Indian Field Campground – St. George, South Carolina
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Indian Field Campground (also known as Indian Fields) in St. George is an active United Methodist revival camp. The camp was established prior to 1810 on farmland two miles from the current location. Because the antebellum revival movement attracted such large crowds, the first site quickly became unable to accommodate the hoards of traveling celebrants. The campground, which gets its name from nearby Indian Field United Methodist Church, moved to its present 10-acre site in 1838, and the buildings were completed 10 years later.
The camp consists of a central open-air tabernacle that seats up to 1,000 people. Revivals, or camp meetings as they are now called, last for a week and are held here in the fall. The 99 cabins (called “tents”) in which participants stay surround the tabernacle in a circular shape to symbolize the community spirit of the shared religious experience.
Though the accommodations have been upgraded with water and electricity, the rudimentary design remains intact. The tents were built in a simple fashion, with a two-room sleeping loft above another bedroom and a cooking and eating area downstairs.
The tents are passed down from generation to generation, and it is common for people to hire local cooks to help them with meals during camp meeting. Most cooks drive to the camp each day during this week, though some stay the week in tents with the families.
The ground floor is covered in hay. For a place to relax, the tents have front porches where people can sit and converse with neighbors, and each tent has its own separate privy. The tents were designed not for comfort or privacy but for necessity, as people are encouraged to be out in the community of the revival rather than inside.
Indian Field continues a long tradition in South Carolinian Methodism, as Bishop Francis Asbury preached here as part of his “riding circuit.” Today local Methodists gather with their families the first week of October and takes turns with the cooking and cleaning duties in between sermons.
Children in school commute to class during this week, and many of the adults simply take the week off from work. While the fevered preaching of the nineteenth century has been replaced with more of what one might experience in a modern United Methodist Church, the camp meetings remain a popular way for people to rejuvenate their church community and their souls. A similar site, Cypress Methodist Campground, exists in nearby Ridgeville.
Indian Field Campground is listed in the National Register, which adds the following:
Architecturally, the design of Indian Fields reflects its use as a setting for a collective religious experience. A sense of community is heightened by the circle of adjacent cabins. Constructed in 1848, Indian Fields Methodist Camp Ground retains the nineteenth century layout of ninety-nine wooden cabins, or tents as they are called, which form a circle around a large wooden pavilion, the preaching stand or tabernacle.
The simplicity of the rough-hewn cabins and the open tabernacle is a part of the unpretentious style of evangelism that attracted a popular following. The original Indian Fields Camp Ground, located two miles away, was functional as early as 1810. In this year, Francis Asbury, who led the organization of American Methodism through itinerant preaching known as “riding circuits,” preached at Indian Fields. Even after many other stops on the circuits had become established churches, the meeting camp retained a tremendous influence on the development of religious life. Serving crowds too large for church buildings or homes, the campground responded to both religious and social needs. The ambiance of an antebellum campground such as Indian fields was a unique part of the American collective experience.
Detailed History of Indian Field Campground
Below is an article that was contributed to the South Carolina Picture Project by Bill Segars of Hartsville. It originally appeared in his local paper, The Darlington New & Press. It was published in November of 2015.
In last week’s article I mentioned a term that many of you may not be familiar with. Those of you who are somewhat familiar with camp meetings may not be aware of the history of these gatherings. Most denominations have places or services for intense inspiration: retreats, conferences, or revivals. Many Methodists find that inspiration in camp meetings. For some reason, most of these South Carolina camp grounds are located in the Dorchester area. Of the seven that I know of in South Carolina, four are found in Dorchester County.
Campgrounds had their origin in the early 19th century as a place to hold special services conducted by circuit-riding preachers. Very often their “fire and brimstone” sermons would bring in more people than a house or a church building could handle. People would come from the surrounding area for the services that would last for several days. The participants soon began putting up tents to stay overnight. These events not only met the citizens’ religious needs, the attendees also found social enjoyment in the gatherings. As an overnight stay increased to several nights, the tents gave way to crude wooden structures. Families built these buildings on the camp ground property, with the builder retaining ownership of the building for their annual use.
