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A history of Childsbury in Berkeley County

John D. Irving, M.D., author of A Day on Cooper River, tells us that “James Child had been a victim of the tyranny of Lord Jeffreys. Imprisoned for not surrendering ‘a Charter of several liberties and privileges granted to the Parish of Amersham (Hertfordshire), with his wife and eight children he had been “forced to abscond; sell an Estate worth above 2000£ for 1800 and depend on the charity of friends. Here in Carolina, he attempted to recover his fortunes by founding in 1707 a town of his own.”

Child, an English settler, was granted a tract of 1,200 acres on Strawberry Bluff overlooking the Cooper River in what is today Berkeley County, South Carolina. This location was the furthest upstream that ships could travel. He established an early ferry across the river at this location.

With the town started in 1707, James Child, upon his death, bequeathed 500 acres of his land holdings for the town that was planned to have twenty-four blocks on Strawberry Bluff. At its center was a market square. Two other squares were named Child's Square and Dixie's Square. The streets were 66 feet wide. Property was assigned for a college, a free school, a church, and a minister's house. James Child also designated 600 acres for farms and pastures outside of the planned town, and 100 acres on the bluff for a future citadel.

At one time, the town had a tavern, school, chapel, racetrack, general store, and ferry. A tanner, butcher, shoemaker, and carpenters lived in the town. Due to the growth of nearby plantations, the town began to wither in the 1750s, but the chapel and tavern continued to be used. Fairs were held until the mid-1750s. By the American Revolution, Childsbury no longer existed. The former town's buildings were ultimately absorbed into the neighboring Strawberry Plantation.

Strawberry Chapel

In 1725, the townfolk built Strawberry Chapel in the hamlet of Childsbury. The Chapel was of brick, the parishioners having subscribed "a considerable sum" and the same building stands today near Strawberry Ferry, on the ground originally given by James Child.

It was a simple, rectangular brick building covered in stucco with a jerkin-head roof. The south-facing facade has a double three-paneled door with a flush fanlight. There are shuttered windows on either side of this door. The west end has a single door flanked by a pair of windows. There is decorative rosette window above. The east end has two windows with the rosette window above. Extending from the north wall behind the altar is a small ante-room for the vestry. A graveyard is around the church.

The chapel was a parochial chapel of ease of the Parish of St. John's, Berkeley. The parish church at the time was Biggin Church, which was about 10 miles away. The designation of "parochial" meant that it had the authority to baptize and bury the dead.

By 1825, Strawberry Chapel replaced Biggins Church as the parish church. A mural tablet in memory of an early rector of the parish was moved from Biggin Church to Strawberry Chapel. The silver Communion service from Biggin Church, which had been hidden at the end of the American Civil War, was found buried in a barn at the Comingtee Plantation in 1947. It is now used at services at Strawberry Chapel.

Childsbury, or Childsberry

The name is spelled differently in documents and the printed Statutes. The correct form was probably Childsbury, altho’ pronounced and more frequently spelled Childsberry.

On 14 July 1698, a tract of 1,200 acres was granted to one James Child. The land granted was on the Eastern bank of the Western branch of the Cooper River, at a point designated in later documents referring to it as “The Strawberry” or “Strawberry.” It probably, or possibly, had that name before the grant to Child.

From an early period in the eighteenth century, it was so known, and has retained the name of “Strawberry” to the present day. Recently, I was asked how and when “Strawberry” got its name . . . and why “Strawberry.” A truly excellent question. Harriet Kershaw Leiding states, “The earliest mention of the name “Strawberry” appears to be in the act of 17th February 1705, which declares that ‘ye Inhabitants of the Eastern & Western branches of ye T of Cooper River are willing at their own proper Cost & Charge to make a ferry at yee Plantation of Mr. James Child Known commonly by ye name of ye Strawberry Plantation.”

The grant bounded to the South on the lands of Mrs. Aphra Coming, afterwards known as “Comings T” or “Comingtee” and to the north on the estate called “Mepkin” that had been granted to the three Colleton brothers, Sir Peter, James, and Thomas, and which finally vested in James as the last survivor of the three.

From a clause in the will of James Child, he would appear to have come from Coleshill, in the Parish of Augmondi, County of Hertford, England. At any rate, he owned a house and lands there.

To the tract of 1,200 acres James Child owned were added the following grants, either contiguous to or in the near vicinity of the 1,200 acres, viz: 800 acres granted 1 June 1709, 100 acres granted 8 September 1711, 100 acres granted 21 March 1715/16, and 500 acres granted 19 October 716.

The town was located at the bluff on the river, called the Strawberry Bluff, and must have been laid out at or prior to 25 September 1714, for in the deed from “James Child of Childsbury Town “Yeoman” to Stephen Sarrasin Merchant” he sells some seven town lots which “appear by the Town Platt dated “25 September 1714.” By this deed, James Child conveyed seven lots, each containing a half acre, viz: three front lots, numbers 8, 9, and 10, and four other lots, numbers 20, 21, 28, and 29. The streets named on which these lots bound are Craven Street, Mulberry Street, and Church Street, and some lots must have been already sold, as these lots also bounded on the lots of John Moore and Marks Holmes. The proviso is added that if two houses are not built on the lots within one year, then the lots would revert to James Child.

