A historical preservation group in the Lowcountry was able to purchase the site of a Colonial-era fort and chapel after a donation from the South Carolina State Ports Authority.
The Saint James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease site is a little over two miles north of the town of Goose Creek. The site is steeped in history, having been a crucial fort during the conflict between early South Carolina settlers and the American Indian tribes living in the area, a frontier chapel, and a Baptist church for most of the 19th Century.
As part of a $12 million mitigation that was a condition for building its new container terminal in North Charleston, the Ports Authority agreed to set aside millions to preserve the East Cooper watershed. The agency has also dedicated $1 million for conservation work on Morris Island in Charleston Harbor.
Michael Heitzler is chair of the Saint James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease LLC, which purchased the 22-acre site with help from the Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust. “Without (the Ports Authority’s) gift… I don’t know how we would have raised this money,” Heitzler told South Carolina Radio Network, “We have good intentions and we have talents, but we just did not have access to the dollars to buy the property.”
Heitzler is the mayor of Goose Creek, but says he is involved in this particular project as a private citizen. The mayor has authored several books on the history of the area. He says the proceeds from his most recent book went towards the Chapel of Ease site, but admits those returns were “piddly.” The LLC also ran a fundraising drive towards the site.
The property borders what was once an Indian trading path in the early 1700s. One of those who traded with the local tribes was a man named George Chicken, who received a proprietary land grant and built a plantation at the site. That plantation became critical during the Indian uprising known as the Yemassee War in 1715.
After several attacks on other South Carolina communities, Chicken— who also captained the Goose Creek militia— built a small fort on his property in expectation of an imminent raid. That raid finally came on June 13, 1715. The attack was repelled and Chicken helped lead an ambush two days later that turned the tide of the war in the colonists’ favor.
After the war, Chicken allowed local Anglicans to build a “Chapel of Ease” on the site of the fort. “A chapel of ease was the term used back in that day for little chapels that were built in the wilderness because it was too difficult for frontier families to travel… to their parish churches,” Heitzler said.
Mistrust of the English church in the years leading up to the Revolution led to the chapel’s abandonment by the 1780s. However, a Baptist Rev. Matthew McCullers helped organize the Bethlehem Baptist Church on the site in 1812. That church remained until the Reconstruction era, when it was dismantled and moved to a new location in the Groomsville community.
The site has no notable history since then. Other than old tombstones and shallow trenches outlining the old location of the chapel, little else remains. The property was owned by Synovus Trust until the LLC purchased the site in December with the help of the Ports Authority donation and its own fundraising.
Heitzler said the nonprofit group running the site has plans to eventually turn it into a park that features interpretive signs, short trails, and even an ampitheater. The idea is to target those who are visiting other historic sites in the area.
“We want to protect it forever,” he said, “We want to pass it on to younger people that are emerging and coming forward… We hope that they’ll take the reins of this as the years and the decades fade.”