Gullah/Geechee Nation Appreciation Week: Gwine Chuch!

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation ( at the historic Mary Jenkins Praise House on St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation ( at the historic Mary Jenkins Praise House on St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (

Tenk Gawd fa de chuch!

God is the foundation and center of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  Although Gullah/Geechees have a myriad of spiritual practices, it is difficult to find a Gullah/Geechee whose spiritual roots do not come out of the bush arbors and praise houses.  The congregations of these traditional gathering places are the ones that literally and figuratively laid the foundations for the historic churches throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation.

The shout tradition and the spirituals evolved within these centers of the community and continue today. Hunnuh hafa cum ta church an shout wid we fa de sellbrayshun een de Gullah/Geechee Nation!  Disya de way we ancestas dem lun we bout Gawd an how fa lib wid de famlee pun de islandt fa tru.  Dem bin wan allawe fa be riychus folk.  So e hep we fa ketch we sense.

From the praise houses on numerous islands in Beaufort County, SC came the plethora of Gullah/Geechee churches that exist today.   First African Baptist Church built circa 1863 is the oldest church on Hilton Head Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. The original church was known as “The Black Church” and was located on Mitchelville.  Also on Hilton Head are St. James Baptist Church which was built circa 1886, Central Oak Grove Baptist ChurchMt. Calvary Missionary Baptist ChurchNew Church of Christ, and Queen Chapel AME Church.

In Bluffton, SC still stands several Gullah/Geechee churches including “Campbell AME.”  The edifice of the old Campbell Chapel, which was named after the presiding bishop of the South Carolina AME Churches at that time, was purchased from the Bluffton Methodist Church in 1874 by nine Gullah/Geechee freedmen, who were looking for a building to establish a church under the auspices of a Black denomination spreading over the South called African Methodist Episcopal Church. The building was built in 1853. The nine founders were: Jacob Chislom, Renty Fields, William Ferguson, Jeffrey Buncombe, William Smiley, David Heyward, Christopher Bryan, Theodore Wilson and William Lightburn.

To get to the next historic church in southern Beaufort County requires a ferry ride from Hilton Head.  However, once you arrive, you will see the First Union Baptist Church on Daufuskie Island which was built in 1881 when 12 Gullah/Geechee freedmen purchase the land which had been previously a part of the Mary Field Plantation.  In 1884, the original church was destroyed by a fire, but within 1 year, the Gullah/Geechee congregation rebuilt the church which stands on the island today.  Unfortunately, due to the displacement of Gullah/Geechees from Daufuskie, the congregation is now largely those that moved to the island instead of native Gullah/Geechees.

Interestingly enough, 1884 was also the year that Ebenezer Baptist Church on historic St. Helena Island was built.   Across from Ebenezer lies the church that grew out of it, Bethesda Christian Center which started off as “St. Joseph’s Baptist Church.”  Bethesda is now the largest church on St. Helena Island and will be the culminating place of worship for the “Gullah/Geechee Nation International Music & Movement Festival™ 2013.”  Down Dr. Martin L. King Drive (which was “Land’s End Road” when these churches were first built) lies the oldest church on St. Helena Island, Brick Baptist Church which is part of the Penn Center National Landmark Historic District.  Out of Brick Baptist Church came “Faith Memorial Baptist Church” which sits across from the historic “Chapel of Ease.”  If you continue along this road, you will find Adams Street Baptist and with a turn off and a short drive, you will come to “Orange Grove Baptist Church.”  Nazareth and First African Baptist Churches are also historic churches on the island not far from “Church of the Harvest.”   Oaks True Holiness is one of several holiness churches on the island along with “Holy Redeemer.”  Fortunately, St. Helena Island still has two active praise houses on the island as well.

Crossing two bridges from St. Helena Island will bring you to the Beaufort National Landmark Historic District which is the home of Tabernacle Baptist Church where Gullah Statesman Robert Smalls was a member. Grace AME is located within walking distance of Tabernacle.

Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort, SC

Tabernacle Baptist Church was established by the Gullah/Geechee members of Beaufort Baptist Church in 1861.   In 1867, the congregation bought the property that the church is currently on from the Beaufort Baptist Church to establish an independent place of worship. They completed the building that now stands in 1894.  A bust to Gullah Statesman Robert Smalls sits outside the church in front of the sacred burial area of the Smalls Family.

A few blocks from Tabernacle on “The Point” in Beaufort, SC stands First African Baptist Church:

Each pew of every church could tell many stories an e problee kin git up an shout!  Hunnuh hafa cum ta chuch fa unstan wha mi da crak me teet bout!

Gawd bless allawe disya “Gullah/Geechee Nation Appreciation Week!”



  1. A Sea of Gullah/Geechee Culture Flows for Gullah/Geechee Heritage Awareness Month « Gullah/Geechee Nation
  2. Charlie Simmons, Sr. Gullah/Geechee of Hilton Head is Honored with Bridge Renaming | Gullah/Geechee Nation

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