Nation’s only French Huguenot Church finds success in first book, expounds on influence in second

Margaret "Peg" Eastman, Robert Stockton and Richard Donohoe authored two editions of "The Huguenot Church in Charleston," which outlines French Huguenot influence in Charleston and across the nation.

Throughout the week, camera-toting tourists come in droves to visit the Gothic-styled edifice resting at 136 Church St. in Charleston.

On Sunday mornings, Charleston’s French Huguenot Church is just as busy, filling in well over 200 for worship service.

“The pews are packed every Sunday,” said church member Richard Donohoe.

Most people become curious about the pink church on the peninsula when they see the word “Huguenot” plastered across its sign, but church members say some renewed interest is a result of their initial book, "The Huguenot Church in Charleston," which they are now following-up with an expanded second edition.

Maurice “Molly” Thompson, one of the book’s four authors and who attends the church, said the congregation “pounced on the (first) book like a pack of wolves," helping the church sell 500 copies in three months.

While the first edition highlights the Charleston church's national influence between 1687 and the 1800s, the much-anticipated second publication picks up in the 20th century with nearly 50 more pages highlighting prominent Huguenots who had local and national influence.

Noted additions include Lowcountry natives Dr. Peter Fayssoux, the son of a Huguenot immigrant who founded the Medical Society of South Carolina and served on the state's General Assembly, and Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., a descendant of Fayssoux who coined the nickname “Stonewall Jackson” for the well-known Confederate commander.

Rembert C. Dennis, a Berkeley County native who served as a state senator for more than 40 years, also had Huguenot heritage. Arthur Ravenel Jr., a current member of the congregation who helped secure funding for the Cooper River bridge that bears his name, came from French Protestant roots as well. Features on President Franklin D. Roosevelt, L. Mendel Rivers and John Palmer Gaillard Jr., are also included alongside pictures of bridges and buildings named after the figures.

In writing the book, authors Donohoe, Thompson, Margaret “Peg” Eastman and Robert Stockton examined church memorials and recorded stories told by Huguenot parishioners.

Thompson, who noted that the peninsula is packed with people with French Protestant ties, anticipates this edition will be as popular as the first. A book launch will take place Nov. 1 at the Gibbes Museum of Art.

“There are so many Huguenots in this book,” Thompson said. “It’s a community book,” she said.

Peg Eastman, who led the project, agreed. "The most important thing about that book was the amazing response from the community at large."

Also important in this book is the story of perseverance, the authors said.

Charleston's Huguenot church held its first worship service in 1845. After battling an earthquake and financial crisis, the church nearly closed by 1950 before hiring its current pastor, the Rev. Phillip C. Bryant, in 1982.

Today, it's the last Huguenot church in America. The congregation gathers weekly for worship and is a popular site for weddings. 

The church also pays homage to its French roots. This Sunday will mark almost 333 years since the day the Edict of Nantes was revoked by King Louis XIV, an act that opened the doors for Huguenot persecution in the predominantly Catholic nation.

On Sunday, parishioners at the Charleston church will reflect on those who paid the ultimate price for religious freedom.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.