The architectural design of Swift Creek Baptist may be simple and straightforward, but the history behind this church is complicated to say the least. The Greek Revival sanctuary was constructed circa 1827, making it Boykin’s oldest existing edifice. That said, it seems that this building was not the first sanctuary to occupy what was historically known as Mill Tract Plantation. An earlier church, labeled the 10⅓ Church, appears on the Robert Mills Atlas of 1825 near this site. The map was originally surveyed by J. Boykin in 1820 – seven years before the existing church’s estimated date of construction.
We know nothing of 10⅓ Church, which is mystery number one. Mystery number two involves Swift Creek Baptist Church itself. This puzzle arises from the fact that even the most respected historical resources differ radically when it comes to the dates and locations attributed to the both the congregation and its places of worship. Unfortunately, the congregation dissembled long ago, which means that much of its history has been lost.
Given the confusing state of the available research, we have spent a significant amount of time (hopefully!) teasing out an at least somewhat accurate timeline for Swift Creek. We are including our references below, but there are still many quandaries, so by all means, if you have further knowledge of this church, please let us know. We are eager to present as accurate an article as possible.
First, let’s start with what we do know. Swift Creek was organized in 1782 or 1783 as one of several mission churches that branched off from High Hills Baptist Church in Statesburg. Founded by Pastor Lewis Collins, who would lead his flock for the next two decades, the church entered the Charleston Association in 1787. This is why you will often see three years – 1782, 1783, and 1787 – for the inception date. Either 1782 or 1783 is accurate, but there is no known data prior to 1787, so some authors seem to skip over the church’s earliest era. (Note: In contrast to the National Park Service, which gives 1783 as the original date, a granite marker outside the church states it was founded in 1782. We have no idea which is correct.)
Incidentally, Pastor Collins founded Swift Creek under the leadership of the famed Baptist minister Richard Furman, who served High Hills beginning in November of 1774. The Reverend Furman, who was an ardent patriot, left the church for military service. He “returned to the High Hills Church in 1782 and under his influence, [six] branches were established,” including both Bethel Black River (also called Second Lynches Creek) and Swift Creek.
According to remaining records, which can be found in the minutes of the Charleston Association, the church had amassed 55 members by 1787. That number rose and fell over next 20 years, reaching 75 at its zenith and 37 at its nadir.
The congregation seems to have originally met in Stateburg, but in 1803, the young church asked the Charleston Association if it could relocate. The Charleston Association declined, however, saying the move might make a nearby congregation uneasy.
Nevertheless, the church did move soon after. According to Leah Townsend, author of South Carolina Baptists, 1670-1805, the church “changed its location to one eight or ten miles east of Camden nearer Black River.”
By “Black River,” we are unsure whether the author is referring to another of High Hill’s missions, Bethel (Black River) Church, which had moved “about sixteen miles southeast of Stateburg,” or the actual Black River in Sumter, Clarendon, Williamsburg, and Georgetown Counties. (Luckily it doesn’t much matter as both are true. Bethel is located “at Nasty Branch, a tributary of the Black River, about eight miles south of the city of Sumter.”)
This is odd, however, as Swift Creek is located decidedly northwest of Stateburg – not southeast. Further, Boykin sits some eight miles south of Camden – not east of Camden.
In any case, the congregation left Sumter County and re-established itself in Kershaw County, and this is where things really start to fall apart.
The National Park Service says as follows:
By 1795, [the Mill Tract Plantation, now Boykin] also contained a one acre tract which had been set aside for the use of the “Baptist Congregation.” This acre bordered the mill pond and is the land upon which the present Swift Creek Baptist Church stands. The Swift Creek Church organized in 1783, and was a branch of the High Hills Baptist Congregation which was located at Stateburgh. “Old father Collins,” [Swift Creek’s] pastor in 1804, was the Lewis Collins who owned the tract to the south of the [Boykin] mill pond land. The congregation built another church and moved further up Swift Creek after 1804, but the land remained reserved for the Baptists (emphasis ours).
This description presents several problems. First, if the 1804 date is correct, and if Ms. Townsend’s 1803 date is also correct, then the congregation would have spent a single year (or less) by Bethel (Black River) Church, east of Camden, before moving to Swift Creek, south of Camden.
Second, the description suggests that there may have been an earlier worship site lower down on Swift Creek, on land that the Pastor Collins owned, given that it says he later moved his members “further up” Swift Creek. (Lewis Collins owned 230 acres south of the Mill Tract before 1792, which is well before 1804. According to the National Park Service, by 1792, Charles McGinny had deeded Lewis’s land, along with many other acres in the area, to Samuel Mathis. Pastor Collins had only obtained a grant for his land in 1784. In the records of High Hills Baptist church, Lewis Collins and his wife are listed as having 150 acres on Wateree Creek of Wateree River 1763, and 200 acres on High Hills of Santee in 1770.)
Third, if this first Swift Creek location, owned by Pastor Collins, remained reserved for the Baptists, how could it now be “the land upon which the present Swift Creek Baptist Church stands”?
And finally, if a new church was built after 1804, where was it located? The existing church was not constructed until at least 1827. Could it have been the 10⅓ Church? We do not know.
