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Indian Field Campground — St. George, South Carolina

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Indian Field Campground

Indian Field Campground (also known as Indian Fields) in St. George hosts an annual United Methodist revival. The camp was established prior to 1810 on farmland two miles from its current location. Because the antebellum revival movement attracted such large crowds, traveling celebrants soon outgrew the original site. The camp, which gets its name from nearby Indian Field United Methodist Church, moved to the present 10-acre site in 1838. The buildings were completed a decade later.

Indian Field Tents Exterior

Shown here are the nearly adjoining tent facades with rustic front porches,
(Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The camp consists of a central open-air tabernacle which seats 1,000 people. Revivals, or camp meetings as they are now called, last for roughly a week and are held here each fall. The 99 cabins (called “tents”) in which participants stay surround the tabernacle in a circular shape to symbolize the spirit of a shared religious experience.

Indian Field Historic

This ariel view of Indian Fields was captured sometime in or after 1933.
(Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS SC-595 35, c. 1933)

Though the accommodations have been upgraded with water and electricity, the rudimentary design remains intact. The tents were built in a simple fashion, with a one- or two-room sleeping loft above another bedroom and a cooking and eating area downstairs.

Indian Field Tent Interior

The ground floors of tents are covered in hay. Large dining tables accommodate many guests.
(James Boone of Columbia, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

The ground floor is covered in hay, as seen above. Tents have front porches where people can sit and converse with neighbors, and each tent has its own separate privy in the back. The tents were designed not for comfort but for community, and people are encouraged to stay outside instead of inside between sermons.

Indian Field Outhouses

Outhouses stand behind tents, which have no indoor plumbing.
(Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

Camp meetings occur the first week of October. Children in school commute to class during the week, but many adults simply take time off work. It is common for people to hire local cooks to help them with meals during the annual meeting. Most cooks drive to the camp each day, though some stay in tents with the families.

Indian Field Methodist Camp

This scene shows the arc of the tents as it encircles the tabernacle.
(Brandon Coffey of Charleston, 2016 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

Indian Field Campground continues a long religious tradition in rural South Carolina. Bishop Francis Asbury, the founder of Methodism in America, preached in small communities across the state on his riding circuit. Several other campgrounds remain active, including Cattle Creek Methodist Campground in neighboring Orangeburg County.

Indian Field in St. George

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

By far the largest number are located in Dorchester County, however. Like Indian Fields, Cypress Methodist Campground in Ridgeville serves white congregants. Shady Grove Methodist Campground, also in St. George, and St. Paul Campground, in Harleyville, serve African-American congregants. In Williamsburg County, Hemingway Interdenominational Campground hosts Christians of various faiths. It is far newer than the other campgrounds, having been founded in the 1960s.

Indian Field Methodist Camp

Worshippers listen to a hymn in the tabernacle.
(James Boone of Columbia, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent)

Tents at Indian Fields and other campgrounds are passed down from generation to generation. While the fevered preaching of the nineteenth century has been replaced with more of what one might experience in a modern United Methodist church, camp meetings remain a popular way for people to rejuvenate their church communities and their spirituality.

Indian Field Campground Pews

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

Indian Field Campground is listed in the National Register:

Architecturally, the design of Indian Fields reflects its use as a setting for a collective religious experience. A sense of community is heightened by the circle of adjacent cabins. Constructed in 1848, Indian Fields Methodist Camp Ground retains the nineteenth century layout of ninety-nine wooden cabins, or tents as they are called, which form a circle around a large wooden pavilion, the preaching stand or tabernacle.

The simplicity of the rough-hewn cabins and the open tabernacle is a part of the unpretentious style of evangelism that attracted a popular following. The original Indian Fields Camp Ground, located two miles away, was functional as early as 1810. In this year, Francis Asbury, who led the organization of American Methodism through itinerant preaching known as “riding circuits,” preached at Indian Fields. Even after many other stops on the circuits had become established churches, the meeting camp retained a tremendous influence on the development of religious life. Serving crowds too large for church buildings or homes, the campground responded to both religious and social needs. The ambiance of an antebellum campground such as Indian fields was a unique part of the American collective experience.

Detailed History of Indian Field Campground

The article below 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 November of 2015.

In last week’s article I mentioned a term that many of you may not be familiar with. Those of you who are somewhat familiar with camp meetings may not be aware of the history of these gatherings. Most denominations have places or services for intense inspiration: retreats, conferences, or revivals. Many Methodists find that inspiration in camp meetings. For some reason, most of these South Carolina campgrounds are located in the Dorchester area. Of the seven that I know of in South Carolina, four are found in Dorchester County.

Campgrounds had their origin in the early 19th century as a place to hold special services conducted by circuit-riding preachers. Very often their “fire and brimstone” sermons would bring in more people than a house or a church building could handle. People would come from the surrounding area for the services that would last for several days. The participants soon began putting up tents to stay overnight. These events not only met the citizens’ religious needs, the attendees also found social enjoyment in the gatherings. As an overnight stay increased to several nights, the tents gave way to crude wooden structures. Families built these buildings on the campground property, with the builder retaining ownership of the building for their annual use.

