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Our History


A Brief History of St. Philip's Church

The Mother Church of the Diocese of South Carolina

Est. 1680

1680-81 - Just ten years after the colony was settled, Charles Town moved across the Ashley from Albemarle Point. The first St. Philip's was built at the corner of Meeting and Broad, the present site of St. Michael's.

1708 - Gideon Johnston was sent from England as first Commissary to St. Philip's.

1710 - The church was badly damaged by a hurricane. A new brick building was authorized at our present site (Second Church).

1713 - Second Church was nearly destroyed by a hurricane during its construction.

1715 - Commissary Johnston drowned in Charleston Harbor. Indian wars delayed rebuilding.

1719 - Alexander Garden was sent by the Bishop of London to be the Commissary.

1721 - Work on Second Church resumed.

1723 - First services were held on Easter Sunday.

1727 - The first church at Meeting and Broad was taken down.

1728-40 - Fires, hurricane, epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever, slave uprisings, Indian attacks, threats of war from the Spanish occurred.

1737 - George Whitefield preached at St. Philip's and was later expelled as a vagabond clergyman by Commissary Garden, after a hearing before an ecclesiastical court.

1751 - Due to a large increase in attendance at St. Philip's, St. Michael's was authorized to be built at Meeting and Broad streets. Ten years later, St. Michael's held its first service.

1753 - Commissary Garden resigned after 33 years of service to St. Philip's. He died in 1756 and was buried in the churchyard.

1757 - Richard Clarke served as Rector; Robert Smith served as Assistant Rector.

1780 - Revolutionary Period: City fell to British in 1780 and Smith was exiled.

1785 - Robert Smith returned and was active in the formation of a new church in America.

1795 - Smith was consecrated as the first Bishop of South Carolina. He died in 1801, after 44 years of service.

1814 - Christopher Edwards Gadsden became Rector. He later became Bishop (1840-1852), continuing to serve as Rector, as was the custom at the time.

1835 - Second St. Philip's Church burned to the ground and was rebuilt at a rapid pace. The congregation met for a short time at Cumberland Methodist Church, and beginning in May moved into the Tabernacle, a temporary building on the west church yard. Three years later Cumberland Church burned. In May of 1838 St. Philip's moved into the nearly-finished church building, offering the Tabernacle to Cumberland Church in their emergency. This is the church in which we now worship.

1850 - John C. Calhoun, noted statesman, was buried in the West Church yard. During the War Between the States his body was moved to the East Church Yard near the chapel because it was feared that Federal troops might desecrate it.The massive tomb now sheltering his remains was erected by the State Legislature in 1880.

1861 - A chime of eleven bells was contributed to the Confederate military cause to be melted down and re-cast as weaponry and ammunition. Four bells were replaced in 1976 by a group of church women who raised the money to install them in the steeple. Hear them NOW!

1861 - A great fire swept from the Cooper to the Ashley River. Many members of the congregation were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in other parts of the state.

1860-65 - St. Philip's steeple was targeted for shelling by the invading Union Army. One shell exploded in the churchyard during a Sunday service. The service was completed, but worship was moved to St. Paul's Church on Coming Street.

1863-1871 - William Bell White served as rector, then as Bishop of South Carolina. The white marble baptismal font in the nave was given in his memory by the Chancel Guild in 1897.

1865-77 - The city was occupied by Federal troops until the end of Reconstruction. During the next twelve years, the church was gradually repaired.

1870 - St. Philip's Home was dedicated. It was used for many years as a home for widows and elderly ladies.

1872-1906 - The Rev. John Johnson served as rector. He had been the engineer of Fort Sumter during the War Between the States.

1886 - On August 31, a major earthquake occurred, creating disaster for the church and many members of the congregation. Two thousand buildings were severely damaged or destroyed.

1893-1915 - A beacon in the steeple was used to guide ships into the harbor.

1908 - The house at 92 Church Street was purchased as a rectory. Its first occupant was the Rev. Cary Beckwith, who served as rector for 29 years.

