Records a window to past

This is one of the charred pages from the covenant book of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Archivists at the Charleston Museum were atwitter last week as they combed through 40 years of records from a church in rural Berkeley County. The edges of the pages were charred by a fire that destroyed the house where they were stored.

The records are the continuation of a story that includes early settlers, skirmishes with Indians, the Revolutionary and Civil wars and the rise and fall of one of the Lowcountry’s great plantations. A Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce committee is working on turning the old church site into a tourist destination.

Jack Lynes, descendant of former Foxbank Plantation owner George Lynes, was donating records from Bethlehem Baptist Church. The church was built near Foxbank in 1888, shortly after George Lynes died and the plantation was divided among the heirs.

Jack Lynes described how the pages, now enclosed in plastic, came into his possession.

“Then she handed me a book, and when I started reading, I said, ‘Holy smoke, this is the second covenant book we’ve been looking for, and here it is.’ ”

“That is so fabulous,” head archivist Jennifer Scheetz said. “This is so impressive.”

The records may seem mundane, but they tell stories that resonate with all of us, Lynes said later.

“We read a lot of history about famous and important people,” said Lynes, an insurance inspector who lives in Aiken. “But history is really made up of ordinary people, and most of their history is not recorded. It just seems there’s a big contribution made by ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary ways. The idea is not that we’re important people. We’re ordinary people just like you are, and you have an interesting past, too.”

The records that Lynes donated to the museum are pages from the church’s covenant book between 1888 and 1928. An earlier covenant book from a chapel that formerly occupied the site already is in the museum’s archives.

A covenant book outlines the duties of members who sign it.

Lynes recently got the records from a relative who rescued them from the ashes of the Sims Boarding House on South Live Oak Drive in Moncks Corner. The boarding house, which was run by some of George Lynes’ descendants, closed in 1970s and burned while it was being remodeled. The records survived because they were stored under some stairs.

The relative heard that Jack Lynes was researching the history of Foxbank plantation and the churches built near it and wanted him to have the records. Lynes was in the newspaper two years ago when he got a batch of historically significant papers that somebody had found in an old dresser he bought at a yard sale.

Bethlehem Baptist Church was built on the site of the Chapel of Ease that served the plantation. It was later renamed Goose Creek Baptist Church and then Groomesville Baptist Church when the congregation moved several miles away. The church was discontinued sometime around the 1950s.

Lynes also donated a velvet scarf that covered the altar and a church Bible that was printed in 1868.