The Old Sheldon Church Ruins (Prince William Parish Church) embodies an intriguing history and a majestic appeal. The birth of this beautiful site was long in coming. Organization of the Prince William Parish Church, and much of its funding was provided by William Bull, whose plantation bordered the church grounds. In 1751, the Prince William Parish Church cornerstone was laid, and in 1757, the interior of this tabby and brick structure was complete and the first services were held. Scholars now know that the Prince William Parish Church represented the first temple-form neoclassical structure in America, and began the Greek Revival style in the South. Sadly, the man most accredited with the success of the Prince William Parish Church died before its completion. As a symbol of respect, William Bull was buried inside the church at the base of the alter. Remarkably, the stone marking his grave remains in place to this day.
As wealthy families continued to relocate to the area surrounding the Prince William Parish Church, it was used on a regular basis. However, as the end of the 18th century approached, and the Revolutionary War beckoned, life in the Lowcountry began to change. In June of 1775, thousands of pounds of gunpowder were confiscated from the British ship, Little Carpenter, and were stored in the Prince William Parish Church. Soon, storing gun powder and weapons in the Prince William Parish Church became a common occurrence. Ultimately, this resulted in its demise. In May of 1779, Major DeVeaux, a leading Tory of the Beaufort region, burned not only the Prince William Parish Church, but also destroyed the Bull family estate, Sheldon Plantation. The loss of the Prince William Parish Church was not only a physical one, but a symbolic one as well, as the church stood as a testament to the wealth and prosperity of the region.
Amazingly, the walls of the Prince William Parish Church did not crumble, and parishioners continued to worship there. Eventually, in 1826, indigo and rice brought renewed wealth to the area, and the church was restored. It was at this time that the church’s name was officially changed to Sheldon Church of Prince William’s Parish. Sadly, the church (and its parishioners) were going to face yet another calamity, the Civil War.
On January 14, 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops, under the leadership of General John Logan, burned the Sheldon Church as part of the now famously fierce “March to the Sea” campaign. Although the walls once again refused to fall, this exceptional church was never to be built again.
Today, visitors to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins will discover colossal oaks that seem to emerge from the well worn earth in an effort to shelter the church’s seasoned brick columns and stately arched walls. Worn grave stones dot the foundation and a feeling of serenity fills the air. Old Sheldon Church Ruins offers visitors a truly exceptional experience. Simply pack a lunch, grab your camera and enjoyÃ¢Â?Â¦
Old Sheldon Church Ruins, a stunning example of Lowcountry beauty, is located less than 30 miles from Beaufort, South Carolina on Old Sheldon Church Road, just off Highway 17.
Interested in learning more about this and other Lowcountry historic sites?
Check out the following titles: The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina Volume 1, 1514-1861 by Lawrence S. Rowland.
Plantation Tales by Nancy Rhyne, Old Homes & Churches of Beaufort County, South Carolina by Mary Kendall Hilton.