Digital History

17th Century

The Southernmost Colonies: The Carolinas and Georgia Previous
Digital History ID 3589



South Carolina's proprietors envisioned establishing a feudal society in their land grant. They kept huge landed estates for themselves, and, with the assistance of the English philosopher John Locke, drew up a plan, known as the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which would have given them the power of feudal lords. The scheme called for a three-tiered hereditary nobility--consisting of "proprietors," "landgraves," and "caciques"--who would own forty percent of the colony's land and serve as a Council of Lords and recommend all laws to a parliament elected by small landowners. But like other feudal visions, this one failed. South Carolina's settlers rejected virtually all of this plan and immigrants refused to move to the region until it was replaced by a more democratic system of government.

Emigrants from Barbados played a decisive role in South Carolina's early settlement in 1679 and 1680, and brought black slaves with them. Within a decade, they had found a staple crop--rice--which they could raise with slave labor. The grain itself had probably come from West Africa and African slaves were already familiar with rice cultivation. The result was to transform South Carolina into the mainland society that bore the closest resemblance to the Caribbean. As early as 1708, slaves actually outnumbered whites and by 1730 there were twice as many slaves as whites in the colony. About a third of South Carolina's slaves during the early eighteenth century were Indians.

The rapid growth in the slave population raised the specter of slave revolt. In 1739, the Stono Rebellion, the largest slave uprising in colonial America, took place about twenty miles from Charleston. Led by a slave named Jemmy, the rebels burned seven plantations and killed approximately 20 whites as they headed for refuge in Spanish Florida. Within a day, however, the Stono rebels were captured and killed by the white militia.

North Carolina was also the scene of some of the most bitter Indian-white warfare. In 1711, after incidents in which whites had encroached on their land and kidnapped Indians as slaves, the Tuscaroras destroyed New Bern. Over the next two years, the colonial militia, assisted by the Yamassees, killed or enslaved a fifth of the Tuscaroras. Many survivors subsequently migrated to New York, where they became the Sixth Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy. Then, in 1715, the Yamassees, finding themselves increasingly in debt to white traders and merchants, allied themselves with the Creeks and attempted to destroy the colony. With help from the Cherokees, the colonial militia successfully repelled the offensive, largely ending Indian resistance to white expansion in the Carolinas.

Prior to the American Revolution, only one colony, Georgia, temporarily sought to prohibit slavery, because the founders did not want a workforce that would compete with the debtors they planned to transport from England. Settlers, however, illegally imported slaves into the colony, forcing the proprietors to abandon the idea of a slave-free colony.

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