In my “Discoveries of the Past” series, one of my stops along my journey through the southern states was near Charleston, SC. I had a visit with a great guy and obvious dynamic, but laid-back pastor, Rev. Mark Hunt. Mark shepherds Rockville Presbyterian Church, a member church of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination. He has pastored the church for over 12 years. Mark is the husband of Megan and the father of three children, Andrew, Benjamin and Rebecca. He and his family live a few walking minutes from the church and are very much a part of the community. We immediately struck a friendship at lunch and continued getting to know one another at dinner that same night. Between meals he gave my wife and me a tour of his church which sits in lush, swamp like scenery on Wadmalaw Island, just south of Charleston. Wadmalaw Island is about 10 miles long by 6 miles wide with a population of just over 2600 people. The island is just a couple of miles from the Atlantic Ocean, easily accessible by waterway. The church building is only a few steps to Bohicket Creek. Indeed, their property has a small section of waterfront that they use occasionally for sunrise services. As we walked to the water, we passed between a couple of homes that displayed the characteristics of homes built for hot summer heat. The church is also designed for such with high ceilings and large windows. The church is lacking a steeple because the one that was originally built was blown off during a storm sometime in the past. The church property hosts several large Live Oak trees which are obviously very old by their trunk sizes and the wide spread of their massive limbs. Mark pointed out an unusual sight of a cactus growing out of a limb, some 20 feet off the ground, of the giant oak which is in front of the church. The more recent Fellowship Hall and church offices are in a separate building behind the original 1850 church building.
Rockville Presbyterian Church, sprang from the Johns Island Church formed in 1710. Johns Island is another island adjacent to, and half encircling, Wadmalaw Island. Johns Island Presbyterian Church began as part of Reverend Archibald Stobo’s plan to create five Presbyterian churches in the rural areas of South Carolina. Notably, it is one of the oldest churches in the United States built from a wood frame. Johns Island Presbyterian underwent expansions in 1792 and 1823.
Rockville Presbyterian Church is one of only two churches in the Rockville Historic District. The Church is listed on the National Register which says the following about the Rockville historical district.
“Rockville, one of Charleston County’s oldest surviving summer resorts (ca 1824) is important architecturally, agriculturally, militarily and in the area of transportation and recreation. This summer community’s serene, slow-moving, lifestyle is reflected in its architecture and landscape. Although houses vary in sizes and degree of architectural importance, nearly all have spacious porches, raised foundations, and large central hallways designed for summer comfort and relaxation.
The buildings within Rockville’s Historic District have obvious visual unity. All are well ventilated to take full advantage of sea breezes. Several houses appear to have been year-round residences with architecture adapted for cold weather but still well-ventilated for summer use. The district also includes two churches. Live Oaks draped with Spanish moss and palmettos dominate the landscape and add to the quaint atmosphere of the community.”
A FLASH FROM THE PAST
Wadmalaw Island was landed upon by Captain Robert Sandford and the crew of the Berkeley Bay in mid-June 1666 after an excursion up the Bohicket Creek. It is believed that Sandford landed where Rockville, South Carolina now sits. On June 23, 1666, Captain and crew carried out the ritual of turf and twig, claiming the land for England and the Lords Proprietors.
In 1670, 148 colonists arrived and settled on the west bank of the Ashley (Kiawah) River. They survived the first four years of poor crop production through the generosity of natives who shared beans and corn. They later moved to what is now Charleston.
In more recent times, The Lipton Tea Company operated an experimental tea farm on Wadmalaw Island from 1960 until 1987, when it was sold to Mack Fleming and Bill Hall. These gentlemen converted the experimental farm into a working tea plantation. The Charleston Tea Plantation utilized a converted cotton picker and tobacco harvester to mechanically harvest the tea. The Charleston Tea Plantation sold tea mail order known as American Classic Tea and also produced Sam’s Choice Instant Tea, sold through Sam’s Clubs. American Classic Tea has been the official tea of the White House since 1987. In 2003, Bigelow Tea Company purchased the Charleston Tea Plantation and temporarily closed the plantation in order to renovate it. The plantation reopened in January 2006. Tours are now offered of this last remaining working tea farm in America. Wadmalaw now produces Firefly, a sweet tea flavored vodka. It is popular throughout the Southern United States because of its recognizable flavor and cultural significance.
