After William Hilton's 1662 exploration of the Cape Fear River, a small group of New Englanders decided to go check it out. In 1663, this small group attempted to establish a settlement on the south bank of the Cape Fear River, about 20 miles inland from the river's mouth. These folks loved the land, but they hated the climate, and apparently they did not like the local natives either. Within months, this settlement was abandoned and everyone went back to New England where the climate was much more to their liking.
In 1695, a small church group in Dorchester, Massachusetts sent several of its members to Charles Town to "scout" for a suitable location to relocate their church. In 1696, the church was relocated west of Charles Town and the town of Dorchester was established "along the frontier" of Carolana - the second "permanent" town after Charles Town. This group managed to stay in Carolana for more than a few months and Dorchester was "thriving" at the time of "the Split."
However, when Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia in 1733, the folks in Dorchester were tempted by the offer of more and better lands. In 1752, the congregation "up and moved" to the coast of Georgia, between the Medway and Newport rivers, in what is now Liberty County. What was once a thriving church community of Dorchester soon became a purely secular settlement that struggled to survive.
About twenty-six miles from the city of Charles Town, on the north bank of the Ashley River and about six miles in a southwestwardly direction from the railroad depot in the present town of Summerville can be seen an old church tower with an overgrown disused graveyard around it, and some two hundred paces farther on - on the edge of the river - are the walls of an old fort, constructed of that mixture of shells in lime mortar formerly called "tapia" or "tabby" (often spelled "tapis" in early records). These two conspicuous objects, with some scattered and shapeless masses of brick at irregular intervals, marking the sites of former houses, are all that remains of the town of Dorchester, once a comparatively flourishing, hamlet in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
The site of the old village of Dorchester is on a neck or peninsula of land between the Ashley River and a creek now called Dorchester Creek. This creek was originally known as Boshoe, or Bossua Creek. It is now called Rose Creek, where it crosses the road from Summerville to Dorchester. The region about the mouths of these two creeks - especially about the penisula between Dorchester Creek and Ashley River - was known by the Indian name or Boo-shoo-ee. The meaning of this Indian term is unknown save that the termination "ee" or "e" seems to have some connection with water - viz: Peedee, Santee, Wateree, Congaree, Co-pah-ee, etc.
The high land or bluff on the river where the village was afterwards located was, at the time of its location and afterwards, an "old field" and probably the site of the first clearing and settlement of John Smith. John Smith, of Boo-shoo, died prior to December, 1682, as in December, 1682, his widow, Mary, married Arthur Middleton, and on the death of the latter, about 1684, married Ralph Izard. John Smith seems to have left no children, and in some way his grant for 1,800 acres must have lapsed to the state or the method of a new grant must have been adopted so as to confer a good title, for in the year 1696 this same 1,800 acres is re-granted to the settlers who were to confer upon it the name of Dorchester.
We have in the diary of Elder Pratt - the William Pratt mentioned in a Dorchester (Mass.) Church entry of 22d, October, 1695 - an account of the voyage of the party from Boston to Charles Town. This, as being from first hand, is more authentic than the entry in the church record of Dec. 5, 1695, made from information.
Summarized, Elder Pratt's diary gives the account of the sailing of the "Church that was gathered in order to carry ye gospel ordinance to South Carolina" from Boston on Dec. 5, 1695, in one vessel. They had good weather until the 9th, when they encountered a gale, but from a favorable direction, and after its abatement made such progress as to get into Charles Town harbor on the 20th of December. They were welcomed with a salute of nine guns "which was more than us all," and were very kindly entertained on shore.
They stayed in Charles Town, and then "after this Mr. Lord and some of ye church came up to Ashley River and upon ye Sabeth after being ye 26th of January Mr. Lord precht at Mr. Norman's house upon that text in 8 Rom. 1 vrs. There were many that came to hear of ye neighbours round about and gave diligent attention. The second day of February being Sabath day Mr. Lord precht at Ashley River upon ye text 1 Pet: 3: 18. Most of ye neighbors came to hear all ye next neighbours and several persons came about ten miles to hear. The Sacrament of ye Lords Supper was administered yt day and two deacons chosen. At this time there was great joy among the good people."
