Nonprofit to preserve historic chapel property

Jack Lynes’ great-great-great-grandfather, Samuel Lynes, is among dozens of people buried at the St. James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease Historic Site between Goose Creek and Moncks Corner. Buy this photo

Down a dirt road off Old Highway 52 in the rural community of Strawberry, Jack Lynes of Aiken and Johnny Dangerfield of Moncks Corner compare “great-greats” and “great-great-greats.”

History of the land

1715: The site of a battle during the Yemassee War.

1725: The Rev. Richard Ludlam led an initiation mass at the Chapel of Ease for St. James Goose Creek Church Parish.

1780: The chapel was destroyed.

1812: The Rev. Matthew Mccullers and “eight brethren” organized the Bethlehem Baptist Church.

1860s: The church was disassembled and moved 4.5 miles, where it was reassembled as Groomsville Baptist Church.

“That’s where we connect right there,” Lynes said, pointing to the nearby gravestone of his great-great-great-grandfather, Samuel Lynes.

To help

To learn more or to make a donation, go to chapelofease.org.

The distant cousins are part of a family with history that goes back many generations in Berkeley County, and with other family members who have been visiting the site for years to care for the markers at the resting place of many of their ancestors.

Many of the stones have fallen, cracked or sunk into the ground.

Now the 22-acre historic property in the woods between Goose Creek and Moncks Corner, known as the St. James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease Historical Site, will be protected permanently.

With fundraisers and bolstered by a $104,000 donation from the State Ports Authority, the nonprofit acquired the land from the Synovus Trust in December.

“What we wanted to do was preserve this marvelous piece of ground,” said Goose Creek Mayor Mike Heitzler, chairman of the group. “We would like to pass it on to future generations of caretakers and open it up for public viewing, making it a stop on historical trips for people coming through Berkeley County.”

The site defines “how this community came to be as it is today, and now it will be protected forever and never lost again,” said Barry Jurs, executive director of the Lord Berkeley Conservation Trust. “That’s a big deal.”

The known history of the site dates to the 1700s, when it was owned by Col. George Chicken and was the site of a battle in the Yemassee War.

In the 1720s, a cross-shaped brick Anglican “chapel of ease” was built so worshippers wouldn’t have to make the six-mile trek to St. James Goose Creek Church. It was destroyed during the Revolutionary War, but the foundation remains.

The land later served as a camp and home to Bethlehem Baptist Church, where blacks and whites worshipped together.

Today it has the tombstones of at least four American Revolution patriots and a Confederate soldier among more than 30 marked graves, archaeological ruins from the battle and churches, remnants of inland rice fields, and 16 acres of freshwater wetlands.

The site had fallen into years of neglect, with descendants visiting periodically, until Charla Springer, organizer of the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, led clean-ups there and asked for help.

Soon the project, under the leadership of the Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, involved several conservation and historical-preservation groups in addition to family members.

Recent digs have turned up pottery, wrought nails, pipe bowls, arrowheads, bullets, glass and charred bone. Also discovered were a grave shaft in the altar area of the church; trunks and gates for an inland rice field; a possible field kitchen that slaves used; a possible site where rice was dried; and brickwork for a trunk to the canal.

Now Lynes said he is concerned about treasure hunters desecrating the site.

“That’s really contrary to historic preservation,” he said. “We want people to treat it with respect and consider it a holy place. There is nothing here worth money. It’s just a little cemetery, and that’s the most important thing.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.

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