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L.E.A. Shier (134)

LEA Shier
L.E.A. Shier (Sept. 28, 1854 - Sept. 10, 1859)

Perhaps one of the most poignant stories to be found in the former Bethlehem Baptist churchyard, which replaced the St. James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease after the American Revolution, is that of Miss L.E.A. Shier. Over the past century, her Christian names have been lost to history, but today members of the nonprofit group restoring this historic churchyard call her either Lea or, fondly, the Trillium Angel. 

Lea was not yet five years old in 1859 when the Lowcountry was ravished by one of its frequent epidemic waves, this time with what locals called the "bilious fever." Though local physician Dr. O.C. Rhame did all that he could for her, Lea died less than a week after developing symptoms of a very high fever, nausea and dehydration.

The Rev. John McCullers, minister of Bethlehem Baptist, led her burial services the following day. Her parents, Aaron and Mary, were understandably inconsolable as were her sisters, Anna (11) and Alice (6), in addition to Agness (1). The Shiers had a distinctive headstone carved for her featuring a blooming trillium flower (image below inside left). Lea had loved the three-leaved perennials, which can still be found abundantly today in this churchyard in early spring. They inscribed her headstone:

Memory of
L.E.A.. Shier
Daughter of M.A.E. and A.T. Shier
Born Sept. 28, 1854
And Departed this Life
The 10th Sept. 1859
                                                                                  Age 4 years, 11 Mos., 13 Days
close up of trillium    
nodding trillium

They then added a heart-felt epitaph: 

Farewell Sweet Babe too Pure for Earth,
Transplanted by a Heavenly Birth.
You Bloom in Heaven, You're Free from Pain,
Nor would we wish you Back Again.
Groomsville Baptist Church

Aaron Shier joined the Confederate Army 19 months after Lea's death. He returned to his family in 1863 to continue his service as a road commissioner and member of the Soldiers' Relief Committee. And yet, some say, that's not the end of the story ....

In 1888, because of changing populations patterns that were transitioning from waterways to rails, the clapboard Bethlehem Baptist Church (image at right) was disassembled by its members and rebuilt about six miles away where it, and its members, were closer to the train station. One of the younger helpers in this relocation, 12-year-old John Simms, hailed his father late one afternoon, calling upon him to help a young girl in distress who he had spotted in the forest surrounding the churchyard. The men undertook an extensive search, but found no one. Since then, others have reported seeing the child in or near the churchyard. Among those are James (Jim) Rozier, former Berkeley County Supervisor and road commissioner, and his brother Robert, both of whom heard her cries at various times during their childhood and later saw her as an apparition while hunting as adults in 1957; Dale Barrineau Hutson, a resident of neighboring Spring Grove development, who saw her in March 2012 near a tree hollow where she hid when Ms. Hutson called to her; and George Dangerfield, a member of the St. James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease Historical Site Nonprofit Corporation, who has seen her on numerous occasions since he began working to restore the site in 2010. Since the spring of 2016, Dangerfield says, he sees the restless little soul more often, especially in late winter shortly before the trilliums bloom. Committee members, who hope to one day relocate Bethlehem Baptist (now renamed Groomsville Baptist Church) to its original location, wonder if bringing the church back might help quiet her soul.


Text adapted by Leigh Jones Handal of Charleston Raconteurs from The Chicken Trilogy: The Chicken Family Trials and Tribulations in the Carolina Frontier by The Hon. Michael J. Heitzler, Ed.D.

Detail of trillium on headstone by Leigh Handal. Live trillium image within public domain on Wikimedia. Image of Groomsville Baptist Church by Jack Lynes.

You can help support the gravestone restoration and research efforts at the St. James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease/Bethlehem Baptist Church Historic Site is by shopping at our online store or by making a donation.

Leigh Handal,
Jan 11, 2020, 11:54 AM