A History of Dorchester, South Carolina

Dorchester was named for Dorchester, Massachusetts. In 1696, Congregationalists from that town moved south and established a new settlement called Dorchester. Although the town of Dorchester had been abandoned by 1788, the parish in which it was located continued to be referred to as St. George's Dorchester. This name was subsequently adopted for Dorchester County when it was formed from parts of Colleton and Berkeley counties in 1897.


Dorchester was established as an early trade outpost on the banks of the Ashley River by a group of Congregationalists from Massachusetts. The town prospered, but by the early 1780's had fallen into ruin. Few visible remnants of the town remain with the exception of one of the best-preserved examples of a tabby fortification in North America and the bell tower of St. George's Church.
For nearly one hundred years Dorchester prospered as an inland trade center. Several generations of South Carolinians, free and slave, lived and worked in the homes and shops that lined Dorchester's streets. Evidence of the affluence of the village can still be seen today.

A fort built during the French and Indian War stands guard over the Ashley River and is the best-preserved example of Tabby fort construction in the nation. The brick bell tower of St. George's Anglican Church looms over the graveyard in what was once the center of the village. Beneath the surface lie remains of the village in an archaeological record that spans much of South Carolina's early history.


Dorchester's site was on land first granted to John Smith, who on 20th November, 1676, obtained a grant for 1,800 acres covering this penisula and the site of the future village. He was a man of considerable estate who had arrived in Carolina in 1675 with his wife and family and especially recommended by Sir Anthony Ashley, the Earl of Shaftsbury, "as my particular friend" with directions that he be allowed to take up a manor in some suitable place. John Smith was subsequently a member of the Executive Council, was created a Cacique, and died in 1682. From the name of the locality in which his grant was situated, he was styled "John Smith, of Boo-shoo."

Dorchester's site also included land in a grant in 1678 to Arthur Middleton of 1,780 acres on Goose Creek (on a part of which the present Otranto clubhouse stands) and called "Yeshoe," and in a grant to James Moore of 2,400 acres on Foster's Creek in 1683, the lands are described as known by the Indian names of Boo-chaw-ee and Wapensaw. The Indian name of Foster's Creek was Appee-bee.

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 province 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 was re-granted to settlers from Massachusetts, who were to confer upon it the name of Dorchester.

The history of the town and township of Dorchester, in South Carolina, begins with the immigration of a small colony from the township of Dorchester, in the then Province of Massachusetts Bay.

The earliest record notice is in the records of the First Church at Dorchester, in New England. In those records, it appears that on the 20th October, 1695, Joseph Lord, Increase Sumner, and William Pratt were "dismissed", i.e., transferred, from that church for, "Ye gathering of a church for ye South Carolina."

Two days later, 2nd October, 1695, we read: "ocktober ye 22 being ower lecktuer day was sett apart for the ordering of Mr. Joseph lord for to be pastuer to a church gathered that day for to goe to South Carolina to settell the gospell ther and the names of ye men are thes

Joshua Brooks of Concord
Nathaniel Billings of Concord
William Norman Carolina
William Adams Sudbury
Increase Sumner Dorchester
William Pratt Dorchester
George Foxe Reading
Simon Daken Concord

thes with Joseph lord did enter into a most solem Covenant to sett up the ordinances of Jesus Christ ther if the lord caryed them safely thither accordin to gospell truth withe a very large profeson of ther faithe."

One William Norman had some years before, on 22nd September, 1684, obtained the customary survey to a grant from the Lords Proprietors of Carolina for 320 acres of land, which was located on the Ashley River, on the northeast side, about three miles above the spot where the village of Dorchester was afterwards laid it out, i. e., above the old Boo-shoo settlement.

This William Norman was probably the one of that name mentioned in the above list as of Carolina. Possibly to his desire for neighbors of congenial spirit and social disposition was due the original suggestion of the colony. Of the rest of the list, Joshua Brooks, Nathaniel Billings, George Foxe, and Simon Daken do not appear, from any records we have, to have ever settled in Carolina - at least their names nowhere appear among the actual land-owners at Dorchester.

There are two other references to the settlement in the records of the Dorchester Church in Massachusetts.

"December 5th, 1695 - The church for Carolina set sail from Boston Dec 14th at night the skiff was neer run underwater ye Stormy wind being so boisterous. they kept a day of pray on board: & safely Landed at Carolina December ye 20th ye other vessells had a Moneths Passage this but about 14 days."

