A SHORT HISTORY OF ST. MATTHEW’S PARISH
Fort Motte, South Carolina (1765-2020)
By Mrs. Nina Reid Mack, JD
St. Matthew’s Parish is a small church with a long history. Records of its history go back to colonial South Carolina. During the early part of the 1700’s, settlers began moving into the area near the juncture of the Congaree and Santee Rivers, known then as Amelia Township. By 1765, enough families lived in this area to warrant the establishment of a parish. In colonial times, parishes served as election districts and the centers of local government, as well as church units.
By Act 944 of 1765, the South Carolina colonial assembly created St. Matthew’s Parish, with boundaries extending from the Congaree and Santee Rivers to the Edisto. The Act, which required approval by the king of England, allowed St. Matthew’s Parish to elect two representatives to the assembly. This Act was vetoed by King George III because the provision called for two additional representatives in the assembly and the king took the position that only the crown could enlarge colonial assemblies. The South Carolina Assembly responded by passing a similar Act (Number 971 of 1768) which gave St. Matthew’s only one representative and decreased by one the number of representatives from St. James Goose Creek. After approval of the 1768 Act by the king, William Thomson was elected to represent St. Matthew’s.
At least six church buildings have been associated with St. Matthew’s Parish. The first, called Amelia Chapel and later known as “the old church” was erected in 1757. The location of this early church is thought to have been near the present-day Town of Santee. It served settlers in the area prior to the establishment of St. Matthew’s Parish. The next building, a wooden structure 40 feet by 30 feet, was erected between 1765 and 1768 under the terms of the Acts of the South Carolina Assembly establishing St. Matthew’s Parish. This church building is believed to have been located near present-day Lone Star. This building was taken down and the church was rebuilt around 1799-1800 at a location six miles away. The new location was said to be more convenient to the parishioners and to German Lutherans in the area. Some fifteen years later, the vestry of the Parish determined again to take down and rebuild the church in a new location. This new church building was consecrated by Bishop Nathaniel Bowen on November 21, 1819, who wrote in his journal that the older location had become inconvenient for parishioners to attend services, so the building was relocated to land given by Col. Andrew Heatly. In 1830, St. Matthew’s Parish sponsored a chapel in the nearby summer village of Totness. The chapel, which became the village center, was used until 1865. The main parish church was again relocated, with the 1852-53 construction of the current church building. This building was known for many years as “The Red Church” and still contains its nineteenth century enclosed pews and narrow balcony. The recessed chancel and sacristry were added during the 1890’s.
Like the community, the church enjoyed times of prosperity and endured times of struggle. Records showing donations of land, silver service pieces, and furnishings reflect the devotion of its members through the years. But the size of the congregation was always small. Rectors often served another parish and, for many years in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, services could be held only once or twice a month. Rev. Thomas S. Tisdale served St. Matthew’s Parish from 1940 through 1953, while also serving as rector at the Church of the Redeemer in Orangeburg. In the early 1950’s, the church had only 39 members, but it was soon to benefit from the new families forming after the return of soldiers from World War II.
With financial help from the diocese, the church called Rev. Kenneth Donald as rector in 1953. He became the first minister to live within the community since 1872. The growing number of families and young children prompted the women of the church to initiate a fundraising campaign for the construction of a parish house. The church began hosting oyster roasts at the “cannery” behind the home of Mrs. W.C. Hane on U.S. Highway 601 in Fort Motte. Tickets for the first oyster roast, held November 5, 1953, cost $1.25 for an “all you can eat” meal of oysters, shrimp, seafood sauce, crackers, hot dogs, and coffee. The parish house was completed in April 1954 with funds from oyster roasts, contributions, and a loan from the diocese. At this time, the church entered a contest sponsored by Emory University and the Sears Roebuck Foundation, which attracted entries by 846 churches of various denominations in 13 southern states. St. Matthew’s Parish was named “Rural Church of the Year in South Carolina 1954” and runner-up for “Rural Church of the Year in the South 1954.” The parish tradition of hosting oyster roasts continued for more than ten years and it became a popular social, as well as fundraising, event.
The first rectory, built in 1961 on a one-acre lot near the church, was occupied by ministers of the church for about twenty years. The Fort Motte rectory was sold and a home in the Lewisville Heights subdivision of St. Matthews was then purchased. This home served as rectory until the arrival of Rev. Michael Hub in 2003, who, with his wife, purchased the property at 1809 Bridge Street, St. Matthews as their residence. Following the retirement of Rev. Hub in 2013, the parish purchased the property at 1809 Bridge Street and established it as the parish rectory.
St. Matthew’s Parish called its first female priest, Rev. Janet Roberts Echols, in August 2013. Rev. Echols and her family came to the parish directly from their service as missionaries in India. The parish marked its 250th anniversary in 2015 with a year-long celebration which included activities for spiritual development in the congregation, outreach to the community, the dedication of a historical marker, and the re-institution of the popular oyster roast.
The Parish withdrew from The Episcopal Church in 2013. It is a part of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina, which joined the Anglican Church in North America in 2017.
For more information on the history of Ft Motte, St Matthew’s Parish or to look up family graves please contact Mrs. Nina Reid Mack, JD firstname.lastname@example.org