The excitement of emotionally-charged prayers and long, drawn-out hymns accompanied by home-trained musicians produced many “amens” and long services. These services would sometime last all day and into the night. With such long services, one can’t live off religion alone; they must have food. Everyone seemed to strive to outdo his neighbor with a heavily-laden table of food. When this excitement is combined with fine Southern food and Christian fellowship, it’s no wonder that Methodism grew exponentially in South Carolina.

One of the leading camp meeting locations in the early 1800s was Indian Fields Campground. Francis Asbury preached at a Indian Fields on December 21, 1801 and January 13, 1803. Even after many churches were established, Indian Fields and its camp-meeting style of revivals continued to be a tremendous influence in the development of the religious life in rural South Carolina. The original Indian Fields Campground was located about two miles from the present Indian Fields. More and more buildings – known as “tents” – were built there with very little planning or order. In 1848, a 10-acre tract was obtained just off United States Highway 15 near Saint George with the stipulation that a meeting be held once every two years. That has not been a problem since then.

The layout of Indian Fields is based on the biblical story of the Israelites erecting tents, representing the tribes of Israel, encircling a tabernacle. So today there is a 690-foot diameter circle of 99 tents surrounding a 68-foot-by-95-foot open-air tabernacle in the center. The tents are identical in basic design. Although they may vary in details, and most have been repaired over time, they continue to retain their original rustic unfinished weatherboard appearance. Each has a shed roof on the front supported by three rough-hewn wooden posts. Doorways are typically placed on the extreme left or right with the remainder of the front facade having spaced wooden slates for ventilation. The only other sources of ventilation or light are small, shutter-covered window holes in the gable of the second floor walls. Notice I didn’t use the word “glass”; there is no glass in these window holes.

On the rear of the tent is another shed-roofed area which houses the brick wood-burning stove. In recent years sinks have been added for washing hands and washing pots and plates. Do the words “stove” and “sink” sound like kitchen words? That because this is the kitchen area. Many families will bring their own cook to help prepare the meals that can feed as many as 20 or more people at each meal. There are stories told of cooks who have been coming to Indian Fields for 40 years. Think about it – experienced cook, large group of family and friends, the smell of hickory wood burning and cornbread frying on a black iron skillet. Can’t you just imagine the meal that you’re getting ready to eat?

A sense of close community living is heightened due to the fact that these tents are only two-to-three feet apart. Each year the owners of the tents look forward to seeing their “week-long neighbors” and visiting with their invited guests. Intermingling in the center of the circle is encouraged by all campers as each front porch has two wooden plank benches for sitting and talking. The simplicity of the rough-hewn tents and the open-air tabernacle is a part of the unpretentious style of evangelism that brings friends back year after year.

Socializing in the center courtyard is done not just because there’s more room there, but because it’s normally cooler outdoors than inside at this time of the year. The Indian Fields camp meetings are held during the first week of October. This week was established because in this farming community, this is typically the time when crops are gathered and it is time to give thanks for their harvest.

The interior of the tents consists of two eight-by-ten rooms on the first floor and one room on the second floor. Some larger families have three rooms on the first floor and two rooms on the second floor. A few items that the interior doesn’t have are doors, furniture, or flooring on the first floor. Privacy in the family unit is not important; seemingly nor is comfort. The feather mattresses that are brought from home fit on a wooden bed frame. The first floor consists of dirt covered with straw that is freshly laid for each year’s religious experience.

The only tent in the 99-tent circle that varies significantly from the others is the preacher’s tent. This one is larger, has glass in the windows and wooden doors. Do these incentives encourage anyone to become a preacher?

Has anyone noticed a subject that hasn’t been mentioned about 
”tenting” yet? Well, there’s not much to discuss about the outhouses. It’s a simple fact: there are 99 tin-roofed, four-foot-square functional outhouses on the property, one for each tent. I’ll allow you to determine what “functional” means.

Why have families enjoyed doing this for almost 200 years? Why do tent owners leave their tents to loved ones in their wills? Many words comes to mind: social life, traditions, fellowship, self-sacrifice, and love of family. But these words cannot withstand the test of time without divine intervention and the desire for one human to share his faith through actions with another human. Have you been yet?

Artistic Renderings of Indian Field Campground

Thomas Fulton currently resides in Walterboro but grew up in Grover, a surrounding community that participates in the traditions at Indian Field every October. Fulton is an artist and was kind enough to share some of his recollections as well as a few beautiful paintings he created from memories made at camp meetings.

Indian Field Campground Tents

Thomas Fulton of Walterboro, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

“The first time I went to Camp Meeting at the Indian Field Camp Ground was around the age of ten. My best friend’s grandmother had a tent. It was great fun promenading with friends on the campground as well as eating the delicious food. When the weather was cold, there was always an inviting fire to keep us warm.”

Indian Field Campground, rear view of tents

Thomas Fulton of Walterboro, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

“The main focus of the week are the daily worship services held in the tabernacle, a large open wooden structure in the center of the campground,” Fulton adds. His painting of the tabernacle is shown below.

