The first Church of England, or Anglican, house of worship in South Carolina was built in Charleston about 1681, with the Reverend Atkin Williamson serving as its first priest.
Although there were Christians in England before 597, the beginning of the church in England can be dated to the consecration of Augustine as archbishop of Canterbury in November 597. Under Henry VIII (1509–1547) the Church of England separated from the papacy and Roman Catholicism, and under Elizabeth I (1558–1603) the Church of England was defined and established as catholic and reformed.
The first Church of England, or Anglican, house of worship in South Carolina was built in Charleston about 1681, with the Reverend Atkin Williamson serving as its first priest. The church was named St. Philip’s but usually was called the English Church.
In the first decades of their colony, the Lords Proprietors followed a policy of religious toleration and encouraged immigrants from a variety of religious backgrounds to settle in South Carolina. However, by the start of the eighteenth century, changes in proprietary membership resulted in moves to establish the Church of England in South Carolina. The new senior proprietor in London, Lord Granville, was a High Tory who supported efforts to exclude non-Anglicans from public life. His efforts in England carried over to South Carolina. As a result, the proprietors began to court their former political enemies, the Goose Creek Men, who were primarily Church of England members. The arrival of Nathaniel Johnson, also a High Tory, as governor in 1703 initiated a series of measures that strengthened the establishment of the Church of England in South Carolina.
In May 1704 the Commons House of Assembly passed a law making the reception of the Holy Eucharist according to the use of the Church of England compulsory for members of the assembly. The law was a blatant attempt to remove non-Anglicans from public office and was disallowed by English authorities. In November 1706 the assembly replaced the previous act with “An Act for the Establishment of Religious Worship in this Province, according to the Church of England; and for the Erecting of Churches for the public Worship of God; and also for the Maintenance of Ministers, and the building convenient Houses for them.” Commonly referred to as the Church Act, it made the Church of England the established, or official, church of South Carolina.
The act divided the colony into ten parishes: St. Philip’s, Christ Church, St. Thomas, St. John’s, St. James Goose Creek, St. Andrew’s, St. Denis, St. Paul’s, St. Bartholomew’s, and St. James Santee. Once established, the Church of England was supported by public monies, with provision made for clergy salaries and the erection of churches and rectories. Parishes were given glebes (farmlands for the support of clergyman), and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer became the official liturgy for the province.
Although the Church of England was established in South Carolina, it was relatively weak, and other denominations were tolerated. Not having a bishop was the primary reason for its weakness. Henry Compton, bishop of London from 1676 until 1713, addressed this problem by naming commissaries to the colonies. While commissaries could not ordain or confirm, they could provide leadership, call conferences of clergy, and discipline errant clergy. In 1707 Bishop Compton appointed the Reverend Gideon Johnston the first commissary to the Carolinas. He arrived in South Carolina in 1708 and became the rector of St. Philip’s, Charleston. The second commissary was William Treadwell Bull, who served from 1717 until 1723. The third and most influential commissary in South Carolina was Alexander Garden, who held the office from 1729 until his resignation in 1749.
During the Revolutionary War, the Church of England suffered in all the colonies. In the colonies where the Church of England was established, such as South Carolina, legislation was passed to disestablish it. This happened in South Carolina in 1778. On May 12, 1785, the Church of England in South Carolina organized as the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Bolton, S. Charles. Southern Anglicanism: The Church of England in Colonial South Carolina. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1982.
Dalcho, Frederick. An Historical Account of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South-Carolina. 1820. Reprint, New York: Arno, 1972.
Sirmans, M. Eugene. Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663–1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966. Weir, Robert M. Colonial South Carolina: A History. 1983. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997