Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

3
The Tradition Transplanted The Reformed Communities

The society of [colonial] South Carolina was characterized by a whole-hearted devotion to amusement and the neglect of religion and intellectual pursuits. Economic affluence certainly contributed to the formation of such a society, but an even more basic reason for the development of the Carolina society can be found in the colony's religious tradition. The New England and middle colonies had been founded by Calvinistic or pietistic religious dissenters, who took a stern view of earthly pleasures but at the same time believed in the need for an educated clergy and laity. By contrast, South Carolina at the mid-[eighteenth]century was predominately Anglican, and the Church of England made little effort either to regulate the lives of its communicants or to promote intellectual pursuits. Consequently, while colonies like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania had produced socially dull but mentally stimulating societies, South Carolina had developed in just the opposite direction.

-- M. Eugene Sirmans, Colonial South Carolina: A Political History

THESE CONCLUSIONS OF Eugene Sirmans reflect conventional wisdom in regard to colonial South Carolina. Such conclusions, nurtured by the lingering myth of a "Cavalier" South, undoubtedly point to important aspects of colonial society. Yet they also distort much of the picture, not only by ignoring the high educational level of the Anglican clergy and many members of the Anglican laity but also by ignoring the presence of a vigorous and lively Reformed community in the South Carolina low country.1 This chapter focuses on that community--its strength, its institutional structures, and its social characteristics as they developed in relationship to a low country context.


Institutional Structures

Colonial Congregations

The center--the focal point and institutional expression--of the Reformed communities that settled in the low country were the congregations they established. Here they organized their lives as religious communities, linked past

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