Enter the English
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South Carolina is a product of the English Restoration, when the monarchy returned to power after the grim 11-year tenure of Oliver Cromwell, who had defeated Royalist forces in the English Civil War. The attitude of the Restoration era—expansionist, confident, mercantile—is key to understanding the character of South Carolina even today.
Historians dispute exactly how close-minded Cromwell himself was, but there’s no debating the puritanical tone of his reign as British head of state. Theater was banned, as was most music except for religious hymns. Hair was close-cropped and dress was extremely conservative. Most disturbing of all for the holiday-loving English, the observation of Christmas and Easter was strongly discouraged because of their supposedly pagan origins.
Enter Charles II, son of the beheaded Charles I. His ascent to the throne in 1660 signaled a release of all the pent-up creativity and energy of the British people, stagnant under Cromwell’s repression. The arts returned to their previous importance. Foreign policy became aggressive and expansionist. Capitalists again sought profit. Fashion made a comeback, and dandy dress and long hair for both men and women were all the rage.
This then, is the backdrop for the first English settlement of what is now South Carolina. The first expedition was by a Barbadian colonist, William Hilton, in 1663. While he didn’t establish a new colony, he did leave behind his name on the most notable geographic feature he saw—Hilton Head Island.
In 1665 King Charles II gave a charter to eight Lords Proprietors to establish a colony in the area, generously to be named Carolina after the monarch himself. (One of the Proprietors, Lord Ashley Cooper, would see not one but both rivers in the Charleston area named after him.) Remarkably, none of the Proprietors ever set foot in the colony they established for their own profit.
Before their colony was even established, the Proprietors themselves set the stage for the vast human disaster that would eventually befall it. They encouraged slavery by promising that each colonist would receive 20 acres of land for every black male slave and 10 acres for every black female slave brought to the colony within the first year.
In 1666 explorer Robert Sandford officially claimed Carolina for the king, in a ceremony on modern-day Seabrook or Wadmalaw Island. The Proprietors then sent out a fleet of three ships from England, only one of which, the Carolina, would make it the whole way. After stops in the thriving English colonies of Barbados and Bermuda, the ship landed in Port Royal.
They were greeted without violence, but the fact that the local indigenous people spoke broken Spanish led the colonists to conclude that perhaps the site was too close to Spain’s sphere of influence for comfort. A Kiawah chief, eager for allies against the fierce, slave-trading Westo tribe, invited the colonists north to settle instead.
So the colonists—148 of them, including three African slaves—moved 80 miles up the coast, and in 1670 pitched camp on the Ashley River at a place they dubbed Albemarle Point after one of their lost ships. Living within the wooden palisades of the camp, the colonists farmed 10-acre plots outside the walls for sustenance. The Native Americans of the area were of the large and influential Cusabo tribe of the Creeks, and are sometimes even today known as the Settlement Indians. Subtribes of the Cusabo whose names live on today in South Carolina geography were the Kiawah, Edisto, Wando, Stono, and Ashepoo.
A few years later some English colonists from the Caribbean colony of Barbados, which was beginning to suffer overpopulation, joined the Carolinians. The Barbadian influence, with an emphasis on large-scale slave labor and a caste system, would have an indelible imprint on the colony in years to come. Indeed, within a generation a majority of settlers in the new colony would be African slaves.
By 1680, however, Albemarle Point was feeling growing pains as well, and the Proprietors ordered the site moved to Oyster Point at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers (the present-day Battery). Within a year Albemarle Point was completely abandoned, and the walled fortifications of Charles Town were built a few hundred yards up from Oyster Point on the banks of the Cooper River.
The original Anglican settlers were quickly joined by various Dissenters, among them French Huguenots, Quakers, Congregationalists, and Jews. A group of Scottish Presbyterians established the short-lived Stuart Town near Port Royal in 1684. Recognizing this diversity, the colony in 1697 granted religious liberty to all “except Papists.” The Anglicans attempted a crackdown on Dissenters in 1704, but two years later Queen Anne stepped in and ensured religious freedom for all Carolinians (again with the exception of Roman Catholics, who wouldn’t be a factor in the colony until after the American Revolution).
The English settlements quickly gained root as the burgeoning deerskin trade increased exponentially. Traders upriver, using an ancient network of trails, worked with local Native Americans, mostly Cherokees, to exploit the massive numbers of deer in the American interior. The deerskin trade had a deleterious effect on the native population, as men were gone from their villages much longer than in previous times, when hunting trips were for sustenance only. By the mid-1700s, the deer population had been so overharvested that the Cherokees had trouble feeding themselves. This led to the need to purchase or barter for food from the English, a dependency that would lead inexorably to violence in years to come.
But before that conflict would come, other scores had to be settled.
© Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina, 4th Edition