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St. Thomas & St. Denis Church — Cainhoy, South Carolina

SC Picture Project  |  Berkeley County  |  St. Thomas & St. Denis Church

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St. Thomas & St. Denis Church

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.

Saint Thomas and Saint Denis

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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.

St. Thomas & St. Dennis Episcopal Church

Bill Segars of Hartsville, 2006 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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.

Saint Denis

Pamela Talbird of Charleston, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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.

St. Thomas and St. Denis Interior

Dawnita Hall of North Charleston, 2019 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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.

St. Thomas and St. Denis in Spring

Dawnita Hall of North Charleston, 2019 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Pompion Hill Chapel, though older than St. Thomas, became the Chapel of Ease for the parish in 1747. The church of St. Thomas and St. Denis is listed in the National Register:

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 and St. Dennis Vestry House

Bill Segars of Hartsville, 2006 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Thomas and St. Dennis Vestry House Detail

Bill Segars of Hartsville, 2006 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: Historic Images

St. Thomas Church Historic Photo

South Caroliniana Library, Works Progress Administration, 1930-1940

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: Interior Images

Saint Thomas Saint Denis Interior

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Thomas and St. Denis Window

Dawnita Hall of North Charleston, 2019 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Thomas St. Denis Altar

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Saint Thomas Saint Denis Balcony

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Thomas St. Denis Balcony View

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Door at St. Thomas and St. Dennis

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: More Pictures

St. Thomas Marker

Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

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

Take Me There

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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31 Comments about St. Thomas & St. Denis Church

SC Picture Project says:
December 17th, 2018 at 11:02 pm

Hello Albert, first off we want to apologize we have not reached back out. We switched servers and had some trials that went along with that and unfortunately did lose some information in the process. If you wouldn’t mind, would you email them to use once more at share@scpictureproject.org? We are so sorry for the frustration but would absolutely be delighted to see these! Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Albert Balzano says:
December 17th, 2018 at 3:09 pm

As noted below I donated two original sermons for this church. I found three more earlier this year. I sent a combination of three emails, a formal letter and even emailed the webmaster trying to get in touch with someone to donate these three as well; all sent to to the contacts on this page. Zero replies. Sad that they do not want these other three original sermons.

The Huguenot Immigrants - American Tapestry says:
June 7th, 2018 at 12:16 pm

[…] South Carolina Picture Project […]

SCIWAY says:
April 11th, 2018 at 9:59 pm

Wow, what an experience that must have been! Did the church hold up well during the storm? We bet it was creepy hearing those noises in such an old place!

John Slayton says:
April 11th, 2018 at 4:43 pm

I had the honor of living at St. Thomas & St. Denis as the caretaker, along with my family, from 1988 until 2002. We rode out 1989 Hurricane Hugo in the church.

Richard Hayes says:
April 6th, 2018 at 8:15 pm

My 6th great grandmother was born here in 1691!

John Auld says:
September 28th, 2017 at 10:05 am

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s I had the honor of being the Acolyte for the Rev. Mike Ollic for several services at this church.

Albert Balzano says:
February 14th, 2017 at 2:32 pm

It was my pleasure to donate in December, 2016 and again in February, 2017 to St. Thomas and St. Denis, 1706, two handwritten sermons I found in my document collection for Saint Thomas Parish Church. The 1845 sermon was for the “1st Sunday after Christmas,” entitled “The Way of Holiness.” The other sermon was dated “Nov 30th ’51” for “The Feast of St. Andrews,” entitled “The Life and Times of St. Andrews, Apostle & Martyr.” Both refer to the “Parish Church of St. Thomas” under the titles and just before the dates.

Stephanie Easler says:
July 8th, 2016 at 10:13 am

We have visited years ago and there was a caretaker to let us in. Is there still a caretaker? Are visitors still welcome? It’s (and many others!) a beautful little church! Thank you.

Mike Hundley says:
June 23rd, 2016 at 1:01 pm

My wife and I were married in that church .

Nancy Jeffords Reece says:
March 25th, 2016 at 2:36 pm

My 5th great-grandparents, John Jeffords (Jeffers) and Margaret Howard, were married here Aug 12, 1714. Their Children John, Ann ,and Daniel were baptized here. I was born in South Carolina but live in Washington State now. I hope to come visit one day as I never got to see it when I was living or visiting there before.

