The small community of Indiantown near Hemingway received its name in acknowledgement of the Chickasaws who originally inhabited the area. In fact, today Hemingway is the official headquarters of the Native American tribe known officially as Chaloklowa Chickasaw. When Scots-Irish settlers arrived to what is now Williamsburg County in the early eighteenth century, many sought to convert the Native Americans to Christianity and were at times successful. In 1757 this church was founded by Robert Wilson and John James. James would later become a hero in the Revolutionary War.
The congregation’s first church was a simple log cabin. Its membership was comprised largely of Scots-Irish Whigs who rebelled against the crown during the Revolutionary War. In fact, Williamsburgh District, as the area was then known, teemed with insurgents, which ultimately led Lord Cornwallis to order Major James Wemyss to burn much of the area on August 27, 1780, including Indiantown Presbyterian Church.
The church rebuilt following the war and replaced that building with this structure in 1830. The church was remodeled and enlarged in 1919 by raising the building to add educational space beneath the sanctuary. The creative endeavor was successful in giving the church much-needed space without compromising the style of the 1830 building. Eventually, a modern fellowship hall was added to the church grounds. Indiantown Presbyterian remains an active part of the Indiantown community.
The historic churchyard surrounding Indiantown Presbyterian Church is the resting site of several Revolutionary War veterans, including church founder Major John James. According to contributor Linda Brown, Major James was “was a leader of the Williamsburgh militia that formed the nucleus of General Francis Marion‘s Brigade. Major James came to Williamsburgh District as an infant, making him one of the youngest of the original settlers of the area.”
Also interred at Indiantown Presbyterian is Samuel McGill, a South Carolinian with a colorful history. McGill was a respected citizen of Indiantown until his refusal to comply with the church session caused him to become excommunicated from the church. Though McGill was brought before the church session on June 22, 1831 for offenses such as obstinacy and slander, it was his blatant rebellion in the face of the church’s restrictions on dancing that caused his ouster. Said to possess a “light and agile step,” McGill went as far as to host dancing parties despite his church’s ban on the activity.
Apparently, McGill’s infraction came to him naturally, as William Willis Boddie’s History of Williamsburg, From 1705-1923 claims, “No McGill has ever been able to keep his feet from keeping time when a fiddle starts.” After an appropriate display of contrition, McGill was restored to the church where his body now lies.
Interestingly, McGill’s great-great-grandson, Yancey McGill, served in the South Carolina Senate from 1989 through 2014. He then served as Lieutenant Governor from June of 2014 until January of 2015, having been appointed to the seat by Governor Nikki Haley to replace Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell when he became the president of the College of Charleston.
Detailed History of Indiantown Presbyterian 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 December of 2015.
Before we get into today’ special church, I need to inform my loyal readers that I need to take a short break from the “Church of the Week” articles. There are several reasons. The Christmas season is upon us, and I am also helping with a book project that we hope to send to press by the end of this year. Did I mention that I also have a full-time job that keeps me busy for at least ten hours per day? There is so much that I enjoy doing.
A friend of mine, Jim Neal, and I have been working on a book that will be entitled Churches in South Carolina Burned During the American Revolution: A Pictorial Guide. The church that I have chosen for this week’s article will give you a sneak peak into that book. The book will delve much deeper into colonial religions and the part that religion played in the American Revolution than I will go into today. The book will also contain many photos of the magnificent ruins that were left after seven years of battles and skirmishes in South Carolina. There are also several interesting stories about church buildings that replaced many of the burned buildings, like the one featured today.
The subject of today’s article is located in Williamsburg County, at the head waters of Black Mingo Creek. It prospered in Colonial times due to the fact that it was situated on a bluff of the creek that was as far inland as flat bottom boats were able to navigate. The Chickasaw Indians used this area for centuries as a favorite hunting and fishing ground. When the Scots-Irish arrived as early 1725, it was a natural that they named this area Indiantown.
