Early Methodist Church in South Carolina

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Sardis Methodist Church | Orangeburg, SC | Founded c. 1786

The building that stands here today was built in 1872, but the congregation that grew at Branchville here was founded almost 100 years prior. Beginning in 1786, locals began meeting for church services under brush arbors and in local family homes. Over time, they built different structures to accommodate the changing needs of their congregation. And while it isn’t in regular use anymore, the church and graveyard are well cared for.

Branchville History

Prior to European settlement, this area was home to Edisto Indians who established camps here along a trail that connected the coast to the mountains. At a forked oak in the trail, a native camp emerged, known by varying names over the years: Sunset Camp, Penn Camp, and Beech Tree Camp. “The Branch” in Branchville took its name from a branch that marked where the Native American trail split from the coast into a northern and a western section.

The Branch became a point where traders would gather their goods before hauling them south to Charleston. Settlers soon followed the traders, and in 1735, a group of German and Dutch settlers (led by Andrew Frederick of Prussia) made the Branch home. In 1767, Colonial Gov. John Rutledge was granted a tract on Penn Branch and the Edisto River. The area was the scene of Revolutionary War skirmishes as Gen. Francis Marion and his men traveled through the cypress swamps of South Carolina, harassing the British.

After the American Revolution, Branchville continued to grow its status as an important junction of a northern and western trail that led traders down to Charleston. The trails became so well traveled that the stagecoach arrived in the early 1800s, followed in 1832 by the railroad.

Branchville, SC c. 1907.

Early Church History

In the years prior to the American Revolution, worship was held under trees and sometimes, in the homes of local Branchville families. After the war, a small log structure was erected- the first of 3 churches that would serve this congregation which was built by a man named N. Byrd from a prominent local family. This initial church building was called ‘The Meeting House’ which hosted its first Methodist missionary preacher in 1786, although it likely served different denominations in the early days. The log church from 1786 was located approximately 1.5 miles from the current church site.

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A Split in the Church

In the early 1800s, church membership split into two churches over the issue of singing school. Some members didn’t agree with singing in worship so in January of 1811, the log building from 1786 was moved to the northern section of Branchville and renamed Sardis Methodist Church on land sold to them by George Hartzog for $1.

The c. 1872 structure was the 3rd structure for this church, built by E.T.R. Smoak.

A New Church is Built

In 1849, the congregation at Sardis Methodist had outgrown the log church and so they replaced it with a small wooden frame church. In 1872, that church was also replaced by a “larger and more sightly one.” This third church, which is the building that still stands today, was built by E.T.R. Smoak and of the local Smoak Lumber Mill and Smoak Tramway. Local legend says that footprints can be seen on some of the ceiling planks inside the church from when it was erected.

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Today, there are no more regular services at Sardis Methodist Church, except for an annual homecoming. However, the church grounds and graveyard are well cared for by Mickey Byrd, a descendant of the original builder, and many of those buried here. 

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Cemetery History

The cemetery at Sardis Methodist surrounds the church, holding the remains of some of the area’s most influential families, including names like Smoak, Fairey, Byrd, Westbury, Dukes, Watson, Bruce, Varn, etc. But also found buried here are the remains of someone whose name was never recorded and thus, he is marked by a stone that reads: “Unknown Indian Grave.” According to local stories, this man did several jobs in the area and when he died, none of the churches would bury him in a Christian cemetery so Sardis Church offered a plot just outside their graveyard boundaries. 

Amongst the 400+ burials here are veterans from the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, and World War I. The oldest known grave is that of Mary Elizabeth Fairey Byrd, who died in 1869. 

The People Who Rest at Sardis Church Graveyard

I spent some time researching the people who are buried at Sardis Methodist Church and I have included the burial information for each person I was able to find a photo of. I hope that including their portraits here will help to paint a better picture of the history here.

Edmund Thomas Richard Smoak

b. 25 Dec 1833

d. 26 Mar 1898

Photo courtesy of Jo A Simmons

William Jesse Fairey

b. 9 Apr 1825

d. 3 Dec 1899

Caroline “Carrie” Elizabeth Joyner Fairey

b. 26 Jun 1840

d. 6 Feb 1918

Lucius Bellinger Varn

b. 14 Feb 1856

d. 26 Feb 1912

Francis Asbury Fairey

b. 26 Jan 1848

d. 8 Feb 1929 (aged 81)

Francis served in Company F of the 2nd South Carolina Artillery, CSA.

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Julia Letitia Wade Fairey

b. 10 Jul 1855

d. 14 Jun 1929

Julia Letitia Wade was the second wife of Francis Asbury Fairey. They married 21 March 1886, after the death of Frank’s first wife, Elizabeth Massebeau. Julia began with raising Frank’s young children and then added 3 more children to the family.

Ida Elizabeth Fairey Harris

b. 21 Dec 1888

d. 2 Oct 1944

Mrs. Ida Fairey Harris was born in Branchville, the daughter of Franklin A. Fairey and Mrs. Julia K. Wade Fairey. She attended the Branchville schools and was a member of the Citadel Square Baptist church in Charleston. For four or five years, Mrs. Harris lived in Maine, but prior to that she had made her home in Charleston for some years.

Mary Cornelia Fairey Varn

b. 10 May 1862

d. 24 Nov 1914


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