Pickens Cemetery




According to Howe, the earliest mention of Richmond Presbyterian Church in the Presbyterian archives of his day (ca. 1870) was in 1787. Dr. Andrew Lee Pickens (of the Pickens family who originally settled the land where the church/cemetery is located) dates the origin to ca. 1785. This may be closer to the reality, as the original deed to the land is dated October 15, 1784. Time must be allowed for the survey of the land and the sending of the plat and deed to Charleston for the governor’s signature (Benjamin Guerard), and so it is likely that the home place was settled in the spring/summer of 1783 (as per the traditional story passed down through the generations and recorded in 1870s in the R. W. Pickens Family Bible).

For informational purposes: the treaty of DeWitt's Corner was signed on May 20,1777, between South Carolina, Georgia, and the Cherokee Tribe. The Cherokee ceded all their land except a small strip in what is today Oconee and northwestern Pickens counties. On Mar 28, 1778, the General Assembly in Charles Town (Charleston) incorporated the ceded lands into the Ninety Six District. On Mar 21,1784, the General Assembly organized the land office for the sales of land in the 96 District, effective May 21,1784. Individuals could buy a maximum of 640 acres for 10pounds sterling per 100 acres. Treasury indents used to pay for militia service could be used to pay for land. On every third Friday of January, April, July, and October the governor was authorized to sign the land warrants, thereby effectively making them deeds.

Dr. Pickens found that the church made a request to the state religious body for “supplies of preaching” on April 10, 1787. The oldest grave in the cemetery is that of Robert Pickens, born in Ireland in 1697 and died 1787, and the father of Capt Robert (the youngest child, born in Maryland, 1747, and died in SC in 1830, also buried in the cemetery). So it appears certain that the church was in operation no later than 1787, and possibly as early as 1784. The first recorded elders of the church were: John Hamilton, James Watson, John Wilson (all Rev. War veterans), Robert McCann, all are buried in the cemetery; and Thomas Hamilton, who lived about 8 miles away in what today is called the Walker McEmoyle section and was buried at the “new” Carmel Cemetery ca. 1840. Robert Mecklin appears to be the first minister appointed to preach at Richmond – but this might have been only a temporary assignment (summer, 1787). In October, 1787, the church petitions again for “supplies of preaching,” naming William Cullen Davis and Robert McCullough, neither licensed by the Synod, but both were ordained and licensed at that meeting of the Presbytery of the church. In March, 1788, W. C. Davis was called by Richmond to be its pastor. In 1789, there is a document signed by elders from both Richmond and Hopewell, (founded in1789 just west of the village of Pendleton), asking the state body for aid in the calling of pastors. In 1792, Dr. Thomas Reese (a native of Pennsylvania and graduate of what would become Princeton University), became the pastor of both Richmond and Hopewell. In the period 1792-1796, Dr. Reese characterized the two congregations: “In general, the people of these two churches are remarkable for their great simplicity of dress and manners. Living two hundred and fifty miles from Charleston, they are strangers to luxury and refinement. Blessed with a healthy climate, brought up in habits of labor and industry, they are for the most part clothed in homespun, and nourished by the produce of their own farms. There are few slaves among them and these are treated with great kindness and humanity.” Dr. Reese died in 1796, and is buried at Old Stone Church (Hopewell) Cemetery in Pendleton, SC. John H. Simpson, a Revolutionary War veteran, and James Gilliland, a pupil of Davis, then became ministers for the two churches. In 1801, James McIllhenny becomes pastor; he was the original builder of Clergy Hall, which later became John C. Calhoun’s home, Fort Hill. He was assisted by his son-in-law James D. Murphy, and Messrs. Brown and Templeton. Hopewell had built a new stone-walled church, in large part sponsored by Gen. Andrew Pickens and Col. Robert Anderson. This building is now known as the “Old Stone Church.” The Presbyterian congregation in it has long since disintegrated and scattered to other churches in the area. (Gen. Pickens and his wife Rebecca Calhoun Pickens are buried at Old Stone Church). In 1805, Benjamin R. Montgomery was ordained, with Dr. Moses Waddel (John C. Calhoun’s teacher and probably distantly related to the Waddles buried at Pickens Cemetery, as both families were originally from Virginia), and Rev. John Simpson participating in the service. Montgomery and James McIlhenny were subsequently called by both Hopewell and Carmel.

