Charleston in Charleston County, South Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
1822 Organized as a place of worship for those
could not afford to rent pews in existing churches.
1824 Church built on Guingard St. as the first "free"
Church of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
1835 Church destroyed in the Great Fire of June 6th.
1836 New Church built on this site and consecrated
by Bishop Bowen.
1864 Church damaged by Union bombardment.
1880 Church closed.
1911 Church reopened as a Mission of the Episcopal
Diocese of South Carolina.
1923 A Methodist Congregation merged with St. Stephen's
to form an all black Episcopal parish.
1987 After 165 years a "free" integrated congregation
is again in operation - a new chapter in the
life of St. Stephen's.
2001 Became a Parish Church.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African Americans • Churches & Religion. A significant historical month for this entry is June 1873.
Location. 32° 47.096′ Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 67 Anson Street, Charleston SC 29401, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Dr. Joseph Johnson House (within shouting distance of this marker); St. Peter's Catholic Church (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); William C. McElheran House (about 400 feet away); 14 George Street (about 500 feet away); Rice, Rattlesnakes, and Rainwater (about 500 feet away); The Noyer-Wildhagen House (about 600 feet away); A History of Courtenay Square (about 600 feet away); The Moses C. Levy House (about 600 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Charleston.
Regarding St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. St. Stephen's Episcopal Church holds a unique place among American Episcopal church as the first place of worship in the country where pews were not rented or sold, but free to all comers. The congregation, organized in 1822 under the auspices of the Charleston Female Domestic Missionary Society, met for the first two years in a rented room. In 1824, a small church was erected on Guignard Street. That building burned in the great fire of 1835, and a year later, the present structure on Anson Street was erected, being consecrated
The Three Sarahs
Sarah Hopton Russell, wife of Nathaniel Russell, one of Charleston's richest merchants, was instrumental in the establishment of St. Stephen's. An early advocate for the underprivileged, she helped organize the Ladies' Benevolent Society, which provided home health care to the poor, and led the Charleston Female Domestic Missionary Society. It was she who donated the church's property on Guignard Street, and she worked tirelessly for the church. Her daughter, Sarah, who married Theodore Dehon, second Bishop of South Carolina, worked with her mother in supporting St. Stephen's, continuing with this work after her mother's death in 1832. Also active in the Charleston Female Domestic Missionary Society and involved with St. Stephen's was Sarah Rutledge, daughter of Edward Rutledge, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Governor of South Carolina. She founded a Church Home for the education of destitute girls; and proceeds from her cookbook, The Carolina Housewife, went to St. Stephen's and the poor of the city. Known as "The Three Sarahs," these women are memorialized on marble tablets that hang on the north wall of the church as shown to the right. As women dedicated to philanthropy and religious education for all, they insisted that no one would ever be turned away from St. Stephen's, regardless of race or condition
In 1923, an African American Methodist minister and his congregation joined the Episcopal Church and were
given St. Stephen's as their place of worship where they continued to worship for the next 65 years. In 1987, the congregation agreed to open its doors to whites as well as African Americans. The Biblical phrase that adorns the church doorway, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people," came alive as the congregation re-integrated.
Since its early days, St. Stephen's has been dedicated to serving the community. Besides a place of worship, it has housed on its property an orphanage, library, mission, parochial school, and kindergarten. Caring about and assisting others within the church and well beyond remain important to the congregation.
In 1892, the Reverend George Frederic Degen, City Missionary and priest at St. Stephen's, wrote of the church, "The poor will be always welcome, and so will the rich for St. Stephen's will know no distinction of persons. All are welcome who come not to criticize but to worship God." This tradition of warm, open, and
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church has been placed on the National Registry of Historical Places by the United
States Department of Interior.(from St. Stephen's Episcopal Church history)
Credits. This page was last revised on May 10, 2021. It was originally submitted on March 4, 2012, by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina. This page has been viewed 736 times since then and 24 times this year. Last updated on April 13, 2021, by Cathey Leitch of Charleston, South Carolina. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on March 5, 2012, by Mike Stroud of Bluffton, South Carolina. • J. Makali Bruton was the editor who published this page.