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South Carolina

North Carolina and South Carolina were twin-born. Though settled at different times by different peoples, both were included in the famous charter of 1663, both were intended to be governed by the Grand Model, and as they were not separated politically until 1729, their histories run parallel for many years, and much that we have said of the one will apply to her twin sister to the south.1

It was the shores of South Carolina that Ribault, under the direction of the great Coligny, had attempted to settle with a colony of Frenchmen, but failed, and now, after a hundred years had passed, it was left for the English to lay the permanent foundations for a commonwealth. The first English settlement was made in 1670, when William Sayle sailed up the Ashley River with three shiploads of English emigrants from the Barbados, and they pitched their tents on its banks and built a town, which has since wholly disappeared. In 1671, Sir John Yeamans, whom we have met in North Carolina, joined the colony, bringing with him about two hundred African slaves, and ere this year had closed two ships bearing Dutch emigrants arrived from New York. Ten years after the first settlers arrived, a more favorable site for the chief town being desired, a point between the Cooper and Ashley riverts was chose, and here Charleston was founded in 1680.

South Carolina differs from most of the colonies in not having had to battle against impending dissolution during its first years of existence, and from all the others in depending largely on slave labor from the beginning.

Popular government found a footing in South Carolina from the first. Scarcely had the first immigrants landed when a popular assembly began to frame laws on the basis of libery. Sayle was their leader and first governor, but he soon died and was succeeded by Yeamans, who ruled for four years, when he was dismissed for having enriched himself at the expense of the people. Yeamans was followed by John West, an able and honorable man, who held the office for nine years. In 1690 the notorious Sothel, who had been driven from North Carolina, came to South Carolina, usurped the government, and began his career of plunder; but the people soon rose against him and he was forced to flee. After this, several of the governors were common to both North and South Carolina.

No attempt was made during the early years of the colony to introduce the Fundamental Constitutions; but when, about 1687, a vigorous effort was made to do so, the people resisted it, basing their rights on the clause in the charter which conferred the right of making laws on the proprietors only "by and with the advice, assent, and approbation of the freemen." The people were determined in their resistance; they refused to be trampled by the heel of tyranny; their very breath had been the pure air of liberty. The contest covered several years, and the people won. That abortive "model" of government was at last set aside and no attempt was ever again made to enforce it in America.2

Prosperity now began to dawn on the twin colonies as it had not done before. About this time came the wise Archdale as governor, and he was followed by Joseph Blake, a man of like integrity and wisdom, a nephew of the great admiral of that name. The close of the century was marked by the coming of the Huguenots to South Carolina. In 1598 the sovereign of France, "King Henry of Navarre," had issued the "Edict of Nantes," granting toleration to the Protestants or Huguenots of his kingdom. This edict was revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV the Huguenots were not only forbidden to worship God in their own way, but also forbidden to leave their country on pain of death. Many, however, probably half a million, escaped from the land of their cruel king and settled in various parts of the world. They were a noble and intelligent people, who "had the virtues of the English Puritans without their bigotry," and their coming to America infused into colonial life another element of stanchness of character that was felt all through colonial days. Among their descendants we find such men as Paul Revere, Peter Faneuil, and John Jay. These people were at first coldly received on the shores of South Carolina, but in time they came to be regarded as a substantial portion of the population. It was Governor Blake that first recognized the worth of the Huguenot immigrants, and he secured for them full political rights.

Governor Blake died in 1700, and South Carolina entered upon a long season of turbulence and strife. Sir Nathaniel Johnson became governor in 1703, and the trouble began. His first act was to have a law passed by sharp practice excluding all Dissenters, who composed two thirds of the population, from the assembly. The people discovered the trick, and the next assembly voted by a large majority to repeal the law. But Johnson refused to sign their act. The assembly then appealed to the proprietors, but they sustained the bigoted governor. The people then appealed to the House of Lords and won their case, as they always will when they stand together. The proprietors yielded when the act of their governor met a royal veto from Queen Anne and when threatened with the loss of their charter, and the Dissenters restored to their share in the government. The Church of England, hoever, was made the state church and so it continued to the time of the Revolution. The colony was divided into parishes, which became polical, as well as ecclesiastical, divisions.

Hard upon this trouble followed an attack by a French and Spanish fleet of five ships and some eight hundred men upon Charleston; but the colonists were awake to their danger. They defended their city, and the fleet was driven away after losing its best ship and probably one third of its men. This was an echo of the war of the Spanish Succession, or Queen Anne's War, to be noticed in a later chapter.

The most distressing calamity that befell South Carolina in its youth was the Indian War of 1715. The Yamassee tribe, which had aided the whites against the Tuscaroras in North Carolin, now joined with other tribes and turned upon their former friends, and a disastrous war followed. The cause was chiefly an intrigue with the Spaniards of St. Augustine, who, in spite of the Treaty of Utrecht, by which the long war between Spain and England had come to an end, did all in this power to destroy the English settlement. Another cause was that many Indians were indebted to the English traders, and they sought to avoid payment, and still another was that the remembrance still rankled in the red man's breast that many of his race had been kidnapped by the whites and sold into slavery. The war began in the usual way: the Indians fell upon the unsuspecting farmers with relentless fury, and nearly a hundred perished the first day. But the settlers were quick to fly to arms. The war lasted ten months. Four hundred whites perished; but the Indians were utterly defeated and the survivors driven from their homes into Florida. To meet the heavy expenses of the way, the assembly issued bills of credit, or paper money, as North Carolina had done after its Indian war, and this brought further distress to the colony. At the time of this war, Charles Craven was governor and he was one of the wisest and ablest governors of the period.

