This simple brick church holds the distinction of being the oldest in South Carolina’s Upstate. President Andrew Jackson was baptized here, and his father is buried in its churchyard.
Also known as Old Waxhaw Presbyterian, the congregation of this church in Lancaster was founded around 1755 by Scots-Irish Presbyterians who arrived in the mid-eighteenth century from Pennsylvania and Virginia. These Presbyterians settled in an area which stretched from South Carolina’s lower Piedmont to the North Carolina border.
Called the Waxhaws, this region takes its name from the Waxhaw Tribe, a now-extinct nation of Native American who originally lived here. The tribe was nearly annihilated during the 1715 Yemassee War. Remaining Waxhaws disbanded during a small pox epidemic in 1741; the few who survived relocated and joined other tribes. The area referred to as the Waxhaws has no official boundary but primarily encompasses land in Lancaster County, part of Chester County, and Anson County in North Carolina.
Waxhaw Presbyterian Church was the center of Presbyterianism in this region when it was organized, and members first met in a frame meeting house on this site. The land for the church was given by the Reverend Robert Miller and officially deeded to the church in 1757. The Reverend Miller came to the Waxhaws as the church’s minster in 1756. The church also founded a prestigious school, Waxhaw Academy.
The most well-known member of Waxhaw Presbyterian is Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, whose parents immigrated here from Ireland by way of Pennsylvania in 1765. Jackson’s father is interred in the churchyard, and there are memorial markers on the grounds for Andrew Jackson’s two brothers, Robert and Hugh, though they are buried elsewhere. Both Robert and Andrew were captured by the British during the Revolutionary War and contracted smallpox during their imprisonment. Robert died shortly after being released, while Andrew recovered. Hugh died in the Battle of Stono Ferry. Andrew Jackson is interred at The Hermitage, his plantation in Nashville, Tennessee.
Waxhaw Presbyterian Church was used as a hospital during the Revolutionary War. Survivors of Buford’s Massacre, which took place nearby, were brought here for medical care. The grisly battle, which killed 113 Patriots, earned British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton the nickname, “Bloody Tarleton.” The wounded were brought to the church for care, and several who subsequently died are buried here. The remains of many Revolutionary War veterans rest within the sacred grounds, including General William Richardson Davie, who saw an illustrious post-war career in adjacent North Carolina as a lawyer and politician. He eventually served as Governor of North Carolina in 1798.
The present Waxhaw Presbyterian Church is the third to serve the congregation. The originally meeting house burned in 1781 during the American Revolution and was replaced. The second church was succeeded by this edifice, built in 1896. Its exterior walls were covered in brick veneer in the 1940s.
The Waxhaw Presbyterian Cemetery is listed in the National Register:
(Old Waxhaw Cemetery) Scotch-Irish immigrants settled the historic Waxhaws community in the 1750s. These settlers established a Presbyterian meeting house (1755) and cemetery as the center of their community. The original meeting house has been replaced by another church structure but the cemetery remains as one of the oldest historic sites in present day Lancaster County and as a visual reminder of that pioneer settlement. The grounds were part of land that belonged to the Reverend Robert Miller, and the land was deeded to the Presbyterian Church in 1757. The Waxhaw Cemetery is probably the most significant site remaining related to the Revolutionary War Era figures Andrew Jackson, William Richardson Davie, and Andrew Pickens, who contributed to the early development of the state and nation. The cemetery also contains noteworthy examples of eighteenth and nineteenth century tombstones. Many of the eighteenth century tombstones are marked with bas-relief carvings illustrating the lives of the deceased. These stones are flat, vertical tombstones with rounded or scrolled tops. Much of the lettering is clearly carved and is still legible. The vertical eighteenth century stones are distinguishable from the flat, horizontal nineteenth century slabs and massive monuments.
Waxhaw Presbyterian Church – Historical Markers
The sign above – placed by the Waxhaws Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1948 – graces the Waxhaw churchyard. It reads,
Waxhaw Presbyterian Church / Organized 1755 by Scotch-Irish. / The First church in Upper So. Car. / This 4 1/2-acre trace was deeded to the congregation by Robert Miller, school teacher and minister, Mar 1758.The first pastor was Rev. Wm. Richarson, 1759-1771. The earliest building of logs was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the Revolutionary War and was burned by the British. This, the fourth, was built in 1896 and remodeled in 1942. Erected by Waxhaws Chapter, D.A.R. 1948
A second marker, located three miles east of the church, is shown below. Its translation follows the photograph.
Waxhaw Presbyterian Church / About 3 miles w. is Waxhaw Presbyterian Church, organized 1755. First church in upper South Carolina. President Andrew Jackson, born nearby, was baptized there. His father lies in the churchyard with other early settlers of the Waxhaws and many veterans of various wars, including the following: Gen. Wm. R. Davie, Maj. Robt. Crawford, Maj. John Barkley, Col. J. H. Witherspoon, and Capt. Isaac Donnom.
Waxhaw Presbyterian Church – Reflections
This photo shows a memorial to Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, mother of Andrew Jackson. It was placed on the grounds of the church in 1949 by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Though she is buried near Charleston, this monument stands among the tombs of the Patriots she so strongly supported. Contributor Patrick Boland writes,
This unique memorial resides on the property of Waxhaw Presbyterian Church. It was dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, a heroine of the American Revolutionary War. The memorial – though not often visited – and the adjacent cemetery and Waxhaw church were the locus for some extraordinary events in American history. The story of Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson’s life is etched into the base of the monument. Surrounding it are memorial markers for other Patriots who served in the Waxhaws and beyond with her. The memorial enshrines them together in our history in the most dignified manner.