The old white sentinel stands resolutely over the many silent headstones that surround its 241-year-old wooden frame. It has witnessed years of war interspersed with years of peace and both have shaped its colorful history in Cheraw, South Carolina.
Having been commissioned in 1768 and built in 1770, St. David’s Church saw the tumult and rumblings of dissension early in the American Revolutionary War for Independence. In fact St. David’s Parish was the last Anglican parish to be established under the British King George III. This parish was named after the patron saint of Wales because of the large Welsh population in the area.
Not only was St. David’s Church present during the Revolutionary War, it also played roles for both American and British armies. It was used as quarters for the South Carolina militia and later in 1780, it was used as quarters and a hospital for a regiment of the British Army. These soldiers were in a regiment called the Highlanders and were under the command of Maj. McArthur in Lord Cornwallis’ Army. While quartering there many of Highlander soldiers became sick and died, probably from smallpox. They are buried in a mass grave in front of the church. Several British officers are also buried on the church grounds.
After the war, the Anglican Church was dis-established due to its connection with England, but over the years St. David’s Church would continue to be used as a faithful dwelling for other denominations including Baptists and Presbyterians. But the Episcopal Church, the “American” Anglican church, would reclaim the building by 1819.
After years of peace the church building would once again be called into service during war time. Union and Confederate soldiers used the sanctuary as a hospital. When Gen. Wm. T. Sherman made his burning march to the sea through Georgia and South Carolina, he occupied Cheraw and burned many buildings in the town as well as outlying plantations punishing them for their role in being the first town to secede from the Union. There was a large accidental munitions explosion during the Union occupation in Cheraw that damaged the church building, but orders were never given to burn St. David’s Church.
Over the years the grounds around the church have become an expansive cemetery. Resting in peace are soldiers from both armies of the Revolutionary War, Confederate and Union soldiers from the Civil War and soldiers from every other war in which America has fought. Members of the local community from every denomination are also buried there including Catholic citizens which is very unusual in a Protestant cemetery.
This church is near and dear to my family because my husband’s sixth great-grandfather was a member of the Vestry of St. David’s Parish and one of the commissioners who organized the building of St. David’s Church. He was Capt. Thomas Ellerbe, a respected member of Cheraw, SC. He was also a patriot who served as a captain under General Francis Marion during the Revolutionary War in South Carolina.