Author of The Chamomile and Laurel
The bells were cast in London and installed in St. Michael's Church in Charlestown (Charleston), SC, in 1764.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the patriots painted the church’s steeple black to keep it from being a beacon to the British fleet. Instead, it made it an even better landmark than before.
In 1780, Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton attacked Charlestown with 14,000 soldiers. American General Benjamin Lincoln was trapped and surrendered his entire 5,400-man force. The Siege of Charleston was thought to be the greatest American defeat of the war.
The British retained control of Charlestown until December 1782, and when they gave up the city, they took the bells back to England.
At the end of the war, a Charleston merchant visiting England bought the bells and shipped them home to America.
In 1823, cracks were found in some of the bells, and they were returned to London to be recast.
In 1862, during the siege of Charleston during the Civil War, the bells were moved to Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, for safekeeping, but Sherman's army set fire to the city. Only fragments of the bells were found and were sent to London once more, where the original moulds still stood.
In February 1867, the eight bells were again installed in St. Michael’s steeple, and on March 21 joyously rang out, Home again, Home again from a foreign Land.
Here is an excerpt from my post-Revolutionary War novel, Laurel. My heroine, Lilyan Xanthakos, and her brother, Andrew, have returned to the city after being away for two years. Their friend, Mrs. Snead, tells them what’s happened to the bells.
“When the British hightailed it out of Charlestown, hauling with them everything that wasn’t nailed down, they stole the bells from the tower.”
“No!” Lilyan gasped.
“But, that’s an outrage,” shouted Andrew.
“I’m surprised you didn’t notice them not ringing out the time,” said Mrs. Snead.
“We were so occupied, trying to settle in.” Lilyan sighed. “But … there was something bothering me all day. A feeling that something was missing.”
Shown in this century-old picture, a chimer uses a clavier device to strike clappers against stationary bells. Chiming is now performed from a keyboard in the choir loft and by a programmed mechanism.
To hear a group of master bell ringers from London ring the bells of St. Michaels, click on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25spIYJr4Ho