- The Church and Confederacy: The Lynches of South Carolina ed. by Robert Emmett Curran
In 1972, Yale University Press published The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, a massive collection of wartime letters from the family of Rev. Charles Colcock Jones, a chief promoter of the religious mission to the slaves. Robert Manson Myers, the editor of the collection, arranged the correspondence to tell the story of the Civil War through the experiences of one large family. The effect was stunning as readers gained both multiple and intensely personal perspectives on the war. Robert Emmett Curran, professor emeritus at Georgetown University, credits The Children of Pride for inspiring his project on the correspondence of the Lynch family of South Carolina, the most prominent and influential Catholic family in the state during the nineteenth century (xi). Their letters, skillfully edited and introduced by Curran, provide a Catholic perspective on the fall of the Old South.
In many ways, the Lynches were a nineteenth-century southern success story. They acquired education, land, and slaves, markers of economic success in the antebellum South. Conlaw and Eleanor Lynch left Ireland in 1818, eventually settling in the small upcountry town of Cheraw, South Carolina. There they raised twelve children. The eldest, Patrick, served as the bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, which included the states of North and South Carolina, from 1858 until his death in 1882. Two of the Lynch daughters joined the convent. Ellen (1825–1887) joined the Ursuline order and became Mother Superior of their convent in Columbia, South Carolina in 1858. Other Lynches worked as physicians, entrepreneurs, and farmers.
Curran, using letters from 1858 to 1865, allows the Lynches to illustrate the many challenges Catholics experienced in the Deep South. Diseases such as yellow fever made South Carolina a dangerous place in the nineteenth century. Several of the Lynch siblings succumbed to tuberculosis as well. In addition, as a distrusted religious [End Page 88] minority, Catholics had to fight for respect from their neighbors and possessed few institutions of their own to support Catholic communities. Ellen—Sister Baptista—perceived this problem acutely as she built her convent and school in the midst of the war. The Lynch letters also demonstrate that southern Catholics, spread throughout the vast rural expanse of the region, networked with each other constantly. A number of letters served to introduce Catholics who had arrived in South Carolina to their local coreligionists. Sister Baptista often asked her brother Patrick about information on various Catholic families when vetting potential nuns for her convent. Building institutions in the Deep South, especially for the Lynches, was part of a program of converting their neighbors and anchoring Catholicism in the region. Baptista, for example, welcomed Episcopalian young women to her school and expressed hopes of converting them to Catholicism. Moreover, the Lynches’ commitment to place made them patriotic South Carolinians. While their family letters rarely discussed politics, most of the political sentiments expressed in the volume demonstrated support for the Confederacy, slavery, and the war.
The gem of the volume is Sister Baptista, who deserves a biography of her own. A prolific writer, she constantly pressed her brother, the Bishop, for news. Patrick’s letters were rare, and few seem to have survived. Sherman’s troops, in burning Columbia, South Carolina, destroyed Baptista’s Ursuline convent and school. Combined with Patrick’s unsuccessful voyage to Rome to solicit official recognition from Pope Pius IX for the Confederacy, the burning of the convent demonstrated the tragedy of the war for the Lynches. All they had tried to build had been destroyed. Curran notes that after the war, Sister Baptista wished to rebuild, but her brother the bishop seemed enervated by the vast destruction the war brought (364–365).
Curran has done students of American Catholicism and nineteenth-century South Carolina a tremendous service by publishing this volume. It deserves a wide readership among those interested in southern religion and southern Catholicism in particular. Thankfully, it is much...