Another convulsion, ending in a bloodless revolution, came next in the programme of South Carolina. The cost of the war had been so great that the people called upon the lords proprietors, who had derived a large income form the colony in quitrents, to aid in bearing the expenses. But the proprietors in their greed refused, and they refused to permit the assembly to raise money by import duties, or by selling vacated Yamassee lands. They also refused the rural freemen the right to vote in their own districts, requiring them to go to Charleston to vote. The people were exasperated; they rose in rebellion and appealed to the king to make South Carolina a royal province. Their request was granted; they charter was forfeited on the ground that the proprietors were unable to govern the colony, and in 1719 South Carolina became a royal colony; but, as related in our account of North Carolina, ten years yet elapsed before the proprietors sold out to the Crown and the two colonies were separated. The king first sent out the professional governor, Francis Nicholson, of New York, of Virginia, of Maryland. But we would cast no reflection on Nicholson; he was one of the best governors of the colonial era. Where others enriched themselves at the expense of the people, he reached into his own pocket for funds to foster education and to relieve the distressed.

From the time that South Carolina became a royal province, its growth was rapid and substantial, and so it continued through the remaining half century of the colonial era. But the people did not show any great surfeit of gratitude to the king for relieving them of proprietrary rule. They contended with the royal governors, encroaching steadily on the royal power. In 1748, Governor Glen wrote the authorities in England that "the assembly disposed of almost all the places of office or trust," and the people, through the assembly, "had the whole of the administration in their hands, and the governor, and thereby the Crown, is stripped of its power."3

In 1740 the colony suffered from a slave insurrection led by one Cato, but it was soon put down. The city of Charleston was burned this same year; but a new city, far more beautiful, rose from the ashes of the old. Indeed, Charleston was one of the most delightful of cities, even in the earlier times, as testified by Governor Archdale and other writers. The society resembled the cavalier society in England. "Hospitality, refinement, and literary culture distinguished the higher class of gentlemen." 4

The earliest important product of South Carolina was rice, though it required a hundred years to bring the industry to perfection; to determine the best kind of soil and labor, and to invent the machinery for harvesting, threshing, and husking. 5 Wild rice was native in the South, but this was inferior to the cultivated rice introduced from Madagascar about 1693 by a sea captain, who gave a bag of seed to a South Carolina planter. Not many years passed till the Carolinas rivaled Egypt and Lombardy in furnishing rice for Southern Europe.

By the middle of the eighteenth century indigo became a strong rival of rice in South Carolina. Its culture is said to have begun through the experiments of a planter's daughter, a young girl named Eliza Lucas, who set out the plants on her father's farm. Many other products, as grain, furs, cattle, and the products of the forest, were exported from South Carolina, but not until a later generation was cotton enthroned as king.

Rice grows best in marshy ground and swamps, and its cultivation is peculiarly destructive to human life. The same is in a great measure true of indigo. These facts had much to do in shaping the economic and social condition of South Carolina. They made it the chief slaveholding community in America. No white man could long endure the malarial atmosphere of the rice swamps. Even among the blacks the death rate was very high, and their ranks had to be refilled constantly from Africa. But slaves were cheap. A strong black man could be purchased for forty pounds and, as he could earn near that amount in a year, the planter found it more profitable to work him to death than to take care of him. 6 Almost from the beginning the slaves in South Carolina outnumbered the whites; slavery became the cornerstone in the political system and so it continued to the time of the Civil War.

The people of South Carolina clung to the seaboard even longer than did those of their sister colony to the north. In 1715 some five hundred Irish came and occupied lands vacated by the Yamassees near Port Royal. But the back country was held by the Cherokees until 1755 when they made a treaty ceding this territory to the Crown. Soon after this a notable movement of the population began. Emigrants from Pennsylvania, from Virginia, and from North Carolina poured into this region in large numbers. The population in 1760 was estimated at one hundred and fifty thousand, three fourths of whom were slaves.

The character of society in the two Carolinas, except in the back counties, differed widely, from two causes: first, from a difference in the chacter of the settlers, but chiefly from the fact that one possessed a seaport, a metropolis, while the other did not. Many of the South Carolinians were men who had fled from religious persecution at home, as the Huguenots; while the class of restless men who always seek frontier life, because ill at ease in organized society, was much smaller than in North Carolina. But, as stated, the main difference arose from the fact that North Carolina had no important seaport, and therefore little direct communication with Europe or New England. Charleston, on the other hand, through its commodious harbor, carried on a brisk foreign trade. Here came ships from many lands -- from Europe, the West Indies, and from New England -- bringing the commodities and luxuries of civilized life. Here lived the wealthy planter, visiting but seldom his plantation were herds of black men toiled under the lash of the overseer. Most naturally the conditions in Charleston fostered the growth of aristocracy, while in culture and refinement the city came to rival Philadelphia and Boston.


1The original plan was to found but one colony. The terms North and South Carolina first began to be used about 1690.[return]

2Except in 1698 when a fifth set of the Constitutions was drawn up and the proprietors instructed the governors to enforce it as far as they were able, but they had little success. MacDonald's "Documents," p. 50[return]

3Winsor, Vol. V, p. 334 [return]

4Ibid., p. 317.[return]

5Schaper, in American Historical Association Reports, 1900, Vol. I, p. 286.[return]

6Fiske's "Old Virginia," Vol. II, p. 326.[return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV pp. 88-93. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.

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