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5.2: The Carolinas

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    Geography played a major role in the development pattern of the Carolinas. The area once known as Albemarle, which today is North Carolina, was not attractive to English colonists. It had a difficult coastal region featuring large swamps and marshlands and lacking natural harbors and rivers providing access to the interior, such as were found in Virginia and further south. Some Virginians did move south into the area, but more to escape society in Virginia where they were viewed as landless misfits than to make a colony in Carolina.

    Carolina: The Proprietary Colony of the South

    The earliest English attempt at a colony in Carolina was Roanoke, the lost colony which vanished between 1587 and 1590. In 1629, Charles I granted a charter for colonization but with little result. Then in 1663 King Charles II granted a new charter to eight Lords Proprietors, the Earl of Clarendon, the Duke of Albemarle, Lord Craven, Lord Berkeley, the Earl of Shaftesbury, Sir George Carteret, Sir William Berkeley, and Sir John Colleton, which opened the door for a new attempt. These eight men were given near absolute authority in their new colonial territory. As the Lords Proprietors, they would be responsible for the colony’s organization and promotion, recruitment of colonists, government, and any funding, transportation, and supply needs the new colony would have; further, they would receive any profits the colony made. They would each be able to pass on their role to their heirs.

    Lords Proprietors

    The proprietors, or owners of the colony of Carolina, were mostly Royalists, men who had supported the Stuarts before and during the English Civil War. They were rewarded for their devotion when Charles II was restored in 1660. William Berkeley was the Governor of Virginia; he and Sir George Carteret had been Lords Proprietors previously of New Jersey. Sir John Colleton had holdings in Barbados and was a member of the Royal African Company which was involved in bringing African slaves to the colonies. He died in 1666 before seeing a permanent colony established in Carolina. Lord Craven was a soldier, patron of the arts, and member of the Royal Society. The Earl of Clarendon had been Lord High Chancellor to Charles I and was the father-in-law of James, Duke of York, the future James II. The Duke of Albemarle had actually been a supporter of Cromwell but threw his support behind Charles II once Cromwell was gone. Lord Berkeley, brother of Sir William, was a more traditional Royalist, loyal to the Stuarts, and who served as the president of the Council for Foreign Plantations, making him quite influential in the colonies. Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, like the Earl of Clarendon, had been a supporter of the Puritan Oliver Cromwell but came to feel it best to have Charles II on the throne. He was very active in the colonization of the Americas, having investments in Barbados and Hudson Bay as well as Carolina. Although he supported Charles II early on, he ended up dying in exile in Holland because he did not agree with some later policies of the king. Like many Protestants, he feared the eventual succession of Charles’s brother, James, a devout Catholic.

    The Earl of Shaftesbury’s importance to the colony is indicated by the names of the two rivers that meet at Charleston, the Ashley and the Cooper, both named after him. He, along with his secretary, philosopher, and sometime physician, John Locke, created the “Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina,” a document which defined the colony’s government and social structure even to the point of creating a perpetual landed aristocracy. The Constitutions provided for an unwieldy, multi-layered administrative structure that was impractical at best, dysfunctional at worst, and not designed to deal with the day to day needs of the colony. It may well be the single most ill-advised piece of work ever created by Locke, yet it did have one redeeming feature, a provision for religious tolerance uncommon in the majority of the colonies. While the Constitutions recognized the Anglican Church as the official church of the colony, it specifically called for tolerance of other religions, even non-Christian native ones. This religious tolerance made Carolina attractive to those outside the mainstream Anglican faith, such as other Protestants and Jews.

    First Colonists at Charles Town

    The first colonists under the new charter set out from England in 1669 for Barbados, an island in the Lesser Antilles east of the Caribbean. Barbados had been an English colony since 1624. By 1669, opportunities for those seeking land were becoming fewer, so several men from Barbados decided to try their luck in the new Carolina colony. They brought with them their experience in colony building and a belief in slavery as a solution to labor problems such as those found on plantations.

    In Carolina, as in other colonies, a man with the proper social status and money could acquire a large grant of land, while a man with less money and social status but who paid his own way to the colony would receive a holding of many acres of land. After a brief stop in Bermuda, the three ships transporting the colonists and the men from Barbados made their way to the point at which the Ashley and Cooper Rivers join, what is today the South Carolina coast. The ships sailed up the Ashley River and established Charles Town in 1670, naming their new home after Charles II. In the first few years, the colonists set about building their town, cementing relations and trade with the Indians, and working towards making the colony selfsufficient, a key to survival. For their part, the Lords Proprietors had to keep the colony supplied with provisions and new colonists, a job that at first was made difficult due to the rumors about Carolina. Attracting and recruiting potential colonists could be a competitive business. Someone therefore started a rumor which soon spread that Carolina was an unhealthy place to live, with the implication that a smart colonist would go elsewhere, say to New England. Part of the Proprietors’ job was to squelch such rumors and to promote all the benefits of settling in Carolina.

