Colonial Dorchester State Park
Posted by Mark Woodard
Colonial Dorchester is located on Dorchester Road in Summerville, South
Carolina, just past Bacons Bridge Road and before you get to Old Trolley Road.
John Smith was the first man to own this land. He came to Carolina
with his wife Mary in 1675. He was especially
recommended by the Earl of Shaftsbury, “as my particular
friend.” On November 20, 1676 he was granted
1,800 acres covering the Peninsula and future sight of the town
of Dorchester. It was John Smith who probably
cleared the land at the top of the bluff, and built his house
there. John Smith, of Boo-Shoo, died prior to
December of 1682. That’s when his widow, Mary, married Arthur
Middleton. Upon Middleton's death in 1684,
Mary married Ralph Izard. John Smith seems to
have left no children and the 1,800 acres must have lapsed back
to the state.
Time was moving forward, the year was 1695.
The earliest record notice is in the first church at
Dorchester, in the
colony. The records show that on the 20th of
October 1695, Joseph Lord, Increase Sumner and William Pratt,
were dismissed from the church in
Massachusetts, to go to the church in
Carolina. Two days
later, on October 22, “the day was set apart for the ordering of
Mr. Joseph Lord for to be pastor to a church gathered
that day, for to go to Carolina to settle the gospel there.”
After six weeks of preparation, the church set sail from
on December 5, 1695. The ship they sailed on
was a two mast, square rigged sailing ship known as a
Brigantine. It was named “Friendship” and was
captained by John Hull. They safely arrived
in Charles Town on December 20, 1695. When
the “Friendship” arrived they fired a three gun salute.
They received a nine gun salute in return.
The people of Charles Town were very friendly!
After a week in Charles Town, two of the eight men (Pratt
and Sumner) went up the Ashley
River to the Newington plantation. They
were received and entertained by Lady Rebecca Axtell.
The two different locations were discussed.
One location was on the
Stono River, with land owned by Joseph Blake.
The other land was on the Ashley River,
formerly owned by John Smith of Boo-Shoo, but ownership had gone
back to the state after his death. Lady
Axtell told them, that two other men wanted to get the property
on the Ashley River,
but she wanted the “disinters” to get it. She
said she would do everything she could, to help them.
The men went to visit the two locations.
The church spent nearly 4 weeks examining different
places but Elder William Pratt told Reverend Joseph Lord, that
the latter location would be his choice.
In January of 1696, the church received a grant along the
The grant was made out to John Stevens for 1,800 acres of the
Boo-Shoo tract and 2,250 acres of the Rose’s tract, making it
4050 acres in all. The people decided
the church should be built in the center of their land.
On Sunday, January 26, 1696, Reverend Lord preached his
first sermon at the place selected for the building.
Elder Pratt left Charles Town to return to
on the 8th of February, 1696. Elder Pratt picked up his wife,
Elizabeth Baker Pratt, and his daughter, Thankful Pratt.
He also picked up Deacon Sumner’s wife and children,
Deacon Sumner's brother, Samuel Sumner with his wife and
children along with Peter O’Kelly’s wife and six children, and
others. They set sail from
Boston, on the 8th of January, 1697.
What was this church, of which William Pratt was an
elder, and Joseph Lord was the Pastor? We need to go back to England, a
couple of centuries before. The Church of
England was the state approved church. The
town of Dorchester, England traces
its history back to 70 AD. It was a
stronghold for the Romans. Years later, the
Church of England would become the National Church.
The Anglican Church, or the Church of England, was very
liturgical in their worship.
The Puritans were meeting in Dorchester,
and they had their own form of worship. They
did not like High
Church, or liturgical
forms of worship. This caused troubled times
for their church. In fact, this caused Judge
George Jefferies to burn some people at the stake.
Others were “hanged, drawn, and quartered”, with their
heads, (having been cut off) posted on the church building’s
roof. This time was known as the “bloody
Reverend John White had been the rector of St. Peter's
Church in Dorchester for many
years. White considered himself “an earnest
Puritan.” In the 1620s he gave his assistance
to the 102 original immigrants on the “Mayflower” when they left England for Massachusetts to gain religious freedom.
Neither John White, nor his wife Mary, ever came across
the Atlantic Ocean to see Massachusetts. Yet he was
known as the “father of the Massachusetts Colony.” The Puritans
came to Massachusetts and
started a town they named Dorchester for their old home place
back in England.
