Spotlight On: Stephen Presley

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Father Stephen Presley was born a slave in 1820. He was owned by Boykin Witherspoon, a prominent planter from Society Hill. Presley was a carpenter by trade. He married another slave by the name of Phyllis McIver Presley. Welsh Neck Baptist Church records indicate that the couple fellowshipped there as slaves but were dismissed in October 1854.

Witherspoon, like many other Darlington District residents, migrated west in search of fertile ground ideal for planting. They settled in a then virtually unoccupied area of Desoto Parish, Louisiana, which was previously inhabited by the Caddo Indians, bringing with them over 200 slaves.

As a carpenter, Presley along with other slaves helped with the building of Witherspoon’s “Buena Vista Plantation,” which was designed by Architect, M. Robbins in 1859 and was used a Confederate Hospital during the Civil War.

After slavery, Presley founded, built, and served as pastor for 3 churches in Desoto Parish, including Bethel Baptist Church in Frierson, Morningstar Baptist Church in Gloster, and Mechanicsville Baptist in Caspiana.  The latter was named for the church and town in his native Darlington District, South Carolina.

All of the churches he founded in Louisiana are still serving the community over 100 years after his death in 1904. His many descendants gather every other year for a reunion to celebrate his legacy and their Louisiana/South Carolina roots. His great-great-great grand-daughter, Karen Burney, a genealogist from California has made visits to Society Hill to research and honor her ancestors.

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