St. David’s Episcopal Church in Cheraw formed in 1768. Members named their church for the Patron Saint of Wales to honor the native country of many Cheraw settlers. Construction on the building began in 1770, and it was the last Anglican church in South Carolina built under the rule of King George III. The church was used as a hospital in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
St. David’s became Episcopalian in 1819, and in 1826 members renovated the sanctuary. Ninety years later, in 1916, the church moved to its present Market Street location. The Chesterfield County Historic Preservation Commission now owns and maintains the old St. David’s church building.
Cheraw’s former Director of Tourism and Community Development, David Sides, shares the following: “The center section of Old St. David’s Church is very similar to how it appeared upon completion in 1774. The last parish established under King George the Third, the church’s box pews have been reconstructed, and the high pulpit, made of polished black walnut, was reconstructed following research on surviving pulpits throughout South Carolina. The stair handrail is the original.”
Mr. Sides continues, “Anglican churches of this period were very plain with the primary focus on the preaching rather than the altar. The pews all face the pulpit, and most likely there was no lighting or heat. The stairs leading up to the slave gallery were moved to the new vestibule [during the church’s renovation] in 1826. The interior shutters were installed in 1856.”
The churchyard of Old St. David’s also shares a rich history. Pictured below is the first monument ever erected in honor of Confederate veterans who lost their lives in the Civil War. According to Mr. Sides, the monument was placed on the grounds of St. David’s in 1867 by a coalition of Cheraw women; it deliberately omitted any mention of the Confederacy as Union troops still occupyied the town. The inscription is taken from General Stonewall Jackson’s last words: “We have crossed over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.”
St. David’s Church left the Episcopal Church in 2013 and now belongs to the Anglican Church in North America. The new St. David’s Church on Market Street can be seen in the photo below.
St. David’s Episcopal Church is listed in the National Register:
One of the states’ few remaining pre-Revolutionary War church buildings, Saint David’s Parish was established by act of General Assembly 1768 and named for the patron saint of Wales, from which many Cheraw settlers had come. The building was used as a hospital during both the American Revolution and Civil War. The church is a unique example of eighteenth century meeting house construction. The original 1770-1773 frame building has entrances on the south side and west end, five windows on one side, six on the other and two at the east end. In the early 1800s a vestibule and square steeple were added at the western end. The steeple rising from the gable ridge pole possesses diminishing sections with louvered openings—sections are surrounded by wooden parapets with corner pinnacles, all surmounted by a cross. There are dentils under the cornice of each section.
More Pictures of St. David’s Church
Detailed History of St. David’s Church
Below is an article that was contributed to the South Carolina Picture Project by Bill Segars of Hartsville. It originally appeared in his local paper, The Darlington New & Press. It was published in September of 2015.
Today’s featured church is entitled “Old St. David’s Church” for the simple reason that in the colonial Town of Cheraw, there are two St. David’s church buildings – this one, which is 241 years old, and the “new one,” which is 99 years old. Imagine a congregation worshiping in a 99-year-old “new building.” That’s a congregation with deep roots.
Those deep roots date back to the early colonial Anglican parish system. When Carolina was first settled in 1670 under English rule, the coastal area was divided into 10 parishes by the Church Act of 1706. The boundary lines for these parishes were drawn from the coast towards the unsettled western part of Carolina based on population. These boundary lines not only designated which church the citizens attended, they were also the governmental boundary lines. The Vestry Men were not just the “Deacons” of the church, they were also the forerunners of our politicians; they controlled the parish. As Carolina’s population grew, those 10 parishes were subdivided into 21 parishes. Each of these parishes had a Parish Church and many had multiple Chapels of Ease, depending on land size.
Why is this information important to St. David’s, you may ask? When St. David’s was established on April 12, 1768, it became the last parish to be established by the Anglican Church of England in South Carolina. Being the good historian that you are, you certainly know the significance of July 4, 1776, and the subsequent Revolutionary War that followed. The dots that you may not have connected with this are that when the colonies won their independence from England in 1783, they also dissolved the connection that the colonial Anglican churches had with the Church of England. Those Anglican churches, including St. David’s, automatically became protestant Episcopal churches.
Another visual effect of American’s independence was that the parish system was abolished, and their boundary lines became known as districts in 1785. Between 1785 and 1868 South Carolina did have a mixture of parish, district, and county names; however, districts were the true judicial order. After the War between the States, South Carolina adopted the county system with 31 counties at that time. These were later subdivided into the 46 counties we know today.