Elder Pratt left Charles Town to return to New England on February 8, 1696. A year later he sailed from Boston with his family to return to Carolina. He sailed from Boston on January 8, 1697, and left Nantasket on the 15th. They encountered a very stormy passage, and only reached land on the 23rd of February. He does not state if any others of the "Church" than his own family came with him, but as the records of the Massachusetts church show that two months previous, viz: November 1, 1696, Deacon Sumner's wife and family, and his brother, Samuel Sumner, with his wife and family, with Peter O'Kelly's wife and six children, had been dismissed to the church near Newington, since called Dorchester, in all probability they accompanied Elder Pratt on this second voyage, and with the latter and his family, consisting of his wife, Elizabeth Baker Pratt, and daughter, Thankful Pratt, constituted the departing friends to whom the Rev. Mr. Danforth addressed his valedictory sermon printed in 1697. The confusion made of these two departures is also evidently the origin of the statement in Mr. Howe's history that they sailed on the 14th December, 1695, in two small vessels, whereas Elder Pratt, in his contemporaneous diary mentions but one.
During Elder Pratt's absence in New England the land had been finally secured. On 7th July, 1696, a grant was made to John Stevens of the very 1,800 acres, known as Boo-shoo, formerly granted to John Smith. Another tract of 2,250 acres lay to the west of the Boo-shoo tract on the Ashley River, filling the intervening space between the line of the grant to John Smith and the 320 acre grant to William Norman and the Newington grant of Lady Axtell. This had apparently been granted or transferred to, and was in the possession of a Mr. Rose, and was known as "Rose's" or "Rose's land". Exactly how this was obtained from Rose or why new grants were made the record does not disclose, but on February 1, 1700, two new grants were issued to John Stevens, one for the 1,800 acres, or Boo-shoo tract, and the other for the 2,250, or "Rose's" tract - 4,050 acres in all.
Elder Pratt and the rest of the Church arrived in February, 1697; the land procured was divided. Elder Pratt states in his diary:
"The 23 of March in the year 1697 the church and others that were concerned did draw loots the 24th day that all meet together to stake out and mark their lots in the trading town on both days when they met together on those occasions there was love and amity and peace in what was acted"
The division was then made and determined by lot. The place styled by the Elder "the trading town" was what was afterwards known as the village of Dorchester, which on the old map is stated to have laid out as a place of trade. A map and division was made of the whole 4,050 acres, and the term Dorchester, or Township of Dorchester, was applied to the whole, the village site being only the place of trade in Dorchester. The old name Booshoo, however, long survived. In the deeds from John Stevens the tract of 4,050 acres is always described as consisting of two tracts, one called Booshoo and the other Rose's. The "Rose land" having been obtained after the Boo-shoo tract is sometimes called the "New Grant" or "New Granted".
In a conveyance from the Rev. Lord to John Hawks, 4th March, 1716-17, of 100 acres it is described as lying "partly in that part of the land belonging to Dorchester which is commonly called the New Grant partly in that formerly called Bossoo."
As time went on and the village grew in size and importance the name Dorchester was restricted, but universally applied, to this town and the older designations were forgotten. The map showing the division of the whole 4,000 acres has long since disappeared. Only by a comparison of deeds and adjoining titles can the lines and divisions be approximately arrived at.
Elder Pratt's diary shows that the "Church" were not the sole occupiers of these divisions, for his entry says that the Church "and others that were concerned" drew lots for the shares.
There appears to have been a division into twenty-six parts, for John Stevens, in his conveyance of the land to be used for the support of the church ministry, after conveying certain specific lots, conveyed 1-26th of all undivided land in Dorchester. This undivided land consisted of 123 acres reserved for mill land near the mouth of the creek on its north side, and a "commons" of 50 acres adjacent to the place of trade. When the mill land was afterwards sub-divided it was into 26 lots of 4.75 acres each, and the "commons" into lots of about 2 acres.
The old deeds show the general division of the 4,050 acres to have been as follows:
There was first set aside about 50 acres, subdivided into 115 lots of about a quarter of an acre each in size to form a "place of trade".
Space was left for a public square and for streets, and an area of about 20 acres between the town and the creek where it enters the river was also left for public use. A "commons" of about 50 to 52 acres was set off adjacent to the town, immediately to the west. An area of 123 acres was set aside for mill purposes and called "mill land." This 123 acres lay north of the town, along Boshoe Creek, and included the low land on each side of the creek.
The remainder of the land was laid off in two divisions. The first division consisted of two ranges. The first range consisted of 26 lots of 50 acres each laid off along the Ashley River, each lot being about 10 chains wide in its frontage on the river, and running back 50 chains. . The numbering begin at lot No. 1, next to William Norman's line, about a third of a mile west of the present Bacon's Bridge, and were numbered successively down toward the town. Lot No. 26 being next to the "commons."