Kristopher H. Koechling says:
December 26th, 2015 at 3:54 pm

My fifth great grandfather, John Russ, is buried in the cemetery of this church (d. 1789). I would love to visit sometime. What is the proper protocol for this?

Elizabeth DeVane says:
November 29th, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Today, Nov.29, there will be an evensong service at 4:00 with a barbeque afterwards. Cost of meal 25.00. Rev. Chris Warner will be preaching.

Elizabeth DeVane says:
November 29th, 2015 at 11:09 am

There is to be an evensong service there at 4:00today Nov.29 and a barbeque for $25. Rev. Chris Warner is preaching and he is a great preacher. He is the rector at Holy Cross Church on Sullivans Island. Holy Cross has oversight of this parish.

SCIWAY says:
November 11th, 2015 at 9:11 am

We suggest contacting someone from the Huguenot Society: http://www.huguenotsociety.org/

Best of luck!

Shelley Russell Germeaux says:
November 10th, 2015 at 11:05 pm

My husband just stopped by there today as he is on a business trip to Charleston for the first time in his life. I gave him the detailed directions as given here. The gate was open but big dogs came out from all directions barking at him, so he did not try and look at the graveyard. Is there a caretaker of this church who would take you in (safely) if I get to visit at a later date?

Anne Milligan says:
April 22nd, 2015 at 8:58 am

Hello: Is there a list of the people buried at this church cemetery? Thank you.

Patrick Butler says:
April 15th, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Pretty Church, we need to visit.

Clayton Causey says:
September 14th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I’m a descendant of Huguenots through the Vereens of Little River and a professional French translator. If anyone needs to translate any old documents in Huguenot French please feel free to contact me (p.clayton.d.causey@gmail.com). Thanks.

Marty Vie Brooks says:
July 18th, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Is the cemetery ever open for visitors?

SCIWAY says:
July 8th, 2014 at 4:47 am

The church is on private property, so it would be a good idea to ask someone from the Huguenot Society of South Carolina first.

Dru says:
July 7th, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I stopped by here today after passing by it a couple times. The gate was chained up. Am I allowed to walk around the grounds or do I need to call someone ahead of time?

Ann Mitchell Horne says:
May 19th, 2014 at 10:14 am

The parish records of St. Thomas & St. Denis of South Carolina record the marriage of Moses Milliken and Mary Murrell on 9 September 1721. These are my ancestors. A. Horne

Shelley Germeaux says:
April 12th, 2014 at 2:53 pm

John Adkins – The “Annals of St. Thomas and Denis Parish” have the marriage records, you can look that up with the library I presume. I have records of my ancestors’ births and burials dating to the 1700s, in these parish records. My ancestors were the Russells and Akins who lived west of the church on the river, part of it is where Nucor Steel is now.

My question is, are there graves dating to the 1700s still in the church yard? According to records, this is where my ancestor Jeremiah Russell is buried, 1748.

Judy says:
February 11th, 2014 at 8:02 pm

We were married there in 1993 when they were in the process of restoring it. Great memories.

Joann Hunter says:
July 9th, 2013 at 1:44 pm

What is the address at the church? All of my family is there, including my grandmother and my mom. I would like to come pay my respects.

John Adkins says:
January 21st, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I’m searching for marriage records from St. Thomas Parish for the marriage of Jacob Nathaniel Lord and Mary Elizabeth Tarbox on or about March 30, 1808. We believe the marriage was officiated by Rev. Nankevil. Any thoughts on where to find these marriage records? Thanks.

Nick Gardner says:
October 8th, 2012 at 7:52 am

We found it the next day and really enjoyed exploring… Too many of the markers from our time frame was beyond recognition to find any of the Russ graves…. Thanks so much!

Heather Morehouse says:
October 6th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Nick–I just passed by the church today and was curious about it, and after googleing it, found this site. To get to the church (and of course this depends on where you’re coming from): take 526 to Clements Ferry Road (North) and go an estimated 7-8 miles before turning left at Cainhoy Road (there’s a traffic light). Follow Cainhoy for maybe 2 miles (again an estimate!) and the church will be hard to spot on your left. The drive is gated, but there’s a historical marker & you can just see the church while passing by.

Hope you can find it!

Nick Gardner says:
September 7th, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I have looked for this St. Thomas church and cannot find it, I think may have ancestors buried there. I need directions…

February 20th, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Does St Thomas have an active congregation and if so when are the masses celebrated?


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