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The ruins of Biggin Church are all that remains of the place of worship for early settlers of St. John’s Parish in Berkeley County. The church burned three times after being built in the early 1700s. Lauren Petracca/Staff

The British torched it, forest fires blazed through it twice, and vandals made off with many of its bricks. 

Yet the ruins of one of the Charleston region's most storied churches still stand, evoking 300 years of tumultuous history.

Shielded by trees and surrounded by gravesites of some of the Lowcountry's first inland farm families are the remains of Biggin Church. Portions of two brick walls and intricate arched openings for what were large windows and doors are all that's left of the place of worship on S.C. Highway 402 near Moncks Corner.

Founded in the early 1700s in the parish of St. John's Berkeley and first built of logs near the upper reaches of the Cooper River, the Anglican Church of Biggin Hill rose at the juncture of three important roads of the day on land donated by Landgrave John Colleton of Wadboo Barony, grandson of one of South Carolina's eight original Lords Proprietors.

Believed to have been named for Biggin Hill, southeast of London, the church shares its name with a nearby creek at what is now Old Santee Canal Park.

Around 1711, a brick church replaced the original log building, but in 1755 a forest fire roared through the region and consumed the religious gathering spot, according to the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

Undeterred, congregation members, many of them English settlers building new lives and descendants of Huguenots who fled to the region away from religious persecution in France in the late 1600s, rebuilt the church on-site around 1761, not long before rumblings of independence from England began to foment.

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A headstone for a Confederate soldier who died during the Civil War is pictured near the Biggin Church ruins in Berkeley County. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Among church parishioners were two ardent independence-minded planters who became central figures during the American Revolution.

Henry Laurens had succeeded John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress. As minister to the Netherlands during the Revolutionary War, he was captured at sea and held in the Tower of London, the only American with that distinction.

Though he survived the war, he was not buried at Biggin Church. His cremated remains can be found at what is now Mepkin Abbey, his former estate.

Also a church member was William Moultrie, a Revolutionary War general for whom Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island and Lake Moultrie in Berkeley County are named.

When Charleston fell to the British in 1780, Moultrie was captured and imprisoned. After the war, he became South Carolina governor twice. He, too, is not buried at the parish church, but at the coastal fort he helped to defend.

During the conflict, British troops seized Biggin Church and used it as a depot for storing ammunition. 

Historian Jean Guerry of Jamestown said Redcoats may also have used the site to imprison nearby residents who believed in independence and were not loyal to the crown.

When the tide turned and the British were forced to flee in July 1781, they burned the church. By year's end, the house of worship rose from the ashes again.

It remained a focal point of religious services until the Civil War, when the pews and fixtures were stripped away for other uses.

With the South in ruins after the Confederacy crumbled, its former slave-based economy dismantled and resources scarce, the church, which escaped the torch during America's bloodiest conflict, fell into neglect and disrepair.

Left to nature, the imposing structure met a final fate in the late 1800s. Another forest fire ripped through the region and destroyed the historic church around 1886.

What the fire didn't consume, vandals later did.

"After the third fire, the local people just scavenged everything," Guerry said.

Many of the bricks were used on other construction projects. Some accounts say the site was used as a brickyard.

The church was never rebuilt. An iron fence, recently installed, now protects the remaining brick walls and the outline of the church foundation. The surviving architectural features, including its 2-foot-thick walls, are believed to be those of the remains of the church built in 1761 along with the final iteration erected after the Revolutionary War.

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Historian Jean Guerry looks over at the Biggin Church ruins in Berkeley County.  Lauren Petracca/Staff

A cemetery surrounding the church shows individual plots for families of some of the original members, sons and daughters of former plantation owners. Older, weathered headstones are not legible, and a small contingent of Confederate flags marks some of the final resting places of those who fought during the war.

The cemetery, which spills out toward the gated entrance, is still used. 

In 1977, the church ruins officially became part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Now, more than 130 years after the last conflagration dealt the church a final blow, Guerry said it's important to protect what's left.

"You must know who was here and what they did," she emphasized while glancing at the headstones of prominent families of the day surrounding the remnants of where they prayed, sang hymns and got married.

The longtime head of the county's business group noted the church's ruins and its headstones tell a story of the area's culture during South Carolina's early history.

"For the residents of Berkeley County, it is one of our treasures that reminds us of the rich history of our region," Berkeley Chamber of Commerce CEO Elaine Morgan said. "From before the Revolutionary War through major hurricanes, it remains a legacy of grace and beauty."

Today, as traffic whizzes by on rural two-lane S.C. Highway 402, the site is a solemn place of reflection and a sobering reminder of the unpleasantness of the past.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.