Taveau Oral History Project

The WeGOJA Foundation is coordinating an effort to capture the memories of people in Cordesville, South Carolina, who are associated with historic Taveau Church. The oral history project will take place in the late summer throughfall of 2024 and complements a full-scale restoration of the 19th-century church led by Preservation South Carolina. SC Humanities supported this project with a Mini Grant.

Located within the Cooper River Historic District and listed in the National Register, Taveau is one of the oldest still standing Black churches in the state. It was built on the grounds of Claremont Plantation as a Presbyterian place of worship in the early 1830s for Martha Caroline Swinton Ball Taveau. About that same time, more than 700 individuals from the plantation were sold away from their families and community during an estate sale from the Ball’s five Cooper River Plantations. The enslaved people left behind after surviving this trauma eventually worshipped at Taveau.

Following Martha Caroline’s death in 1847, Taveau became the home of Black Methodist worship.  It would remain an active congregation until the United Methodist Conference closed the church in 1974. In 2023, Preservation South Carolina acquired the church with a goal of restoring the structure and then returning it for use to the local community.

“We are grateful that our partners entrusted to us the responsibility of capturing and documenting these important stories,” said Dr. Larry Watson, chairman of the WeGOJA Foundation Board of Directors. “We hope to learn more about family, faith, and friendship in the Cordesville community, and continue adding authentic African American voices and experiences to the state’s historical record.”

Taveau is a rare surviving rural, frame antebellum church and a testament to the skilled enslaved craftsmen who built it. The exterior is marked by a modest cornice and a simple Doric portico that the National Register says adds “an air of sophistication seldom seen in rural church architecture.” The simplicity of the interior during its first decades of use fit an aesthetic that is both rural and evangelical. Taveau is the only site in Berkeley County associated with African American history that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The “Taveau Oral History” project will include research, interviews, and recordings. When the restoration is complete, the church will be a place of worship again, as well as a community cultural center that interprets the history of faith in this region and the Gullah Geechee traditions of the Lowcountry. This oral history project and other research will help inform the final interpretive programming at the site. The collected oral histories will also be transcribed and ultimately archived at the Historic Charleston Foundation.

In addition to South Carolina Humanities, other sponsors of the project include The 1772 Foundation and the Historic Charleston Foundation.

For more information, contact the WeGOJA Foundation at info@WeGOJA.org.

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c)3 organization is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos, and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually. South Carolina Humanities receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as corporate, foundation and individual donors. The National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.