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.