    Charles Town in 1670, naming their new home after Charles II. In the first few years, the colonists set about building their town, cementing relations and trade with the Indians, and working towards making the colony selfsufficient, a key to survival. For their part, the Lords Proprietors had to keep the colony supplied with provisions and new colonists, a job that at first was made difficult due to the rumors about Carolina. Attracting and recruiting potential colonists could be a competitive business. Someone therefore started a rumor which soon spread that Carolina was an unhealthy place to live, with the implication that a smart colonist would go elsewhere, say to New England. Part of the Proprietors’ job was to squelch such rumors and to promote all the benefits of settling in Carolina.

    In 1680, Charles Town, Charleston, was moved to its current location with its large natural harbor. In 1686 when the Spanish captured Port Royal, a colony further south along the coast, Charleston became an especially important seaport as it thence became the southernmost seaport in English hands on the continent. Although the new location proved great as a port, it was vulnerable to attack from the sea. The Spanish, the French, and even pirates all threatened Charleston. The most famous of the pirates to plague Charleston’s waters was Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard. These threats led to Charleston’s development as a fortified city.

    Cash Crops

    The earliest exports of Carolina included furs, deerskins, cattle, lumber, and the naval stores of turpentine, resin, and pitch, which come from pine trees and were needed for the repair and maintenance of the wooden sailing ships of the day. These important goods helped to give Carolina a firm foundation before the development of its first true cash crop, rice.

    Rice was first planted in the area in the early 1680s. The exact origins of rice as a Carolina cash crop are disputable, with one story of its introduction being that Dr. Henry Woodward planted seeds he received from a captain of a ship who brought them from Madagascar. The uncomfortably humid Carolina low country, with its tidal waters, proved to be an excellent place to grow rice, and later another cash crop, indigo. What is not disputed is that the slave trade in Carolina expanded rapidly as a result of the introduction of rice. Rice production was labor intensive. Slaves were needed to transform the coastal wetlands into rice fields by clearing out the native vegetation, building irrigation systems, forming the fields which must be banked to hold in the water, and tending to the crop throughout the long, hot summer. The importance of rice therefore increased the demand for slaves from rice growing regions of West Africa. The more rice was grown, the more slaves were needed; consequently, Charleston became a major center of the slave trade, importing Africans and exporting Indians. By 1708 African slaves were in the majority in the colony, by 1720 they made up 65% of the colony’s population. Carolina colonists would use friendly Indians to capture Indians from other tribes who were not allied to the colony. They then would be exported to the British colonies in the islands, such as Barbados and Bermuda, and in return African slaves from those islands would be imported in Carolina.

    One source of Indian slaves for the slave trade was war with and among the native Indians. Indians captured by tribes that traded with the colonists sometimes found themselves sold as slaves. The Tuscarora were natives of what would be North Carolina, dwelling along the coast of the region. They were divided into upper and lower town groups. They had initially accepted the colonists and traded peacefully with them. Over time the relationship soured as the Tuscarora, like other native peoples, fell victim to European diseases, in addition to being swindled out of their land, being victims of unfair trade, and even being enslaved. The groups of Tuscarora most affected by these conditions were the ones who lived in the southern or lower town in the area of Pamlico Sound. They were led by Chief Hancock. In 1711, a land dispute led Chief Hancock to attack the colonists. Over a hundred colonists were killed, leading Governor Hyde to call on Indian allies and South Carolina to come to North Carolina’s aide. The war would last until 1715. Ultimately, Chief Hancock was killed, many of his people were taken as slaves to South Carolina, and Governor Hyde died of yellow fever which ravished the area in 1712. Although the war ended, the problems which caused it did not. Colonists continued to encroach on native land and generally mistreated the natives. Many Tuscarora fled north, going as far as New York in hopes of finding a life free from the expanding grasp of the European colonists. Others settled on a tract of land specified in the treaty that ended the war, only to see that land lost as well, piece by piece to the expanding colony.

