St. Thomas & St. Denis Church – Cainhoy, South Carolina

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Built in 1819, the St. Thomas & St. Denis Church – also called White Church or Brick Church – still stands on the banks of the Wando River near Cainhoy in Berkeley County. It replaced an older church which was built on the site about 1708, but which burned in a forest fire in the spring of 1815.

St. Denis

Pamela Bohnenstiehl of Charleston, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

St. Thomas and St. Denis were originally separate parishes, both established after the Church of England became the Province of Carolina’s official church in 1706. (St. Denis, which was French, was actually located inside St. Thomas, which was Anglican; St. Denis was not officially dissolved until 1768, though for all intents and purposes the two had merged decades earlier. In 1784, the name St. Denis was revived and incorporated into the parish title.)

St Thomas Church

Brandon Coffey of St. George, 2008 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

French Protestants came to this area in the late 1600s, having fled France as refugees upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. A variety of causes led them to merge with the Anglican church after just 20 years, including both assimilation and poverty. That said, the Huguenots were able to retain many of their own religious traditions and initially continued to conduct services in their native tongue.

St. Thomas & St. Dennis Episcopal Church

Bill Segars of Hartsville, 2006 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Nevertheless, the transition to Episcopacy was not easy, and the residents of this area (then known as Orange Quarter or French Quarter) left the Anglican church in 1716 and again in the 1720s. At this time they worshiped in a small wooden church to the north of St. Thomas, which had previously been the parish church of St. Denis. They attempted to join the Huguenot church in Charleston but were rejected because they had previously accepted Anglican terms. As a result, the Dissenters had no choice but to return to the Episcopal church.

St Thomas St Dennis

Bill Segars of Hartsville, 2006 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

The church is built of brick and covered by stucco. When it was active, it was also known as “Brick Church,” distinguishing it from the church at St. Denis. Thomas Hasell, a missionary at St. Thomas, described the building in a 1716 letter:

[A] strong and well finished Piece of Brick work but very small and not above thirty-seven feet an half in length and twenty seven and an half in Breadth. There is a handsome porch on each side, upon Columns Painted double doors on south and north Sides opposite to one another, with a single door at the West End all Glazed on the Tops, as also the upper part of the windows, the inside of the Church is furnished with a handsome Pulpit Reading Desk some Pews a Communion Table neatly railed in all of Cedar Wood, the rest of the floor is filled up with common seats and the Iles are Paved… The Church was built at the charge of the publick out of a certain fund raised by an Imposition laid on Skins and furs by an act of the General Assembly passed Nov 4, 1704 and appropriated by the said Act for the Building of Churches, Parsonage houses.

St. Denis Interior

Pamela Bohnenstiehl of Charleston, 2014 © Do Not Use Without Written Consent

Pompion Hill Chapel, though older than St. Thomas, became the Chapel of Ease for the parish in 1747. The church of St. Thomas and St. Denis is listed in the National Register, which adds the following:

White Church, or St. Thomas & St. Dennis Parish Episcopal Church, was constructed in 1819 and occupies the site of the older parish church of St. Thomas, which was built about 1706 but which burned in 1815. During the Reconstruction period, the church was the scene of the 1876 “Cainhoy Massacre,” a serious riot between whites and blacks which developed when some white men from Charleston journeyed to Cainhoy to attend a Negro Republican meeting. The blacks fired upon the white men with guns they had hidden in a vault at St. Thomas churchyard.

The church, charming in its simplicity of design, is a uniquely beautiful example of a small, rural parish church of the early 1800s. The church, with its Classical Revival or late Federal features, is made of stucco over brick with a medium gable roof made of tile. A high-arched doorway with a fanlight capped by a five-panel arch is set between pilasters. The side facades are identical. A balcony above the inside door was added about 1858. In 1937 the church was restored by Henry F. Guggenheim. An unusual and distinctive auxiliary building is the vestry, with hipped roof on one end and chimney on the other, giving the appearance of a half-completed building. A cemetery dating from 1782 is included in the nomination.