Now nearly 100 years later some of the parishioners of
the Massachusetts church were
coming to Carolina.
They called themselves missionaries and they were ready
to “settle the gospel.”
There were plantations along the Ashley
but the immediate area must have been sparsely settled with the
closest neighbors mainly being the Indians.
Indians like the Edisto, Kusso,
Stono and Westo’s just to name a few. The
Kusso tribe was said to be loyal friends of the English and to
help them fight off hostile Indians. The
Kusso Indians lived by the
River, now called the
Ashley. Two miles from where the church
was built, the people decided to build their town on the bluff
of the Ashley
River. As no
surprise they decided to name their town
was eighteen miles up river from Charles Town.
They built the church first, and then the town.
The place they built the town was at the start of the
river navigation. Boats that drew 6 feet of
water or less could make it to Dorchester.
This was a great location for shipping deer skins and
product down to Charles Town. The Puritans had to stake guards
while building the church and town for there own protection.
was orderly laid out, with 116 quarter-acre lots between
parallel and perpendicular streets. The main
thoroughfare was called “High Street” like it was in small
British towns. They left an open area in the town, or common,
for a market place. Fifty acre farm lots lined the riverbank.
The first church the Congregationalists built was made of
wood. The second church building was made out of brick and white
plaster. They called it “Old White Meeting
House” or for short, “Old White.” It was the
first church in the area. These people were
called Puritans, religious-dissenters from the Church of
England, or Congregationalists. There were a
few Anglican people in the area, but they went to “Old White.”
They thought it was better than staying home.
In 1706 the colonial legislature passed the Church Act
declaring the Church of England the established church of Carolina. For eleven years
Dorchester lay within the upper part of St. Andrews
Parish. By the year 1717 the number of
Anglicans had increased. They petitioned the
legislators to create their own parish. That
new Parish was named “St. George.” The
commissioners got someone to build an Anglican Church in
Dorchester. They bought Lot 99
virtually in the center of town. In the
Church Act of 1706 the state said each parish would pay for it
own church buildings, and they would pay for there own
Construction of a small brick church began in August of
1719. The Colony of Carolina was also
changing. In 1712 Carolina was split in two, making it North and South Carolina.
Each part would have it own governor.
South Carolina was its own state.
The Church Act of 1706 was still in effect.
Construction on the new church was completed in 1720; the
sanctuary measured 50 feet long by 30 feet wide.
A chancel projected 15 feet by 5 feet from one of the
walls. The first pastor of the Anglican
church was Reverend Peter Justian, coming in 1720.
Reverend Justian quickly found himself in problems as an
Anglican pastor in a town started by Church of England
dissenters. He resigned as pastor within six
months. His successor, Reverend Francis
Varnod, came to South
in October of 1723. He was the pastor of St.
George for almost thirteen years. During the
time Reverend Varnod was pastor, the white population was almost
equally divided between Anglicans and non-Anglicans.
In 1723 the colonial legislatures approved weekly markets
They would be held every Tuesday and Saturday on the
common. They also approved two four-day fairs
starting the second Tuesday of April, and the first Tuesday of
October. You would find for sale, farm
animals, grains, boats, personal items, and at times slaves.
By 1708, black slaves outnumbered whites in the parish.
In 1726, the white population had grown to 537, while the
black population had grown to 1300. The
number of slaves was growing each year because of the labor
needed to grow and harvest rice, the cash crop.
This is why slaves from West Africa
were so sought after. They had the rice
growing skills they had learned in Africa.
By 1741, 3,347 slaves lived in the parish, while the
white population had decreased to 468. In
1741, 88% of the population was slaves.
The St. George church was repaired in 1734.
New pews were added and the church was enlarged.
was an exciting village. Reports say that at
its height there were some 1,800 people who lived in the area.
The village started a free school with Reverend John
Allison as the first schoolmaster. (It was free for very few
school kids, with the rest having to pay for their education)
The school board which started the free school is still
functioning in Summerville and is the oldest functioning school
board in the country. The residents of
Dorchester also started a book library.
In 1751, a stylish bell tower was added.
Over the years, the Puritans were called different names.
