The name Wappetaw has a pleasant meaning and tells an interesting history.
The Seewee Indians gave the name Wappetaw, meaning “Sweet Water,” to a thin strip of high land between the salt marshes of the Wando River and Seewee Bay in northern Charleston County. The site is about 15 miles north of Mt. Pleasant and about twenty miles south of McClellanville. Travelers along Highway 17 will indentify Wappetaw as the locale of the modern Seewee Restaurant and Seewee Outpost.
In 1696, a valiant band of 51 New England Congregationalists settled in the area after fleeing Indian wars and the Salem witch trials. Governor Archdale of Carolina invited the settlers to come after learning that they had shipwrecked and spent a winter on Cape Hatteras. By 1699 the Congregationalists established churches at Wappetaw and at nearby Cainhoy. The church at Wappetaw became The Wappetaw Independent Congregational Church, distinguishing itself from the Anglican Church of Christ Church Parish, founded in 1707.
As fellow Calvinists and Dissenters to the Anglican Church, Congregationalists were allied to Presbyterians, Quakers, and other non-Anglicans. It came to pass that the church at Wappetaw was mostly served by Presbyterian ministers. In 1786, after independence, the church was incorporated as Wappetaw Independent Church in Christ Church Parish.
Residents of Wappetaw began creating second homes on the waterfronts of Mt. Pleasant and of the community which would become McClellanville. The Wappetaw church then lost many members in the Civil War, and further movement of families to Mt. Pleasant and the newly forming village of McClellanville led to cessation of worship at Wappetaw. The small building, described by the historian Petrona Royall as of “plain design” and therefore of classic meeting house style, deteriorated. Mrs. Royall said of its demise, “It never fell, but just seemed to settle lower and lower until it just disappeared.” It was gone by 1898.
Presbyterians in McClellanville founded New Wappetaw Presbyterian Church on August 23, 1872. Construction on the sanctuary began in 1874 on land donated by Robert Venning Morrison. The first worship service in the building was held on June 20, 1875, and the church was dedicated by the famous preacher, John Gerardeau, in August 1875. Presbyterian worshippers at Mt. Pleasant, where there had been a chapel prior to the war, established the Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church.
The original church site at Wappetaw became “Old Wappetaw.” It is an attractive place, located on Fifteen Mile Landing Road, just a few hundred yards behind the Seewee restaurant. Gravestones of a number of early residents of Wappetaw may be seen.
On August 1, 1877, a final gathering of four surviving members of “Old Wappetaw” transferred all property of the corporation to New Wappetaw Church. Properties transferred included all monies, bank stock, communion table linen, the silver communion service, 115 acres of pineland, and the church lot and burial ground. The pineland was sold in 1911 and used for renovation of New Wappetaw’s sanctuary. The monies must have been scanty and the stock of little value.
New Wappetaw’s original church steeple was located on the left side of the building’s front. In 1951, the front was remodeled, with a larger portico added and the steeple moved to the center. A separate Sunday School building was constructed in 1923, and was replaced by the present attached structure in 1938.
Visitors notice a metal rod spanning the interior of the sanctuary. It is said that the building leaned to one side after a hurricane in 1916. Men of the church united to push it back into shape. The occasion brought arguing factions together, allowing someone to say, “Look, the lion and the lamb are lying down together.”
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