Written by Art Hall
Our Alexander Edens (ca. 1750 VA – 1835 SC) moved from his native Virginia to the far western part of South Carolina sometime between 1783, when his son (Texas) John Edens was born in Virginia, and 1785 when he received the first of his numerous land grants in South Carolina. His early land grants were located on Oolenoy River, a tributary of the Saluda, in what is today Pickens County about 15 miles west of Greenville. Here, Alexander and his family settled in the Oolenoy Valley, near the present-day town of Pumpkintown, South Carolina. The valley where Alexander settled was named for Woolenoy (the white settlers dropped the “W” in the early 1800s), chief of the Cherokee Indians, who had made this land their home for centuries. It is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is in the shadow of Table Rock and Caesar’s Head, prominent peaks of the Blue Ridge.
The first white settler in the area was Cornelius Keith who with his wife, Juda Thompson and their young child, settled in the valley in 1743. Keith had traded goods for land on the river with the Cherokee chief and lived for many years in peaceful coexistence with the Indians. Few white settlers arrived until after the Revolutionary War when this part of western South Carolina was first opened to white settlement and land grants were being offered as inducements to settlers, the Cherokees having been forced off of their lands by the federal government.
There was a great deal of intermarriage between the descendants of these early settlers, with one of Cornelius Keith’s granddaughters, Margaret Keith, marrying Alexander Edens’ grandson, Alexander Edens (1808-1864). There was also intermarriage between Edens descendants and other early settlers in the Oolenoy valley, such as the Sutherlands and Hendricks. And, of course, our (Texas) John Edens married Luvinia Langford and his sister, Mary Edens married Luvinia’s brother, Eli Langford, Jr., the Langford family having moved to the Oolenoy Valley shortly after Alexander Edens settled there.
Soon after Alexander Edens had settled in the valley, he was joined by his brother James Edens, and James’ two brothers-in-law, the Reverends John and James Chastain, both Baptist ministers. James Edens’ wife was Martha Chastain and she and her two brothers were the grandchildren of Pierre Chastain, a French Huguenot born ca. 1663 in France who escaped to Switzerland in 1696 and later made his way to England from whence he emigrated to America. He and his wife and five children arrived in Virginia in 1700 on the ship Mary and Ann and settled in the Huguenot settlement of Manakintowne, where our Edens ancestors were also living. By 1800, James Edens and James Chastain had moved to Carter Co., Tennessee, where James Chastain organized the Sinking Creek Baptist Church. Later, James Edens, Jr. would serve as pastor of this church for many years.
Back in South Carolina, John Chastain organized the Oolenoy Baptist Church (in present day Pumpkintown) in 1795 where he served as its pastor until his death in 1805. William Edens, son of Alexander, served as messenger of the church and reported a membership of 60 in 1797 when the church entered the Bethel Association. The church practiced foot washing as a symbol of humility. John Chastain was said to have been an eloquent speaker with a clear ringing voice that carried so well he could be heard for a great distance. He became known as “Ten Shilling Bell” since that was the clearest bell and could be heard the greatest distance of any bell of that time. Rev. Chastain was known to be very strict in his application of religion to the conduct of church members. He is buried in a small, rural cemetery known as the Chastain Cemetery, very near the church he organized. Soon after, the need for a cemetery near the church was recognized, and the Oolenoy Baptist Church Cemetery was started. It is highly probable that Alexander Edens and his descendants were members of this church as many Edens descendants are buried in the cemetery. Alexander Edens (grandson of old Alexander) is buried here, as is his wife, Margaret Keith Edens. Also buried here is William Edens ( 1800-1871), the grandson of old Alexander. When a survey was made prior to 1980, there were a total of 73 “Edens” tombstones in the cemetery and many unmarked graves were discovered. It is likely that our ancestor Alexander Edens is also buried here, in one of these unmarked graves. View a list of Edens buried in the church cemetary, view pictures of this beautiful old cemetery and learn more about Pumpkintown and Oolenoy including the Oolenoy Baptist Church.
Our (Texas) John Edens, his wife Luvinia and their four small children (Banister, Balis, Matilda and Lucinda) left the valley in 1808 and started their twenty-three year trek through Tennessee, Illinois, Arkansas and Louisiana before finally arriving in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas in 1831 (now known as the U.S. state of Texas).
Other descendants of old Alexander Edens apparently stayed put. A look at the current telephone directories of Greenville, Pickens and Pumpkintown reveal many Edens listings. They haven’t strayed far from their roots in the Oolenoy Valley.