Located just outside of Moncks Corner, SC, are the ruins of Biggin Church. Established by the South Carolina commons House of Assembly on November 30, 1706 when the colony was divided into ten parishes, Biggin Church was the parish church of St. John’s Berkeley Parish. The church was named after Biggin Hill in Kent, England. The parish of St. John’s Berkeley was an extensive one with a well-to-do population, and had at one time two chapels of ease appendant to the parish church, one at Strawberry Ferry, and the other near the 45-mile house on the public road.
As one of the churches in a parish that had been created by the Church Act of 1706, Biggin fulfilled its role not only as a place of worship, but also as an integral part of the parish, which was the basic unit of local government. Each year, on Easter Monday, voters gathered in the parish church to elect two churchwardens and seven vestrymen who had a variety of civic responsibilities to attend to during the course of their terms.
The Reverend Robert Maule came to St. John’s Parish in 1707 as an Anglican missionary. He found no English church here but found a Huguenot congregation of about ten families worshipping in a small wooden church where their pastor, the Reverend Florent (Laurent) Philipe Trouillard (Trouillart) preached “once fortnightly in French.” The French offered the use of their church building to the English and the Rev. Mr. Maule preached in the French Church on the Sundays when it was not used by the Rev. Mr. Trouillard until the Anglicans completed Biggin in 1711.
The original Biggin Church was probably completed ca. 1712 when John Colleton gave three acres for the site of the parish church. However, according to Frederick Dalcho’s Historical Ac- count of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Biggin Church was completed in 1711, just five years after the parish of St. John’s Berkeley was created. Captain John Harleston represented the Colletons in the release of land for the parsonage and glebe of Biggin Church. The Honorable John Colleton, son of Sir John Colleton, died in 1751 and is assumed to have been buried at Biggin Church. Sir John Colleton, the fourth Baronet, died in September of 1777 and was buried at Biggin Church.
Upon its completion, Colonel Broughton railed in the chancel, made a pulpit, reading desk, communion table, and pews of cedar at his own expense. The church stands on a site elevated fifteen to twenty feet above the neighboring land, bearing in the original title-deeds the Indian name of Tippicop Haw Hill. The site was located looking down at the intersection of three roads running north, south, and west.
The Rev. Mr. Trouillard died in St. John’s, Berkeley in 1712. In 1714 the Rev. Mr. Maule wrote the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London that several of the French had joined the Church of England. If only several of the French joined the Anglican Church at Biggin by 1714, others had begun attending services and the Church of England was anticipating converting the entire congregation.
During the Yamasee War, in 1715, the Reverend Robert Maule and his parishioners took refuge in Mulberry “Castle”, several miles below Biggin Church, where they remained for four months. “This venerable fortress, built some three or four years after the church was a very godsend at this critical juncture, for it proved the one place of refuge to the white population of the parish.”
In 1754, the name of William Moultrie appears for the rest time on the vestry-roll. In 1755, the church was burned by a forest fire. After this building burned, a commission which included William Moultrie (not yet a general), a Broughton, two Cordes, and a Mazyck were responsible for the building of a new church. An architectural description of the original and reconstruction phases of the church follows in the interpretation section.
During the American Revolution, in the spring of 1780 when Charlestown was being besieged by British eld and naval forces, General Lincoln ordered the American cavalry to stay outside and keep open communication lines between the town and the interior. General Isaac Huger too position at Moncks Corner with 379 cavalry, the remains of Pulaski’s legion, Lieutenant-Colonel Horry’s horse, and a detachment of Virginia cavalry. Here he was joined by a small number of country militia, and by about one hundred men under Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington. General Huger posted his cavalry in front of Cooper River, the militia at Biggin Church, and a strong guard on the main highway. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander, was determined to break this post. A combined British force led by Lieutenant Colonel Webster was joined by Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton’s legion and Major Ferguson’s corps of rifleman. The British surprised and soundly defeated the American forces defending Monck’s Corner.
In July of 1781, Colonel Coates of the British Royal Army took position of Biggin Church. Snowden tells us that Colonel Coates commanded the British Post at Monck’s Corner with the Nineteenth Regiment of British Regulars, about one hundred and fty South Carolina Rangers and one piece of artillery. The building was used by British troops as a munitions storehouse and garrison. The British forces under Coates allegedly held several prisoners while they occupied Biggin Church. John Palmer of Gravel Hill and his brother Joseph of Webdo were too old to bear arms, but John’s sons were active Whigs. One of the sons, Capt. John, served as an aid to Marion. Both the old men were harassed by the Tories. Once they were carried to the British post at Biggin Church and kept in the Colleton family vault. When released, they were in such bad condition it took them two days to travel the ten miles home.
The dispersal of Coates’ force was one of Sumter’s objectives. Sumter had swiftly moved in toward Coates, but the British position at the Church was strongly for-tied. Sumter and his men skirmished several times with the British but then fell back to allow the situation to develop. Francis Marion and his forces joined Sumter during the night, but after a long march, Marion decided to allow his men to rest. Colonel Coates opted to fall back to Charleston because if he remained at Biggin, he ran the risk of becoming surrounded by the growing numbers of rebel forces in the area. Coates decided to retreat down the road that crossed Watboo Creek because it had a broken bridge, hoping that this would delay any pursuing force. Before abandoning the church, Colonel Coates ordered his men to burn the structure to prevent its capture by the American forces. This destroyed the gable ends of the church and obliterated the eastern wall, likely due to a powder blast. This event left Biggin in a terrible state for many years, although eventually the church was once again restored.