The second range of the first division lay immediately north of the first range, from which it was separated by a highway, and was divided into 26 lots of 45 acres each. The second division lay immediately north of the second range from which it was also separated by a highway, and was likewise divided into 26 lots of 45 acres each.
The present village of Stallsville and the eastern part of the town of Summerville, viz: from about Fourth South Street on the north and Sumter Avenue on the west are on part of this second division of the 4,050 acres - on part of the 2,250 acres known as Rose's or the New Grant.
The list of the settlers has not come down to us. The occupiers of the lots were not confined to them, but from data derived from later transfers, wills and conveyances the following appear to have formed substantially all of the new settlers who received lots in the division:
1. John Stevens. He was in Carolina before the others arrived. The record does not show where he came from. He was one of the leading men in the Dorchester settlement, and was the ancestor of the Stevens family, members of which have always occupied position in lower South Carolina.
2. Rev. Joseph Lord. Was the Pastor under whom the "Church" immigrated. Received lot No. 10 in the first range, and purchased lots 11 and 12 in the same range. Lot 10 he subsequently conveyed (15 Aug 1721) to "Michael Bacon Nathaniel Sumner and Thomas Osgood Jr. and the rest of the inhabitants of in and about Dorchester now under the ministry of the Rev. Mr. Hugh Fisher." He left Carolina and returned to Massachusetts in 1720.
3. Increase Sumner received a lot in the first range.
4. Williant Pratt. He received lot No. 23 in the first range. It is to his diary that we are indebted for so much information as to the first settlement. He returned to New England and there died January 13, 1713.
5. William Adams.
6. William Norman. He had already a grant for 320 acres, and does not seem to have taken any part of the division of the 4,050 acres. He apparently left a number of descendants.
7. Samuel Sumner, brother of Increase Sumner, received lot 24 in the first range.
8. Michael Bacon. Received a lot in the first range, and purchased lots 6 and 7 in the same range from John Stevens. On one of these last two was situated the bridge over the Ashley River, originally called Stevens's Bridge, but ever since and now known as Bacon's Bridge.
9. John Simmons received lot 12 in the first range.
10. Abraham Gorton received lot 13 in the first range.
11. Jonathan Clarke received lot 14 in the first range.
12. Thomas Osgood had a lot in the first range and 1-26th part of all undivided lands.
13. Job Chamberlain moved to Carolina in 1698, and in 1702 owned a lot in the second division.
14. Aaron Way, Senr.
15. Aaron Way, Junr.
16. William Way.
17. Moses Way.
18. Samuel Way.
All of the Ways seem to have been original settlers and at an early date owned lots in one or other of the divisions.
19. Robert Miller, an early settler, as early as 1717 had accumulated 479 acres in the second range of the first division.
The foregoing are all that can be said with any degree of certainly to have been among those who received lots at the first division of the 4,050 acres.
The following are the additional names of others who appear soon afterwards as owning some of the lots and as forming part of the distinctive Church:
John Hill 1726.
Thomas Satur 1722.
Peter Savey 1738.
Joseph Brunson 1722.
John Hawks 1721.
John Kitchen 1720.
Thomas Graves 1720.
Robert Winn 1718.
Stephen Dowse 1727.
Isaac Brunson 1712.
There were outsiders, apparently, who had lots very early. These may have been the "others that were concerned," mentioned by Elder Pratt.
Ralph Izard and Daniel Chastaigner, both persons wholly disconnected with the Church, held lots in the first range at an early date. Izard prior to 1708 and Chastaigner prior to 1712.
The small lots in the town, or place of trade, very soon began to drift into the hands of outsiders.
There has been a tendency to depict this settlement as something unusual - a band of enthusiastic missionaries, carrying the Gospel into a primeval wilderness.
The Rev. Mr. Howe, in his History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, says they "came into this country as a missionary church to plant an institution of the Gospel," and again they sailed "toward the land God had given them as an inheritance, not knowing whither they went," and again that they settled "here in the midst of an unbroken forest inhabited by beasts of prey and savage men twenty miles from the dwellings of any whites they took up their abode".
All this is rhetorical but not historical. Mr. Howe cites as his authority a sermon styled "The Hand of God Recognized," preached by the Rev. Mr. George Sheldon on February 22, 1846, in the Congregational Church at Dorchester, in observance of the 150th anniversary of that church. This sermon does make similar statements, but the reverend author gives no references for his statements.
The contemporaneous records show otherwise. The Church debated between two points. Boosboo and New London. They were entertained and housed at both places by persons who had already settled. The lands they finally settled on had been granted away and settled by another twenty years previously. They were surrounded by settlers who had preceded them, viz: Lord Shaftesbury's barony with its settlement lay to the south, on the opposite side of the river.