The excitement of emotionally-charged prayers and long, drawn-out hymns accompanied by home-trained musicians produced many “amens” and long services. These services would sometime last all day and into the night. With such long services, one can’t live off religion alone; they must have food. Everyone seemed to strive to outdo his neighbor with a heavily-laden table of food. When this excitement is combined with fine Southern food and Christian fellowship, it’s no wonder that Methodism grew exponentially in South Carolina.
One of the leading camp meeting locations in the early 1800s was Indian Fields Campground. Francis Asbury preached at a Indian Fields on December 21, 1801 and January 13, 1803. Even after many churches were established, Indian Fields and its camp-meeting style of revivals continued to be a tremendous influence in the development of the religious life in rural South Carolina. The original Indian Fields Campground was located about two miles from the present Indian Fields. More and more buildings, known as “tents”, were built there with very little planning or order. In 1848, a 10-acre tract was obtained just off United States Highway 15 near Saint George with the stipulation that a meeting be held once every two years. That has not been a problem since then.
The layout of Indian Fields is based on the biblical story of the Israelites erecting tents, representing the tribes of Israel, encircling a tabernacle. So today there is a 690-foot diameter circle of 99 tents surrounding a 68-foot-by-95-foot open-air tabernacle in the center. The tents are identical in basic design. Although they may vary in details, and most have been repaired over time, they continue to retain their original rustic unfinished weatherboard appearance. Each has a shed roof on the front supported by three rough-hewn wooden posts. Doorways are typically placed on the extreme left or right with the remainder of the front facade having spaced wooden slates for ventilation. The only other ventilation or light source are small shutter covered window holes in the gable of the second floor walls. Notice I didn’t use the word “glass”; there is no glass in these window holes.
On the rear of the tent is another shed-roofed area which houses the brick wood-burning stove. In recent years sinks have been added for washing hands and washing pots and plates. Do the words “stove” and “sink” sound like kitchen words? That because this is the kitchen area. Many families will bring their own cook to help prepare the meals that can feed as many as 20 or more people at each meal. There are stories told of cooks who have been coming to Indian Fields for 40 years. Think about it: experienced cook, large group of family and friends, the smell of hickory wood burning and cornbread frying on a black iron skillet: can’t you just imagine the meal that you’re getting ready to eat?
A sense of close community living is heightened due to the fact that these tents are only two-to-three feet apart. Each year the owners of the tents look forward to seeing their “week-long neighbors” and visiting with their invited guests. Intermingling in the center of the circle is encouraged by all campers as each front porch has two wooden plank benches for sitting and talking. The simplicity of the rough-hewn tents and the open-air tabernacle is a part of the unpretentious style of evangelism that brings friends back year after year.
Socializing in the center courtyard is done not just because there’s more room there, but because it’s normally cooler outdoors than inside at this time of the year. The Indian Fields camp meetings are held during the first week of October. This week was established because in this farming-based community, this was typically the time that crops are gathered, and it was time to give thanks for their harvest.
The interior of the tents consists of two eight-by-ten rooms on the first floor and one room on the second floor. Some larger families have three rooms on the first floor and two rooms on the second floor. A few items that the interior doesn’t have are doors, furniture, or flooring on the first floor. Privacy in the family unit is not important; seemingly nor is comfort. The feather mattresses that are brought from home fit on a wooden bed frame. The first floor is dirt covered with freshly laid straw for each year’s religious experience.
The only tent in the 99-tent circle that varies significantly from the others is the preacher’s tent. This one is larger, has glass in the windows and wooden doors. Do these incentives encourage anyone to become a preacher?
Has anyone noticed a subject that hasn’t been mentioned about ”tenting” yet? Well, there’s not much to discuss about the outhouses. It’s a simple fact: there are 99 tin-roofed, four-foot-square functional outhouses on the property, one for each tent. I’ll allow you to determine what “functional” means.
Why have families enjoyed doing this for almost 200 years? Why do tent owners leave their tents to loved ones in their wills? Many words comes to mind: social life, traditions, fellowship, self-sacrifice, and love of family. But these words cannot withstand the test of time without divine intervention and the desire for one human to share his faith through actions with another human. Have you been yet?
Indian Field Campground Info
Address: South Carolina Route S-18-73, St. George, SC 29477
Indian Field Campground Map
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