Earliest Attempts. The first interest in what would become the Carolinas came not from the English but from the Spanish and the French. While Spaniards had reached the coast of the Carolinas in 1520–1521, they did not actually establish a presence there, content instead to raid the local Indians, capturing seventy of them and bringing them back to Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), where they were freed. In 1540 the explorer Hernando de Soto landed in Florida but proceeded on foot into the interior, reaching the Indian town of Cofitachequi (modern-day Camden, South Carolina), and then on into North Carolina. Spanish interest in a settlement on the Carolina coast sprang from the need to find an emergency haven for the treasure fleet bound from Mexico to Spain through the Bahama Channel—a narrow, fast-flowing passage east of Florida that was plagued by hurricanes and European marauders. Spanish efforts came to little, however, and it was actually the French who settled the area first, albeit temporarily. In 1562 the French commander Jean Ribault with a small contingent of male settlers arrived in Port Royal Sound and built Charlesfort, a small fort, on what is now the Parris Island Marine Station golf course. Ribault then left hoping to return shortly but found France engulfed in one of the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics that marked the last half of the sixteenth century. Those left behind deserted Charlesfort, and a few of them made their way back to France. Meanwhile, the Spanish, aware of French interest on the coast, decided to try again to establish their own presence on Port Royal Sound. In 1566 Pedro Menéndez de Aviles arrived and built a fort, San Felipe, on the ruins of Charlesfort. Supporting the fort was the town of Santa Elena, which included a mission, farming community, and such industries as a pottery kiln. But the Spanish hold on the whole coast was tenuous, and hostile Indians and English raiders, such as Sir Francis Drake, undermined Spanish efforts. They abandoned Santa Elena in 1587, retreating to Saint Augustine, the only surviving Spanish settlement on the East Coast.
New Efforts. English attempts at colonization in the Carolinas began with Sir Walter Raleigh during the years 1585–1587 and what has become known as the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The next colonizing venture to get settlers actually as far as the New World was not until 1632 when Sir Robert Heath, then proprietor of this large area, entered into negotiations with some French Protestant refugees. They were to build a saltworks, and some forty colonists actually arrived in America, but not in Carolina, disembarking instead in Virginia. It was not until after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 that Charles II’s grant to the Lords Proprietors would result in actual settlements. The first occurred in 1665 on the Cape Fear River in what is now North Carolina. Settled by Barbadians and a few New Englanders who quarreled among themselves, the settlement was abandoned when
reports of better land and easier ocean access farther south in Port Royal Sound filtered back to the colonists.
Stuart Kings. The early part of the 1600s found various Englishmen interested in lands north of the Spanish ones. In 1629 King Charles I granted to Sir Robert a tract of land located between Virginia and Florida that extended west to the Pacific Ocean. He named the tract Carolana, but this early grant came to nothing since Sir Robert was unable to find either settlers or financial backing. A few years later he assigned his grant to Henry, Lord Maltravers, who ran into the same problems. In 1640 the English Civil War broke out and ended interest in the area. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 brought to the throne a king indebted to those who had stood by him in his years of exile. One way to show his gratitude was to grant them lands in America that he owned only nominally and that he could offer at no cost to himself. Among the lands granted by the “Merry Monarch” were New York and New Jersey, given to his brother the duke of York, later James II; Pennsylvania to William Penn; and the Carolinas to a consortium of eight friends. All of these colonies would survive, although not necessarily in the form envisioned or under the control of the original proprietors.
Lords Proprietors. The eight proprietors granted Carolina in 1663 were politicians and men of state rather than colonial visionaries. Looking neither for religious freedom nor a way to help the downtrodden of England, they, like the investors of the Virginia Company or Thomas Weston and Associates, who financed the Plymouth settlement, hoped to make money from their new venture. The charter, granted in 1665, gave them extensive powers in America including the right to make war and deprive the inhabitants of life and limb. Their ability to make law was restricted by a clause that mandated the consent of the “freemen” of the province. They also had permission to grant religious toleration and to establish a hereditary nobility. Given the need for settlers in order to make the colony profitable, the Lords Proprietors promised many concessions—an elected assembly with the sole right to tax, freedom of conscience, and land grants—to those who came over and brought others with them. Yet they were unwilling to spend money to promote their colony, and England was suffering from plague and war, which made emigration more difficult.
THE “LOST COLONY” OF ROANOKE
The earliest English efforts at settlement overlapped Santa Elena. In 1584 Queen Elizabeth gave Walter Raleigh the right to colonize in North America those lands not already claimed by Christians. Raleigh first sent out an exploratory expedition, which landed on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. It returned home with glowing reports of the “goodliest soile under the cope of heaven” and two Native Americans who then became walking advertisements for the new colonial venture. Queen Elizabeth, much impressed, knighted Walter Raleigh and named the whole area Virginia, in honor of herself, the Virgin Queen.