That’s enough of that – let’s get back to the beautiful 1774 St. David’s building. The first contract was signed between the Vestry and a carpenter by the name of Thomas Bingham to build a meeting house-style building with a jerkinhead roof line. If that’s a new word for you, look it up, or we will talk more about it later with other church buildings. Its origin is interesting. The building was to be a simple building, 30 feet wide by 43 feet long, and was to cost £2,600. I can tell you what 2,600 pounds of sterling is worth today – $4,011 – but I don’t have a clue as to what it was worth in 1774. At any rate, the original church building was not a fancy Anglican church building typically seen in the Lowcountry. Remember, this area was in the poorer, backwoods portion of the colony. The building is located on the west side of the Pee Dee River on land that was owned by Ely Kershaw, who owned most of the land in present-day Cheraw. The building was used in 1772, but it was not finished until 1774.
The interior is also simple, yet includes all the elements of an Anglican Church building. Features include box pews for the congregants, a wine-glass pulpit with a sounding board off to the side, and a fitting alter at the head of the aisle in the center of the building. Mr. Neil Meetze was commissioned to build the black walnut wine-glass pulpit. He was given explicate instructions to go to Georgetown, make a drawing of Prince George Winyah‘s pulpit, return, and build it – which he did. He built an exact copy. As fate would have it, in 1782 the interior of Prince George Winyah was completely burned by the British as they retreated. When the congregation began restoring the interior of their church, what did they do? They sent a carpenter to Cheraw to copy St. David’s pulpit. Both are very similar today.
St. David’s building was used during the Revolutionary War by both the South Carolina militia and Lord Cornwallis’ army as quarters and a hospital. A number of militia troops and British troops who died while encamped here are buried side-by-side in the large graveyard at St. David’s. After the Revolutionary War the people of the area became disinterested in anything British, including the Anglican Church, so St. David’s closed as an Anglican or Episcopal Church. For decades Baptists and Presbyterians used the building for their services. It is written that the two preachers would race to the pulpit on Sundays to see who could use it first. On February 17, 1785, circuit-riding Methodist preacher Francis Asbury delivered his first service in South Carolina here.
In 1819 the Episcopal Church regained control of the building for its own services, and by 1826 the membership had increased enough to make improvements and enlarge the beloved little meeting house. They added the present vestibule with steps going up to the balcony and the three-tiered steeple. Like the Revolutionary War, the War between the States brought changes to the building. Confederate and Union troops used the church as a hospital. The year 1883 brought more renovations, including the addition of the Vestry Room on the rear of the building, which gives us the present configuration of the building. A cross was placed on the steeple at that time as well.
The Episcopal faith saw tremendous growth in the Cheraw area due to a couple of rectors who served St. David’s and went on to become Episcopal Bishops. The Right Reverend Alexander Gregg went on to serve as the first Episcopal Bishop of Texas, and the Right Reverend Albert Thomas as Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The Reverend Thomas was the last rector to serve at the Old St. David’s. Along with his pulpit-preaching talents, he also designed the present brick Gothic St. David’s Episcopal Church building at 420 Market Street in Cheraw.
Since the congregation moved out of the original church in 1916, several interested groups have maintained and restored the wonderful building for us to enjoy today. The present owner of the building is the Chesterfield County Historical Preservation Commission, which restored the church to its present splendor in the 1970s. Most of my information was obtained from research that this commission has done and published in a pamphlet about St. David’s.
One of the many fine attributes of the South is our willingness to share, along with our trusting nature. If you would like to visit Old St. David’s at 91 Church Street in downtown Cheraw to see and experience what you have just read about, stop by the Cheraw Visitors Bureau at 221 Market Street. The people there will give you a key to the church; how much more trusting can that be? If you’re real lucky, Mrs. Sara Spruill may be there, and she can tell you much more about her favorite topic, St. David’s Episcopal Church. Enjoy your trip to Cheraw.
Reflections on St. David’s Church
Photographer Ron Stafford of Cheraw shares his experiences capturing his image of the vestibule seen on the page: “I took this photo for a class project at the University of South Carolina for my reference class. It shows a blend of the colonial and antebellum nature of St.David’s. Beyond the arch, the original door, is the Colonial section of the church. The vestibule was added around 1820. I never remember not knowing about St. David’s; she is the place I go to think. This day I was rushing to get a few photos I needed for a project when I noticed the light and how it was illuminating the back wall. It made me feel warm and cozy.”