James Child died about August 29, 1720, (the date when his will was probated). By his will, which was dated 29 October 1718, he describes himself “of Childsbury Town on Western Branch of Cooper River.” By his will, he gave an acre and a half in the town for a Church or Chapel and a burying place for the inhabitants of Childsbury Town; a square in the middle of the town as shown on the plat for a market place; and lot number 16 to trustees for a free school, with a house for the schoolmaster, the trustees to employ a learned schoolmaster to keep a grammar school to teach Latin to boys and children until prepared for a college or university, and to teach English to children, and “to learn them to write and keep accts. by Arithmetic.” The children of all the inhabitants of the western and eastern branches of Cooper who contributed to the ferry and causeway to have the benefits of the school provided the parents send firewood for their children in winter or pay two shillings and sixpence Carolina currency per annum to the school master. He further gave “a square of land upon northwesternly of the ferry street” “with two acres and a halfe” of land Butting on the River Bay, and the marsh land between the Bay and the river as shown on the town platt to trustees for a college or university, when any pious and charitable persons should think to put it to that use.

Child also gave all the rents of his Luckins Plantation, whereon he then dwelled, commencing from September 1718, and also £500 as security for a salary for the schoolmaster, the interest to be paid every six months in Carolina currency. To the inhabitants of Childsbury Town, he gave the communing and pasturage of 600 acres of land, provided each lot owner put in only two cows, with power to the lot owners to elect a hay ward; and give the hill by the tanhouse and the river bay, containing one hundred acres, to build upon, in time of war, a citadel for the defence of the town.

Also provided for was a place for a market in the town, and that “the inhabitants of the said town are very much “inconvenienced as well for want of certain market days in “each week to be appointed for Childsbury town” as for want of public fairs to be held there at least twice a year.

The Act then provided that public open markets should be kept in Childsbury every Tuesday and Saturday in the week without payment of any toll for three years, and that two fairs should be kept annually, in May and October.

In March 1731, according to the Council Journal of the day, a petition was made by the “Trustees of the free school at Childsbury Ferry, praying that the Several Legacies left the said School may be united and Consolidated” and on 9 June 1733, an Act was passed reciting the gifts made by James Child in his will of £500 current money for a free grammar school at Childsbury and £100 in like money and a lot for the school, and that several gentlemen in the Province had raised £2,200 in like money to be added to Mr. Child’s legacy, and the Act then declared the following trustees of the school and fund, viz: Hon. Thomas Broughton, Lieut. Governor, Rev’d. Mr. Thomas Hasell, and Anthony Bonneau, John Harleston, Nathaniel Broughton, Thomas Cordes, and Francis Lejau, Esq.”

The trustees were to meet at least once every three months at Childsbury, and fill any vacancies among themselves. No one could be a trustee who had not subscribed £100.

With all this, the town seems nevertheless to have soon practically disappeared as such.

During the lifetime of James Child, part of the 1,200 acres granted him seems to have gone by this name, “Luckins” or “Luckens” plantation, or farm, and by his will, he gave this “Luckins Farm” to his grandson, Robert Dix, with a proviso that if he died in infancy, then the plantation was to go to the testator’s grandson, William Child, son of Isaac Child.

Robert Dix did die in infancy, without issue, and Isaac Child, the father of William Child, by his memorial on 16 February 1732, claims as the property of his son and himself 500 acres called “Luckens Plantation” part of “Strawberry Land,” 477 acres known as the “Strawberry Bluff” adjoining the river, 123 acres called “Oak Grove” part of the “Strawberry Land” and 100 acres called the “Parsonage,” also part of the “Strawberry Plantation” which tracts together, making 1,200 acres, were granted to James Child on 14 July 1698, and are “well known by the name of the “Strawberry Plantation.”

In 1736, William Child advertises in the Gazette, requiring all persons to whom Mr. James Child, of Childsbury Town, had sold lots, to product their titles. From all appearances, the town had decayed and the lot owners had abandoned their lots, and there being no one to use the commons, occupy the lots, or walk the streets, the devisees or heirs of James Child had retaken the property. The “college or university” died with the drying of the ink on the parchment (or paper) of the will. The testators’ zeal for education was also evidenced by his bequest of all his books and surveying instruments to that son of his son Isaac, who should become a Latin scholar, and if none of his sons should so succeed, these books and instruments were to go to begin a library in the schoolhouse.

This seems as good as any a place for us to be told that this Strawberry, with its old Chapel-of-Ease of St. Johns Berkeley, and its ancient Ferry, is the site of Childsbury, a portion of the 3,700 acres of James Child’s land grants.

Strawberry Ferry was approved by an Act of 17th February 1705 by that name. Dr. Irving tells us that “it has continued in use ever since as an important means of transportation, for the river has not been bridged there.” The Ferry operated very near the Chapel, at the bottom of the bluff, and approximately 100 yards from a present-day landing on the Cooper River. Across the river, eastward, was the old road leading to the main road going to and from Charles Town known by some as the Broad Path.

Again in Harriet Leidings’ writings of 1921, we are told of the “old cypress, on which the rates of ferriage was painted, and how it had become mortised into a tree on the Strawberry (plantation) side” – the tree had overgrown it at least 100 years previous, and no doubt no longer is in existence.

Leiding also tells of this location that the Strawberry Jockey Club used to hold its annual meeting. The Club having been dissolved in 1822 and the racecourse nearby that was ploughed up and turned into a corn field.

One of my distant ancestors, Peter Gourdin, brother of Henry and Robert N. Gourdin, became a hero on one occasion at Strawberry Chapel when the Dean Hall carriage horses ran away down the hill to the ferry flat-boat and over it into the river. A ‘Mrs. Carson and her two little boys,’ William and James, were in the carriage, which the coachman couldn’t stop. Gourdin rescued them in a boat, but the horses were drowned.

Strawberry Chapel and Childsbury are now in South Carolina Heritage Preserve and on the National Register of Historic Places. Much can be added to Childsbury’ history concerning the American Revolution . . . another time.

Keith Gourdin

References:

-A Day on Cooper River by John D. Irving, M.D.

-Historic Houses of South Carolina, by Hariette Kershaw Leiding

-J.D. Lewis, www.carolana.com

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