    Among the native allies of the colonists during the Tuscarora War were the Yamasee Indians of South Carolina. In 1715, as the war with the Tuscarora ended, the Yamasee war began. This war involved not only the Yamasee and other smaller tribes, but also two of the largest in the South Carolina-Georgia region—the Creek and the Cherokee. The Creek sided with the Yamasee against the colonists, so the Cherokee, enemies of the Creek, supported the colonists. North Carolina supported its sister colony, South Carolina. The war ended with a victory for the colonies and made new territory available for them.

    In 1691, Peter Guerard patented a machine to hull the rice; the machine removed the grains of rice from their casings, or hulls. This process helped to boost rice production, as the rice could be prepared for shipping much faster. By 1695, the Proprietors were accepting rice as rent payments. Production continued to increase, reaching 20 million pounds by 1720.

    Along with rice came indigo, a plant that produces a blue dye used in fabrics. Indigo and rice work well together because they can be raised in the same area and have different growing seasons. Slaves would raise the indigo in the spring, harvesting it in time to plant rice for the summer, which would be harvested in the fall. Indigo production began in Carolina with Eliza Lucas, a rather remarkable young lady who in 1738 at the age of sixteen was managing her family’s plantation. Her father sent her some indigo seeds from the West Indies. Within three years she had her first success in raising the indigo and extracting the blue dye, which was then formed into cakes. By 1748 South Carolina was exporting over 130,000 pounds of indigo to England.

    Arrival of the Huguenots

    French Huguenots, or Protestants from France, began arriving in 1685, driven from their home country by religious persecution and drawn to Charleston by the promise of religious toleration. The Huguenots were born during the Protestant Reformation, persecuted early on, and then involved in a long religious war in France. The Huguenots rejected Catholicism, the mainstream religion of France, in favor of a Calvinist variety of Protestantism. John Calvin, himself a Frenchman living in Switzerland, had developed his own protestant theology separate from Luther and from the Anglican Church of England. Their religious war in France ended in 1598 when the French King Henry IV signed the Edict of Nantes, granting the Huguenots the right to practice their religion within certain guidelines and only in specified areas. In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict and persecution of the Huguenots began again. Some stayed hoping for a change in France while others fled to more Protestant-friendly countries and colonies such as Carolina. Many of the Huguenots were artisans, not aristocrats, and so brought much-needed skills to the young colony. By 1704, the French Huguenots established the town of Bath, the first town in what would become North Carolina.

    Carolina Splits into Two Royal Colonies

    The southern part of Carolina continued to develop more rapidly as a center of agriculture and trade with the colony centered on Charleston, despite its vulnerability to sea attacks and threats by Indians and the Spanish. In 1718, the pirate Blackbeard blockaded Charleston’s harbor, demanding medical supplies. Unhappy with the continuing dangers and generally dissatisfied with the Lords Proprietors, the citizens of the colony moved in 1719 to become a Royal Colony with a government and protection provided by the Crown. Carolina subsequently was divided into North and South, with South Carolina becoming a Royal Colony. In 1729 North Carolina would follow by becoming a Royal Colony as well. Both North and South Carolina would remain Royal Colonies until the American Revolution.


    The Carolinas began as one colony with two distinct areas: the north, Albemarle, which was not easy to colonize due to its geography, and the south, which centered on Charleston, a city founded in 1670. The first attempts to colonize Carolina failed. The later attempt in 1663 to establish Carolina as a proprietary colony with eight Lords Proprietors was successful. Carolina’s policy of religious toleration made it attractive to non-Anglicans. Charleston’s location as the southernmost English seaport in North America helped it to grow yet also made it vulnerable to attack. The development of labor-intensive rice and indigo as cash crops encouraged the slave trade. The vigorous slave trade in Charleston involved importing Africans and exporting Indians. Dissatisfaction with the Lords Proprietors led the colonists in South Carolina to petition, successfully, to become a Royal Colony in 1719. In 1729 North Carolina also became a Royal Colony. Both remained Royal Colonies until the American Revolution.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    North and South Carolina began as one colony, Carolina.

    1. True
    2. False


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    In a proprietary colony, the Proprietors have no responsibilities except to collect the profits.

    1. True
    2. False


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    John Locke wrote the original constitution for Carolina, but it was not what the colony needed.

    1. True
    2. False


    Exercise \(\PageIndex{4}\)

    Carolina’s policy of religious toleration helped to attract new colonists.

    1. True
    2. False


    This page titled 5.2: The Carolinas is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Catherine Locks, Sarah Mergel, Pamela Roseman, Tamara Spike & Marie Lasseter (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.