Trinity's Myths and Legends

by Ward Briggs

When I first became a docent, many friends in the church recounted in remarkably similar detail certain significant episodes in our church’s history. In revising the Docents Handbook, I have found a number of these stories to be either inaccurate or unlikely.

Histories and handbooks all relate that the acre now mostly occupied by the Churchyard was given by “Mrs. Smythe of Charleston.” In fact, Caroline Neyle was a native of Devonshire, England, and was widowed by Bartlett Smyth (no “e” on the surname in either his will or hers) in 1802. In 1807 she married Nicholas Herbemont, the first Professor of French at South Carolina College. She had been “Mrs. Herbemont” for six years before donating the northern acre of the campus in 1813, yet she is still referred to as “Mrs. Smythe.”

The legendary Rev’d Peter Shand, who was Rector for 52 years (1834-86) is regularly referred to as “Dr. Shand,” though his only doctorate was an honorary one given by the University of South Carolina in 1871.

According to his journal, he was set upon by invading Federal soldiers, was beaten, and robbed of the communion silver, which he was trying to take to the Rectory for safe keeping. But Connie Britt points out that Sherman was encamped across the river for three days before entering Columbia, during which it surely must have occurred to Dr. Shand to secure the silver. There was much rioting, looting, and drunkenness in the streets and likely Dr. Shand was set upon by a local brigand, not a Union soldier.

The 1789 prayer book required a prayer for the “President of the United States,” but during the war Dr. Shand prayed for the Confederate president. When obliged by the commandant of the Union garrison occupying Columbia to say “United” once again, we are told, the congregation coughed, stamped its feet, and otherwise obscured a clear hearing of the words.  In fact, some of the congregation simply stood silently and refused to say “Amen.”  

The bell rope is supposedly called the “Sally” after Sally Baxter Hampton, daughter-in-law of Wade Hampton II, whose family gave the bell to the church. In fact, “Sally” refers to the furry part of the bell rope and the name comes from the Latin verb salire (“to jump”) because after the ringer pulls the sally down, it jumps back up again.

Other stories await investigation...