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Shipwreck Churches

For the historically minded, Bohicket Road and the Parkway form a time tunnel through some of Johns Island's earliest history as a settled community, embodied in two structures that bracket the island's colonial history and its post-Civil War struggles.

Johns Island Presbyterian

The earlier of the two is Johns Island Presbyterian Church, one of five such churches established in the early 1700s by Archibald Stobo, a Scottish minister stranded in Charleston when the ship carrying him home from missionary work in Panama was wrecked in a hurricane while docked to take on supplies. Undaunted, the Reverend Stobo set about establishing Presbyterian outposts around the barrier islands, including on Johns Island. The original church was built in 1719 and was enlarged in subsequent years, serving both white planters and their enslaved Blacks - although Blacks were only allowed to join the church after their masters certified they were "of good character" and were confined during worship services to the balconies above the sanctuary.

The Rev. Ishmael Moultrie

The second and later landmark is the Hebron Center, formerly the Hebron Zion Presbyterian Church, established as a freedman's church after Reconstruction when Black parishioners were expelled from what became a whites-only congregation at the older church. They set about establishing their own house of worship, a makeshift structure further south on Bohicket Road made from rough pine and palmetto fronds. The congregation was led by Ishmael Moultrie, the first Black ordained as a minister by the post-Civil War South Carolina Negro Presbytery. When news came in 1865 of a schooner wrecked on Deveaux Bank with a load of timber, Moultrie sent congregation members in rowboats and barges to retrieve the cargo; and soon a handsome clapboard church built from the wreckage rose to serve the congregation until 1965, when a new brick church was built next door.

The sturdy building, converted to a senior citizens center in 1980, survived hurricane Hugo nine years later, although it was knocked partially off its foundations and had to laboriously be hauled back upright and partially reconstructed. It stands today with St. Johns Presbyterian as two of the oldest surviving buildings on Johns Island, both born in their separate ways because of shipwrecks.

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