Growing up I remember attending Pawley Swamp Baptist Church any time our family would visit my grandparents. My grandparents lived about a mile from the church. I have visited a few times since my grandmother passed away back in 2001. One of those times I visited, after the service a woman I did not know came up to me and asked if my dad was Raeford Rabon. This woman told me she went to high school with my dad and proceeded to tell me how I looked like him. This tells you a lot about Pawley Swamp Church, it’s a very small church but it’s a family church with a long history.
Pauley Swamp Baptist Church is located southwest of Conway in the Pawley Swamp section of Horry County. In the beginning, the name of the church was spelled “Pawley” after Pawley Swamp, which had been named for the family of Major Percival Pawley who owned tracts of land in that area. Sometime around 1990, the church started spelling its name “Pauley.” So, the spelling of the name will vary in this article according to the date.
Pauley Swamp is the mother church of the old Bucksport Baptist, according to a 1955 newspaper article entitled “Home Coming Marks 215th Birthday of Pawley Swamp Baptist Church, the organization of the church was handed down by word of mouth which has it being organized in 1740. This article states that Mr. Cleveland (J. C.) Brown read the history of the church, or as much as he was able to correctly accumulate. Because the early records were destroyed by fire which accounts for the lack of available history. There are many instances where unorganized church services started in the homes. Or, as their local history alleges, the first services were held under the huge oak trees in that vicinity prior to the formal establishment of a church. Perhaps this accounts for the first 50 years.
Glen Clayton of the S.C. Baptist Historical Society questions the date of organization as there were no organized Baptist churches in the Pee Dee area that early. His research indicates that Pawley Swamp was originally organized as the Little Pee Dee Church in 1790. The minutes of the Charleston Baptist Association from 1791 state, “A church on Little Pee Dee applied for membership in the association. The church was constituted in 1790.” Rev. Jeremiah Rhame was pastor for its 25 members and the church joined the Charleston Association in 1792.
The church’s name changed through the years. Little Pee Dee Church of Christ was listed in the Baptist Church Conference minutes of January 1868. This was shortened to Little Pee Dee Church in the 1873 minutes. By 1875 the title The Baptist Church of Christ was given and later The Baptist Church at Pawley Swamp from 1879-1887. Little Pee Dee Church joined the Welsh Neck Association when it was formed in 1832 and remained a member until it became part of North Carolina’s Cape Fear Association in 1872. In 1875, Pawley Swamp was dismissed from the Cape Fear Association to join the Waccamaw Association.
The first church building was used about 40 years and located on the site of the present church. It was built about 1800 with the use of slave labor and made of logs. Whites and blacks worshipped together but were separated by a 2-3 ft. partition. In order to allow the blacks sitting behind the partition to see and hear better, a 6-8 ft. platform was installed for the speakers.
A building prior to the one completed in 1925 faced west towards the cemetery and had two doors for entrances, women entered in one door and sat on one side, while the men entered the other door and sat on the opposite side of the sanctuary.
In the early years, baptisms were conducted in the closest body of water large enough to hold baptisms such as Hunting Swamp. The first recorded baptism for Pawley Swamp was Isaac Graham. Rev. W. C. McCaskill performed the baptism on September 4, 1882. An outdoor baptismal pool built in 1889 was supplied by a flowing artesian well. This pool was some distance from the church, at the far side of the property donated by Moses A. Martin and Samuel L. Smart.