1921- A fire in the chancel area did much damage. Enlargement and improvement followed this disaster.

1926 - The All Saints window was installed in the chancel.

1927-38 - A fierce tornado caused much damage to the church and the old Sunday school building. The Sunday school building was rebuilt as the church's chapel.

1927 - The Vestry approved the building of a new Parish House, provided that the construction costs would not exceed $25,000. Although bids for the work exceeded this figure, construction began and the cornerstone was laid. The Vestry acted as its own contractor. The actual cost of the building was $30,990.50.

1928 - Bishop William Alexander Guerry was murdered in his office at St. Philip's Church Home by a distraught clergyman, who then took his own life. Bishop Alexander is buried in the West Church Yard.

1939 - The Sunday School building (now the Chapel) was damaged by a tornado.

1941 - The Rev. Merritt Williams, rector, resigned to become a Navy chaplain during World War II .

1947 - The Church Home and the Chapel had electric lighting installed. New gas radiators were purchased for the downstairs of the Church.

1950s - The Women's Auxiliary began the work of creating a garden in connection with the small building formerly known as the Shell Shop. Much hard work, along with generous donations form many sources, resulted in a lovely garden which was later used as a setting for a Tea Garden held each Spring.

1959 - J. Palmer Gaillard, Jr., a member of St. Philip's, was elected Mayor of Charleston. He served until September 1975. During his time in office, the Municipal Auditorium was built. It was later re-named Gaillard Auditorium, as a tribute to Mayor Gaillard.

1965 - The Rev. Samuel T. Cobb was named rector.

1976 - Four bells were installed in the steeple. The money for the replacement of the bells was raised by a group of church women. The new bells were dedicated at a special worship service on July 4.

Hear them NOW!

1979 - Casavant Freres Organ was installed.

1989 - Hurricane Hugo caused severe damage to the church. Restoration costs totaled 4.5 million dollars.

1990s - St. Philip's Church begins sending medical teams to Haiti and Honduras.

2000 - The Rev. J. Haden McCormick was installed as the 25th Rector of St. PHilip's.

2001 - The Vestry approved total renovation of the Ministries Hall and the Parish House.

2002 - Renovations to Ministries Hall and Parish House were completed.

2003 - The Tea Garden luncheons that were discontinued in 1955 re-opened in the newly renovated Parish House.

September 2006 - The convention of the Diocese of South Carolina overwhelmingly elects Mark Lawrence as its fourteenth bishop.

March 2007 - For Lawrence to be confirmed he had to receive approval from the Episcopal House of Bishops and from the standing committees in TEC. The House of Bishops did not vote approval.

January 2008 - At a second vote, Lawrence receives a majority of both the House of Bishops and the standing committees. Mark Lawrence was consecrated as Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. Former Bishop Edward L. Salmon, who had been "acting bishop" since March 27, retired. Our rector, J. Haden McCormick, was head of the Diocesan Standing Committee during the entire time.

October 2009 - At the Diocesan convention a resolution was overwhelmingly passed: "Resolved that the Diocese of South Carolina reaffirms its commitment to live as its corporate life under the authority of Holy Scripture." Other resolutions passed, affirming the Diocese's commitment that Jesus is Lord.

2010 - St. Philip's ministers preach the word of God and the congregation grows to 2,400. There are more than a dozen weekly Bible Studies and the Alpha course is offered two or three times a year. Praise. God.


The history of St. Philip's continues to unfold as new information is discovered. If you have contributions to this history, please call the Church Office and make arrangements to speak to a member of the History/Archives Committee.

For more details of our rich church history, read:

Dalcho, Frederick. An Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina. New York: Arno Press, 1970.

Fraser, Walter J., Jr. Charleston! Charleston! Columbia, SC: University of SC Press, 1989.

McCrady, Edward: A Sketch of St. Philip's Church, Reprinted April, 2000

Pine, W. Morton Pine. Historic St. Philip's Church. 1981.

Thomas, The Rt. Rev. Albert S. The Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, 1820-1957. Columbia, SC: R.L. Bryan, 1957.