Wednesday when Donna Rae stopped by she mentioned that her grandson, Tanner, would be playing the organ at Strawberry Chapel the Sunday of November 10. This old historic chapel is only open for worship and visitors four times a year…I mentioned going there once with the Dingles and loving all the history associated with it.
In the early seventies I had a storytelling club that met once a month after school for interested students. Near Halloween one time a Girl Scout Leader came to tell a story…and it was the story of “Little Mistress Chicken.”
She couldn’t believe, since I taught SC History, that I had never heard this haunting story. She gave me a copy of the book by the same title written by a local historian, Mrs. Gordon Rose, in the late sixties. I loved it. (*The first published story about this true, haunting, incident -that befell 7-year-old Catherine Chicken was released in Youth ‘s Companion in 1894.)
Here is the story:
Before Catherine was eight years old her famous father, Colonel George Chicken died, and her beautiful mother remarried, taking Mr. Elias Ball as her husband. In spite of such tragedy Catherine was a happy child and was surrounded by family, her maternal grandfather was the son of Mr. James Child, the founder of Childsbury, and the man who donated the land for the chapel of ease as well as the school in Childsbury. It was here that these two buildings- the school and the chapel-would leave a permanent mark on little Catherine Chicken.
Sometime after her mother’s marriage to Elias Ball , Catherine was sent away from the Kensington Plantation to Childsbury to board with Monsieur and Madame Dutargue at the Strawberry Chapel school.
One day Catherine vexed the schoolmaster Dutargue by wandering off and enjoying the outdoors. In a rage the schoolmaster decided apt punishment would be to tie her to a tombstone in the graveyard of the chapel.
During the wee hours of the morning a slave named Money was making his way back to his masters holdings when the whitish figure of Catherine scared him… he initially thought she was a ghost.
Money had a device for scaring people away from him, as his excursions away from his master’s plantation would bring him a flogging if discovered. Money would take a gourd or pumpkin and carve it out cutting two eyes a nose and a mouth in it. He would then set a candle within and when traveling if he heard someone approach would light the candle…producing an eerie sight and causing most travelers to run from him.
It was this trick device that caused the weak and frightful Catherine to faint. Money, though knowing punishment (for leaving without permission) would surely follow, still could not bring himself to leave the beloved ‘Little Mistress Chicken’ without protection; he stayed close by and in the hours just before dawn scared Dutargue off as he tried to get Catherine in from the graveyard.
As light dawned on Childsbury, it also dawned on the actions of the schoolmaster. He was relieved of his post immediately and literally drummed out of town, a crowd gathering for the event and the drummer boys of the militia providing the accompaniment.
Catherine survived the evening and went on to marry Benjamin Simons. However a twisted paralysis set in on her young face from the physical and emotional trials of the night. (Resource: Catherine Chicken Simons- Ancestry/Genealogy- Wikitree.com)
Once a happy child…Catherine lived to eighty years of age but fought depression the rest of her life, rarely smiling from the effects of the stroke. She never completely recovered from that frightening night in the graveyard by Strawberry Chapel.
*(Today the Strawberry Chapel graveyard is said to be haunted by a variety of spirits. Many people have been overcome by depression as soon as they enter the graveyard…some see spirits of children playing in among the tombstones…late in the evenings..the sobbing of a child, purported to be the ghost of Little Mistress Chicken, has been heard as well. A tombstone in the section next to the chapel is said to be exceedingly warm to the touch …even in the winter. (Resource: History and Haunting of Strawberry Chapel)
Every Christmas I remember this story when I put up my numbered Berkeley County historical Christmas tree ornament.
So until tomorrow…”History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” David McCullough
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
Happy Halloween and Boo Yall!
This year I took pumpkins and Mexican (Day of the Dead) succulent containers to a few neighbors with “You got Booed” signs…Anne got “You got Booed” Birthday gifts.