circularchurch

Charleston “Dissenters” & the White Meeting House

In 1670, when Charles Town was moved from its original home on the Ashley River’s west bank to the peninsular location it now occupies, two churches moved with it .  
But, only one of them could call itself a church.
 
The church that could was the Established Church of England, which could use the title because at the time only Anglican congregations were allowed to.   A year later it was incorporated as St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, which still exists. 
 
The congregation that could not call itself a church (mostly English Congregationalists,  Scotch Presbyterians and French Huguenots) were known as the Dissenters.  They built a small white building in Charles Town and called it the White Meeting House, or just the Meeting House, and, later, simply the Meeting.  Meeting Street was named after it.
 
Since the title “church” was denied them, the Dissenters were forced to pay the Church Tax to support St. Philip’s, which outraged them.  By 1704 they were complaining so loudly that the state legislature passed a law denying Dissenters the right to run for public office — even though by then the Meeting was twice as large as St Philip’s. 
 
Eventually, of course, the Dissenters gained approval to use the name church, and today that church still exists in its original spot on Meeting Street.  It name has changed, now it is the Circular Congregational Church, but it mission has  not changed.  From its beginning the Dissenters were fiercely independent people who forged a tradition of challenging the established order, a tradition that has continued throughout its history and still exists today.
circ-parish 
 
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