Indian Field Tabernacle

Thomas Fulton of Walterboro, 2017 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Each family has several people who prepare meals, in shifts, every day. Many of the women, and a few men, are local, but some travel from out of state to cook for the families. Cooks tend to be paid generously and their families have typically done this for generations. Fulton’s painting below depicts a typical scene at the back of each tent.

Indian Field Campground, Rosa

Thomas Fulton of Walterboro, 2009 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Fulton writes about his painting above, “Rosa did not cook for my friend’s family. I visited Camp Meeting in recent years and met Rosa while she was cooking for another family. I still enjoy Camp Meeting and go as often as my schedule will allow.”

More Pictures of Indian Field Campground

Indian Field Campground Tabernacle Interior

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

Indian Field Revival

James Boone of Columbia, 2013 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Indian Field Tabernacle

Mike Stroud of Bluffton, 2012 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Other Early Campgrounds in South Carolina

Indian Field Campground Info

Address: South Carolina Route S-18-73, St. George, SC 29477
GPS Coordinates: 33.222778,-80.546111

Indian Field Campground Map

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16 Comments about Indian Field Campground

Dennis Davenport says:
April 28th, 2019 at 4:22 pm

Howdy from Texas,

My father EW Davenport was the coach at St. George High 1952-1956. I fondly remember our family attending meals at Camp Meeting and how much it meant to be invited. Will never forget how “well advised” my brother and I were to use good manners and behave. Camp Meeting stands among my great memories of St. George.

Dennis Davenport, College Station, TX

Claude Atmar Rogers says:
April 25th, 2019 at 3:50 pm

I started going To Cypress Campground as a baby well over 90 years ago, memories untold.

Robin Utsey says:
September 29th, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Hi My name is Robin Utsey. I posted yesterday about the name Utsey. My cousin Therel Utsey is also from St. George. He actually went to the campground this afternoon. He found the Utsey tent. #60. We would love to talk to any of our families relatives. His number is 843 563 6337. We would love to get to know our extended family.

Robin Utsey says:
September 28th, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Hi There, My name is Robin Utsey. My grandfather is Robert Daniel Utsey of St. George. Our family use to attend the revivals years ago. I am interested in knowing if any of our distant family has attended recently. My cousin Therel Utsey who is from St.George also is also wondering about our family and its heritage. My email is robindoodle123@gmail.come. I am also on Facebook. I would love to hear from you.

Wayne Joyner says:
August 26th, 2017 at 9:53 am

Correction, I’ve been to the Grits Festival, for the past three years.

Wayne Joyner says:
August 26th, 2017 at 9:49 am

I’ve been to the festival for the last years, searching for Joyner family members, the descents of Thomas Joyner and Fannie Gates.

Melody Pinckney says:
September 30th, 2016 at 8:22 pm

If you haven’t already found out just come up I 26 towards Columbia and get off on Hwy 15 towards St George. Follow hwy 15 about 5 miles and you will see the signs on the right. You can come to tent #78. We are always glad to have visitors. Just let me know we will be there Sat lunch and supper and Sun lunch.

Joyce Karnazes says:
September 24th, 2016 at 7:23 pm

If anyone is reading my note, please tell me how to get there from Mt. Pleasant, SC. I think I can get close but not sure exactly where it is.

Jenny says:
September 9th, 2016 at 6:54 am

My Mom had to leave the campground to give birth to me. This will be my 66th year. I think the camp meeting spirit is born in us that are from this area. Good foods, great fellowship, inspiring sermons, and socializing and meeting new friends (maybe even a husband or wife!) is what camp meeting is about!

Richard Infinger says:
September 9th, 2018 at 4:01 pm

It always ends the first Sunday of October. So this year it’s from October 1st till the 7th.

Joyce karnazes says:
September 30th, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Would someone pls. e-mail me and tell me when it starts this yr. Is it Sun. the 4th or Sat.3rd.
I would really appreciate your help. Joyce

Joyce Morris Karnazes says:
September 26th, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Mymaiden name is Morris. My Dad was L. R. Morris and my Mother was Hazel. There were 4 of us children. I can remember going in the early 50’s. We stayed with the Utsey’s or Wetsells. My Dad sent truck loads of produce down as we lived in Columbia. We would sleep upstairs in the loft and peep out at the cooks ironing their hair. You had to use “slop jar” at nite or you had to go across rd. to the out house. I have a few pic. of us with my Dad on the front of one of the gentlemen’s tent. Unfornately, my dad died in 1952. We did not attend after that. Would love to attend this yr.2015. I live not far from St. George.

Donna Behling Stoudemire says:
September 6th, 2015 at 11:40 am

I met my Husband there 42 years ago!!! I grew up going to Indian Field every year, then after we married went as long as my parents were with us!!! Wonderful family experience!!!

Joan Berry Nassar says:
September 5th, 2015 at 2:25 pm

A treasured family legacy!

Kaye Harper says:
September 29th, 2014 at 11:22 am

Been going all my life, thanks to my Grandaddy Byrd! You can’t explain it, you have to experience it! I'm w/Barry, best fried chicken ever!!!

Barry McKinley Stephens says:
September 28th, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Best fried chicken ever


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