in the chapel’s churchyard as a young girl in 1748. At age seven, Catherine was sent to board with her French schoolmaster, Monsieur Dutarque. Catherine was in trouble for not completing her chores when the schoolmaster found her outside chasing her pet turtle around. When he asked her why she had not completed her chores, she told him she just wanted to be outdoors. Dutarque was enraged and thought he would punish his student by tying her to a tombstone and leaving her there for a brief period of time. If she wanted to be outdoors he would ensure she stayed outdoors. He only intended for this to last a short period of time but forgot and left her there into the night.
According to the story, Catherine kept whimpering and crying out that she would be good and to please let her loose. A slave was walking in the night with a Jack-o-Lantern gourd fashioned as a torch illuminating his way. He heard the cries and went into the graveyard to investigate, as he neared little Catherine she became so frightened from the gourd headed towards her in the night that she passed out. Afraid for his own safety, the slave retreated behind a nearby tree hiding as he heard men approaching the churchyard on horseback. The cries had been heard by other workers in the schoolhouse and they came to set her free. Dutarque was run out of Childsbury for his action but his legacy of barbarism continued at the Walnut School for Boys in Camden.
Many erroneous accounts exist that Catherine died that night, she did in fact survive though not completely unscathed. Her portrait shows a slight downward curve in her smile which many believe was the result of a possible stroke from the ordeal. Catherine went to marry Benjamin Simons III of Middleburg Plantation where she lived a full life raising her children. Catherine is buried in the churchyard of Pompion Hill Chapel which neighbors Middleburg.
Strawberry Chapel is listed in the National Register as the last remnant of the Childsbury community:
Childsbury, one of the early towns to be laid out in South Carolina (1707), is significant as an important archaeological site. Englishman James Child started a ferry here as it was the only practical ferry site across the Cooper River within a reasonable distance. Property was designated for a college, a free school, a house for the schoolmaster, a place of worship, and a market square. To the inhabitants of Childsbury, Child gave 600 acres to farm and pasture. He also gave them the 100-acre hill by the river to build upon as a citadel to protect the town in times of war. Due mainly to the rise of the new and growing plantations, Childsbury began a rapid decline and the town site eventually became part of a plantation. Strawberry Chapel is the only visible remains of the town of Childsbury. Architecturally the chapel displays the simple, yet dignified and impressive lifestyle of an Episcopalian Chapel of Ease. This one story rectangular brick building has an unadorned hipped gable roof. The double three paneled door of the façade, surmounted by flush fanlight is symmetrically situated between two shuttered windows of the same three panel design. These chapels were built to serve the people for whom the regular parish church was inaccessible. Strawberry Chapel became unique as a Chapel of Ease in that it is operated as a full parish church. Usually these chapels were denied some of the privileges of a parish church. A small cemetery is adjacent to the chapel. While the chapel at Strawberry served as an Episcopal church for many years, it is now an independent entity.
Historic Photos of Strawberry Chapel
This historic view of the chapel shows the elevation visitors saw from the road and gate. To the left of Strawberry Chapel, behind a brick wall, is the Ball Family enclosure. To the right, in front of the chapel, is the Harleston Family vault.
The view below shows the back of the chapel and the stepped gable of the anteroom where ministers would prepare for services. The pipe that leads from the circular window above the side entrance was from the stove used for heating during the cooler months.
Paintings of Strawberry Chapel
The painting below shows Parish Church from the series A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, ca. 1935, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (American, 1876 – 1958). “Fifties” in the title means 1850s, during the heyday of the plantation system in South Carolina, just before the war.
Watercolor on paper; 17 ¼ x 22 inches; Gift of the Artist; 1937.009.0003
Alice Ravenel Huger Smith © Do Not Use Without Written Consent