In 1816, the list of Carmel’s elders are: John Dickson, Michael Dickson, William McMurray, Alexander Oliver, and William Walker. Michael Dickson and Alexander Oliver are buried at Pickens Cemetery – and there are possibilities that McMurray and Walker may also be buried there, but in unknown graves. In the 1790s, there was a change from Richmond to Carmel Presbyterian Church. There are at least two different stories about the name change from Richmond to Carmel. The first story is as follows: It appears from a couple of sources that there might have been two Presbyterian congregations in the same general area in the late 18th century. If there were two congregations in the area, it would fit if they merged about 1792 or 1793 and, following the merger, naturally changed the name. Or it might be a case of mistaken identities, confusing Hopewell with this “other congregation.” I have found one sentence in a mid-19th century source that uses the name “Three and Twenty Presbyterian Church, but with no help as to location or age or history. The second story goes like this: Several sources that say that Gen. Pickens worshipped at Richmond in its earliest days, and may have even been a member. Dr. Pickens mentions that he might have suggested the name “Richmond” in honor of a Virginia church of the same name. Other suggestions for the name “Richmond” suggest it was in honor of the English Duke of Richmond, a friend of American Independence. Richmond County, Georgia, is named for him. This source says that when the Duke left the Whig political party in England in 1792, he was much criticized and that was the reason the church was renamed Carmel (for the biblical mountain in Israel). Take your pick between these two stories – or there may be another one, and it is doubtful that we shall ever know exactly what happened.

Carmel moved from the Pickens plantation. Since the late 1780s, the Methodists had been making great gains in attracting adherents to the doctrines of Charles and John Wesley. The Episcopal bishop, Francis Asbury, came to the area around 1800-1803 and supposedly visited in the homes of Capt. Robert Pickens and John Wilson and other community leaders. There is a Pickens family tradition that says that one of the Captain’s daughters, Elizabeth, had been refused admission to the Presbyterian church in her younger years for some unknown reason and now took her “revenge” by converting to the Methodists. Capt. Robert, being very liberal in his religious sentiments, helped build for the Methodists their own church, also on his land, about a quarter mile north from the Presbyterian Carmel. Sometime in the early 1800’s, (accounts vary from 1802 to 1804 to 1814 and 1820), the Presbyterians moved the church building, a simple old log structure, to the current location about 3 miles NW (just off SC Hwy. 135, south west of Easley about 5 miles). Ezekiel Pilgrim, who also settled in the 1780s, deeded them land in 1820, but would not allow a cemetery on it as long as his family was involved. The “new” Carmel Presbyterians continued to use the old cemetery, as Capt. Robert Pickens himself was a lifelong Presbyterian. The new Carmel finally got its own cemetery around 1840, and Thomas Hamilton, a Revolutionary War veteran and original elder, was one of the earliest buried there, maybe even the first. Many of the descendants of the older Presbyterian families continued to be buried in the old Richmond Cemetery, and now they were added to the Methodists, and they all seemed to get along just fine in their combined cemetery. When the Methodists outgrew their original building, they built a new one at the old site of the now moved Presbyterian church just west of the cemetery. The new Methodist church was named Wesley Chapel. Wesley Chapel renames itself Pickens Chapel at some unknown time,  then declines, and finally dissolves. The church building that is standing on the site was built in 1885, according to one source. Col. William Smith Pickens' account books show that a new church was build in 1888-1890. This new building possibly replaced an earlier structure that had burned down. During the period from 1910-1930, the Methodists at Wesley Chapel decreased to such small numbers that the congregation finally dissolved, and people probably moved to Fairview, St. Paul, and other nearby Methodist churches as transportation became both easier and faster.