Reflections on St. Thomas and St. Denis

Harriott Cheves Leland, archivist for the Huguenot Society of South Carolina, adds the following helpful information: “There were two congregations before the Church Act – the Anglicans and the French – and St. Denis was set up to include the French who were allowed to conduct services in French (provided they used the Anglican liturgy) and to have French-speaking ministers (provided those ministers were sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) and ordained in the Anglican church). That said, both French Santee and Orange Quarter appear to have done what they wanted to, and they did not use the Anglican liturgy – but they didn’t have prayer books to use either, at least at first. They both were reprimanded by the SPG representatives in Carolina and by Commissioner Garden and there were several periods of difficulty.”

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church Info

Address: 1513 Cainhoy Road, Cainhoy, SC

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church Map

St. Thomas & St. Denis Church – Add Info and More Photos

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13 Comments about St. Thomas & St. Denis Church

Clayton CauseyNo Gravatar says:
September 14th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I’m a descendant of Huguenots through the Vereens of Little River and a professional French translator. If anyone needs to translate any old documents in Huguenot French please feel free to contact me ( Thanks.

Marty Vie BrooksNo Gravatar says:
July 18th, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Is the cemetery ever open for visitors?

SCIWAYNo Gravatar says:
July 8th, 2014 at 4:47 am

The church is on private property, so it would be a good idea to ask someone from the Huguenot Society of South Carolina first.

DruNo Gravatar says:
July 7th, 2014 at 9:08 pm

I stopped by here today after passing by it a couple times. The gate was chained up. Am I allowed to walk around the grounds or do I need to call someone ahead of time?

Ann Mitchell HorneNo Gravatar says:
May 19th, 2014 at 10:14 am

The parish records of St. Thomas & St. Denis of South Carolina record the marriage of Moses Milliken and Mary Murrell on 9 September 1721. These are my ancestors. A. Horne

Shelley GermeauxNo Gravatar says:
April 12th, 2014 at 2:53 pm

John Adkins – The “Annals of St. Thomas and Denis Parish” have the marriage records, you can look that up with the library I presume. I have records of my ancestors’ births and burials dating to the 1700s, in these parish records. My ancestors were the Russells and Akins who lived west of the church on the river, part of it is where Nucor Steel is now.

My question is, are there graves dating to the 1700s still in the church yard? According to records, this is where my ancestor Jeremiah Russell is buried, 1748.

JudyNo Gravatar says:
February 11th, 2014 at 8:02 pm

We were married there in 1993 when they were in the process of restoring it. Great memories.

Joann HunterNo Gravatar says:
July 9th, 2013 at 1:44 pm

What is the address at the church? All of my family is there, including my grandmother and my mom. I would like to come pay my respects.

John AdkinsNo Gravatar says:
January 21st, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I’m searching for marriage records from St. Thomas Parish for the marriage of Jacob Nathaniel Lord and Mary Elizabeth Tarbox on or about March 30, 1808. We believe the marriage was officiated by Rev. Nankevil. Any thoughts on where to find these marriage records? Thanks.

Nick GardnerNo Gravatar says:
October 8th, 2012 at 7:52 am

We found it the next day and really enjoyed exploring… Too many of the markers from our time frame was beyond recognition to find any of the Russ graves…. Thanks so much!

Heather MorehouseNo Gravatar says:
October 6th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Nick–I just passed by the church today and was curious about it, and after googleing it, found this site. To get to the church (and of course this depends on where you’re coming from): take 526 to Clements Ferry Road (North) and go an estimated 7-8 miles before turning left at Cainhoy Road (there’s a traffic light). Follow Cainhoy for maybe 2 miles (again an estimate!) and the church will be hard to spot on your left. The drive is gated, but there’s a historical marker & you can just see the church while passing by.

Hope you can find it!

Nick GardnerNo Gravatar says:
September 7th, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I have looked for this St. Thomas church and cannot find it, I think may have ancestors buried there. I need directions…

PAMELA OTTNo Gravatar says:
February 20th, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Does St Thomas have an active congregation and if so when are the masses celebrated?


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