West of them were the settlements of Col. Andrew Percivil (granted in 1682), of William Norman (1684), of Benjamin Waring, and of Lady Axtell at Newington. East, along the Ashley River, the entire land was taken up already by grants and settlements, and northeast of them, about six miles off towards the head of Goose Creek, was another and quite numerous group of settlements dating from ten to twenty years previous.
Elder Pratt himself says in his diary that Mr. Lord's first preaching was attended by "all ye next neighbours," and that persons even came from ten miles around.
It is not even certain that the church building, constructed by the Dorchester immigration, was the first church building constructed in that section.
The little colony of French Huguenots who settled in the neighbourhood of the head of Goose Creek had at a very early period a small church structure on lands not far to the east of the present Ladson's station, on the Southern Railway. This last may have preceded the erection of any church at Dorchester.
Provision was made at once, however, by the Dorchester settlers for the construction of a permanent church building and the support of the ministry, for on September 21, 1702, John Stevens conveyed "for provision for the ministry of the Congregational Church now settled in Dorchester unto the inhabitants of Dorchester and particularly unto William Pratt, Increase Sumner, and Thomas Osgood Senr. as persons intrusted by the inhabitants of Dorchester and to their successors from time to time chosen by the inhabitants of said Dorchester," lot No. 9 in the first range within the land "now called by the name of Dorchester (which was formerly two tracts one commonly called Boosoo the other Roses land)," also Lot 1 in the second division, also 4 small lots Nos. 13, 33, 44 and 112 "in the place designed for a place of trade within Dorchester," also 1-26th of all undivided land within Dorchester. The ministry seems to have been provided for as if the Church itself formed one of the 26 to whom the tract was partitioned.
The church building was placed on Lot 9 in the first range where its ruins and the old graveyard stand to this day.
It was not placed in the town or place for trade, but about one and one-half or two miles to the west, near the public road, then called the "Broad Path."
The place seems to have thrived slowly. Thankful Pratt, the daughter of William Pratt, married a Daniell Axtell, of Sudbury, in Massachusetts. When he came to Carolina is not known, but he was there in 1699, carrying on a saw mill and tar and turpentine business in connection with Lady Axtell and Robert Fenwicke, and Gershom Hawks. He kept a sort of day book of accounts, which is now in the hands of one of his descendents, Mr. Joshua Eddy Crane, of Bridgeport, Massachusetts.
This day book as containing the names of the persons with whom he dealt gives us the names of the then persons living in and around Dorchester. Gershom Hawks and Robert Fenwicke had each obtained grants for 1,000 acres in the vicinity - Robert Fenwicke in 1700 and Gershom Hawks in 1705. All of the present town of Summerville, not included in the Dorchester tract of 4,050 acres, lies within the last two grants. Germantown and that part of Summerville adjacent to Germantown are on the grant to Hawks, and all of New Summerville, i.e., that part laid out by the Railroad Company is on the grant to Fenwicke.
The old mill dam and mill site which gave the name of "Saw Mill" Branch to the swamp is either on part of the original Dorchester grant or the grant to Fenwicke.
Daniel Axtell left Carolina in 1707 and returned to Massachusetts, and died in 1736 at Deighton on the Taunton River.
Although of the same name as the Carolina Axtells there is no known blood connection between them.
As early as 1729, the land where the old mill dam ran across the swamp in Summerville was known as "Saw mill land." It had no connection with the tract of 123 acres reserved as "mill land" near the town of Dorchester, but was the land around the saw mill which was operated by Daniel Axtell prior to 1707. Ever since that date this part of Boo-shoo Creek, adjacent to Summerville, has been known as "Saw Mill Branch".
The data as to the town of Dorchester and its early history are very scanty. The country around it began to fill up, and the town, lying at the head of navigation on the Ashley River, became a trading place and point of distribution. It stood at a point capable of easy defense and of easy communication by water with Charles Town, and thus, became a point of support and refuge from Indian invasions.
The settlers in Dorchester began to overflow. It was easy to obtain grants of land, and many grants were obtained higher up and across the Ashley River, especially in the section known afterwards as "Beech Hill."
Merchants established themselves in the town. The streets are not named on the plan, and the only names that have come down through the deeds are River Street, and George Street, the street running to the "Broad Path" or public road.
Gillson Clapp was a merchant "on the Bay" in 1724, and in 1722 Thomas Satur, of Dorchester, Jacob Satur, of London, Eleazer Allen, of Charles Town, and William Rhett, Jr., of Charles Town, formed a co-partnership to carry on trade at Dorchester.
