Colonial period of South Carolina
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The history of the colonial period of South Carolina focuses on the English colonization that created one of the original Thirteen Colonies. Major settlement began after 1651 as the northern half of the British colony of Carolina attracted frontiersmen from Pennsylvania and Virginia, while the southern parts were populated by wealthy English planters who set up large plantations dependent on slave labor, for the cultivation of cotton, rice, and indigo.
The Province of South Carolina was separated from the Province of North Carolina in 1712. Its capital city of Charleston became a major port for traffic on the Atlantic Ocean, and South Carolina developed indigo, rice and Sea Island cotton as commodity crop exports, making it one of the most prosperous of the colonies. A strong colonial government fought wars with the local Indians, and with Spanish imperial outposts in Florida, while fending off the threat of pirates. Birth rates were high, food conditions were abundant, and these offset the disease environment of malaria to produce rapid population growth among whites. With the expansion of plantation agriculture, the colony imported numerous African slaves, who comprised a majority of the population by 1708. They were integral to its development.
The colony developed a system of laws and self-government and a growing commitment to Republicanism, which patriots feared was threatened by the British Empire after 1765. At the same time, men with close commercial and political ties to Great Britain tended to be Loyalists when the revolution broke out. South Carolina joined the American Revolution in 1775, but was bitterly divided between Patriots and Loyalists. The British invaded in 1780 and captured most of the state, but were finally driven out.
After several expeditions and settlement attempts in the 16th century, France and Spain had abandoned the area of present-day South Carolina north of the Edisto River. In 1629 Charles I granted his attorney general a charter to everything between latitudes 36 and 31. Later, in 1663, Charles II granted the land to eight Lords Proprietors in return for their financial and political assistance in restoring him to the throne in 1660. The newly-created province was intended to serve as an English bulwark to contest lands claimed by Spanish Florida. There was a single government of the Carolinas based in Charleston until 1712, when a separate government (under the Lords Proprietors) was set up for North Carolina. In 1719, the Crown purchased the South Carolina colony from the absentee Lords Proprietors and appointed Royal Governors. By 1729, seven of the eight Lords Proprietors had sold their interests back to the Crown; the separate royal colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina were established.
Throughout the Colonial Period, the Carolinas participated in numerous wars with the Spanish and the Native Americans, particularly the Yamasee, Apalachee, and Cherokee. During the Yamasee War of 1715-1717, South Carolina faced near annihilation due to Indian attacks. A pan-Indian alliance had formed to try to push the colonists out, in part a reaction to their trade in Indian slaves for the nearly 50 years since 1670. The effects of the slave trade affected tribes throughout the Southeast. Estimates are that Carolinians exported 24,000-51,000 Indian slaves to markets from Boston to Barbados.
The emerging planter class used the revenues to finance the purchase of enslaved Africans. So many Africans were imported that they comprised a majority of the population in the colony from 1708 through the American Revolution. Living and working together on large plantations, they developed what is known as the Gullah culture and creole language, maintaining many west African traditions of various cultures, while adapting to the new environment.
The white population of the Lowcountry was dominated by wealthy plantation owners of English descent and indentured servants from southern and western England. The interior Carolina upcountry was settled later, largely in the 18th century by Ulster Scots immigrants arriving via Pennsylvania and Virginia, German Calvinists and French Huguenot refugees in the Piedmont and foothills. Toward the end of the Colonial Period, the upcountry people were underrepresented politically and felt they were mistreated by the planter elite. In reaction, they took a Loyalist position when the Lowcountry planters complained of the new taxes, an issue that later contributed to the colony's support of the American Revolution.
In North Carolina a short-lived colony was established near the mouth of the Cape Fear River. A ship was sent southward to explore the Port Royal, South Carolina area, where the French had established the short-lived Charlesfort post and the Spanish had built Santa Elena, the capital of Spanish Florida from 1566 to 1587, until it was abandoned. Captain Robert Sanford made a visit with the friendly Edisto Indians. When the ship departed to return to Cape Fear, Dr. Henry Woodward stayed behind to study the interior and native Indians.
In Bermuda, an 80-year-old Puritan Bermudian colonist, Colonel William Sayle, was named governor of Carolina. On March 15, 1670, under Sayle (who sailed on a Bermuda sloop with a number of Bermudian families), they finally reached Port Royal. According to the account of one passenger, the Indians were friendly, made signs toward where they should land, and spoke broken Spanish. Spain still considered Carolina to be its land; the main Spanish base, St. Augustine, was not far away. The Spanish missionary provinces of Guale and Mocama occupied the coast south of the Savannah River and Port Royal.
Though the Edisto Indians were not happy to have the English settle permanently, the chief of the Kiawah Indians, who lived farther north along the coast, arrived to invite the English to settle among his people and protect them from the Westo tribe, slave-raiding allies of Virginia. The sailors agreed and sailed for the region now called West Ashley. When they landed in early April at Albemarle Point on the shores of the Ashley River, they founded Charles Town, named in honor of their king. On May 23, Three Brothers arrived in Charles Town Bay without 11 or 12 passengers who had gone for water and supplies at St. Catherines Island, and had run into Indians allied with the Spanish. Of the hundreds of people who had sailed from England or Barbados, only 148 people, including three African slaves, lived to arrive at Charles Town Landing.
