Wednesday, January 23, 2013
It's difficult to imagine what was going through Jack Lynes' mind as he stood in the woods of Berkeley County in front of six of his ancestors' tombstones dating back centuries.
Softened sunlight beamed through trees onto the pale gravestones. Lynes said the light was exceptionally good on this warm winter day, allowing the words inscribed in the tombstones to be easily read.
Lynes is among a dedicated group working to preserve what's left of the cemetery, the St. James Goose Creek Chapel of Ease, and possibly a fort off Old U.S.-52 between Goose Creek and Moncks Corner in the Strawberry community.
The cross-shaped church was built in the 1700s. All that remains today is the brick foundation and numerous tombstones.
The church was a branch of the St. James Goose Creek Parish (off modern day Foster Creek Road) built so residents would not need to travel as far, hence the “chapel of ease.”
Descendants and local historians have been doing their part to protect the site from being destroyed. Coleman Dangerfield, Lynes' cousin, once stopped a bulldozer from clearing a path in the middle of the cemetery.
The St. James Chapel of Ease Historical Site committee and the S.C. Ports Authority recently bought the 22-acre site for $104,000. The purchase ensures the land is protected permanently.
The purchase was made as part of the Ports Authority's $12-million mitigation program for a new quay terminal on the former Charleston Navy Base. The mitigation purchases go toward protecting wetlands and historically significant properties. The Chapel of Ease land contains 16 acres of wetlands.
Members of the Chapel of Ease committee have been working on preserving the site for six years, but the property was on two separate tracts of land that were in trusts and off limits.
“This is a big deal,” Lynes said. “This land has been in a chain of title since 1712. It will be protected from now on.
“It will never be lost again.”
Lynes drove from his home in Aiken for the guided tour of the grounds, led by Goose Creek Mayor Michael Heitzler, the Chapel of Ease committee chair. The committee held a meeting in the woods before the tour.
After the meeting Lynes kneeled down to photograph the tombstones of his ancestors: The Rev. Samuel Lynes, Samuel Lynes' son, Lizzie Lynes, Elizabeth Lynes, Sarah Lynes and George Lynes. Some of the tombstones have disintegrated over time, making it difficult to know everyone who is buried on the site.
Heitzler knows the history of the site well, which is documented in his book “George Chicken: Carolina Man of the Ages.”
Some believe the body of local Indian trader Col. George Chicken is buried somewhere on the site, although after two archeological digs no concrete evidence has been found, according to Charla Springer, vice chair of the committee.
The location was a battleground during the Yemassee War in 1715.
Early area settlers made profits selling deerskins and later produced inland rice after building dikes to trap and raise water with gates, Heitzler said. There was an Indian path nearby.
During a 1715 battle Chicken defeated Indians who attacked him. Chicken built a fort on the site, Hetizler said.
There were no more Anglicans during the Revolutionary War, around which time the original chapel was burned down.
“The Baptists came in right after the Revolutionary War and built a neat little wooden church,” Hetizler said. “They brought beautiful hymns to the wilderness.”
Bethlehem Baptist Church was built on the grounds but in the 1880s was moved to its final destination, four and a half miles away near the Strawberry railroad station. Heitzler said whites and slaves both worshipped at the church until emancipation, when Strawberry became a black community.