Categories: Berkeley County

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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

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

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: Historic Images


South Caroliniana Library, Works Progress Administration, 1930-1940

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: Interior Images


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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church: More Pictures


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



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  • I read about this church. I'm descendants of Capt. William Capers and Ellison Capers. My name is Sabrina Hill. My grandma was Bertha Slater Capers Hill.

  • Great site, thank you for this. I'm a direct descendant of the Estienne Mounier and Louis Dutarque families who were original members. I just rode up there a few weeks ago; the church is still beautiful, but it saddened me seeing the explosive development nearby. I hope there are efforts to protect & preserve as much of the area as possible. I pray they at least keep that road from being widened.

    • Eric, we are with you 100%. Widened roads only make matters worse. This phenomenon is called induced demand. Thank you for your kind words about the site!

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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