There is no more sacred spot in upper South Carolina than the Old Stone Church and its adjoining cemetery, where many of South Carolina’s most distinguished dead lie sleeping. The old church stands as a silent tribute to the piety and heroism of our first settlers, many of whom came over the mountains from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina to make their homes in this beautiful but savage wilderness.
As was the custom with the Scotch-Irish, as soon as they were settled in their new homes, they banded themselves together for public worship and immediately set about the establishment of a church. Following the church, there was a school; for with them religion and learning must go hand in hand.
The old church has stood for more than a century and a quarter, and its gray walls have recorded the hardships of the sturdy pioneers and the march of progress. Some of her worshipers followed Pickens into the battles of Ninety-Six, King’s Mountain, Cowpens and Eutaw Springs. The accurate fire of these men with their flint and steel rifles drove fear into the hearts of the British. The sight of the coonskin caps which these men wore made them quake.
It has witnessed the early days of the new republic, the tramp of the feet of an invading foe, and still continues, although without regular services for almost a century to witness for God and the right.
On October 13, 1789, the people of Seneca appealed to the Presbytery of South Carolina to be taken under its care. In compliance with this request the Rev. John Simpson of New Jersey was sent to preach one Sabbath in the month. In 1790 he was installed as pastor of the log church, which stood about 80 rods from the dwelling of the late Ezekiel Pickens on the north side of the road. A tablet now marks the spot, though doubtless overgrown with brambles.
The growth of the congregation soon made a larger and more commodious church necessary. The foundations of the present church were laid in 1797 on 16.94 acres of land given by John Miller, the printer.
The church was completed in 1802 and stands as an enduring monument to the workmanship of John Rusk, father of the late United States Senator Rusk of Texas. The church was built by public subscription and the session book records that the principal contributors were Gen. Pickens, Gen. Anderson, George Reese, William Steele, Capt. McGriffin, Hardy Owens, Messrs. Whitner, Calhoun and Earle. The seats and pulpit were of walnut and were contributed by Gen. Pickens individually. Unfortunately the interior of the church was destroyed by a forest fire many years ago.
The church was named Hopewell-Keowee for the home of Gen. Pickens, only a short distance away.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, a distinguished scholar and patriot, was installed as pastor in 1792. He died in 1796 and was said to have been the first buried in the adjoining cemetery. The cemetery is enclosed by a substantial granite wall, and passing through the iron gate we pause at his grave. Ramsay, the historian, said of him in part: “That his admired essay on the Influence of Religion in Civil Society is an honorable testimony of the literature of South Carolina in 1788.” His arduous pursuit of his studies shortened his life. He was the first South Carolinian to receive a degree from Princeton.
John Miller, the publisher of the famous Junius Letters, and many of his descendants, lie buried in the east corner. A native of London, England, he knew well the writer of the famous letters, but carried the secret to his grave. Settling first in Charleston, he published the South Carolina Gazette and Advertiser, which he sold, and moved to Pendleton, where he began the publishing of the Pendleton Weekly Messenger, using the old printing press of Gen. Nathaniel Green. His sons, John and Crosby Miller, were faithful members of the old church. His descendants continue to uphold the honor of the family. The family of one John Miller has furnished two foreign missionaries, one outstanding home missionary and two splendid physicians.
Excerpt from ‘Historic Oconee County, South Carolina,’ by Mary Cherry Doyle, written 1935, published by Old Pendleton District Historical Commission, 1967
online at http://files.usgwarchives.net/sc/oconee/history/H-12.txt