December 26, 2016

The "Colorful" History of Ebenezer A.R.P. Church

  • More: Sacred Places
  • By: Bill Fitzpatrick and Meghan P. White
  • Photography: Bill Fitzpatrick
Sacred Places Ebenezer A.R.P. Church Exterior with View of Cemetery

photo by: Bill Fitzpatrick

The small, rectangular church was constructed in 1788 using bricks that church members made themselves.

Perhaps the most impressive claim to fame in Winnsboro, South Carolina, is that in 1780, Lord Cornwallis of Revolutionary War fame wintered in the city. He really had other destinations in mind, but after suffering a devastating loss at the nearby Battle of Kings Mountain—the turning point of the war, according to Thomas Jefferson—he needed a place to regroup.

Much of the resistance to the British forces at the time came from the Scots-Irish who lived in the more western areas of the Carolinas and Virginia. When they migrated to the South, they brought with them a certain disdain for kings and queens and a preference for new brands of religion.

Ebenezer Associate Reformed Presbyterian (A.R.P.) Church, located a few miles from Winnsboro, is on the National Register of Historic Places—partly because it is one of the few 18th-century meeting house-churches remaining in the state, and partly because it is the birthplace of the denomination in South Carolina. The earliest version of the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church originated at Ebenezer on May 9, 1803, marking the church as one of the most religiously significant locations to practitioners of the faith.

Sixty-two years later, the church was the site of a less constructive event when Union troops spent some time at Ebenezer A.R.P. during the Civil War.

After Sherman’s “March to the Sea” through Georgia, he and his men wished to punish and demoralize the South, while destroying anything that could be of value to the Confederate military. South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union and the war’s official starting place, faced destruction similar to that of Georgia in what is known as the Carolinas Campaign.

When Union troops made the 425-mile trek through the Carolinas, they passed through Winnsboro, stopping at Ebenezer A.R.P. in 1865. The Confederate army had retreated from the area, burning bridges as they left, including the one that covered the river near the church. Rather than being deterred, the Union soldiers ripped up the wooden floor of the church’s interior to build a makeshift bridge to cross.

Before they evacuated, a soldier identifying himself only as “A Yankee” penciled this note:

“Citizens of this community: Please excuse us for defacing your house of worship, so much. It was absolutely necessary to effect a crossing over the creek, the Rebs had destroyed the bridge. A Yankee.”

Sacred Places Ebenezer A.R.P. Church Framed Note By A Yankee Inside

photo by: Bill Fitzpatrick

The church framed the Civil War-era note and hung it inside.

The congregation repaired the damage and continued to use the church for worship. However, the Civil War and the cultural disruption that followed depleted the number of followers in Winnsboro, so after 1920, the church became inactive and is now used infrequently for memorial services.

The scribbled apology, penciled by a Union soldier for reasons we likely will never know, is the only tangible evidence remaining at the church of a period in its history that altered its future. While the note may represent the turning point in the congregation’s history, though, it does not define it. The note, framed at the rear of the church, is what the congregation describes as a “colorful” anecdote in the long history of Ebenezer A.R.P.

What is more compelling to the congregation and the appointed Commission on the Old Brick Church (as the site is known) is preserving the church and its history for future generations. Every five years, hundreds of people gather for a reunion service at Ebenezer A.R.P. in which they celebrate their faith and the church’s history. The most recent service occurred in the fall of 2016; the preaching was fine, the day was glorious, and the Old Brick Church was as lovely as ever.

By: Bill Fitzpatrick and Meghan P. White

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