Second Attempt. Raleigh managed to put together a second expedition of 108 men in 1585 including the artist John White, whose watercolors excited the interest of those in Europe and provide us today with charming depictions of the plants, animals, and Native Americans of the late-sixteenth-century southern coast. This second expedition built housing and explored the surrounding area, but promised supplies were late in coming—an all-too-common problem for early settlements — and when Sir Francis Drake stopped off, many of those on the island chose to return with him to England.
A Third Effort. In 1587 Raleigh put together a consortium of investors to launch another colony I of 17 women, 9 children and 94 men; White was appointed governor. Their destination was not supposed to be Roanoke Island, although they were to stop there, but farther north on Chesapeake Bay. As it turned out, their pilot refused to go farther than Roanoke, so the colonists, having little choice, disembarked there. In August the first English child was born in the Americas to Eleanor and Ananias Dare. Named Virginia, she was the grandchild of Governor White. But this auspicious omen of new beginnings was deceptive. The Roanoke colony arrived too late to plant crops, and it found that the surrounding Native Americans were also short of foodstuffs. White sailed back to England for supplies while those left behind sought a better site for the colony. White’s swift return was prevented by the outbreak of war between England and Spain and the imminent threat of invasion from the Spanish Armada. He was able to smuggle out two small ships only to have their captains turn pirate and then be captured by the French. He returned to Roanoke in 1590 to find the place abandoned with the word CROATOAN carved on a tree—a prearranged signal to let him know where the colonists had moved.
Mystery. But White never did find Croatoan (now Hatteras Island) or any of the settlers. A storm forced his ships to leave. Years later the Indian sachem Powhatan told Capt. John Smith, founder of the first successful English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, that the settlers had perished on their trek north, accidentally caught between two warring bands of Indians. Like so many of the earliest attempts at settlement, Roanoke was a victim of ignorance, poor planning, and bad luck. Its failure helped to bankrupt Sir Walter Raleigh, who met his own unlucky fate at the hands of the state executioner in 1618.
Source: Hugh Talmage Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, The History of a Southern State: North Carolina, third edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973).
Legal Experiment. In 1669 Anthony Ashley Cooper, soon to be Lord Shaftesbury, with the help of the great political theorist and his secretary, John Locke, proposed the “Fundamental Constitutions,” a unique document meant to lure settlers by proposing a hereditary nobility, religious toleration, and the sanctity of private property, including slaves. Cooper also persuaded the other proprietors to contribute money, and in August of that year three ships with one hundred settlers, including some nineteen women, left England for Carolina. Accident and disaster scattered the ships, but by March 1670 all arrived, some via the Bahamas and Virginia. By the 1670s the colony was yet to make money, and the proprietors again had to invest rather than profit. Attempts by the proprietors to remain friendly with the local Indians and to monopolize the fur trade failed as the colonists provoked war and encouraged an Indian-slave trade. Proprietary interests clashed with those of the most aggressive colonists, making Carolina hard to govern. Moreover, the colonists were unwilling to pay even minimal rents. Wars in the early part of the eighteenth century created security problems and governmental debts that the proprietary government was unable to pay. In 1719 the Crown appointed a provisional governor, and in 1729 it bought out the remaining proprietors, although their effectiveness had been nullified ten years earlier.
Barbadians. While many of the earliest settlements drew their populations from England, Carolina also attracted colonists from England’s West Indian islands, mainly from Barbados. Some of the proprietors, including Anthony Ashley Cooper and Sir John Colleton, also had Barbadian interests. The first unsuccessful settlement at Cape Fear in 1665 had included Barbadians, as did the first successful one on the Ashley River in 1670. Many congregated on Goose Creek, above Charleston, earning themselves the designation “Goose Creek men.” Of some 680 settlers who came to the Carolinas between 1670 and 1680 and whose origins can be identified, over half came from the West Indies. These men had important resources at their command. By 1680 Barbados was a small but wealthy sugar island whose landed and merchant elite families had no way of giving younger sons land. Many turned to the Carolinas, whose semitropical climate promised, they erroneously thought, a healthier environment in which plantation agriculture and slavery would flourish. They brought both slaves and a slave code to control them—the only mainland colony formed in this way. The Barbadian elites did well: seven of the Carolinas’ twenty-three governors between 1669 and 1737 had Barbadian backgrounds. Other less wealthy Barbadians also looked to the Carolinas for economic opportunity. Among the early settlers were small planters, artisans, and even indentured servants. The lure was land, and as it turned out, Barbados and other West Indian islands provided a market for the beef, corn, and lumber that the Carolinas produced.
