A professor at South Carolina State University is preparing to release a book documenting historic cemeteries in Charleston.
Patrick Harwood, a communications instructor at SC State, has written four books previously. His upcoming release, “Stories of the Churchyard: The Cemeteries of Charleston,” documents the graveyards of 13 churches and one synagogue in Charleston’s historic district in 228 large-format, full-color pages.
“Thousands of people from the late 1600s through the 1800s and beyond are interred in these graveyards and cemeteries,” Harwood said. “My book attempts to reveal and examine the lives and deaths of many of these early Charlestonians to tell the bigger picture of Charleston’s trials, tribulations and triumphs.”
Harwood said Charleston is unique not only due to being one of the oldest and best preserved historic cities in the country, but also because of the religious freedom exercised in the city from its beginning as a British colony. Many other American colonies were more restrictive of religious practices.
Harwood called the colony a “melting pot” with “unprecedented” religious freedom, which he said was used as an incentive to attract colonists.
Indeed, the historic cemeteries featured in his newest book include Anglican, Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Huguenot (French Protestant), Jewish, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Unitarian congregations.
Harwood spent five years teaching a College of Charleston course on old cemeteries, “Beyond the Grave: What Old Cemeteries Tell and Teach the Living.”
He said his interest in the city’s cemeteries began in 2008 when he first visited the historic Magnolia Cemetery. Harwood wrote two books on the birds and the history and beauty of Magnolia Cemetery, published in 2011 and 2014, respectively.
“My students and I visited a number of Charleston’s graveyards and cemeteries, so I got to know these burial grounds,” Harwood said. “I learned a lot also from the various guest speakers we had in class. So this became a goal of mine to write a comprehensive book with my photography to take readers on a tour of Charleston’s burial grounds and tell hundreds of stories about the people interred in these grounds.”
Harwood’s previous books have sold nationwide on Amazon, so he knows there is demand outside of Charleston for history and photographs of the city’s historic beauty. Harwood said Charleston is home to some of the country’s most “unique, creative and artistic gravestones.”
These commentaries can tell us how people in Charleston in the 1700s and 1800s mourned and thought about lost loved ones, according to Harwood.
“Often their sadness and mourning were combined with the desire to honor their lost family member with a grave marker that showed style and grace by how it was designed, with thoughtful epitaphs, symbols and artistic touches,” Harwood said.
This is in contrast to modern cemeteries, which Harwood called “cookie cutter,” with limited space for families to be creative in their farewells.
“Nothing ‘memorable’ about today’s burial grounds,” Harwood said. “It’s kind of sad.”
Harwood not only writes but also provides all the photography for his books. He said he has built off the technical and researching skills from his previous Magnolia Cemetery books while writing his new work. This is his fourth book he’s put together in Adobe inDesign.
“I do it all myself,” Harwood said. “Word by word, photograph by photograph, and page by page.”
“Stories of the Churchyard: The Cemeteries of Charleston” focuses on the 13 large churches and one synagogue in the historic district that still have their cemeteries.
It also examines what happened to the many Black burial sites in Charleston. Harwood said some of these were moved, while many others were lost to road and building construction over time.
Harwood expects to receive the first book from the printer in early September. It will be available on Amazon.com and through his website, mybirdseyeviews.blogspot.com, or via email, @birdseyeviewspublicatons.com.
He said he will also be working to put copies into stores and libraries around the state and will be setting up talks and book signings this fall, including in Orangeburg.