TIMES OF WAR
The American Revolutionary War arrived on Johns Island in May of 1779 as a body of British troops under the command of General Augustine Prevost. General Prevost established a small force to remain on the island, headed by Lieutenant Colonel John Maitland. Under the command of Sir Henry Clinton, more troops landed on Seabrook Island, beginning February 11, 1780. Clinton’s goal was to cross Johns Island and James Island and lay siege to Charleston. Clinton’s army crossed the Stono River and set up temporary headquarters at Fenwick Hall. Moving to James Island, marching up the west bank of the Ashley River to Old Town Landing then marching south to Charleston, Clinton besieged the city. Charleston surrendered to British forces on May 12, 1780; the occupation lasted until December 1782.
During the Civil War, The Battle of Bloody Bridge, also known as Burden’s Causeway, occurred on Johns Island in July 1864. This battle was the largest battle on Johns Island during the Civil War. In July of 1864, the Confederates still defending Charleston had control of James Island and Johns Island. On July 2, 1864, Brigadier General John Hatch’s Union troops landed in Legareville and Rockville of Johns Island. Hatch wanted to cross Johns Island, then cross the Stono River and lay siege to James Island. Hatch’s idea was to march up and take Johns Island, then move across the Stono River and take James Island. The Union troops marched about 4 miles across Seabrook to Haulover Cut, which separated Seabrook Island from Johns Island, only to find out the bridge had been burned. After a new bridge was completed, they crossed the bridge and camp for the night. The march up Johns Island continued on July 3rd. The intense heat caused the troops to move only a few miles per day. The Union troops met the Confederate troops where the creek turns into swamp. On July 6th, the Confederates opened fire on the Union camps from James Island in the morning. The Union troops were just opposite Confederate Battery Pringle on James Island, and had occupied a strong position on Burdens Causeway at a small bridge oh the main road that crossed the marsh. In front of them the Confederates holding the high ground at Waterloo Plantation. That small bridge would be forever known as “Bloody Bridge.” Through the three-day battle, involving brave attacks, fierce defense and counter-attacks, around 2,000 South Carolina soldiers held off a Union force of roughly 8,000 men. On July 10th, Confederate scouts discovered that the Union had evacuated the island overnight, going aboard their transports and burning a large quantity of commissary stores. Reported losses were 11 killed and 71 wounded for the Union forces and the Confederates suffered 37 killed and 91 wounded. (from Wikipedia and www.battleofchas.com)
One legend has it that the Confederates used the steeple of Rockville Church as a watch tower, looking for Union ships on the waterway.
A WAR OF A DIFFERENT TYPE – TAKING A STAND FOR THE TRUTH
Rockville was the first church to seek dismissal from Charleston Atlantic Presbytery and had to overcome a drawn-out process and accusations made against Pastor Mark Hunt, but the congregation’s resolve was rewarded. Rockville Presbyterian Church, was eventually released from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and has affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).
As reported by the Presbyterian Layman:
Rockville’s decision to seek a new denominational home more in line with its theological position was two-fold. It centered around the authority of Scripture and its interpretation, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. “It was real simple,” Hunt declared. “Those were the two issues we found to be compelling and important to us. We felt a line had been crossed by the larger church in regard to those issues.” Hunt said joining the EPC was a matter of properly aligning Rockville’s beliefs with those of like-minded Christians. “We felt misaligned. Our values and the vision of our congregation were not in line with those of the national denomination, and we couldn’t be as effective with what we wanted to do and be as a church,” he explained. “The EPC resonated well with us. When we looked in the mirror, what we saw doctrinally was the EPC and felt it was a pretty good reflection of who we are.”
I am glad to say that Rockville is now counted among our EPC churches. The EPC denomination is a family of churches, reformed and Presbyterian, defined by shared core values and bonded by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The EPC is a church family centered upon the good news of what God has done for the world through His Son, Jesus Christ. With about 125 members, Rockville Presbyterian Church, her pastor and her congregation are great additions to the EPC family. It was truly a pleasure to meet and visit with Mark and Rockville EPC. I love making new friendships, especially those that have the flavor of lasting a lifetime.
If you ever in the area of Charleston on a Sunday morning, make time drive out into the low country and worship at Rockville EPC. They are located at 2479 Sea Island Yacht Club Road Wadmalaw Island, SC 29487.
Check back later as I continue to relate some more stories from other churches I have visited.