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The historic praise houses of St. Helena Island
Praise houses were first established on St. Helena Island's many plantations as places to meet and worship. Since there were few formal church buildings on St. Helena Island, most of the island's slave inhabitants could only walk or ride to the main church on Sunday mornings, if at all.
Praise houses became central points in the community as meeting places for the African-American community on St. Helena Island. Whatever the need was, a meeting or a service, they used the praise houses, and were actually often an elder's cabin.
Once upon a time, these tiny, plain white, small frame, (mostly) 18 x 20 foot houses dotted the island landscape. Their interiors consisted of wooden benches along the walls and several in the middle with a stand at the front of the room from which to preach or to address the congregation from.
There were as many as 25 praise houses on St. Helena Island as recently as 1932, but only four remain today.
It is believed that the term, "praise house", is derived from the phrase "prays house", or place of prayer. The houses were very small, by design. This was the rule to prevent too many slaves from gathering at one time. Slave owners always feared an uprising or insurrection.
After Emancipation, locals continued to build praise houses near to the plantations where they used to live and work.
Praise houses today
The only ones that remain today are the Mary Jenkins Community Praise House, the Croft Plantation Praise House, the Eddings Point Praise House and the Coffin Point Community Praise House.
The Mary Jenkins Community Praise House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Register has this to say about the Mary Jenkins house:
The Mary Jenkins Community Praise House, built ca. 1900, is one of four known extant praise houses on St. Helena Island. Services were held on Sunday, Tuesday, And Thursday nights, as well as the Watch Night Service each New Year’s. A typical service might consist of singing, prayer, perhaps a member’s testimony of a religious experience, and almost always ending with a “shout.”
Kit Chaplin built this praise house ca. 1900; Paris Capers, born in 1863, was one of the early elders. Members of Ebenezer Baptist Church still attend services here today; a cow bell, which is still in the praise house, has been rung for many years to alert the members to a service or meeting.
The Praise Houses of St. Helena Island are another one of many area links to Beaufort's, and the South's, historic pasts that still exist today.