They had recently been called Congregationalists and that
In 1752, the Congregationalists church was facing several
problems. They needed more land and they
thought their current area was sickly. The
fathers got together and decided to move the church to Midway
They could get a lot more land there.
Of course not every one went with them, some stayed here.
So from 1752 to 1756, the Congregationalists church
The town of Dorchester grew. By 1765,
the bell tower had four bells in it. The
church also now had an organ. The main road
was called the “Broad Path.” Later it was known as the” Charleston Road”, and today, we call it “Dorchester Road”.
The oldest church in Summerville is Summerville
Presbyterian Church. It traces its roots back
to 1696 and the “Old White Meeting House.”
The state of South Carolina gave the “Old White” cemetery
to Summerville Presbyterian. The second
oldest church in Summerville is
St. Paul's Episcopal Church which dates
back to 1720 and the Anglican Church. Both of
these churches have an outstanding past, and both churches, are
currently very active sharing the love of God to the world
through the message of Jesus Christ.
was one of the original 13 colonies. We were
not a state because the “United States of America”
had not been formed yet. In the Colonial
Period England owned
South Carolina. But
the Spanish and French wanted to own us. In
fact in 1757 people in Charles Town heard rumors of the French
attacking us. The fathers of Charles Town got
together realizing they only had one gunpowder magazine.
They knew that if the French attacked and captured it,
South Carolina would have no gunpowder.
They decided to build another fort with a gunpowder
magazine in it. The town of Dorchester was the place
they would build it. Between 1757 and 1760, a
tabby fort was built.
Tabby is a mixture of oyster shells, lime and sand.
Shells were burned to create lime.
Boats were commissioned to transport the thousands of bushels of
oyster shells needed for the project. The
fort was built by local slaves and is still standing today.
The wall is 8 feet at its highest and is 2 feet to 2'10"
at the bottom. It encloses a rectangular area
of more than 10,000 square feet.
The fort came into play in the late 1700s during the
Revolutionary War. The fort was a rendezvous
point for local militia units who either camped in tents on the
common, or were billeted in the town's largest buildings.
During the Revolutionary War, many famous men served at
Dorchester. Men like Francis
Marion “the Swamp Fox”, William Moultrie, Nathaniel Greene,
Henry “Light Horse” Harry Lee (the father of Confederate General
Robert E. Lee), and Wade Hampton (grandfather of the Confederate
General Wade Hampton).
The fort first fell to the British, when Charles Town
fell in 1780. The British held the fort until
1781, then left. The Patriots came back and
took control of the fort. The British came
back taking control of the fort, making it a British outpost.
It was at this time the people in
Dorchester left for good. When
the British left this time they destroyed most of the town.
They burned the houses and they burned the church,
leaving only the bell tower. While staying in Dorchester the Redcoats left their mark.
They used the gravestone of “James Postell” as the
chopping block for the camp’s meat. You can
still see the hack marks today. The grave is
located in front of the bell tower. The
growing town of Summerville absorbed much of the remaining
population. After the town shutdown, people
were notorious for going back and digging up the brick and
taking it for building their homes in Summerville.
Dorchester, and other cities will not soon forget
the great earthquake of 1886. It was about
9:30 Tuesday night August 31st when the earth started shaking.
The “Old White Meeting House” crumbled.
Any buildings or partial buildings in
Dorchester came down. The bell tower did stay
standing but lost a block of bricks that fell, and is still on
the ground behind the tower. There was not a
chimney left standing in Summerville, even St. Paul's Church was knocked 4 inches off its
foundation. But Summerville made it through
the earthquake and continued to grow. But
Dorchester, forgotten by time, lay abandoned with
brush covering it.
The “Colonial Dames of America” began to come and clear
brush away from the fort in the 1920s.
Westvaco now owned the property. At the
request of a Mrs. Simmons, Westvaco gave the “Colonial Dames of
America” custody of the property.
There have always been some people who
wanted to learn more about our past. In the
1950s, Dr. Lawrence Lee of The Citadel conducted exploratory
excavations at the town sight. Because of
this interest, the state of
first leased the property, and then bought the property from
Westvaco. The property is now a preserve and
protected as “Old Dorchester State Park”
with Ashley Chapman as park ranger. According
to historian and author Dan Bell, “the fort is considered the
best preserved tabby-fortification in the country.”