Built in 1819, the St. Thomas & St. Denis Church – also called White Church or Brick Church – still stands on the banks of the Wando River near Cainhoy in Berkeley County. It replaced an older church which was built on the site about 1708, but which burned during a forest fire in the spring of 1815.
St. Thomas and St. Denis were originally separate parishes, both established after the Church of England became the Province of Carolina’s official church in 1706. St. Denis, which was French, was actually located inside St. Thomas, which was Anglican. St. Denis was not officially dissolved until 1768, though for all intents and purposes the two had merged decades earlier. In 1784 the name St. Denis was revived and incorporated into the parish title.
French Protestants came to this area in the late 1600s, having fled France as refugees upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. A variety of causes led them to merge with the Anglican church after just 20 years, including both assimilation and poverty. That said, the Huguenots were able to retain many of their own religious traditions and initially continued to conduct services in their native tongue.
Nevertheless the transition to Episcopacy was not easy, and the residents of this area (then known as Orange Quarter or French Quarter) left the Anglican church in 1716 and again in the 1720s. At this time they worshiped in a small wooden church to the north of St. Thomas, which had previously been the parish church of St. Denis. They attempted to join the Huguenot church in Charleston but were rejected because they had previously accepted Anglican terms. As a result, the Dissenters had no choice but to return to the Episcopal church.
The St. Thomas & St. Denis Church is built of brick and covered by stucco. When it was active, it was also known as Brick Church, distinguishing it from the wooden church at St. Denis. Thomas Hasell, a missionary at St. Thomas, described the building in a 1716 letter:
[A] strong and well finished Piece of Brick work but very small and not above thirty-seven feet an half in length and twenty seven and an half in Breadth. There is a handsome porch on each side, upon Columns Painted double doors on south and north Sides opposite to one another, with a single door at the West End all Glazed on the Tops, as also the upper part of the windows, the inside of the Church is furnished with a handsome Pulpit Reading Desk some Pews a Communion Table neatly railed in all of Cedar Wood, the rest of the floor is filled up with common seats and the Iles are Paved… The Church was built at the charge of the publick out of a certain fund raised by an Imposition laid on Skins and furs by an act of the General Assembly passed Nov 4, 1704 and appropriated by the said Act for the Building of Churches, Parsonage houses.
White Church, or St. Thomas & St. Dennis Parish Episcopal Church, was constructed in 1819 and occupies the site of the older parish church of St. Thomas, which was built about 1706 but which burned in 1815. During the Reconstruction period, the church was the scene of the 1876 “Cainhoy Massacre,” a serious riot between whites and blacks which developed when some white men from Charleston journeyed to Cainhoy to attend a Negro Republican meeting. The blacks fired upon the white men with guns they had hidden in a vault at St. Thomas churchyard. The church, charming in its simplicity of design, is a uniquely beautiful example of a small, rural parish church of the early 1800s. The church, with its Classical Revival or late Federal features, is made of stucco over brick with a medium gable roof made of tile. A high-arched doorway with a fanlight capped by a five-panel arch is set between pilasters. The side facades are identical. A balcony above the inside door was added about 1858. In 1937 the church was restored by Henry F. Guggenheim. An unusual and distinctive auxiliary building is the vestry, with hipped roof on one end and chimney on the other, giving the appearance of a half-completed building. A cemetery dating from 1782 is included in the nomination.
St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: Vestry House
St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: Historic Images
St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: Interior Images
St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: More Pictures
Reflections on St. Thomas and St. Denis
Harriott Cheves Leland, archivist for the Huguenot Society of South Carolina, adds the following helpful information: “There were two congregations before the Church Act – the Anglicans and the French – and St. Denis was set up to include the French who were allowed to conduct services in French (provided they used the Anglican liturgy) and to have French-speaking ministers (provided those ministers were sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) and ordained in the Anglican church). That said, both French Santee and Orange Quarter appear to have done what they wanted to, and they did not use the Anglican liturgy – but they didn’t have prayer books to use either, at least at first. They both were reprimanded by the SPG representatives in Carolina and by Commissioner Garden and there were several periods of difficulty.”
St. Thomas & St. Denis Church Info
Address: 1513 Cainhoy Road, Charleston, SC 29492
GPS Coordinates: 32.960630,-79.857334
St. Thomas & St. Denis Church Map
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