Colonial South Carolina Religious Dissenters

Colonial South Carolina Religious Dissenters

updated 8 December 2008

A Dissenter in Colonial United States was a person who dissented away from the established provincial Church. The Church of England was the established church in most of the colonies. The dissension took many forms. Early Puritans wanted a church with less pageantry and formality. This split created High Church and Low Church. High church liturgy being very formal and somewhat similar to the Catholic formats, including vestments, censers, kneeling for prayers and common song format. Puritans were among the low church and sought to separate themselves from what they perceived as a Catholic influence on their efforts of reformation.

The first dissenter church in South Carolina was the Independent Or Circular Church in Charleston, founded about 1680. The original members were from England, New England and
French Protestants who were evicted from France following the revocation of the Edict of Nantez. By 1740's several other Dissenter Congregations existed. Pon Pon, Beech Hill,
Willtown, Edisto Island, St. Johns Island, Ashepoo  were all on the Edisto River in Colleton County. Dorchester on the Ashley River, Wappetaw/Seewee on the Wando River, St. James Goose Creek, and Cainhoy in Berkley were other congregations existing by 1740. The register of Rev. John Baxter based out of Cainhoy shows that he preached from January 1733 - 1734 in Charleston, Cainhoy, Williamsburg, Dorchester, Willtown, on the Santee, James Island, Winyaw, John's Island, Black River, Waccamah Township, on the Pee Dee at Mrs. Brittons, Waccamah Neck, and at Col. Lynches (History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, by George Howe, p. 204).

Once the Puritans were in the new colonies more fractures appeared. These fractures reflected the divisions within the Church in England. Some religious leaders wanted to remove the Bishops and create a Presbyterian style of church government which resembled the Scottish Church. A result was the creation of the Congregational and Presbyterian movements. Both which showed up in the Dissenting congregations in South Carolina. The Circular Church rotated pastors between both Congregational and Presbyterian schools (South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 71, p. 276). They finally separated into two congregations with the completion of the First Scots Presbyterian Meeting House in 1731.

Other Religious Dissenters active in the colonial time period were Quakers and Baptists or Anabaptists. Quakers were among the earliest settlers of South Carolina. Many of the immigrants were from Barbados (Mayo, Pike, Flewelling) and Bermuda (Basden, Crosse, Bayley, Rawlings). William F. Medlin published an account of early South Carolina families entitled Quaker Families of South Carolina and Georgia.

Remnants of the early records were sparsely kept. The Quaker records were maintained for the Charleston Meeting from 1680 through 1786. The Quaker's meetings were held in private homes until 1715 when a meeting house was built in Charleston. Many of the early members were buried in the Friends Burying ground. By 1791 there were only 15 members in Charleston. Other Quaker meetings in South Carolina were Bush River Monthly Meeting, Newberry County, South Carolina estab. 1770 and Cain Creek Monthly Meeting, Union County, South Carolina estab. 1775 which in 1809 were merged with New Garden Monthly Meeting. Many of the members of Bush River and Cain Creek had moved to Ohio.

The Piney Grove Monthly Meeting, Marlborough County South Carolina began around 1755. Pee Dee, Gum Swamp and Piney Grove, all Meetings on the North - South Carolina border, were transferred to the Deep River Monthly Meeting; and in 1809 were part of New Garden Monthly meeting.

More information on the Quaker Meetings may be found in Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy Volume 1, North Carolina, by William Wade Hinshaw .

Baptists were another early group of Religious Dissenters in South Carolina. They were in the Colony by 1670. An Excellent reference on the history of the Baptists in South Carolina,
South Carolina Baptists 1670 - 1805, by Leah Townshed. Many of the Baptist communities were on the Frontier, but there was at least one congregation in Charleston.

In 1734 a large group of Baptists moved from the Welch Neck area of Pennsylvania, now Delaware, to the Pee Dee River. They created St. David's Parish and established the Welsh Neck settlement. Some of the names associated with settlement include Perkins, Reese, and Lucas (this not the family from the low Country exemplified by Eliza Lucas Pickney).

The Historical Records for the South Carolina Baptist Convention are housed at Furman University. The library may be accessed at


The Charleston synagogue was established in 1749. Its associated Cemetery, Coming Street Cemetery established 1762 is located 10 blocks away from the Synagog.


The Methodist Church, as with the Congregational Church, was established to reform the existing Church of England rather than provide an alternative religion. Methodists first appeared in the province when visited by the Wesley brothers in 1736 but no congregation was established until the 1770's. Members of the Methodist Church were still considered members of the Church of England. It wasn't until the December 1784 - January 1785 Conference that the Methodist Episcopal Church was established as a separate entity.

If you have any questions contact
Deborah Byrd

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