St. Philip's Church

1733–1835, 1838 –

(Charleston). Located at 146 Church Street, St. Philip’s was the first English church established in South Carolina. In 1680 Originall and Millicent Jackson, “being excited with a pious zeal,” donated four acres of land for a house of worship. Sometime between 1681 and 1692 settlers built a “large and stately” church of black cypress on a brick foundation at the southeast corner of Broad and Meeting Streets, the site originally designated for it in the model of the town. A 1697 deed refers to the church as “St. Philip’s.” In 1698 the assembly provided a salary of £150 per year and directed that a slave and cows be purchased for the use of the minister. In the same year Afra Coming, widow of John Coming, donated seventeen acres adjoining the town for a glebe (farm) for the minister.

In 1704 and 1706 the South Carolina Assembly passed church acts that established the Anglican Church in the colony. Because it was the seat of the commissary (the representative of the bishop of London in South Carolina), St. Philip’s was the center of Anglican activity in the colony. Under the leadership of Commissary Gideon Johnston, church members began a new building on Church Street between Queen and Cumberland in 1711. Completed in 1733, the building was of brick and later was covered with stucco. It was in the form of a cross and was crowned by an octagonal tower containing bells, a clock, and a lantern topped by a weather vane. An English writer in 1753 called the new St. Philip’s Church building “one of the most regular and complete structures of the kind in America.”

The colonial church building burned in 1835, but members replaced it with a similar structure that was completed by 1838. The new St. Philip’s Church retained many of the design elements of its predecessor, including its triple Tuscan portico. The prominent steeple, designed by Edward Brickell White, was completed in 1850. The steeple housed a chime of bells and a musical clock that played tunes at three different intervals in each twenty-four hours. The selections were “Welcome Sweet Day of Rest,” “Greenland’s Icy Mount,” and “Home, Sweet Home.”

At the beginning of the Civil War, St. Philip’s Church donated its bells to the Confederate government to be cast into cannons. During the bombardment of Charleston, shells hit St. Philip’s ten times, piercing the roof and destroying the chancel and the organ. Repair work was finally completed in 1877, but the church was heavily damaged again in the 1886 earthquake. By arrangement with the federal government, the steeple served as a beacon to guide ships into the harbor from 1893 to 1915 and again briefly in 1921. Repairs and expansions in the 1920s provided additional space for the choir and organ. A new marble altar and wooden reredos as well as the “All Saints” window by Clement Heaton enhanced the beauty of the interior. The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. Restored in 1993–1994, St. Philip’s has retained its importance as a historical landmark while continuing its ministry with an active congregation. Its churchyard is the burial site for several notable South Carolinians, including John C. Calhoun.

Bolton, S. Charles. Southern Anglicanism: The Church of England in Colonial South Carolina. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1982.

Linder, Suzanne Cameron. Anglican Churches in Colonial South Carolina: Their History and Architecture. Charleston, S.C.: Wyrick, 2000.

Thomas, Albert Sidney. A Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, 1820–1957. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1957.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title St. Philip's Church
  • Coverage 1733–1835, 1838 –
  • Author
  • Keywords St. Philip’s was the first English church established in South Carolina, donated its bells to the Confederate government to be cast into cannons, St. Philip’s has retained its importance as a historical landmark while continuing its ministry with an active congregation
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 9, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update September 16, 2016
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