St. James gives praise and thanks to God for a long and glorious history. Our ancestors laid a solid foundation upon which we are still building on today. Before and during the Civil War, slaves whose owners were members of James Island Presbyterian Church, were allowed membership there also. When James Island Presbyterian Church was destroyed by fire, the Black members were left without a place to worship. The black members led by Richard Backman, Trouman Cromwell, Lazarus Fludd, Billy McDowell and Samuel Washington congregated under a large oak tree at the intersection of Quarantine (Fort Johnson) and Old Savannah (Secessionville) Roads for worship services. This became the site of the first church.
In 1866 The Colored Presbyterian Church (St. James) was organized. Our first Pastor was Reverend H. Hampleton Hunter; he organized the first Black Mission School at the church and was the sole teacher. After the death of Reverend Hunter, Reverend Adam Frayer became our second Pastor in 1894. In 1906, the church purchased a 2/3 acre of land for $500.00. This was the site of the first three church sanctuaries. Reverend Marion A. Sanders became our third Pastor in 1923. During this tenure, The Colored Presbyterian Church (St. James) re-opened the Mission School with Reverend Sanders as Headmaster and Teacher and Mrs. Sanders as Teacher. Under his leadership a free lunch program was established. Later, the Mission School was closed at the end of the 1960-1961 school year.
The church sanctuary was remodeled in 1953 to accommodate the growth in its membership of approximately 900 members. On July 17, 1963, Reverend Harry W. Shaw became the fourth Pastor of St. James. The church purchased 8.5 acres of land at a cost of $35,000.00 in 1964; this is the site of the present Sanctuary and Manse. In 1970, Reverend Cornelius L. Campbell, Jr., became the fifth pastor of St. James. The groundbreaking ceremony was held for the construction of our present sanctuary and community hall in 1975, and in 1977 St. James held dedication services for the completion of the new edifice.
In 1996, the Reverend Doctor Charles C. Heyward, Sr., accepted the Call to serve St. James as its sixth pastor. During Reverend Heyward’s tenure, the St. James Foundation was organized and purchased property for what is now the church’s Memorial Garden and the future home of the Gullah Gechee Cultural Center. On September 9, 2001, during a congregational meeting, the Reverend Carolyn Kurtz Heyward accepted the Call as the first Associate Pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She assumed her duties on October 7, 2001. Reverend Carolyn Heyward retired in April 2015 after 14 years of faithful and excellent service to the St. James church family. On May 10, 2015, Reverend Cecelia D. Armstrong accepted the Call to become St. James second Associate Pastor, and she assumed her duties on June 1, 2015. The Reverend Charles C. Heyward, Sr. retired on May of 2016. On February 18, 2018, St. James unanimously voted to extend the call of senior pastor to the Reverend Doctor Brian Clifton Henderson. He assumed his duties as the seventh pastor March 18, 2018.
Through the leadership of these faithful men and women and the commitment of the faithful membership, St. James has established itself as an anchor on James Island, the larger Charleston area, and the PCUSA. We are grateful for the rich history that is ours and for the bright future that is to come. To God Be the Glory for the Great things He has done!