"Febr: 2nd Then was ye first Sacrament of ye Lords Supper that ever was Celebrated in Carolina Eight persons received besides Such as were of ye Church by virtue of Comunion of Churches, and there was Great Joy among ye Good People of Carolina & many Thanksgivings to Ye Lord".

And again:

"Nov. 1, 1696, Deacon Sumner's wife & family & His Brother Samuel Sumner with his wife & family with Peter O Kellys wife & six children Dismissed to ye Church of Christ neer Newington in South Carolina (since called Dorchester)"

The first of these entries, that of December 5th, 1695, was evidently made after its nominal date, as it mentions the date of sailing, the 14th, nine days after the apparent date of the entry. The expression as to the "other vessels" must refer to vessels other than the one that carried the "Church," is, we shall see presently by Elder Pratt's diary there was but one vessel which at that time conveyed the members of the Church. It only marks the contrast between the quick passage of the vessel that carried the "Church" and the time taken by other vessels which sailed about the same time.

The statement as to the communion celebrated on the 2d February, 1696, being the first ever celebrated in Carolina is entirely erroneous. There had existed in Charles Town for many years before that date the Church of England, known as St. Philip's, on the site where St. Michael's Church now stands; also a Meeting House, or a Congregational Church, upon Meeting Street, supposed upon the present site of the Circular Church, as well as a Huguenot, or French Protestant Church, on or near the site of the present French Protestant Church, on a lot originally granted to one Michael Lovinge, a carpenter, and which having been sold by Lovinge to Arthur Middleton was by the latter's widow with her husband, Ralph Izard (whom she married after Middleton's death), sold to James Nicholls on the 5th May, 1687, "for the use of the commonalty of the French Church in Charleston."

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 the 1st February, 1699/1700, 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.

These grants, although issued to John Stevens, individually, were for the benefit of the intending settlers of the "Church," as the deeds made by John Stevens to them soon show.

Elder Pratt and the rest of the "Church" arrived in February of 1697; the procured land was then divided. Elder Pratt states in his diary:

"The 23 of March in the year 1697 the church and others that were concerned did draw lots the 24th day that all meet together to stake out and mark their loots 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. Mr. 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" was 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, conveys 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, 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.

A great loss of population in the surrounding country took place in 1752-56. The descendants of the original settlers who gave the name to Dorchester - the members of the "White Meeting" or Congregational Church - had overflowed into the surrounding country. So many of them had settled in the Beech Hill section that around the year 1737 another place of worship was constructed there for their convenience.

The "Church" had acquired 95 acres in two tracts on the "Beech Hill" road, and on one of these tracts, not far from the parish line of St. Paul's, the building for worship constructed. The congregational being practically the same as that at Dorchester, one minister served at both places on alternate Sundays.

From 1752-56, a general exodus of these congregations took place to Georgia. The reasons, as stated in their records, were lack of sufficient lands for their increasing numbers, and the unhealthiness of Dorchester and Beech Hill. In 1752, they procured two grants of land, aggregated 31,950 acres on the coast of Georgia, between the Medway and Newport rivers, in what subsequently became Liberty County.

Nearly all of the congregations of the Dorchester and Beech Hill churches with their minister, the Rev. John Osgood, removed. The names of the settlers who took up the 31,950 acres and their subsequent history is fully detailed by the Rev. Mr. Stacey, in his "History of Midway Church."

The effect of their removal was practically the death blow to the Congregational Church in St. George's Dorchester Parish. No settled minister was had to perform services. The building at Beech Hill, being of wood, soon perished.

From that date, the history of Dorchester ceases to be the history of a Congregational settlement and becomes the history of the village of Dorchester and the parish of St. George's, Dorchester. In addition to its growth as a town during these years Dorchester also had become the place of resort for supplies for the country around, which had been taken up more or less for the seats and plantations of a number of wealthy families.


Dorchester Town Plat 1742 - From SC State Archives - Click Here


Click Here for an early description entitled, "The Town of Dorchester, in South Carolina - A Sketch of its History," by Henry A.M. Smith. This article first appeared in the South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol VI - No 2, April 1905, p. 62 - 95
Dorchester was granted a US Post Office on April 1, 1804, and its first Postmaster was Mr. William Harley. US Post Office records indicate that this PO was closed down before 1832 (exact date and reason unknown), and there was not another PO for Dorchester during the nineteenth century. After Dorchester County was created out of Colleton County in 1897 the town of Ross Station officially changed its name to Dorchester on October 27, 1903 and its Postmaster at the time was Ms. Agnes J. Mines. This PO has been in continuous operation ever since.


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