“An important religious and social event for youth in the African American community….”
City Directories and History: One of the few remaining camp meeting complexes in the state,
Camp Welfare was a well attended religious and social gathering spot for decades. A well established African American meeting ground since the late 19th century, families meet at the end of August, a period between the traditional growing season and before cotton was to be picked in the fall. There are more than a hundred cabins on the site and large pavilion.
“Tenting on the old camp-ground.” It is one of the oldest and heartiest traditions of the South and is, at the same time, a series of religious services, family reunions, community picnics and homecomings.
Camp Welfare, according to the best resources available, was started before the Civil War, about 1860, when Negroes in the area met in the woods to pray. Brush arbors provided a place to worship and a place to sleep, as well as a place to hide from the dreaded Northern soldiers.
One of the founders of Camp Welfare was Mary Mitchell whose husband, Jerry Mitchell, was fighting with General Robert E. Lee’s Army at the time of his surrender at Appomattox. Mary’s granddaughter, Mrs. R.M. Graham of Salisbury, North Carolina, who attended the camp meeting, recalls her grandmother’s stories of the war, the camp, and the Negroes’ “Prayers for freedom and peace.”
The camp grounds are part of a large tract of land known as the McMaster Place in Fairfield County. It is located on a secondary road about twenty miles from Winnsboro. In the early days of the camp only a crude, unpaved road led to the camp, and campers came in farm wagons. Because of the lack of refrigeration or ice, live chickens were brought in coops strapped to the wagon bed. The chickens and sometimes a pig or a beef cow, were butchered, dressed and cooked after arrival on the grounds. The cooking fires were built in the open, and the pots rested on rocks around the brush fire. Light was provided at night by flambeau tied to a tree. Water was “toted” from the spring in a wooden bucket. The best foods the family had were saved for camp meeting. All during the summer youngsters were instructed to “catch that fryer and let’s fatten him up for the camp meeting.” Country hams and other delicacies were saved for the big week.
The practice continues, but food preparation is much easier now. Many cabins have refrigerators and ail have stoves. The foods prepared and consumed during the week are an Epicurean’s delight, and the feasting goes on and on. Preaching services are held in the open “arbor” three times a day at 12 noon, 3:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The interdenominational services are led alternately by eight to ten visiting preachers. Singing and shouting with religious fervor reverberates over the hills. The collection plate is passed to pay the preachers. The sawdust trail is there for penitent sinners to traverse, if the spirit moves them.”
(Information in part from: Chester County Heritage Book, Vol. I, Edt. by Collins – Knox, Published by the Chester Co Hist. Society – Jostens Printing, 1982)
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ADDITIONAL IMAGES by Bill Segars, Photographer
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