Nestled deep within the historical annals of South Carolina lies a tale that intertwines the colonial beginnings of Childsbury, the tranquility of Strawberry Chapel, and the chilling legend of a young girl named Catherine Chicken. With echoes of the past reverberating through time, the legacy of this forgotten town comes alive through the ghostly story of Catherine and the enduring presence of the Strawberry Chapel.
By Michael Maynor
Childsbury: A Glimpse into the Past
Childsbury, one of the earliest settlements to emerge in the Carolina colony, owes its name to James Child, a visionary English settler who established a ferry across the Cooper River and laid the foundations of this town. His generosity extended to donating a substantial portion of his land for farming, ensuring the prosperity of the community. The town, inaugurated in 1707, was designed with meticulous planning, featuring wide streets and squares, as well as vital amenities like a school, tavern, chapel, and more.
Strawberry Chapel: A Symbol of Faith
At the heart of Childsbury’s history stands Strawberry Chapel, a simple yet elegant brick structure that has witnessed centuries of change. Erected in 1725, the chapel played a significant role as a parochial chapel of ease under the Parish of St. John’s, Berkeley. Its tranquil surroundings and connection to faith served as a haven for the townsfolk and a place for baptisms and burials. Over time, Strawberry Chapel assumed even greater importance, eventually replacing Biggin Church as the parish church by 1825.
Tied to the Tombstone- The Haunting Tale of Catherine Chicken
The narrative takes an eerie turn with the introduction of Catherine Chicken, a young girl whose life would become forever entwined with Strawberry Chapel. Born into a prominent family, Catherine faced the loss of her father and the remarriage of her mother. Her experiences at the Strawberry Chapel school were expected to be formative and educational, yet a dark twist of fate awaited her. Despite the loss of her father, Catherine was a happy child, surrounded by a loving family. In fact, her maternal grandfather was the son of Mr. James Child, the founder of Childsbury. Sometime after her mother’s remarriage, Catherine was sent away, and this is where her story takes a dark turn.
Catherine’s innocuous wander into the outdoors incurred the wrath of her schoolmaster, resulting in a cruel punishment that tied her to a tombstone within the chapel’s graveyard. Forgotten and abandoned overnight, Catherine’s terrifying ordeal led to her encounter with a slave named Money.
Money had a habit of sneaking off and wandering at night. Since it was risky to be away from the plantation without permission, he had a device to scare people away from him during his nocturnal walks. He would take a gourd, carve it with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, and place a candle inside. While traveling, if he heard someone approaching, he would light the candle, creating an eerie sight that caused anyone he met to run away from him in terror.
During one of his nightly walks Money heard Catherine crying in the graveyard. When he went to investigate, his Jack O Lantern scared the young girl, and she fainted. Money knew he couldn’t leave her alone, so he stayed with her all night. In the morning, he alerted the authorities. Catherine was rescued, and the schoolmaster disappeared.
Catherine survived the evening and later married Benjamin Simmons. However, a twisted paralysis set in on her young face due to the physical and emotional trials of that night. Catherine lived to be eighty years old, passing away in 1820.
Legacy and Remembrance
Strawberry Chapel, now the sole vestige of the once-thriving Childsbury settlement, continues to stand as a silent witness to history. Despite being located on private property, it hosts four annual services, allowing visitors to step back in time and pay homage to its storied past.
As the story of Catherine Chicken reaches us through the mists of time, we are reminded that history often hides within its folds tales of both triumph and tragedy. Childsbury’s legacy, embodied by the Strawberry Chapel, serves as a poignant reminder of the lives that once flourished within its streets. And as for Catherine Chicken, her ghostly presence endures as a whispered reminder of a young girl’s unforgettable night in the graveyard, forever linking her to the chapel’s mystique.
In this enthralling amalgamation of history and legend, Childsbury’s tale continues to captivate, inviting us to explore the echoes of the past that linger in the present day.