Fellowship Baptist Church
I missed an opportunity. I was very close to where GNIS had placed the ghost town of Cambridge. The name Cambridge popped up as the home of John Lafayette Smith and it appears as a town on Robert Mills’s 1825 map of Abbeville District.
However, I knew that the actual location of Cambridge was closer to the old Star Fort. Even the Mills map shows this. So, I cut across the country to my next target, Fellowship Baptist Church Cemetery.
One of the roads I took across was Tillman Territory Road. The name is a remnant of the post-Reconstruction area. New pavement belied the age of the road. The road cut was deep and ancient fence line trees indicated that this was an old route.
I turned onto Highway 248 and soon found myself at the cemetery location. I was in for a surprise. The last time I was here the plot was overgrown and it was difficult to find my ancestors’ graves. This time the area had been cleared and was in very good condition.
The first thing that struck me was that the cemetery was MUCH larger than Mount Hermon’s and that it was laid out in a semi-logical fashion, with several cross streets/paths and several fenced family plots. Find-a-Grave has 92 interments listed for the site.
I couldn’t exactly remember where the Ellenberg graves were. I searched a bit. Toward the back of the cemetery I spotted what I first thought must be the foundations of the old church. It turns out that it was just a brick wall surrounding another family plot.
I had a minor fit of panic. I found what I thought was my ancestors’ headstone knocked off its pedestal and under a fallen limb. I moved the limb, but I wouldn’t be able to move the headstone, nor did I want to.
Fortunately for me, this was not the correct one. The grave of William Watson Sarah Saphrona Smith Ellenberg was just a couple of yards behind me.
This headstone also looked like it was sitting on the edge of its pedestal and might topple with the next storm.
William Watson “Babe” Ellenberg was my great-great grandfather and he is the only one we can trace back with certainty. Some have tried to push the line back further to Germany and Switzerland, but most of that information is conjecture. We just don’t know that much about him, and especially about his parents. Sarah was William’s second wife. My great-great grandmother was Mary Eliza Goldman Ellenberg. Find-a-Grave has her listed at Fellowship Cemetery, but even that detail is uncertain.
Unlike the family of John Lafayette Smith, William Watson Ellenberg doesn’t appear in contemporary newspapers. The only references I found were two legal notices regarding his estate.
W. W. was also known as “Babe.” I found several mentions of Babe Ellenberg, but those were in the early 1900’s, after W. W.’s death.
As with Mt. Hermon I wondered where the church was in relation to the cemetery. I don’t think it was the brick structure I found. The 1938 SCDOT Greenwood County Map shows the church sitting next to the right of the cemetery on 248. Again, I’m not sure if that’s correct.
The Greenwood County GIS site didn’t have a deed, as it did for Mt. Hermon, but it did have a plat. Sadly, this only shows the cemetery and not the location of the church. The information page records the purchase date as 1/1/1800, but that must just be a placeholder date rather than the actual deed date.
I was able to find a bit more information in the news about this church than I did with Mt. Hermon. Again, I was dealing with a common name, and there is a modern Fellowship Baptist Church in Greenwood County that is unrelated. There were notices of revivals, upcoming services, and the occasional church gathering or picnic. Most often the church name appeared in obituary notices.
In that last announcement the phrase “Every surviving member of this church is asked to be present if possibly” really caught my attention. This was for a regular service in 1925, as far as I can tell. I could understand if it were a Homecoming service, but for just a regular service it seemed a bit…odd.
Speaking of Homecoming services, there were several announcements for them. Most made mention of the age of the church.
This Homecoming announcement from 1925 has one of the most complete histories of the church that I’ve seen.
…The church is 145 years old and for many years the congregation was one of the most flourishing in this section. In recent years the membership has dwindled until now it is said to be on 13 and Rev. Jennings Johnson now serving as pastor, is endeavoring to revive the congregation.
The church was organized in 1780 by several missionaries who came to this section from Charleston, and for many years was noted for its missionary spirit.The Index Journal, Sunday, September 6, 1925
The mention of Rev. Johnson brings back the “surviving members” comment. Perhaps it was worded that way as a means of trying to revive the congregation.
There were other mentions of the church’s history. In 1927 The Index Journal listed Fellowship as one of “Six Churches Over 100 Years Old.”
Even as late as 1984 The Index Journal mentioned the church and featured a photo of the old graveyard “overgrown with weeds.” The article goes on to state, “Beyond the tombstones lie the ruins of the church, which closed its doors in the early part of the century.” I suspect those “ruins” are the same ones I found, and not actually part of the church.
From these articles we know what happened to the congregation, but what happened to the church building? An article from the Edgefield Advertiser seems to indicate that it was burned once during the Civil War, but I haven’t found anything to corroborate this information. The article is full of inflammatory language and seems to be more intent of riling up the populous against the “destructive Yankee.”
In 1920 there was a scandal as some young people began using the church’s baptistry as a swimming pool. As with so many early Baptist churches, the baptismal pool was outside, usually associated with a water source such as a spring or stream. Fellowship’s baptistry was “located a short distance from the church, at the foot of a hill.”
This article goes on to say, “Weakened by the organization of churches in surrounding communities, a few years ago Fellowship ceased to maintain regular services.” That statement predates Johnson’s call for “surviving members” and the Homecoming services listed above.
Finally, the church records themselves faced a calamity. An “Our Old Roads” article from 1941 says that the church records were stored at the 2000 acre plantation home of Thomas Chatham. The house apparently burned shortly before the Civil War, destroying the original minutes of Fellowship Church.
Other than these mentions there was no news as to the fate of the church building. The cemetery continued to accept interments for a long time, though. The last burial I could find in Find-a-Grave was in 1965.
UPDATE: My thanks to Donna Bates for putting me onto this. Apparently there was also a Fellowship School. As with so many historic churches, they also started a school for the community. I found several mentions of Fellowship School in the news from the early 1900s.
The school probably started under the auspices of the church, but later became a public school with the ability to levy taxes.
The last mention I found of the school was from 1938.
I wasn’t done with Ninety Six. I had one last graveyard to visit, and this one certainly was not orphaned. The story continues on the next page…