Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church – Georgetown, South Carolina
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Bricks for the church were collected as early as 1740, though the cornerstone was not laid until 1744. Construction was completed two years later and the first service was held on August 16, 1747.
The church is constructed from English red bricks held together with local oyster shell mortar. While the design is typical of many colonial churches, it does have several notable features including English stained glass windows and a Jacobean gable.
The church’s interior is lined with traditional box pews and features hand-carved woodwork and flagstone flooring. The church was severely damaged during the Revolutionary War and was even used as a stable for British troops. Yet the edifice received repairs and several additions in 1809. The tower and steeple were not added until 1824.
Several notable South Carolinians, including Governor Robert Francis Withers Allston, are buried in the church’s cemetery.
Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church is listed in the National Register as part of the Georgetown Historic District:
Third oldest city in South Carolina, Georgetown is significant historically, militarily, agriculturally and architecturally. Georgetown was laid out as a city in 1729. In 1735 Georgetown was conveyed to three trustees. A plan of the city was attached to the deed and was the first plan to be preserved. Included in the plan were 174.5 acres for the town and 100 acres for a commons. The town acreage was divided into blocks by five streets running at right angles to the river. Much physical evidence of the past remains. The oldest existing structure in Georgetown is a dwelling which dates from ca. 1737. There are approximately twenty-eight additional 18th century structures as well as eighteen buildings erected during the 19th century prior to the Civil War. The existing structures—homes, churches, public buildings—are of both historical and architectural significance and are situated on heavily shaded, wide streets. The architecture ranges from the simplicity of early colonial, or Georgian, to the elaborate rice plantation era, such as Classical Revival.
Detailed History of Prince George, Winyah Episcopal Church, Part I
Below is a two-part article that was contributed to the South Carolina Picture Project by Bill Segars of Hartsville. It originally appeared as two separate columns in his local paper, The Darlington News & Press. Part I was published on November 30.
After almost a year break from writing church articles, I’m back. My loyal church article readers allowed me the time needed to concentrate on finishing a book about early church buildings in South Carolina. Churches in South Carolina Burned During the American Revolution: A Pictorial Guide is finished and printed.
When Jana Pye, the editor of the News & Press, contacted me to ask if I was ready to submit another church article, I jumped at the opportunity to talk about one of my “old friends” that is explored in detailed in the book. Prince George, Winyah is truly a functional historical jewel in South Carolina. “Functional historical jewel” are words typically not used together, but all three words apply to Prince George, Winyah. It’s “functional” because the building is used every Sunday with a very active congregation, “historical” because many elements of the building are over 269 years old, and “jewel” because its rare beauty sparkles in downtown Georgetown. Prince George is the only remaining regularly used church building in South Carolina that experienced flames at the hand of the British soldiers. Prince George, Winyah also has Pee Dee area connections and even currently has Darlington County connections.
As the population of South Carolina began to grow in the Georgetown area due to the cultivation of rice, the Anglican Parish of Prince George, Winyah was established on March 10, 1721 from land previously in the 1706 St. James, Santee Parish. A church building was quickly built about 12 miles north of present day Georgetown on the Black River. In 1734 another parish was established, Prince Frederick’s Parish, and oddly, the first Prince George building fell in the newly formed parish boundary. The present Georgetown community was founded in 1729, and the port opened for business in 1732. So in 1734 when the need arose to relocate the Prince George Parish church building, the corner of Broad and Highmarket Streets, downtown Georgetown was the perfect place. In 1740 bricks were being gathered to build the new parish church.
By 1744 enough brick and material had been collected to begin construction on the church, so the cornerstone was laid on October 30, 1744. Progress was slow but the edifice was completed enough to hold the first worship service in the unfinished interior on August 16, 1747. By 1755 the interior of Prince George, Winyah had been completed and the proud congregation was looking forward to many years of service that this beautiful building would bring to them.
Unfortunately, the British soldiers and the American Revolution had different plans for Prince George. When Georgetown fell to the British in June of 1780, the building that was used to stable the British troop’s horses was the Prince George Church building. This devastating abuse to the building continued until General Francis Marion approached Georgetown on May 28, 1781, causing the British troops to evacuate the town. In August of the same year, British troops tried unsuccessfully to retake Georgetown, this time from the sea. It’s unknown exactly when or to what extent the British burned the church. It was either in May or August of 1781, but the burning of the church and many other buildings in Georgetown is well documented in historical records. The burning of buildings, particularly churches, was customary for the enemy troops as they left an area in the face of defeat.
Due to the fact that the exterior walls of Prince George are built as load bearing brick walls, it my opinion that the fire consumed only the interior components and the wooden roof structure of the building. This would leave the building as a burned out shell which could be repaired and built back. We’ll dig deeper into the reconstruction of Prince George next week.
But first let us back up a little bit to 1774 when the St. David’s Anglican Parish Church was being built in the Pee Dee area. St. David’s Parish, headquartered in Cheraw, was the last of the 23 Colonial Anglican Parishes established before the end of the American Revolution. Some members of the St. David’s congregation must have seen and liked Prince George’s beautiful wine glass pulpit, because they sent their builder, Thomas Bingham, to Georgetown to study and draw the pulpit with the idea of returning to Cheraw and duplicating it in their building. He produced such an accurate version of it that when Prince George’s interior was burned, a Georgetown craftsman was sent to Cheraw to duplicated the pulpit yet again. Both are still in existence today for us to enjoy.
Return with me next week when we’ll learn more about the reconstruction of Prince George, Winyah and its Darlington County connection. If you would like to purchase a copy or need a gift for that “hard to buy for friend,” the books are available at the Darlington County Historical Commission, located at 204 Hewitt St. in Darlington. It can also be ordered from Amazon, by typing in the book title, for $25.
Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church Info
Address: 300 Broad Street, Georgetown, SC 29440
GPS Coordinates: 33.368769,-79.280946
Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church Map
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