Yemassee War battlefield had rich, subsequent history, too —and now, a brighter future

George Dangerfield checks the gravestone of one of his ancestors at the St. James, Goose Creek Chapel of Ease Historical Site. He has volunteered to clear the site of small trees and underbrush.

GOOSE CREEK — The 1715 battle fought here on a bluff above a small creek is not a very often discussed page of Charleston’s history.

But the emerging English settlement might not have survived without it.

And on June 13, three centuries to the day after a group of about 120 white settlers and slaves turned back Native American raiders bound for the port city, another group will gather here to mark the battle and the start of new work on the land where it was fought.

The planned improvements will open up the property for public access and begin telling the many other chapters of history that were written here.

“We think it’s a sacred place,” said Mayor Michael Heitzler. “We want to preserve it and make it available for public viewing.”

Heitzler is working with the newly created nonprofit that goes by the lengthy name of the St. James, Goose Creek Chapel of Ease Historical Site. The nonprofit took title to the 22-acre property with financial help from the State Ports Authority as part of its harbor-deepening mitigation.

The group’s volunteers already have made progress clearing out the extensive underbrush so that the property now resembles the graveyard it eventually became a few generations after the battle ended.

Its history began as a path for animals, then a path for Indians heading east between the Ashley and Cooper rivers — down the peninsula that would become known as Charleston. One of Berkeley’s earliest settlers, George Chicken, had a plantation nearby, and several of those in the 1715 battle worked there.

Afterward, Chicken donated the battlefield for a sacred space, and it eventually became a chapel of ease for the St. James Goose Creek Church.

While that brick building was burned during the Revolutionary War, the property regained a religious use a few decades later when the Bethlehem Baptist Church was built there, next to the church ruins. That modest wooden building also was moved a few miles away during Reconstruction — and the bricks from the ruin eventually were removed for use in nearby chimneys and foundations. Only the cemetery remained.

George Dangerfield, who is retired from Santee Cooper, remembers being brought to this property as a child to visit the grave of Samuel Lynes, his great-great-great-grandfather, and other family members.

Since the nonprofit received the property, he has spent about two days a week clearing out small trees and brush to make the site more accessible.

“I first came in the 1960s and the 1970s,” he said. “I’m back until I drop dead now.”

Lisa Foster, who is working with the group, said the clearing has made a big difference. “There was so much underbrush, you didn’t know all this was here,” she said. Several dozen graves remain with markers, though many more probably exist in an unmarked state.

Dangerfield also installed a large, flat wooden cross to mark the cruciform footprint of the original chapel of ease. It faces east, as do the surviving headstones.

The initial work includes a better parking area and path around the site. Lisa Foster, who is helping with the project, said she also would like to see the headstones restored as well as a kiosk with a list of those buried on the site.

“We hope this place will be a place for reflection and meditation,” she said.

Heitzler said there are longer-range plans to develop an app that would interpret the site’s history to visitors. It would explain why the battle here was pivotal. The Indians, who were fighting to stop the growing practice of their enslavement, were rebuffed from advancing on Charleston. Their warriors turned back toward the Wassamassaw Swamp, where Chicken and others ambushed them, crushing their alliance and essentially moving that war toward an end.

“One of our biggest challenges is we understand how extremely important this moment in time was,” he said. “We understand how historically significant this place was, but we also realize how difficult it is for a visitor to interpret that.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.