Calhoun County’s St. Matthew’s Parish Church, Fort Motte celebrates 250th anniversary
St. Matthew’s Parish Church, Fort Motte is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year. Established by acts of the South Carolina Colonial Assembly in 1765 and 1768, the original geographic area of St. Matthew’s Parish encompassed much of Amelia and Orangeburgh Townships in the colony’s sparsely settled “back country.” These areas are currently located in present-day Calhoun and Orangeburg Counties. The new parish was founded many miles up-river from Charles Town, but has had historical connections with older parishes along the coast.
The first parish church building was a wooden structure, 40 feet by 30 feet, erected circa 1765-1768. The church site is described as being near a large creek, known as the Half Way Swamp, on the road from Charleston to the Congaree River at McCord’s Ferry. The first building is no longer standing, but it is believed to have been located near present day Lone Star in Calhoun County.
The first rector of St. Matthew’s Parish was the Rev. Paul Turquand, who was born in London of French Huguenot ancestry. As a young man, Paul Turquand traveled to America and established himself as a teacher in Georgetown around 1760. His interest in the Anglican ministry is evident from correspondence from that period with a mentor in London. The details are unknown, but Turquand and the vestry and wardens of the new St. Matthew’s Parish became acquainted. Turquand then returned to England for study and received ordination as an Anglican priest in London in the spring of 1766.
Throughout his ministry, Turquand recorded his sermons in journals. Three original journals containing the manuscripts of Turquand’s sermons are in the possession of the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston. One of these sermons gives as its text John 13:14-15. At the end of this sermon, Turquand listed five churches and five dates, presumably the five churches where the sermon was given. The first three churches appear to be churches in England and have dates shortly after Turquand’s ordination. The fourth church listed is St. Michael’s Charles Town November 1766. The last church listed is the new parish of St. Matthew’s December 7, 1766.
Turquand strongly favored the American cause during the Revolutionary War. Records show that he represented St. Matthew’s Parish as a member of the First and Second Provincial Congresses of South Carolina and preached the opening sermon in 1775. After the British occupied South Carolina, Turquand’s support of the American cause put him in great peril. Being a clergyman of the Church of England made him both an enemy of the crown and a traitor to his country.
Turquand left his family in the care of parish members and, with parishioner and fellow Huguenot Col. Tacitus Gaillard, traveled to the Ohio River, down the Mississippi and into New Orleans. Turquand returned to St. Matthew’s at the end of the war and resumed his duties as rector of the parish. While serving at St. Matthew’s, Turquand preached at the parish church and chapel and at an early chapel in Orangeburgh Township. He also performed baptisms and marriages in other parishes, including St. John’s, St. Stephen’s, St. Mark’s and St. George’s Dorchester.
St. Matthew’s Parish has historical ties to St. Helena’s, Beaufort, as well. The Rev. Joseph R. Walker, long time rector of St. Helena’s, left Beaufort following the Union occupation in 1861 and supplied at St. Matthew’s until the end of the War Between the States. Returning to Beaufort, Walker continued his influential pastorate at St. Helena’s during which 26 men were led into the Episcopal ministry.
The small frame church building at Half Way Swamp was the first of four church buildings for St. Matthew’s Parish. In 1800 and again in 1819, the building was moved to more conveniently serve members of the parish. The present church building was erected in 1852-53 and still contains the original 19th-century enclosed pews and narrow balcony. During construction, the Rev. Benjamin Johnson reported to the Diocesan Convention of 1852 that the building was of Gothic style, 42 by 26 feet, “and when finished will compare favorably with most of our country Churches.”
Visitors are welcome as St. Matthew’s Parish celebrates its 250th anniversary on Sunday, December 6 with a worship service beginning at 10:30 a.m., a lunch at noon in the Parish Hall and the dedication of a historical marker at 1:00 p.m. Bishop FitzSimons Allison, church historian and retired bishop of South Carolina, is the guest speaker for the dedication of the historical marker. St. Matthew’s Parish Church is located at 1164 Fort Motte Rd. in Fort Motte.
Author’s Note: This article is based on information I collected in writing a history of St. Matthew’s Parish for its 250th anniversary celebration. I offer special thanks to Tom Livingston of Charleston for the information that he supplied on the life of the Rev. Paul Turquand.
Nina Reid Mack is the senior warden of St. Matthew’s Parish Church, Fort Motte, South Carolina.