History of Pumpkintown & Oolenoy

Land of Grain and Clear Water

By Bert Hendricks Reece, Pickens, South Carolina

Originally published by Miracle Hill Print Shop.
© 1970 by the author. Edited for the net by John Reece
Contact: reece@pobox.com

Oolenoy Baptist Church

In giving the history of the church, I first want to mention some of the families living in the Oolenoy River Valley at the time Oolenoy Church was organize:

  • Cornelius Keith was the first of the Keiths to come and with his wife, Juda Thompson, and baby was the first white man to settle in this Cherokee Indian land. He came in 1743.
  • The Sutherlands were of Scotch nobility. They came down from Virginia and settled in the cove then moved down to Pumpkintown and continued to own it until 1946.
  • The Chastains were French Huguenots who moved down from Virginia. Rev. John Chastain organized Oolenoy Church in 1795.
  • Alexander Edens was the first of that family to come. The first delegate from Oolenoy Church to the Bethel Association in 1797 was William Edens.
  • The family of William La Foone moved down from Virginia and received a grant of land in the Peters Creek area. His daughter Mary LaFoone married Cornelius Keith II.
  • John Roper was here in 1790. Among his descendants were Aaron, Ira and Tyre who was an early pastor of Oolenoy Church.
  • Jesse Adams for whom Adams Creek was named.
  • Capt. William Lynch, a Revolutionary War soldier who organized a law to deal with criminals in absence of a court. This took the name of the Lynch law. It is not the same as our lynching.
  • Abraham Hester a Revolutionary War soldier from whom Hester bottom derived its name.
  • Daniel Weaver for whom Weavers Creek was named, first owned land a long its banks.
  • Joel Jones forbears of Dr. Samuel Honey Jones and the Jones family. The Reids - Joseph B. Reid was teacher of the first school.
  • Other names of early settlers best of whom we have no stated record are Capt. Benjamin Clark, Burgesses, Trotters, Masters, Andersons, Rigdons, Hendricks, Massengills and Bates.

We must know that these devout people who came to America from European countries seeking religious freedom held prayer services in homes until 1795 when they decided to organize a church. Rev. John Chastain organized the church and became its first pastor. He was an eloquent speaker with a clear ringing voice that carried so well he could be heard for a distance of a mile or more. He became known as "Ten Shilling Bell" Chastain. The ten shilling bell was the clearest and could be heard the greatest distance of any bell of that time. Rev. Chastain was very strict in his application of religion to the conduct of church members. The church practiced foot washing as a symbol of humility. The two pewter basins used for this ceremony are still in possession of Keith descendants. Baptismal services were first held in the Oolenoy River at the first Oolenoy River bridge. The road to this bridge led straight up the hill from the site of our parsonage. The timbers of this bridge were all hewn of chestnut and held together with large wooden pins (pegs). My mother told us about going to a baptismal service in an ox wagon and snow on the ground. When a saw mill was brought to the community a baptismal pool of plank was built which was used until 1946 when the present church was constructed which has a baptistry. The first Communion table and the first pulpit stand can be seen in a Sunday School room of the church. Four Keith brothers whose lands corners joined where the parsonage now stands gave the land for church and cemetery. The first church building was made of hewn logs with puncheon (hewn) floor, s e at s and door. The roof was of wide boards split from white oak. There was no heat. There is no record of how many years this building was used but an up-and-down saw was brought to the community about 1840 and a church building of plank was soon constructed. Mr. Jesse Simmons was church clerk from 1856-1867. During that time his house burned and the church records were lost by the fire. The first church of sawed lumber was 40 feet long with large windows with wooden shutters. Two 20 foot hewn girders were morticed and pinned to 10 inch square hewn posts which formed the frame of the door. The corner posts were also hewn 10 inch posts. The floor and seats were also of sawed plank. There was no heat. In 1870 Matthew Hendricks and James B. Hester heard of a mill with circular saw for sale at Augusta. They went for it. With this better saw the church decide-d to remodel the building. Matthew Hendricks was appointed foreman and the members gave free labor. The church was enlarged to 50 feet in length. New weather-boarding and flooring were used and large glass windows were added. In 1881 the house was ceiled and louve shutters added to the windows. In 1902 a large room was added to the front of building with belfry and bell. This building gave way to our present brick structure in 1952. In the early church seats were reserved in back of building for negroes until their churches were built. They were received into the church as members and baptized. The church was organized in 1795 and in 1797 Oolenoy Church entered Bethel Association under Rev. John Chastain. William Edens was mes­senger and reported a membership of 60. In 1837 the church ordainedTyre L. Roper for the ministry. This was its first ordination service. They then elected him pastor and he served 38 years without pay. When he retired the members gave him a contri­bution of money and produce. A two horse wagon would not hold the corn, wheat, bacon and hams contributed.

Early Pastors to 1903

John Chastain 1795-1826
Gary Barker 1826-1837
Tyre Roper 1837-1875
G. W. Mace 1876-1880
J. M. Stewart 1881
M. L. Jones 1882
D. C. Freeman 1885
W. G. Mauldin 1894
J. V. Vermillion 1896
T. E. Holtzclaw 1897
A. W. Beck 1899
W. C. Seaborn 1903

Early Clerks to 1903

Aaron Roper 1845-1855
T. Griffin 1856
A. J. Simmons 1856-57
Matthew Hendricks 1868-1895
A. L. Edens 1896-1903
Oolenoy Church Cemetery

The beginning of this cemetery was a Cherokee Indian burying ground. The tomb of the first white man to settle in this Cherokee land, Cornelius Keith, bears a bronze plaque with the Keith "Coat of Arms" and the following inscription:

Cornelius Keith Born in Loch Lomand, Scotland of Royal Lineage 1715-1808 Original pioneer of Oolenoy settlement started about 1743 married JudaThompson. Reared twelve children one son was Colonel Cornelius Keith, Revolutionary War hero, whose wife was Mary La Foone.

There are buried here soldiers of 5 wars: Revolution, Mexican, Civil War, World War I and World War II. William LaFoone Keith with his family is buried just back of the church. He served in the Mexican War along with Jefferson Davis who later became President of the Confederacy. Keith was elected from Pumpkintown area'sfirst Clerk of Court of Pickens District. He served 28 years and died in office. George Keith, who was employed during the Civil War to secure and report men in hiding to keep out of war, was martyred. His grave is directly back of the church and the inscription on the tomb gives this advice: Slaves of the settlers are buried here also. The Oolenoy Development Club erected a monument of native stone with a marble inset bearing the inscription:

In grateful memory of faithful slaves who rest here.
Many of the old markers are soap stone mined near Soap Stone Negro Church.
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