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‘From Man of the World to Monk’:

Shirley Carter Hughson

Posted: July 3, 2014 8:47 a.m.
Updated: July 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.
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Shirley Carter Hughson

University of South Carolina history professor Yates Snowden used the phrase for the title of this column in a letter of his in 1922 when he was describing his dear friend, Shirley Carter Hughson. Who was Hughson, why describe him in this manner, and what connections did he have with Kershaw County?

Shirley Carter Hughson’s Kershaw County ancestry:

His great grandfather, John Hughson, was known to have been living on Beaver Creek as early as 1817. His grandfather, William E. Hughson, likewise lived in Kershaw District, married Mary A. Doggett from Charleston and became a Baptist minister.

To Reverend Hughson and his wife was born a son, John S. Hughson, on October 1, 1841. He attended school in Camden, then Furman, fought in the Civil War with Hampton’s Legion, and married Lottie R. Turner of Charleston in 1864. After the war he studied medicine under E. C. Salmond of Camden, then attended and graduated from the South Carolina Medical College in Charleston. He moved to Sumter County and practiced medicine there for over fifty years.

Shortly before his move to Sumter County, to Dr. Hughson and his wife was born a son, Shirley Carter on February 15, 1867. These two given names came from the maternal side of the family who hailed from the James River area of Virginia where the Shirley and Carter Plantations were located.

Shirley Carter Hughson from 1867 to 1892:

Shirley Carter attended school in Sumter County and then the S. C. College, now the University of S. C., 1883-85. After college he embarked on a journalistic career in Sumter, then night editor of the Columbia Register in 1888, city staff of the Charleston World, 1888-89, and finally, city staff of the News and Courier, 1889-1891.

While pursuing his journalistic career in Charleston he became a very close friend of Yates Snowden, also a journalist with the News and Courier and later head of the History Department, University of South Carolina, 1905-1933. Attesting to their enduring friendship are seventy-four manuscripts from Hughson to Snowden in the South Caroliniana Library dating from 1892 to 1932, the last one being not long before Snowden’s death.

Another individual influencing Shirley Carter was Rev. John Kershaw, a member of the Kershaw Family of Kershaw County and minister of the Church of the Holy Comforter. Although Hughson’s paternal ancestry had been very active members of the Baptist Church in Camden, his maternal ancestry, beginning with his grandmother, was Episcopal.

Shirley Carter Hughson chose the Episcopal Church. At age 25 he reached a decision to become a Christian and on March 13, 1892, was baptized by Rev. Kershaw at the Church of the Holy Comforter. Shirley Carter Hughson had now moved from “man of the world” and was on the pathway to becoming a “monk.”

At this point it should be noted that Rev. John Kershaw was also a journalist who served as editor of the Sumter Watchman and Southron for two years and was a friend of Yates Snowden. Kershaw moved from his post in Sumter to be the Rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston. Upon his death he was buried in the Quaker Cemetery in Camden.

After baptizing Shirley Carter Hughson, Rev. John Kershaw became Hughson’s spiritual guide and leader until Kershaw’s death in 1921. In a 1930 letter to Snowden, Hughson expressed his close spiritual ties to Kershaw. “I think without question he came nearer being a saint, in the genuine meaning of that expression, than any other man I have ever been associated with.”

Between Hughson’s baptism in 1892 and his joining the Order Of The Holy Cross in 1900 as a novice, he studied journalism at the University of the South in Sewanee, studied history at Johns Hopkins University, a student at General Theology Seminary in New York, 1892-93, ordained as a priest, curate of St. Michael’s Church in Philadelphia, wrote Carolina Pirates and Colonial Commerce, and published Best Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley.

After two years as a novice he took his vows and completed his journey from “man of the world to monk” as Snowden had stated. Father Hughson then began a career of forty-seven years “as a man with an iron will who never spared himself for the work of the church” in a variety of ways, especially through preaching, teaching, counseling and writing.

His study of journalism, his experience as a journalist, and his association with other journalists such as Yates Snowden and Rev. John Kershaw gave him the skills to become a superb writer. His study of history, literature, theology, the Bible and the classics, and his habit of being a voracious reader supplied him the “flavoring and seasoning” to make the content of his prose very palatable.

In his The Green Wall of Mystery, Venture and Adventure in the Hinterland of West Africa are some examples of the above adjectives describing his writing. “And everywhere mystery….But the mystery of Africa is not unfriendly nor is its silence forbidding or sinister. Rather it is inviting, alluring. It beckons you on. Surely at the end of that jungle corridor it will wait for you. Around that next bend….” [What’s around the bend? That’s a part of the mystery!!].

In a “Winter Glimpse of Carolina”, a June 1905 article in which Carter described a train trip from Savannah to Charleston, he observed African Americans waving as the train passes while whites did not. Carter wrote, “The poetry of his nature finds expression in the wave of the hand with which the Negro, man or woman, old or young, never fails to greet the train.”

He wrote more than two dozen largely religious books plus numerous articles, all in a style that is interesting, well-crafted, very readable, understandable, descriptive, often poetic, and on many occasions, inspirational. Rays and sunbeams of his hope, kindness and love of God and his fellowman all emanated from Hughson’s heart to illuminate the pages of his religious books and other writings.

Due to Shirley Carter Hughson’s lifetime of service to others through his church plus his many books and other writings, Professor Yates Snowden and a few others persuaded the University of South Carolina to award him an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. Snowden later remarked, “He never used it.”

One of Hughson’s non-religious books, The Best Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, especially caught the attention of this columnist when he learned a few weeks ago from these letters that Shelley lived in Pisa, Leghorn, and Florence, Italy in 1820-21. While Teal served in the U. S. Army in Pisa and Leghorn and was a frequent visitor to Florence in 1946-47, he would have looked up and visited the addresses where Shelley lived if he had known about the matter then..

Copies of most of Hughson’s articles and books plus his seventy-four manuscripts in the Snowden collection may be found in the South Caroliniana Library. In 1905 he sent the photograph of himself which accompanies this column to his friend, Professor Yates Snowden.

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