Capitols & churches: the Church of South Carolina

imageBy Gary Flanagan

As one of the original 13 colonies, South Carolina owes much of its early history to the crown of England. In 1663, the first owners began to establish roots in Charleston as it became the first capital. The Church of England was established as the first official Church of South Carolina in 1706. Up until 1778, all of the basic religious expenses were covered by taxpayers. At this point, the South Carolina Constitution disestablished the church. The next 15 years of transition from the old capital in Charleston to the new one in Columbia scattered church ties.

The new capital in 1790 was no more than a village at a crossroad in the middle of the state. Slowly but surely, different denominations started to appear. First Presbyterian Church, Washington Street Methodist Church and the Baptists, all set up shop on Marion St. a couple of blocks northeast of the new capital buildings. Missing from the equation were any remnants of the original Church of England. However, that changed with the arrival of Rev. Theodore Dehon in 1807.

Dehon, elected to Bishop four years later, saw the need to reestablish an Episcopal presence where state government and the newly founded South Carolina College where already in place. He formed the following organization (which is quite the tongue twister): the Protestant Episcopal Society for the Advancement of Christianity in South Carolina., or S.A.C. for short.

S.A.C. wasted little time. They elected a missionary to spend six months in the town reviewing what could be done to advance S.A.C. interests. They spread the word, organized 11 esteemed members of the community and started to influence the General Assembly. The Assembly donated four lots on Marion Street to be divided between the newly formed Episcopal and the previously established Presbyterian. Straws were drawn and suddenly the Episcopalians were the new owners of property on Sumter Street between the previously established Marion Street churches and the capitol grounds.

In 1814, S.A.C. laid the cornerstone for Trinity Episcopal Cathedral which majestically stands to this day, just east of the South Carolina State House.

Construction on the State House began in 1851, but was slow to be complete, eventually finishing in 1907. Defective materials, changing architects, the Civil War and reconstruction poverty all contributed to the slow pace.

There are six bronze stars placed around the state house marking the spots were Sherman’s Union Army cannons hit the building. You will notice the Greek revival style similar to the capitols we have already visited on this trip.

Church and state history in South Carolina is a story of domination, perseverance, reestablishment and now peaceful co-existence. Tennessee Star Journal readers can make the short five-hour trip and explore this separation of state and church themselves. This writer will continue his southern march next week in yet another state that moved an original capital from the coastline to the center of the state.

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