From sometime in the 1930s to the early 1950s, the building seems to have remained empty. After Robert (Welborn) Pickens (1847-1948) died, the land passed to his two youngest children: Dr. Andrew Lee Pickens received the church and about 98% of the cemetery and some farm land; Lura Agnes Pickens Garrison received the homeplace and a tiny slice of the cemetery and some farm land. The cemetery and the church building remain in the Pickens line, and the other tiny slice of the cemetery belongs to Lura’s granddaughter. Dr. Pickens and his son, Andrew Jr., rented the church building out to various small congregations of different denominations for many years. There are no definitive records, but memory recalls Assembly of God, Church of God of Prophecy, and several independent Baptist groups from the mid-1950s to the late 1980s or so.  Around 1990, the state health department decided that the building could not be occupied because there were no sanitary facilities other than two “outhouses.” The building is currently vacant and is in very poor repair. The Pickens family tried to donate it to the local volunteer fire department for “practice fire-fighting,” but the effort was quashed by the state environmental department, whose bureaucracy decided that such burning would be “hazardous.” In recent years, the building has been the subject of several incidents of vandalism.

By 1960, the cemetery had become very overgrown with kudzu, honeysuckle, briars, thorn bushes, and poison ivy to the extent that one could not even find well marked graves without considerable “danger.” That year, my father, David Garrison and I (Lura Pickens Garrison’s son and grandson) began what would turn out to be a seven year effort to clean the cemetery, and put it back into respectable condition so people could search for and find their ancestors. Most weekends and holidays during this period were involved in a hand-to-hand battle with the above mentioned problems. After the cleanup was finished in 1967, the cemetery again entered a period of benign neglect. In the late 1980s, some local young vandals broke several tombstones and caused many problems, some of which have yet to be fixed. In 2004, I spent the summer clearing away both fallen and standing dead trees, resetting fallen tombstones, clearing brush, and generally putting the cemetery back in order. During this period, I also completed a comprehensive map. Several years earlier, I had written a small directory of the cemetery’s occupants. The map is now in its 4th edition, and the guide (Register) is in its 15th edition. In 2011, after many years of thinking, planning and saving, I began purchasing and having installed commercially engraved headstones to those graves that had previously been marked only by ordinary fieldstones, most of which had no clues to the identity of the person buried there. This project is now completed – unless we learn the identity of other graves. The only project left now is to repair all the tombstones that were broken by vandals in the attack mentioned above and a few that have succumbed to time and climate. This project should be completed by 2018 or so.

Management and preservation of the Cemetery in the future has been on my mind for a dozen years or so.  I have explored deeding the cemetery to several organizations, but none were willing to be responsible for maintenance.  That was until 2014, when I entered negotiations with Southern Wesleyan University in Central, SC.  The history department of this school is involved in local history in this region and is eager to assume responsibility for the Cemetery and begin research and other activities, including maintenance.  Right now, I am working with an attorney in Greenville, SC, to transfer the property to Southern Wesleyan.  In 1935, Robert Welborn Pickens, my great grandfather and then-owner of the cemetery, deeded the cemetery only to the Three & Twenty School District.  In 1936, the School District deeded the cemetery back to Robert Welborn Pickens, who later deeded it to his youngest son, Andrew Lee Pickens, who in turn deeded it to his son, Andrew Jr; who later deeded it to his four children, who have deeded the cemetery to me.  When we get this all straightened out, I will deed the church and Cemetery to Southern Wesleyan and will begin fund raising activities to try to get enough support to start an educational non-profit foundation to help take care of the cemetery in the future.  Please keep this project in mind and I ask that if you have ancestors or relatives in the cemetery, that you consider a donation in the future to help keep the cemetery maintained and help fund research into the people buried here.  I will have things set up, I hope, by 2017.  Keep an eye on this site for further news and developments as they happen.

For further information about Pickens Cemetery, including tombstone pictures, family histories of many of those buried there, and a map and guide to all the grave sites, just explore this website. It will take a while to get it completed, but check back from time to time and see what has changed.  If you have questions or suggestions or information please drop me a letter to: Carl Garrison, 515 S. 7th Street, Thermopolis, WY  82443; or email me at : crgarrison51@hotmail.com If you know about any of the people or families buried in the cemetery, please contact me. I’m always on the prowl for more information, especially about those families who have members buried in the cemetery in the period from 1790 to 1860. Currently, I’m trying to put together a comprehensive guide to all the families. Old pictures (copies, of course), locations of the old homeplaces, any wills, family Bibles, or even old stories of those older generations would be priceless – and helpful. Please contact me if you can help – or know someone who can – or if you just want to know more about the church, cemetery, or families.

Prepared by Carl Garrison from many old sources in March, 2013.


By Carl Garrison