Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Praise Houses, Saint Helena Island, Beaufort County, SC

Coffin Point Praise House, photographer facing NW
Saint Helena Island, SC has a long and storied history. French colonization at Charlesfort (now Port Royal) in 1562 by the French Hugenot, Jean Ribault, was followed by the Spanish explorer Pedro Salazar, who built a fort on the same location, and named it San Felipe. Eventually the English took over and established the colony of South Carolina.
Interior of the Coffin Point Praise House

With the English, came the transport of African slaves from Western Africa. From it's earliest times, the number of slaves on Saint Helena island greatly outnumbered the Europeans. These slaves gave rise to the Gullah culture that is associated with the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia.

Over time, the slaves adopted Christianity, and needed places to worship. Because of segregation, the slaves were not allowed in the churches attended by the whites. The plantation owners saw merit in having the slaves learn about Christianity, and allowed them to build praise houses.

The typical praise house was small, about a 20' by 20', wood-sided structure that could hold between twenty and thirty people. The reason for the small size was because the white's did not want too many slaves congregating in one place at the same time, fearing that they would organize, or plan an insurrection.  Because of this, praise houses cropped up all over the Saint Helena area, continuing to be used even after Emancipation, and the end of the Civil War. In 1903 there was a reported 3,434 "literate black males" to 927 whites in Beaufort County.
Eddings Point Road Praise House, photographer facing NW

A driving factor for post civil war use is that the sea islands were not connected by bridge to the mainland until 1927, so automobiles were a luxury. With very few islanders having automobiles as a transportation options, they needed places that were within walking distance from their community.

In 1932, there were 25 praise houses on Saint Helena Island. Today, there are only three remaining.

All three praise houses were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. You can check out a good video here on the history and significance of these places of worship.

Eddings Point Road Praise House, photographer facing west
Eddings Point Road Praise House, photographer facing south
Another Eddings Point Road Praise House; photographer facing NW

Another Eddings Point Road Praise House; photographer facing west

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