What we do know is that, according to the National Register, a deed for Mill Tract Plantation made in 1809 states:
Be it remembered that on the within named Mill Tract one acre of land … on which a meeting house now stands, has been given by a former proprieter to the Society of the Baptists for that purpose.
This means that there was indeed a “meeting house” on the acre of land reserved for the Baptists in 1809. Did the Swift Creek congregation still have a house of worship on Pastor Collins land, albeit unused at that time. Was the acre of land located where the 10⅓ Church then stood? Or, was there an earlier church located where Swift Creek Baptist church now stands – one that was replaced in 1827?
The good news is that the National Park Service’s description does provide an important detail about this acre of land – one which is echoed by the National Register. Although the dates are slightly different, we do know that someone set this land aside at some point in the early to mid-1790s. As the National Register reports:
The land on which the church stands has been reserved in perpetuity for Baptists since at least 1792.
Although the National Park Service gives the date as slightly later, 1795, the two sources are relatively consistent. The National Park Service further states that the land was set aside by “a member of the Boykin family.”
Several sources explain that the church “reorganized” in 1827 and built the present church soon after. That is where the “circa 1827” date arises. But the mystery is, what happened to the congregation between 1804 and 1827 (or between 1782-1783 and 1827, for that matter)? Did they have a meeting house? If so, where was it located? And what was this church called before it moved to Swift Creek? We present several theories above, but we need more information.
One interesting tidbit we found is that Dorcas Conway is supposed to have been baptized at “Swift Creek Baptist Church sometime prior to 1810” (see below from the Olde English District). This detail only furthers the mystery! Where was Swift Creek Baptist Church located “prior to 1810”?
The Swift Creek Baptist Church, founded in 1787 with 55 members, was built on an acre of land donated by the Boykin family. Slave galleries were built in this historic church and there is a slave graveyard behind it. The church has changed its name several times and has been used by both the Baptists and the Methodists. In the early 1930s it was abandoned for 60 years. In 1994 the church was refurbished and restored, producing a beautiful old structure. Historical records tell us that Dorcas Conway (c.1785-1826), the wife of Bonds Conway (1763-1843), was baptized at Swift Creek Baptist Church sometime prior to 1810. It is believed that there were at least two early congregations along Swift Creek, and this church is an outgrowth of those congregations.
The church’s timeline comes into focus again after 1827. Although we do not know how many members it had or who served as its pastor, we do know that it must have been successful enough to warrant such a large and noble structure. The church contains a slave gallery upstairs, and there is a section for slave graves in the churchyard. After the Civil War, in 1866, the former black constituents of Swift Creek, along with those from Camden First Baptist Church, formed Mount Moriah Baptist Church in Camden. This new church was first led by the Reverend Monroe Boykin.
According to the book Georgialina: A Southland as We Knew It, published by University of South Carolina Press, a picnic at Swift Creek Baptist Church turned tragic in the spring of 1860:
Floods of tears fell onto its pews and heart-pine floors. In May 1860 approximately 75 young people met on a Saturday at Boykin Mill pond to picnic right near the church. Late that afternoon 30 or more crowded into a flatboat, and it overturned Those who could swim tried to save the lives of those who could not, but close to 25 young people drowned, mostly women.
Sometime in the early 1930s, the congregation disbanded. During that time, weatherboard was nailed over the large windows to protect them as the church sat abandoned. Swift Creek Baptist remained vacant for most of the rest of the twentieth century. Then, in 1994, with support from the South Carolina Department of History and Archives, the church was restored. This followed in the wake of Hurricane Hugo, which hit in 1989 and cause significant damage to a corner of the sanctuary’s roof.
Today, though the church no longer holds weekly services, it is available for weddings and other special occasions. It is managed by the Boykin Mill Farms, an organization that oversees the historic buildings in Boykin, like the old post office and general store, and operates several small tourist-related businesses within them.
Note: To make matters even more confusing, we also learned that there was another, separate Swift Creek Baptist Church early on. This congregation changed its name to Mount Pisgah in 1812 and then later, in 1838, to simply Pisgah. There is also a Swift Creek Baptist Church in Hartsville.
National Register – Swift Creek Baptist Church
Swift Creek Baptist Church is listed in the National Register as part of the Boykin Mill Complex:
(Mill Tract Plantation) Boykin Mill Complex is a central locale that has historically been important in the life of rural Kershaw County. At present, “Boykin Mill” denotes a community which consists of an old post office (ca. 1875), an old general store (ca. 1905), a ca. 1905 grist mill, mill pond, mill dam, gates, and canals. The community also includes an early nineteenth century Greek Revival style Baptist church (ca. 1827), one mid-nineteenth century residence, three twentieth century residences (ca. 1935) built for mill workers, and a smoke house.
A Civil War battle site is also a part of the Boykin Mill community. The battle at Boykin Mill took place on April 17, 1865. The importance of these sites revolves around the large mill pond on Swift Creek. The pond dates to at least 1786, when it was platted for Robert English, who was apparently the first grantee of the mill pond tract. A succession of saw and grist mills has been located on or near the dam to the pond since that time.