Indiantown Presbyterian has a connection with two other churches that we have learned about through recent articles. Indiantown Presbyterian, established in 1757, is the first daughter church of Williamsburg Presbyterian (1736). Salem Presbyterian (1759) is the second daughter and Hopewell Presbyterian (1770) is the fourth daughter. Arriving in the New Land, these Scots-Irish were eager to practice their religious beliefs. Unfortunately during the American Revolution, their vocal beliefs tended to rub the ruling British in the wrong direction.
John James and Robert Wilson were founding elders of Indiantown Presbyterian Church. Both were not only outspoken with their religious beliefs, they were very quick to pick up arms against the strong arm of the British soldiers, under the leadership of Major James Wemyss. Wemyss was assigned to this area to enforce the King’s law by Lord Cornwallis. James and Wilson may not have drawn as much attention as they and their church did had they not joined up with General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. Marion’s well-documented guerilla tactics gave Lord Cornwallis fits. The Williamsburg District was teaming with Marion’s men and insurgents, so Indiantown Presbyterian Church was in the British crosshairs when Wemyss called the church “a sedition shop” and vowed to burn it to the ground.
Soon after the Indiantown Church was established in 1757, a small log cabin was built as a House of Worship. In late August of 1780, how better for Major Wemyss to set an example to the citizens of the area than to burn their beloved church. In the Battle of King’s Tree on August 27, 1780, Major Wemyss burned the church along with John James’ house and shamefully mistreated his family. Oh, if Major Wemyss and Lord Cornwallis had only had a crystal ball to see the can of worms that they opened when they messed with these country folks and their church. Don’t mess with their church.
Many noted historians say that the American Revolution was won in South Carolina. I will not go as far as to say that it started with the burning of Indiantown Presbyterian Church in 1780, but this single act certainly set the back woodsmen on edge with a fire for freedom in their bellies. Keep in mind that Charlestown fell on May 12, 1780, and Camden fell on August 16, 1780. No other South Carolina major town would fall to the British after the burning of Indiantown Presbyterian. The British evacuated Charlestown on December 14, 1782 and no Revolutionary battle was fought in South Carolina after September 3, 1783. The colonies were free.
Let me get off my Revolutionary soap box and get back to the Indiantown Church building. The present Greek Revival, wood lap siding building was built in 1830. Even though the original building was burned, the congregation continued to grow, so a larger building was needed. This building measures 38 feet wide by 62 feet long and was positioned on the same ground as the original building, in the midst of the original graveyard. A graveyard that contains the remains of John James and Robert Wilson and serves as a constant reminder of the struggles for freedom of past members. It was originally built on brick piers, a few feet above the ground. The small Session House, which is on the same property, predates the church building being built in the 1820s.
As in the early days of Indiantown Presbyterian, the community may not have grown in population, but the church tended to grow in membership. In the early 1900s, the church realized the need for more space. In an effort not to lose the appearance of their historic building, they decided to simply raised it up and added an education space under the 1830 building. I say simply, in 1919 I’m sure that jacking the building up was not a simple task. But it was done, and with the addition of the wide brick steps, the building that we see today at 4865 Hemingway Highway looks very natural. This major renovation was completed in 1922. The additional space, under the original building, proved to be good education space until a fellowship hall could be built later. Along with this renovation, a beautiful Flentrop tracker organ made in Holland was added to the sanctuary. The organ is such a magnificent musical instrument that the church has hosted a number of organ concerts since its installation.
Not only did the additional space at Indiantown Church spawn growth for this congregation, it also generated interest in new Presbyterian churches in neighboring towns. In keeping with these Scots-Irish descendants’ desire to spread their Calvinist beliefs, Indiantown Presbyterian has been instrumental in forming eight other Presbyterian churches in the area.
In conclusion, I’d like to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas this year. I told you several weeks ago that I would remind you of the Christmas service at Salem Black River Presbyterian Church. It will be held on Sunday December 20, 2015 at 3:00 PM. Give yourself and your family a wonderful gift this year and attend this service. It will truly be a gift that keeps on giving.
Reflections on Indiantown Presbyteriam
Wilson McElveen, a descendant of Indiantown Presbyterian parishioners, shares this interesting bit of history: “When my ancestors attended church here in the 1800s, their mail was brought to church on Sunday by the local postmaster and placed in the family pew – if you didn’t come to church, you didn’t received your mail.”