By Margaret Jones
11 February 2006
Every family researcher knows the frustrations of the “brick wall,” that aggravating situation when one’s ancestor cannot be traced beyond a certain point. My impasse occurred at the elegant old St. Andrew’s Parish Church, located on Ashley River Road in Charleston, S.C. Newly restored in keeping with its 1706 establishment, Old Saint Andrew’s Parish Church is the oldest church in the Carolinas and is celebrating its 300th birthday this year (2006).
I arrived at this birthday celebration on Sunday, November 20, 2005 for the first of many services and events planned for the church’s birthday year. What brought me was my search for the antecedents of Martin Palmer, my 4th great grandfather and an early settler of Glynn County in the Post-Revolutionary state of Georgia. Granted “protection” by the Georgia Assembly on December 31, 1784, Martin Palmer had spent 18 years in British East Florida, (1) living two miles from the town of St Augustine with a wife, 3 children, 1 slave, and 20 horses. Listed as a “labrador,” or farmer on the 1784 “List of all English residents at the time of change of Flag” (the Spanish Census of the English Colonists of East Florida) (2), Martin Palmer and the other colonists of British East Florida had spent the Revolutionary War years as British subjects.
Originally attracted by Governor James Grant’s Proclamation Act of October 31, 1764, to “obtain Grants of Lands in the said Province of East Florida,” (3) these colonists had made new lives for themselves and their families with the protection and approval of King George. Joining this group in the last years of British East Florida were Loyalists from South Carolina and Georgia who evacuated to Florida in 1782. Upon the return of East Florida to the Spanish by the British government in 1784, Palmer and most Anglo-Floridians left East Florida, fearing enforced Catholicism and uncertainty under Spanish rule. Mary Stout, a settler to Florida before the Revolutionary War, wrote that the pending evacuation was “the worst thing that could have happened . . . we know not what to do nor whear to go all our property being hear and very litell of it can be moved . . . Nobody here but what are dissatisfied to the Last digree.” (4)
After researching Palmer’s descendents through a voluminous paper trail into the 20th century, I was stymied by the lack of information on Martin Palmer prior to the 1784 Spanish Census. Local Georgia researchers such as Margaret Davis Cate and Folks Huxford have published as fact that Martin Palmer was the son of one of Oglethorpe’s soldiers. I always liked that idea, and still do, but have found NO DOCUMENTATION to prove this assertion.
However, one fact about Martin Palmer from the Spanish Census led me to South Carolina—“Natural al Carolina del Sur.” MARTIN PALMER WAS BORN IN SOUTH CAROLINA! (5) Like Georgia, South Carolina of colonial times was divided into parishes which were bureaucratic as well as religious in nature. Searches through existing parish records of colonial South Carolina found a “Martin Palmor” born and christened in the Parish of St Andrews in the mid-1700’s. Could this be my illusive Martin Palmer?
Martin’s birth date is illegible, but appears in the Parish Register between births of two others in the years 1761 and 1758. Two pages later, Martin Palmor’s christening date is clear: “Baptzd June ye 2d 1761.” These dates place his immigration to British East Florida in 1766 at around age 8, if he is indeed the Martin Palmer of Glynn County, Georgia. Also he is listed in the Parish Register next to a brother named Rodger, who is born in 1758 and christened on the same day as Martin with a father named Rodger (the mother’s name is illegible). (6) The significance of the name Rodger is that Martin Palmer had a son named Rodger, mentioned in his will, dated July 17, 1822. (7)
This coincidence of names, though not conclusive proof of a relationship, was sufficient to lead me to old Saint Andrews Parish Church. Founded on the feast day of St Andrew on November 30, 1706, this Anglican Church served the wealthy planters of the Ashley River and their dependents. Names such as Drayton and Middleton appear on the Church Register and survive today in South Carolina history books. The church prospered as Charleston prospered and declined during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
In more contemporary times, the Episcopal congregation, no longer from the wealthy and aristocratic plantation class of the past, has unified and expanded the church. In the 1950’s, an uneducated house painter donated $9,000.00, his life savings, to install electricity in the Church. (8) In this century a million dollar restoration project has returned the Church to its former elegance and grace displaying the Royal Arms of George I on the west gallery and an engraving of Queen Anne in the narthex. The wooden pews, brick walls, stone floors, glass panes, and black cypress reredos have been restored and most are original to the 1700’s.
The service was stirring and worthy of the historic event. The Rectors, the Deacon, and many of the parishioners were dressed in period costumes. I tried to imagine how Martin Palmer and his family fit into the 18th Century congregation. Were they sitting in the crowded gallery with the poor and the servants or sitting below with the gentry in their personal pews? I don’t know.
So far, research into the early days of South Carolina yields no Martins or Rodgers as tax payers, landowners, heirs, or criminals. Coastal South Carolina had 2 prominent Palmer families, but as yet there is no connection. So for now, at least, Old St Andrews Parish Church is my “elegant impasse” for Martin Palmer, former South Carolinian, early Floridian, and Glynn County settler.
P.S. All research into the life, descendents, and antecedents of Martin Palmer have been made in conjunction with my cousin, Kathryn Browne Auman.
MY LINE: Margaret Bensel Jones
Lois McNab Bensel
Margaret Simpson McNab
Julia Palmer Simpson
William Brunswick Davis Palmer
Martin Palmer, Jr.
Martin Palmer, Sr.
(1) The Revolutionary Records of Ga, Book II, p.774.
(2) List of All English residents at the time of change of Flag, 1784, p.
at Library of Congress.
(3) Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette, December 3, 1764.
(4) Florida Historical Quarterly, XXXIII, October 1954, p. 102.
(5) List of All English residents at the time of change of Flag, 1784, p.
at Library of Congress.
(6) “Register of St. Andrew’s Parish, Berkely County,”
South Carolina Historical
and Genealogical Magazine, October 1913, p. 215 and 217.
(7) Our Today’s and Yesterdays by Margaret Davis Cate, p. 262. (Transcribed
from Glynn County Inferior Court Records.)
(8) Sermon by Rev George J. Tompkins, III, Rector of Old St. Andrews Parish
Church, November 20, 2005.