On a recent road trip to Charleston, S.C., I came across a historical marker that led me down a dirt road to the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease, est 1725.

It’s a breathtaking and spiritual sensation to step into a clearing and take in the haunting view of the  brick ruins of one of the nation’s oldest chapels.

This historic site is almost 300 years old!

Unfortunately, a large portion of the brick wall has crumbled and a major piece fell during the Fourth of July weekend in 2020, the same time there was civil unrest and destruction of historical sites in many cities.

The graveyard at the pon pon chapel of ease with the brick ruins in the background.

Colleton County’s Pon Pon Chapel of Ease

The Pon Pon Chapel of Ease, first erected in 1754, was burned in 1801 and came to be known locally as “the Burnt Church.”

In addition to its beauty and its age, the brick church is also historically significant because of the fact that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached there twice in 1737.

Though not a whole lot remains of the church, there is enough to get an idea of how beautiful and elaborate it was. It’s hard to imagine that it has stood in that beautiful rural spot since well before the United States was even a country.

According to local accounts, the deterioration of the chapel’s ruins began when Hurricane Gracie toppled much of the church in 1959. On October 8, 2017 Hurricane Matthew caused additional damage. The largest section was then damaged in 2020, probably by vandals.

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Early History of Pon Pon Chapel of Ease

A road sign explaining the pon pon chapel of ease along parker's ferry road.Established in 1725 by an Act of the General Assembly, Pon Pon Chapel of Ease was one of two churches serving St. Bartholomew’s Parish after the Yemassee War (1715) aborted plans for a parish church.

The chapel site was located on Parker’s Ferry Road, the busy stagecoach thoroughfare that connected Charleston and Savannah. In 1754, a brick chapel was erected to replace the earlier wooden structure.

After the chapel burned in 1801, it was rebuilt between 1819 and 1822, and was in use until 1832 when it was again reduced to ruins.

After a lot of research, I discovered how the Pon Pon name came about. The church is located near the Edisto River, and the Indians called that part of the river Pon Pon.

pon pon chapel of ease before the main wall collapsed.

This is how the church looked before it started to crumble.

How Pon Pon Came To Be A “Chapel of Ease’

Established in 1725 by an Act of the General Assembly, Pon Pon Chapel of Ease was one of two churches serving St. Bartholomew’s Parish after the Yemassee War (1715) aborted plans for a parish church.

If you’re like me and never heard of a Chapel of Ease before, these places were created so worshipers in remote areas would have a place to worship. As you can imagine, getting to a more central parish church would be difficult due to distance.

Most of the people attending these rural Chapels of Ease were planters, and therefore could not take the time to travel long distances both to and from church services. Chapels of Ease were also places that the planter class used to catch up on news and socialize with other families in the area.

The plantations along the Edisto River close to Pon Pon produced sea island cotton and indigo which was exported worldwide.

It’s interesting that parish churches had functions outside of worship, such as keeping population statistics and use for elections. Even though Pon Pon was a Chapel of Ease, it also performed many of the functions of a parish church.

Local planter Thomas Ford donated the two acre plot of land that the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease was built on. The church didn’t have a permanent pastor until late in 1732 when The Reverend Mr. Guy was appointed to the parish.

According to Rev. Guy’s records, there were forty-four families and seventy-nine plantations living within eight miles of the church.

I found it interesting that General Frances Marion ambushed 540 Hessians, British redcoats and Tories along Parker’s Ferry road in 1781. The British were defeated and withdrew back to Charles Town.

Ancient gravestone in the foreground with the ruins of pon pon chapel in the rear.

The End of Pon Pon

After the chapel burned in 1801, it was rebuilt between 1819 and 1822, and was in use until 1832 when it was again reduced to ruins.

Unfortunately, times were changing times in Colleton County as well.  The county seat moved to Walterboro in 1820, and as people began to move away from the area, Pon Pon became a less important location for congregants.

In 1826, historic records show that that pew rentals were nonexistent.  Just a few  years later, the church was destroyed again, although it is unclear what caused the destruction.

An early painting of the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease.

An early painting of the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease.

Architecture Of The Chapel Of Ease

According to old photos and artwork of the Chapel, it had a central, rounded arched entrance flanked by rounded arched windows on either side, all constructed in a brickwork pattern of one stretcher alternating with two headers.

The two round windows in the façade’s upper level utilized the same brickwork pattern and the walls were constructed in Flemish bond.

Modern History of Pon Pon Chapel of Ease

In 1971 Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina worked together to restore the ruins of Pon Pon Chapel from the destruction caused by Hurricane Gracie in 1959.

Since acquiring the property in 1970, the Colleton County Historical and Preservation Society maintained the chapel and grounds.

Pon Pon Chapel of Ease was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January of 1972.

It’s hard to imagine all of the history that took place in the area. I’m so glad I saw the historical marker, slammed on my brakes and took the turn to find the “Burnt Church.”

The church is located about 35 miles west of Charleston.

Planning A Trip To Charleston, S.C.?

Make sure you visit the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon and take a tour of Fort Sumter.

If you need a place to stay, I recommend:

➡️  Hilton Garden Inn Downtown/Waterfront

➡️ Harborside at Charleston Harbor (Sounds expensive, but affordable!)

➡️ La Quinta Inn and Suites By Wyndham

➡️ Or you can splurge and stay in the Historic District!

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