In 1706, the Rev. Joseph Lord wrote to a friend in Massachusetts that the country was more frequented by way of trade.
In 1706, the act for the establishment of the Church of England in the province was passed. Six parishes were created, and Dorchester was included in St. Andrew's Parish.
In 1708, Dorchester was a small town containing about 350 souls.
In 1715, the Yamassee Indian War broke out, and the entire province south of the Stono River was devasted. The Yamassee invasion itself seems never to have reached Dorchester, but an invasion of the Indians to the northward, which took place at the same time, was more threatening. This invasion was met by Capt. George Chicken of the the Goose Creek militia, and a decisive defeat was inflicted upon the Indians at a place styled in the old accounts "The Ponds."
This appears to be the Percival plant at the point now called "Shulz's Lake."
The Yamassee War inflicted a terrible loss on the province, and for many years delayed the settlement of the province to the south of Ashley River.
In 1719, St. Andrew's Parish was divided, and the upper portion, including Dorchester and the surrounding territory, was created a separate parish and called St. George.
A church was directed to be built at a point to be selected by a majority of the commissioners named with the approval of a majority of the inhabitants of the parish of the profession of the Church of England who should contribute to the building. The commissioners were: Alexander Skene, Capt. Walter Izard, Thomas Diston, Samuel Wragg, John Cantey, Thomas Waring, and Jacob Satur.
The place selected for the church was the place for trade or Dorchester town.
The parish church, with its surrounding graveyard, was then placed in the town on lots Nos. 52, 53, 54, 55 and 56.
The most conspicous object remaining on the site of the old village of Dorchester is the ruined tower of the old church. This is all that is left of the Parish Church of St. George's, Dorchester. It is not as is sometimes supposed the Congregational Church of the old immigrants from Dorchester, Massachusetts, but the church constructed when the Church of England was the established church of the province. The statute providing for its construction was enacted in 1719. This statute appropriated £333.6s 8d (Carolina paper currency) to assist in defraying the cost of construction.
The commissioners appointed by statute for building the church procured a subscription of £l,196, to which the General Assembly added £466. The work of construction was begun in 1719, and in 1720 all the outer work was finished. The church was of brick, 50 feet long by 30 wide, besides the chancel.
In 1724, the glebe and parsonage being found inconveniently distant from the church, by authority given by a statute, the old glebe and parsonage were sold and a new one purchased. The new glebe was on lot 25 in the first range, fronting on Ashley River 50 acres, with 25 acres in the second range, 75 acres in all. The parsonage building was on the north side of the public road, about a quarter of a mile west of the church. Some large oaks and a few wooden buildings mark the site.
There is a tradition that a small fort was planned along with the original settlement of Dorchester, and was relied on as a defense against the Indian enemies of the province. No record exists to support this, although it is plausible and likely. On the plan of the village as originally laid out in 1697, and as afterwards in 1742, recorded in the office of the Secretary of State, no fort is set down, although the site of the parish church, constructed in 1719, is mentioned. There are a number of appropriations for fortifications in the tax acts passed bv the Assembly from 1740 on, but in none of such as are published in the Statutes at Large is any specific mention made of the fort at Dorchester.
In 1719, the parish then contained 115 English families, amounting to about 500 persons, and 1,300 slaves. The town now began to forge ahead.
Roads were extended by statute into the surrounding country, and in 1722 the bridges over the Ashley River - Steven's Bridge (now Bacon's Bridge) and Waring's Bridge (now Slann's Bridge) were confirmed as public bridges.
In 1723 an act was passed for settling a fair and markets in the town of Dorchester, in Berkeley County, "being a frontier in that part of the Country."
The first act creating a free school in Dorchester was passed in 1724. Ten years later, in 1734, another act passed. The commissioners named in the last act were Alexander Skene, Thomas Waring, Joseph Blake, Arthur Middleton, Ralph Izard, Robert Wright , Paul Jenys, Walter Izard, and Benjamin Waring, Esqrs., Rev. Francis Varnod, William Cattell and John Williams, Esqrs.
There is nothing to show the steps taken under this act, but on March 19, 1756, an act was passed for more effectually putting in force the provisions of the former act of 1734. It recited that the commissioners under the former act were all dead, and appointed the following new commissioners to execute the act, viz: The rector of the parish for the time being, and Henry Middleton, Walter Izard, Ralph Izard, Daniel Blake, John Ainslie, Esqrs., Mr. Benjamin Waring, Mr. Richard Waring, and Mr. Joseph Waring.