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The ‘little brown church in the vale’ that was and still is a mission

The ‘little brown church in the vale’ that was and still is a mission

Ebenezer UMC unveils historic marker

By Michael J. Jeffcoat

NORTH—The small and rarely used Cokesbury hymnals were raised to meet voices and elevated hearts on May 4 at Ebenezer United Methodist Church.

The congregation’s and choir’s voices surpassed the small, ordinary organ so that its melodious exhales were just a distant dreamlike tune that seemed to dance in and out of consciousness. Faces were pointed up and forward, and bodies swayed gently as the hymn was sung. Some eyes became limpid pools reflecting rays of color from the stained glass windows as the realization of the connection to the hymn being sung, and the historic events of the day that were yet to transpire, became one in mind and heart.

Never had the hymn, “The Little Brown Church In The Vale,” meant more than it did that day unless perhaps the day it was composed by Dr. William S. Pitts in 1857 about the small church yet to be built in Nashua, Iowa, at the time of the composition. Ebenezer UMC, formerly Jeffcoats’ Meeting House, was founded almost a century before Pitts composed the hymn. This day, a historic marker was dedicated and unveiled at “The Little Brown Church In The Vale” once known as Jeffcoats’ Meeting House, c.1775.

The significant history of the church is one that is just coming to be better known. The region of the church is in an area of South Carolina that in colonial times was in open territory and apart from the townships of Amelia (present day Calhoun County), Saxe Gotha (present day Lexington), Orangeburgh (present day Orangeburg) and New Windsor (present day Augusta), townships that formed a ring around the area and that had been established to buffer against the threat of hostile Native Americans. It is an area that was strategically left open in the planning of the settlement of South Carolina as early as the late 1600s with the planning efforts of Stephen Bull, deputy and surveyor to the Lord’s Proprietors. Bull’s foremost obligation to the Crown was to preserve trade with and the trade routes of the Native Americans. This open territory is known today as the Congaree Cone. It stretches between the Congaree River and north fork of the Edisto River.

Jeffcoats’ Meeting House and the Samuel Jeffcoat House & Plantation were established at and near the intersection of the ancient Creek Trading Path that ran from Charleston through Bull’s Ashely Hall Plantation and to The Indian Head, a recently rediscovered ancient meeting place and region of the indigenous people of North America that rests along the path.

The Jeffcoats were Wesleyans and believed their mission was to bring Christianity to the Native Americans. Bull and his son and grandson also shared an affinity for the Native Americans, which is well documented and transcended generationally in their personal and political beliefs and practices. William Bull Sr., Stephen’s son, worked alongside John Wesley, both serving at the request of James Oglethorpe. Wesley was a guest of William Bull at Ashley Hall Plantation along the ancient Creek Trading Path at least once and just before his return to England, whereupon his realigned mission became to find missionaries like the Jeffcoats to send back to the New World.

With emotions elevated, guests and members of Ebenezer UMC gathered around the veiled roadside marker as church member, Jeffcoat family matriarch and historian Dell S. Jeffcoat cut the ribbon to unveil the large silver marker with black lettering.

The sky was clear blue and the sun was bright, making the marker seem to have life through its reflective qualities. It was the annual homecoming celebration for the church, but this year homecoming was a journey that took all present back in time more than 300 years.

Ebenezer UMC was once again the little brown church in the vale: Jeffcoats’ Meeting House.

Jeffcoat is a forensic historian and writer.

6 Comments

  • The little brown church in the vale, is sung in the text of the hymn, Church in the Wildwood, printed in the out-dated Cokesbury Hymnal, page 121.
    I have never been fond of this hymn, because of its,”little” word, meaning that our church needs to be small? Not growing?
    It only speaks of a place, ” a spot in the dale.” Nothing about God, Jesus or the Holy Ghost not to mention assurance, forgiveness, pardon, sanctification, justification, glorification or personal and social holiness. I wonder what the Wesleys would think of this hymn?
    It is rather a sentimental, “feel good” hymn that has poor theology to say the least. It speaks of our childhood and not of the Lord.
    I much prefer, the great Charles Wesley hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” There is nothing “little” or sentimental about that hymn.

    • Eddie, what a profound response. The significance of this hymn is in the history of the writing of the hymn. The church materialized in the spot where the author had a vision it would be. This is similar to the origins of this church too. It was a vision from God which became a mission. This small church has a big 300 year outreach was celebrated.

  • I grew up in this church and have many fond memories – beginning w/lying on a bench between Mama & Papa, later w/Sunday School every Sunday, singing in the choir, attending many funerals for family members and friends. Also a poignant memory of a family preparing to bury a little child outside when my father went outside to ask if they would like a funeral service,which they did. The family came inside w/the little casket,and my father, William Henry Jeffcoat, conducted a service for them. It still makes me sad to remember this time,but I also have many, many happy memories. Such. Nostalgia tonight!

  • My little brown church was really on a main highway which as of late has become a major highway, yet it has that symbolic feeling as a church for all the people. Sometimes words do not have to be spelled out but can be expressed in such a way that the emotions can be very strongly felt. As a child growing up every time I would hear that song I would think of my church and even at that time it was a church with open minds, open hearts and open doors. The doors were open to the people.

  • To me, growing up hearing the song, it only reenforced what a sacred thing/act it was to attend church each Sunday. And what is more I knew at a young age how important church and family were. This song to me, celebrates any and all CHRISTian churches, and we know the purpose of the church, so therefore it is about “The FATHER SON AND HOLY GHOSE. “NO SPOT is so dear to my childhood”, And aren’t we commanded to lead others to “Oh come to the church”. I dare say that if you are a Baptist and especially a Southern Baptist, your Sundays were centered around church, and if you did not attend on any given Sunday, you must be very ill or out of town. Also, don’t we know that a church is really the people, not the building? Any CHRISTian church is a “House of GOD”. And especially churches that have been in existance for centuries, and have graveyards full of generations of families who attended the church. And I daresay what pride I always felt when my Mama, my husband, my children, and myself were at church together, worshiping the LORD and learning of his word. On a more personal note than that, my twin gbabies were dedicated to the LORD Sunday before last. And our family “packed a pew” with just immediate family members for this awesome occassion, and I did cry with my swollen heart that all had “come to the church’.

  • The marker installed at Ebenezer Chursh has errors in the text. There was no Indian Head in the area of the church. The Indian Head was near the town of Perry. Also Bishop Francis Asbury never preached or met with the Jeffcoats at The Meeting House. This is according to the Bishop Asbury Travels. They have no record of a visit.

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