The end of proprietary rule
Proprietary rule was unpopular in South Carolina almost from the start, mainly because propertied immigrants to the colony hoped to monopolize fundamental constitutions of Carolina as a basis for government. Moreover, many Anglicans resented the Proprietors' guarantee of freedom of religion to Dissenters. In November 1719, Carolina elected James Moore as governor and sent a representative to ask the King to make Carolina a royal province with a royal governor. They wanted the Crown to grant the colony aid and security directly from the English government. Because the Crown was interested in Carolina's exports and did not think the Lords Proprietor were adequately protecting the colony, it agreed. Robert Johnson, the last proprietary governor, became the first royal governor.
Meanwhile, the colony of Carolina was slowly splitting in two. In the first fifty years of the colony's existence, most settlement was focused on the region around Charleston, as the northern part of the colony had no deep water port. North Carolina's earliest settlement region, the Albemarle Settlements, was colonized by Virginians and closely tied to Virginia. In 1712, the northern half of Carolina was granted its own governor and named "North Carolina". North Carolina remained under proprietary rule until 1729.
Because South Carolina was more populous and more commercially important, most Europeans thought primarily of it, and not of North Carolina, when they referred to "Carolina". By the time of the American Revolution, this colony was known as "South Carolina."
Governor Robert Johnson encouraged settlement in the western frontier to make Charles Town's shipping more profitable, and to create a buffer zone against attacks. The Carolinians arranged a fund to lure European Protestants. Each family would receive free land based on the number of people that it brought over, including indentured servants and slaves. Every 100 families settling together would be declared a parish and given two representatives in the state assembly. Within ten years, eight townships formed, all along navigable streams. Charlestonians considered the towns created by the Huguenots, German Calvinists, Scots, Ulster-Scots, and Welsh, such as Orangeburg and Saxe-Gotha (later called Cayce), to be their first line of defense in case of an Indian attack, and military reserves against the threat of a slave uprising. Between 1729 and 1775, twenty-nine new towns were founded in South Carolina.
By the 1750s the Piedmont region attracted numerous frontier families from the north, using the Great Wagon Road. Differences in religion, philosophy and background between the mostly subsistence farmers in the Upcountry and the slaveholding planters of the Low Country bred distrust and hostility between the two regions. The Low Country planters traditionally had wealth, education and political power. By the time of the Revolution, however, the Upcountry contained nearly half the white population of South Carolina, about 30,000 settlers. Nearly all of them were Dissenting Protestants. After the Revolution, the state legislature disestablished the Anglican Church.
The main source of wealth during the late-colonial period was the export of rice, deerskins and, by the 1760s, indigo. Sea Island cotton, produced on large plantations off the coast, was also highly profitable.
Though Governor Francis Nicholson attempted to pacify the Cherokee with gifts, they had grown discontented with the arrangements. Sir Alexander Cuming negotiated with them to open some land for settlement in 1730. Because Governor James Glen stepped in to bring peace between the Creek people and Cherokee, who were traditional enemies, the Cherokee rewarded him by granting South Carolina a few thousand acres of land near their major Lower Town of Keowee. In 1753, the Carolinians built Fort Prince George as a British outpost and trading center near the Keowee River. Two years later Old Hop, an important Cherokee chief, made a treaty with Glen at Saluda Old Town, midway between Charles Town and Keowee. Old Hop gave the Carolinians the 96th District, a region that included parts of ten currently separate counties.
From 1755 to 1758, Cherokee warriors served as British allies in campaigns along the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontier. Returning homeward, they were killed by Virginia frontiersmen. In 1759, the Cherokee avenged these killings and began attacking white settlers in the southern colonial Upcountry. South Carolina's Governor William Henry Lyttelton raised an army of 1,100 men and marched on the Lower Towns, which quickly agreed to peace. As part of the peace terms, two dozen Cherokee chiefs were imprisoned as hostages in Fort Prince George. Lyttelton returned to Charles Town, but the Cherokee continued raiding the frontier. In February 1760, the Cherokee attacked Fort Prince George trying to rescue the hostages. In the battle, the fort's commander was killed. His replacement quickly ordered the execution of the hostages, then fought off the Cherokee assault.
Unable to put down the rebellion, Governor Lyttelton appealed to Jeffrey Amherst, who sent Archibald Montgomery with an army of 1,200 British regulars and Scots Highlanders. Montgomery's army burned a few of the Cherokees' abandoned Lower Towns. When he tried to cross into the region of the Cherokee Middle Towns, he was ambushed and defeated at "Etchoe Pass" and forced to return to Charles Town. In 1761 the British made a third attempt to defeat the Cherokee. General Grant led an army of 2,600 men, including Catawba scouts. The Cherokee fought at Etchoe Pass but failed to stop Grant's army. The British burned the Cherokee Middle Towns and fields of crops.
