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Getting to know Edisto: Historic Churches of the Island

 

By Lauren Mckinnon

There are four historic churches nestled in the curves of rural Highway 174, Edisto Island National Scenic Byway. Each is rooted deeply in the rich histories of South Carolina’s coastal island culture. Each church has its own centuries-old cemetery on the grounds that display headstones from as early as the 1600s.

Presbyterian church

Presbyterian cemetery Presbyterian church

Presbyterian Church Edisto Island

 

Presbyterian Church Edisto Island was established in 1685. The church building was constructed in 1830 and renovated in 2002.

In the early 1800s the church and community were wealthy, thanks to cotton and other local crops; but, in 1861, the economy was hit hard by The War Between the States. The Confederate government ordered White residents to evacuate. Black residents remained, and those who were members of the church moved down out of the balconies, where they had been required to sit, and elected a new session and pastor. They continued their worship services throughout the war. After President Lincoln freed the slaves, missionaries from the north came to Edisto to teach reading, writing and Bible lessons to the recently freed people. Three of these teachers who drowned in an accident are buried in the church’s cemetery. Since then, the church has continued its ministry through The Great Depression and both World Wars.

 

Old First Baptist church

Old First Baptist church

First Baptist cemetery

First Baptist cemetery

New First Missionary Baptist Church

 

Originally known as Edisto Baptist Church, it was established in 1818 by Hephzibah Jenkins Townsend, the wife of a plantation owner.

This church was the first Baptist church on the island. Prior to the federal occupation of the 1860s, the blacks had to attend the churches of their masters. Once the island was occupied and most of the whites had left, the black congregation remained. Townsend and the trustees turned the church over

to them after the war. The church and its congregation have continued to grow physically and spiritually since. Many of the current congregation members are descendants of members of the original congregation.

In March 1987, Townsend’s children erected a monument in the cemetery behind the church to honor her.

 

Trinity Episcopal church

Trinity Episcopal church

Trinity cemetery

Trinity cemetery

Trinity Episcopal Church

 

Established originally in 1774, the current church was rebuilt in 1880 due to fire and hurricane damage.

Records show that in 1812 there were 12 white and three black communicants; but much like the other churches, the congregation here experienced a shift in the wake of the advancing Union forces when the congregation fled Edisto Island in 1861. In 1865 occupying Federal Army forces used the church as an observation post. By 1870, new records show 30 white and 112 black communicants.

The church has a large cemetery that wraps around the back and side of the chapel, featuring large oak trees with Spanish moss, shading the dozens of headstones, many of which date back to the late 1700s and early 1800s,

 

Zion Reformed church

Zion Reformed church

Zion Reformed cemetery

Zion Reformed cemetery

Zion Reformed Episcopal Church

 

Zion Reformed Episcopal Church was founded after the Civil War, in approximately 1890.

Black Members of Trinity Episcopal Church who were not willing to be restricted to the upstairs galleries of the church, once reserved for slaves, decided to form their own Episcopal church where they were free to sit and worship where they pleased. The church has its cemetery in the back with headstones that date to the late 1800s.

Editor’s Note: If your community has historical churches that you would like featured in The Colletonian contact  Lauren Mckinnon at [lauryn.grindstaff@gmail.com].

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