St. George's Anglican Church

Location of St. George's Anglican Church, Lot 99A large brick tower is all that remains of St. George's, Dorchester Church. It is a visible reminder of the religious life of Dorchester and the religious divisions that existed in colonial South Carolina.

The church built by the Congregationalists who first settled Dorchester stood on high ground about two miles from the village alongside present-day Dorchester road. The promise of religious toleration and the presence of other non-Anglicans probably helped attract the Congregationalists to South Carolina in 1697. But soon, political factions developed along religious lines, and the Church of England became the established, tax-supported church of the colony in 1706. Anglicans living in the area who wished to attend a church traveled several miles down the Ashley to St. Andrews Church, or they attended the nearby Congregational meeting house. In 1717 local Anglicans petitioned the legislature to create a new Anglican parish in the area. St. George's, Dorchester Parish was the result, and the site chosen for the new church was virtually in the center of Dorchester. From their church, staunch Anglicans would oppose the work of the "Dissenters," the non-Anglicans.

Signature of Robert Johnson, 1717 Act Providing for the Establishment of St. George's ChurchThe original sanctuary of St. George's was a small brick structure measuring only thirty feet by fifty feet. The poor condition of the building and the growing flock of Anglicans soon convinced Rev. Francis Varnod of the need for a new, bigger church. The colonial legislature approved an act to build a new church in 1733, but only a year later the governing body passed another act to simply "repair and new-pew the present church of St. George parish in Dorchester, and make an addition to the said church." Renovations to the church continued through the 1730s. By 1751, the bell tower had been added to the church, making it the tallest structure in Dorchester. A traveling minister described St George's in 1765 as "a very handsome Brick Church, with a Steeple, 4 Bells, and an Organ."

St. George's Church was central to the lives of local Anglicans. Many of the most important rituals of their lives were conducted here under rituals prescribed by the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Infants were baptized in the church, couples were married here, and the dead were buried in the cemetery just outside the church walls.

William Aiken Walker's 1880 Painting of Bell Tower. Click for Larger View. Pop-Up Window.St. George's Church was more than a religious structure. It also served as a social and political center for locals residents. The free school established in the village had its origins in the Anglican church. And because the church was such a large, imposing structure, it was used for other purposes far different than those it was meant to serve.

As Dorchester was being turned into an armed camp for American forces at the beginning of the Revolution, a plan was submitted for fortifying St. George's Church. Exactly how the church was to be fortified remains a mystery, for the plan has never been found. When British troops occupied Dorchester later in the war they used the large church and damaged it before they evacuated the village in December 1781.

Church Tower - Click for a Larger View of the ChurchThe church was eventually repaired but, like the town around it, was soon abandoned. Scavengers removed bricks from the decayed sanctuary just as they took away bricks from other buildings in town. An 1858 magazine article on Dorchester noted, "Rumor says, they were afraid to touch the tower, because there was a chance of its falling on them, and therefore it remains." The 1886 earthquake that devastated Charleston split the tower along its height. For many years after, it was held together with iron straps until it was repaired in the early 1960s.