Several leaders from South Carolina who took part in the American Revolution were Moultrie, Marion, and Laurens, each of whom served as vestrymen or wardens of the parish. When it was decided that Biggin would be restored after having been burned by the British, General Moultrie was appointed to the building committee. In 1800 it was resolved, under the auspices of the General, to receive “Proposals for repairing the Half of the Old Church by taking down the Easternmost part of the Wall and repairing the West End of it with the old materials, with Hip roof,” the gable roof being discarded.
During the Civil War, when federal troops were moving into South Carolina in 1865, Keating Simons Ball buried the Church silver under a barn or rice mill at Comingtee plantation in order to save it from federal troops. This included the silver chalice that was brought from France by Huguenots from La Rochelle. After having been buried for 82 years, this silver was located and is used today at Strawberry Chapel.
Towards the end of the war, the church was again damaged, reportedly during Potter’s Raid in 1865. According to a report made in 1868, “Previous to the war no Parish in the Diocese was better prepared to take care of its clergyman. It owned a rice plantation which it rented for twelve hundred, sometimes for fifteen hundred dollars per annum, and about ten thousand dollars in stocks. It owned a winter parsonage and a summer residence for its ministers, in a healthy positions. But almost all this has gone, Biggin Church was much injured and its walls defaced. All the pew, the desk and chancel rails were torn down and burnt. The congregation is not revived, except by a monthly service.”
The church was allegedly not repaired after this event, and Strawberry Chapel, eight miles below Biggin, became the de facto parish church. The church was only used for occasional services after 1865. The vestry of St. Johns, Berkeley tried to secure the damaged church by fastening the doors and windows, but these were periodically broken open. Sometime during 1886 the church burned for the third time (the second time that it burned by forest fire), after which it was ultimately abandoned and never rebuilt. For many years after the fire, the site served as a local brickyard as people scavenged bricks from the structure for their own use. During the late twentieth century, however, the graveyard began to be used again. Use of the site as a brickyard ceased.
Portions of two walls are all that remain of the church today, those being the southern and western walls. For the two walls that are no longer standing, only the grade-level stem wall remains visible a few inches above and at the level of the ground. Despite the destruction of a large portion of the building, there is evidence that Biggin Church was originally designed with a degree of sophistication. Notable architectural details include a Gibbs surround at the entrance, quoins at the corners, voussoirs over the windows, and a rounded water table. All
of these features were expertly crafted out of brick. On the interior walls, ghost marks in the remaining plaster and mortise pockets in the masonry are evidence of where the wooden balcony tied into the structure. This balcony was at the west end of the church, and was proposed on December 31, 1844 to separate African Americans from white parish members in the pews below.
Today, the Biggin Church ruins are kept and cared for by a group of men who are the Biggin Church Stewards. The ruins were for a time, overgrown and in a state of neglect and decay, but in recent decades have undergone stabilization and conservation. Biggin Church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its graveyard is in use once more, and its ruins and grounds are open to the public.
Below is a list of sited sources where this information was retrieved. We would like to thank the Clemson University/College of Charleston MSHP Class of 2017 for constructing this historical piece on Biggin Ruins.
1 National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form, Biggin Church Ruins, United States Department of the Interior, May 16, 1977.
2 J. Russell Cross, Historic Ramblin’s Through Berkeley”, (Columbia, SC: R.L. Bryan Company, 1985), Addle- stone Library Special Collections and the South Carolina Historical Society.
3 Biggin Church, 16 May 1937.
4 Jayne Morris. "Rising the Ashes: The Biggin Church Ruins," South Carolina Magazine. April 2005.
5 J. Russell Cross, Historic Ramblin’s Through Berkeley”, (Columbia, SC: R.L. Bryan Company, 1985), Addle-Johnstone Library Special Collections and the South Carolina Historical Society, p. 126.
6 National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form, Biggin Church Ruins, United States Department of the Interior, May 16, 1977.
7 J. Russell Cross, Historic Ramblin’s Through Berkeley”, (Columbia, SC: R.L. Bryan Company, 1985), Addle- stone Library Special Collections and the South Carolina Historical Society, p. 50.
8 Ibid, 32-33.
9 Hay, P.D. “South Carolina Relics,” Excerpt from Appleton’s Journal, June 1878, (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1878), The South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, p. 498.
10 Ibid, p. 126-127
11 Henry Ravenel Dwight, Some Historic Spots in Berkeley, (The Womans’ Auxiliary of Trinity Church: Pinopolis, South Carolina).
12 Ibid, p. 501
13 Biggin-Beggin-Biggon, SCVF Churches – Biggin
14 Maxwell Clayton Orvin, Monck’s Corner: Berkeley County, South Carolina, p. 11.
15 Ibid, p. 11.
16 J. Russell Cross, Historic Ramblin’s Through Berkeley”, (Columbia, SC: R.L. Bryan Company, 1985), Addle- stone Library Special Collections and the South Carolina Historical Society, p. 42.
17 Ibid, p. 259.
18 Maxwell Clayton Orvin, Monck’s Corner: Berkeley County, South Carolina, p. 13.
19 Hay, P.D. “South Carolina Relics,” Excerpt from Appleton’s Journal, June 1878, (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1878), The South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, p. 502.
20 Ibid, p. 502.
21 Ibid, p. 502.
22 Dalcho Historical Society, A Short History of the Diocese of South Carolina, Charleston, SC: Dalcho His- torical Society, 1953, p. 123-124
23 Hay, P.D. “South Carolina Relics,” Excerpt from Appleton’s Journal, June 1878, (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1878), The South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, p. 498
24 National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form, Biggin Church Ruins, United States Department of the Interior, May 16, 1977.
26 Vestry Books, Biggin Church Vertical File, South Carolina Historical Society Archives, Addlestone Library.
Biggin Church is on the National Register of Historic Places!
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