In September 1761, a number of Cherokee chiefs led by Attakullakulla petitioned for peace. The terms of the peace treaty, concluded in Charleston that December, included the cession of lands along the South Carolina frontier.
Settlement of Upcountry
After the Cherokee defeat and cession of land, new settlers from Ulster flooded into the Upcountry through the Waxhaws in what is now called Lancaster County. Lawlessness ensued and robbery, arson, and looting became common. Upcountry residents formed a group of "Regulators," vigilantes who took the law into their own hands to control the criminals. Having acquired 50% of the state's white population, but just three elected assemblymen in the Commons House of Assembly, the Upcountry sent representative Patrick Calhoun and other representatives before the Charles Town state legislature to appeal for representation, courts, roads, and supplies for churches and schools. Before long, Calhoun and Moses Kirkland were in the legislature as Upcountry representatives.
By 1775, the colony contained 60,000 European Americans and 80,000 mostly enslaved African Americans.
Lord William Campbell was the last English Governor of the Province of South Carolina.
Numerous churches built bases in Charleston, and expanded into the rural areas. From the founding of Charleston onwards, the colony welcomed many different religious groups, including Jews and Quakers, but Catholics were prohibited from practicing until after the American Revolution. Baptists and Methodists increased in number rapidly in the late 18th century as a result of the Great Awakening and its revivals, and their missionaries attracted many slaves with their inclusive congregations and recognition of blacks as preachers. The Scots-Irish in the Backcountry were Presbyterians, and the wealthy planters in the Low Country tended to be English Anglicans. The different churches recognized and supported each other, building the colony into a pluralist and tolerant society.
The highly successful preaching tour of evangelist George Whitefield in 1740 ignited a religious revival—called the First Great Awakening—which energized evangelical Protestants. They expanded their membership among the white farmers, and women were especially active in the small Methodist and Baptist churches that were springing up everywhere. The evangelicals worked hard to convert the slaves to Christianity and were especially successful among black women, who had played the role of religious specialists in Africa and again in America. Slave women exercised wide-ranging spiritual leadership among Africans in America in healing and medicine, church discipline, and revival enthusiasm.
Many of the rich planters came from Barbados and other islands in the Caribbean, and brought seasoned African slaves from there. The planters duplicated elements of the Caribbean economies, developing plantations for the cultivation of export crops, such as Sea Island cotton, indigo, and particularly rice. The slaves came from many diverse cultures in West Africa, where they had developed an immunity to endemic malaria, which helped them survive in the Low Country of South Carolina, where it frequently occurred. Peter Wood documents that "Negro slaves played a significant and often determinative part in the evolution of the colony." They were integral to the expansion of the rice culture, and were also important in timber harvesting, as coopers, and in the production of naval stores. They were also active in the fur trade, and as boatmen, fishermen and cattle herders.
By 1708, expansion of plantation agriculture had required continuing importation of slaves from Africa and they comprised a majority of the population in the colony, a status maintained after the colonial era. On the large rice and cotton plantations, where slaves were held in large numbers with few white overseers, they gradually developed what has become known as the Gullah culture, which preserved numerous African customs and practices within adaptations to the local environment, and they developed a creole language based on West African languages and English.
Colonists tried to regulate the numerous slaves, including establishing dress rules to maintain differences between the classes. Relations between colonists and slaves were a result of continuing negotiation, with increasing tensions as slaves sought freedoms. In 1739 a group of slaves rose up in the Stono rebellion. Some of the leaders were from the Catholic kingdom of Kongo and appeared to be seasoned warriors; they introduced ritual practices from there and appeared to use military tactics they had learned in the Kongo. The site of the Stono Rebellion was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1974, in recognition of the slaves' bid for freedom.
South Carolina was struck by four major hurricanes during the colonial period. Colonists became constantly aware of the threat these storms posed and their effects even on warfare.
The 1752 hurricane caused massive damage to homes, businesses, shipping, outlying plantation buildings and the rice crop; about 95 people died. Charles Town, the capital, was the fifth-largest city in British North America at the time. The storm was compact and powerful; the city and surrounding areas were saved from even greater destruction only because the wind shifted some three hours before high tide. The destruction resulted in a series of political effects that together substantially weakened the relationship between the royal governor and the local political elites in the Commons House Assembly: there was bickering between the various political authorities over money for rebuilding following the destruction of the colony's defenses, and the disruption caused a devastating financial crisis. The Commons threatened to report Governor Glen's conduct to the king.
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- [Benjamin Quarles, "Review: Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 Through the Stono Rebellion (1996)"], Journal of Negro History, vol. 60, no. 2 (April 1975), pp. 332-34, Published by: Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2717378
- Wood, Peter H. Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 Through the Stono Rebellion (1996)
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- Jonathan Mercantini, "The great Carolina hurricane of 1752," South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 103, no. 4 (October 2002), pp. 351-65.
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