I had some time before an afternoon shelling and lighthouse cruise out of Georgetown, and having done more research on Hampton Plantation, I headed that way. On the road to the Plantation, I took a side trip to St. James-Santee Parish Episcopal Church.
But let me start at the beginning. After my previous visit to Hampton Plantation, I was curious about John Henry Rutledge, and the sad, young man’s grave along the garden path. I also liked Archibald Rutledge’s poetry snippets, and wanted to learn more about him. I read two books, the first being. Spoiler alert, John Henry’s fate is posted at the link. I read the book, it is riveting, faithfully told in a voice lost to history.
John Henry Rutledge – The Ghost of Hampton Plantation
A Parable as if told by Sue Alston
By Nancy Rhyne
Sue Colleton Alston was known as the Guardian Angel of Hampton Plantation, which has a connection we will cover later. Her story is incredible, and deserves much more than the space in this post would allow. Look for a full-blown, permanent Hampton Plantation page to come.
The second book I read was Home By the River by Archibald Rutledge. That is also highly recommended. Being able to visit this well-loved place, as described in these books, was a joy and an honor.
Back to ghosts, and St James. I’m glad I researched St James first, because there was a hidden gem at the bottom of these directions that was particularly helpful:
Old Georgetown Highway is a sand dirt road. It will seem as if you are driving in the forest on a dirt road to nowhere, but suddenly you will come around the curve and see the Church…”
Old Georgetown Road is breathtaking. I drove slowly, with the window down (and up, and down, depending on the mosquitoes). The sounds of the forest, the silence of my tires on the sand road, and sparkling good weather made all things feel peaceful.
But then, it starts to feel like you are going back in time. This road is actually a National Register of Historic Places Protected Road, the road I drove down has been the same road in use since Native Americans used it. There is a fascinating, detailed, history here. Going very slowly, six miles of sand road seems – far. Lo and behold, there is the church, finally. I pulled past the church to the side yard to park.
And here is where Cujo comes in. Don’t worry, Cujo ended up being something else entirely. As I was passing the church to park, a dog came walking up the road. Now in South Carolina, roaming dogs are no joke. I stood at the back of my car, and the dog stopped. Looked at me. I said, “go home”. Dog did not. No barking, not aggressive, just watching from a distance. I got back in my car and pulled close to the cemetery entrance, which is surrounded by a brick wall. The dog was slow in gait, and seemed old. The dog did have on a big, thick, leather collar, with a metal ring, but no tags. There is a small private house just before you get to the church, I assumed the dog belonged there (hence the fruitless begging to go home).
I sat in my car for a while, and then went back to check. Dog was gone. I wondered if he was the “ghost dog spirit of John Henry Rutledge” because it was all swimming around in my head. It was said he was fond of sitting on the steps here. I shook it off, hopped back in, put on walking shoes in the car, and before I opened the door…
Seriously? I’d noticed no movement whatsoever. Dog was just “there”. I put my window down a bit, and the dog walked around to the drivers side. Tail wagging, not a sound. Moving slowly myself, I opened my door. Cujo/Ghost was a she. She was old. I talked low and soft for a while, I told Miss Cujo/Ghost I just wanted to go check the place out. She never got closer than ten feet, never showed any signs of aggression, but still. Finally I said, “Cujo/Ghost, why don’t you just be my Guardian Angel, like Sue Alston was for Hampton”? And the dog looked at me, walked back to where the photo above was taken, and…
I got out of the car, she didn’t even lift her head. I walked around the front of my car and into St James’ grounds.
At one point, Angel Dog started barking. I could hear that she was still by the car. Whatever threat passed, and she settled back down quiet. I continued on.
The building is closed, but the two back windows are screened, and you can see – and smell – the delightful, historic musk – through them. Not great for photos. I did find it interesting that there were two pulpits. I had read in the history about the same church serving two different denominations. There used to be two main entrances, you can see the bricks added below on the “back” entrance. One congregation entered through one entrance, the other on the other side.
This desk below was apparently outside for a reason. I was taking a picture through the windows, I like how windows and light and the textures look. Anyway, I was standing near enough to be able to hear whatever was alive in the desk. I chuckled a little, remembering when my small son opened a drawer in his tree house to find it was a baby squirrel nest. He was not amused.
Whatever was in this desk were either numerous or large, as it/they were very active. I then remembered snakes. Now I don’t know is snakes go in desks, but I was ready to finish this visit unbitten, by snakes or otherwise.
As I started back to my car, Angel Dog trotted past me like I wasn’t even there. She crossed the graveyard, went behind the church, and disappeared into the woods. She never looked back.
If the spirit of Sue Alston visited me, and took care of me on this visit, I am truly blessed.
Related Page: Having visited many times now, there is an expanded full page dedicated to to this amazing place. Visit the St. James Santee page for lots more photos, including many interior shots!