History

The Site

Before humans dominated the land, local wildlife would cross what we now know as Chapel Creek at the shallow spot found along the edge of this property. Predators followed prey, and soon the Native Americans began to follow the hunt as well. 

During the first decades of English settlement in Carolina, colonial adventurers traced the Native American footpath along the spine of the Charleston peninsula in pursuit of trade with tribes deep in the interior of the Carolina colony. Slouching pack animals carried imported manufactured items outbound and trudged back with deerskins and peltries bound for the port of Charles Town and European markets.

The Camp 

Most traders walked the entire way, reserving each expensive pack animal for the heavy bundles strapped across their sturdy spines. These beasts of burden sometimes galled after 20 miles of toil, and many traders routinely removed the bundles and rested here, 22 miles from the port, at what became known as “the camp.”

A young trader and adventurer named George Chicken led five burdened ponies in pursuit of his fortune and spent many lonely nights at the campsite. He assayed nearby wetlands, imagined the possibilities and soon successfully applied for a small portion of farmland. When he brought his 17-year old bride, Catherine Bellamy, with her large expanse of farm land to their union, their combined plantation included the familiar overnight camp ground.

The Yemassee War

By the time the Chicken family settled into their little cabin, the lucrative native trade devolved dangerously into the insidious export of Native Americans. For years, tethered lines of enslaved souls languished at the camp waiting for sunrise to commence the last leg of the journey to the ships in Charleston Harbor. That sordid enterprise returned fortunes but it also forged the indigenous tribes into a confederacy that conspired to push the English into the sea.

The conflagration known as the Yemassee War fared badly for the English until warriors threatened Goose Creek. Then, black and white settlers, many from Chicken’s plantation, fortified the old camp site with crude ramparts and stubbornly thwarted a large tribal incursion. They turned the war party away toward Col. George Chicken, who led the Goose Creek militia in an ambush that crushed the natives two days later. 

St. James, Goose Creek Chapel of Ease

After that harrowing conflict, George Chicken declared the site "sacred ground" and donated his fortified camp as a chapel of ease site for the St. James Goose Creek Parish. Anglican parishioners sometimes erected chapels as a convenience for parishioners residing far from the parish church and the old camp fortress was well suited for a house of prayer. It was convenient to many families and featured high ground with a reliable spring, but moreover the sacred ground sheltered the remains of volunteers who perished atop the fortress walls and saved Goose Creek and arguably, the entire colony, from destruction.

Workers delivered bricks and masons shaped the cruciform house of worship until the Rev. Richard Ludlam led the initiation mass on a joyful spring morning in 1725. A tradition of bi-monthly services followed until the brooding years of the American Revolution. As that war approached, an increasing number of Carolinians sullied all things British and by the time the invading army of Red Coats marched past the chapel door in 1780, the beams of the tottering structure bowed ominously under the weight of the rotted roof. Some archaeological evidence suggests the chapel may have burned around this time, perhaps by the British.

Bethlehem Baptist Church

Patriots and Loyalists alike interred loved ones in the shade of the ancient forest for decades after that, but the defeat of the British sealed the fate of the little Anglican sanctuary allowing it to molder in the sullen forest until energetic Baptists breathed life back into the storied place. The Rev. Matthew McCullers traveled to the old fortress where the chapel fell and a heap of bricks marked the site. He prayed in the woods with eight “brethren” on June 13, 1812, and organized the Bethlehem Baptist Church.

The energetic congregation hammered together a 20' x 30' clapboard house of prayer contiguous to the crumbled chapel using a few of the tumbled bricks for the foundation and steps. Then the congregants filled the countryside with soul-lifting hymns, shared the holy gospel, baptized new members, married hopeful couples, and expanded the cemetery as needed. They also consorted with the defunct St. James, Goose Creek Parish vestry to provide a teacher for the poorer children of the neighborhood even as the drum beat to another great war hastened and Union soldiers invaded their lands.

After the Civil War the congregation abandoned their ancient cemetery to cluster in Groomsville near the Strawberry Rail Road Depot. The men disassembled the wooden church, pulled the sections on carts 4.5 miles, rebuilt it with new doors and window sashes, and renamed it “Groomsville Baptist Church.” The renovation infused new energy into the little congregation, but it consigned the St. James, Goose Creek Chapel of Ease | Bethlehem Baptist Church cemetery to the mercy of the elements until the dawn of the 21st century. 

The Site Today

Centuries-old tombstones and brick crypts invite curious visitors to the unkempt forest, and shallow trenches trace the vague foot print of the cruciform chapel, but many more clues remain hidden that spawn innumerable tales of Carolinians of the ages and generations to come.  

A committee was formed by the
Berkeley Chamber of Commerce to protect and preserve the site and tell the story of the people for whom this site was such a significant part of their lives and the American story.  In 2014, this committee became recognized as an independent non-profit organization with 501 c(3) status.  All donations of money, time, assistance and best wishes are appreciated as we divulges the secrets of that holy ground and discover the history that created Berkeley County, S.C.



Subpages (1): Virtual Tour
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