Colonization of the North American coast might have evolved differently if the English expedition sent to Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1580s had established a lasting foothold on the Outer Banks. When that colony was "lost," English attention turned to better harbors farther north, postponing colonization between Chesapeake Bay and Spanish Florida. Since nothing came of Charles I's grant of "Carolana" to Sir Robert Heath in 1629, Charles II bestowed the same region on some of his loyal supporters soon after the English Restoration of 1660.
On paper, the eight lords proprietors claimed the coast from the Outer Banks to the vicinity of St. Augustine, plus the whole interior as far as the Pacific. But in fact English settlement was confined to the coastal low country for another generation. From 1670 onward, a trickle of colonists, mostly from Barbados, staked out claims, establishing Charles Town at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers in 1680. South of this port, small groups of Dissenters from New England settled; to the northeast, Huguenot refugees from France took up residence near the Santee River.
Labor was scarce among these early immigrants, and they lacked an immediate staple crop. But hogs and cattle multiplied rapidly on the coastal savannahs, and their meat could be sent to West Indian planters in exchange for enslaved Africans. The colony's headright system allowed a planter to claim more land for each person imported, slave or free, and these workers could cut trees and make barrel staves until land was cleared for agriculture. Some of these first black arrivals understood the cultivation of rice, a grain well known in West Africa but unfamiliar to northern Europe. Ironically, this crop was quickly adopted by their white owners, who used the profits to buy more African workers. By 1708 there was a black majority in the colony, and plantation agriculture was beginning to expand.
All along the coast, expansion met Indian resistance. More than a century of contact with Spanish explorers and missionaries had spread European diseases among Native Americans. The devastation had already been enormous, obliterating small coastal tribes and continuing to reach farther inland. In the 1690s, smallpox decimated the Cherokees in southern Appalachia, cutting in half a nation of more than thirty thousand persons. After 1670 English slaving raids compounded Indian loss to disease. As their numbers declined, Piedmont inhabitants elected to fight, beginning with the Iroquoian tribe known as the Tuscaroras.
Along Carolina's northern border, Virginia settlers had begun to drift south in the 1650s and 1660s. The first arrivals settled along Albemarle Sound, and others continued south to the Pamlico and Neuse rivers. Known initially as Albemarle, the portion of Carolina north of Cape Fear had a separate governor designated by the proprietors and by 1712 was known as North Carolina. A year earlier the powerful Tuscaroras had waged war on the European newcomers but were defeated in 1713. Many of the tribe's survivors then moved north to rejoin the Iroquois League. Two years later, the Yamasees and their Creek allies attacked South Carolina; only the refusal of the Cherokees to join in the conflict saved the colony from total destruction.
The two Carolina colonies evolved in very different ways over the next half century, owing in large measure to their different geography. North Carolina lacked a major deep-water port for drawing new immigrants and exporting the tar and pitch the settlers made from local pines. Only the Cape Fear River flowed directly into the Atlantic, and it became the entry point for Welsh and Scottish immigrants who traveled upstream to establish farms in the backcountry. A much larger flow of newcomers arrived overland from the north. Thousands of Scots-Irish and German settlers traveled south down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley into the North Carolina Piedmont.
This large influx shaped the distinctive character of the colony. These farmers seeking fertile land differed in their ethnic and religious backgrounds from the Anglican planters along the coast. Unlike the eastern elite, they lacked a strong commitment to the institution of slavery. Tensions quickly developed along regional and class lines, which led to the Regulator movement, an uprising in the 1760s of well-organized backcountry farmers who resented being overtaxed and underrepresented in the colonial legislature in New Bern.
South Carolina grew almost as rapidly as North Carolina; its population had reached 180,000 by the time of independence, compared to 210,000 farther north. But the composition differed markedly; by 1776 Europeans made up 75 percent of North Carolinians but only 40 percent of South Carolinians. The enslaved workers who cleared the low-country swamps produced ever-increasing quantities of rice and, after 1740, indigo. No other mainland English colony generated so much wealth or distributed it so unequally. In 1739, black Carolinians at Stono tried to escape southward to St. Augustine, where Spanish authorities had promised them freedom, but local planters brutally suppressed the rebellion.
Georgia, England's final mainland colony, came into being in the 1730s partly to provide a buffer between Carolina and Spanish Florida. In 1732 philanthropist James Oglethorpe and twenty other trustees obtained from George II a charter for a colony between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, stretching west to the Pacific, that would avoid the economic divisions and racial conflicts of its neighbor. Originally conceived as a haven for English debtors, the colony emphasized "liberty of conscience" and quickly recruited Lutheran Salzburgers, Scottish Presbyterians, and Jews, though Roman Catholics were excluded. African-Americans were also excluded by the trustees, who passed idealistic acts forbidding slavery, prohibiting rum, and regulating the Indian trade.
For Georgia's founders, as for Carolina's, the gap between expectation and reality proved considerable. Oglethorpe, who established Savannah in 1733, could not conquer St. Augustine as hoped, nor could he retain the ban on slavery. Faced with incessant pressure from wouldbe planters, the trustees repealed their Negro Act in 1751, a year before they gave the colony over to royal control. By the eve of the Revolution, some fifteen thousand of Georgia's thirty-three thousand colonial inhabitants were Afri-can-Americans, forced to work tracts owned by others. What had started as a settler colony for independent farmers comparable to backcountry North Carolina had evolved into a planter-dominated domain more similar to low-country South Carolina.
Verner W. Crane, The Southern Frontier, 1670-1732 (1928; reprint, 1981); Robert M. Weir, Colonial South Carolina: A History (1983).
PETER H. WOOD
The Reader's Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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