When the trumpet blows, worshipers at Shady Grove Methodist Campground know to find seats beneath the central tabernacle and wait for the sermon to begin. Shady Grove Methodist Campground in St. George is one of four such sites in Dorchester County, including Indian Field, Cypress Methodist, and St. Paul. The campgrounds were established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as gathering places for the South’s growing Methodist denomination. While Indian Field and Cypress Methodist were formed earlier, in 1810 and 1794, respectively, they were founded by white Methodists. St. Paul and Shady Grove were organized by former slaves after the Civil War. Shady Grove was established in 1870.
According to oral history, following the war a group of newly-freed slaves led by a man named Caesar Wolfe were traveling in the rural area and stopped to take shelter beneath a grove during a storm. A local rice planter, S. M. Knight, discovered the group and asked them for help harvesting his rice. In exchange, he would provide them with a piece of property for worship.
The group called its congregation Shady Grove and initially worshiped beneath the namesake boughs, as many early churches did. Later, rough hewn cabins, as seen here, were built to house worshipers when they came for revivals and services. The cabins are referred to as “tents,” and many families have owned their tents for generations. Tents are very rustic, generally consisting of a hay-covered dirt floor (though Shady Grove tents now boast concrete floors), a sleeping loft, and a kitchen. Outhouses surround the tents, which are typically arranged in a circle around the central tabernacle. At Shady Grove, an additional row of tents stands behind the circle, accommodating more worshipers.
Today nearby Shady Grove United Methodist Church welcomes members for weekly services while the campground continues to host an annual camp meeting. Members of the campground founded the church some time after the camp was established. Land for the church was donated by local African-Americans Jim Smith and Susie Jones. Headstones within the Shady Grove United Methodist Church graveyard date to the early twentieth century.
During the annual camp meeting, which for Shady Grove is held the third week of October, families stay in their tents and enjoy fellowship and spiritual renewal. The sparse amenities within the tents encourage people to spend time outside with their neighbors, converging in the tabernacle for organized worship services. Fire destroyed the original Shady Grove tents in 1958. They were soon replaced, though two more fires in 1969 and 1976 also burned the humble structures. In 1991 much of the campground was rebuilt.
Shady Grove Family Life Center stands on United States Highway 178, just before the entrance to the Shady Grove Campground. Housed in a large brick building erected in 2004, the Family Life Center is a mission of Shady Grove United Methodist Church. The church refers to the center as a faith-based Community Development Corporation. It hopes to provide programs and an event facility not only for its own members, but also for the residents of rural Dorchester and Orangeburg counties. Shady Grove United Methodist also foresees using the center for camp meetings during times of inclement weather.
Other Early Campgrounds in South Carolina
Tanya (James) Tucker says
I can remember as little girl my family attending Shady Grove and St Paul camp meeting every year. Those were some of the best memories of my childhood. I love to come and share this piece of history with my sons.
David Webb says
What date is Camp Meeting 2019 at Indian Fields? We desire to come and worship the Lord with His people.
Sheree Kelly says
What dates will the Shady Grove camp meeting be held this October, 2018?
Lawrence Kitt Jr says
What dates in October will Shady Grove have this years Camp Meeting?
patricic lloyd says
What are the dates for the October 2017 camp meeting?
Betty Jean Thomas says
The younger generation could have learned to appreciate this type of spiritual homage to our history. The changing of times have caused us to lose and forget the path we’ve traveled the older wiser kin folks missed. There are stories that no one has time to tell, I remember the stories with heartfelt memories. I missed those that begin the journey.
Roger Bowman says
I serve as official Shady Grove Campground Campmeeting Musician I have been doing so for several years the services are held the Monday after the third Sunday in October and ends the 4th Sunday in October, correction on the 3rd Sunday Campmeeting officially starts that Monday night with a joint prayer circle with Campers and the host Pastor and Trustee Board members.
Chanel davis says
I love St. George, my granddad Daniel Davis, Jr. and my grandmom Onnie Bell. I love to come to see them every summer and camp meeting to see all my family.
Best thing to be in the South, I love it, glad I am from Shady Grove.
Debrah Adams Hayes says
During a search of families who attend these meetings. My grandmother and great aunt would attend and come back and talk for months about this. My great grandfather was born in Gedburg or Jedburg, SC His name is Milton Louis Boyd. We are wanting known more about these camp meeting and the Boyd family history.
This year was my first year to SOUTH Carolina campground I must say it was so wonderful and I really loved it and enjoyed myself! Looking forward to going next year.
Terry Torres says
I just like to know the dates of it each year if that’s not asking too much. I thank you. May our Lord continue blessing us to have camp meeting. Terry Torres, Mims, Titusville, Florida.
It’s always the 3rd Sunday of October every year. It begins October 16-22 this year.
It looks to be a great time! Bet the food is wonderful too.
Fannye Faye Johnson-Robinson says
I love it, to see all the natives return to their home area for this religious retreat homecoming is awesome. And aaaw the cooking and eating. Remember though, take it easy, this is holy ground. Yup, there’s security, led by Sgt. Jerome Jones, to enforce respect.
Brenda Ray says
This is an informative article with beautiful photos of the Shady Grove Campground. I had attended a gospel concert there in 2013 and enjoyed the atmosphere. Before the concert began, I observed a lady, outside a tent, preparing a meal for her family. I asked would she mind showing me the inside of her family’s tent. She gave me a tour. It was quite interesting. I would like to go to a worship service one night this year. Thank you for the historical facts on this campground, Mr. Coffey.