Slaves. Whites chose to move to the Carolinas; blacks had no choice. Black slaves arrived in the region along with the first whites, although initially in few numbers. The first recorded slave, a “lusty negro man,” arrived from Virginia within months of the first settlement on the Ashley River in 1670. The first slave family arrived from Bermuda a month later. Trade with the islands included slaves. In March 1671 Sir John Yeamans arrived from Barbados with eight blacks. These bound laborers
worked on his wooded lands, defending them against Indian and Spanish enemies when the whites were called back to defend Charles Town. When Yeamans died in 1674, he owned at least twenty-six slaves. By 1671 as much as 30 percent of the population was slave, mainly male; by 1708 more than half of the non-Indian population was slave, making the Carolinas the only colony with a black majority. In some low-country parishes the ratio of blacks to whites was as high as four to one—much like the West Indies. In 1769 Lt. Gov. William Bull estimated that South Carolina had some 45,000 whites and 80,000 blacks.
Charleston. In August 1669 three ships left England to sail via Barbados to the new colony of Carolina. Aboard were 93 passengers that included four gentlemen, servants, and artisans. Among the craftsmen represented were surveyors, carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, surgeons, and even “an ignorant preacher.” The fleet first stopped in Ireland, vainly hoping to attract colonists, then sailed across the Atlantic to Barbados, where rough weather scattered the ships and destroyed one. Next stop was Bermuda, and finally Carolina, where friendly Indians enticed the colonists to consider a site up the river that the English renamed the Ashley. On a high defensible bluff with the river on one side and marshes on the other, the 130 settlers decided to settle and named the site Charles Town. This first settlement was crude and haphazard—the average house was fifteen by twenty feet, or the size of a modern American living room. Energy went into building a palisade, not growing crops, and early Charles Town, like so many first settlements, relied upon imported foodstuffs, in this case from Virginia, to survive. In 1670 and 1671 more settlers arrived, some from Barbados but others from New York. In 1672 the population amounted to 268 men, 69 women, and 59 children. Ethnic diversity was already a factor as this group included English, Barbadians, Irish, Dutch, and black slaves. In 1680 colonists moved the town to the peninsula formed by the junction of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. This site became more defensible as the town expanded. In surveying the town, the settlers used a grid pattern following the “grand Model” sent from England and enacted various rules concerning house size and height. Thirty wooden houses and the guns from the old settlement made the new one habitable and seemingly safe. French Huguenots soon arrived, and three years later Scots settlers moved to Charles Town. Presbyterians and Baptists were also drawn by Carolina’s promise of religious tolerance. While many left for the countryside, some stayed in the city, making eighteenth-century Charles Town culturally diverse and the largest urban settlement south of Philadelphia. By the mid eighteenth century highly skilled artisans and artists found patrons of taste and discernment. By the time of the American Revolution, Charleston was a city of elegance and culture with theater, music, libraries, and a social season that allowed the elite to view and be viewed by one another. It might well have been the wealthiest city in British North America.
North Carolina. Not until 1729 was Carolina divided into the two colonies of North Carolina and South Carolina. Geography inhibited North Carolina’s growth since the colony had no large port and a long coastline marked by barrier islands, shifting sandbars, and treacherous currents. In an age in which any major travel and all commercial trade relied on ships, the lack of harbors was an almost insurmountable liability. The first settlers dribbled into northern Carolina from Virginia during the 1650s (boundaries were indistinct, and the Virginia-Carolina border would not be settled until 1728). When the Lords Proprietors acquired their tract, they found these people already in the Albemarle Sound area. Attempts to settle in the Cape Fear River area between 1662 and 1667 failed. The good harbors of the southern portion of the grant attracted most of the attention the Lords Proprietors gave to their property. They appointed governors to Albemarle County and then to what became known as North Carolina in 1689. The population grew slowly. A few French Huguenot families from Virginia moved near the Pamlico River in 1690–1691 and were followed in 1707 by a much larger group. In 1710 German Palatines settled New Bern but were attacked by Tuscarora Indians the next year, and the settlement was abandoned; it was rebuilt in 1723. In 1672 Quakers arrived and became a powerful political force. By the 1720s Indians and other problems were under control, and more immigrants found their way to North Carolina. The colony came under royal control in 1729. Initial settlements, mostly of Englishmen, stayed near the ocean until the 1740s, but after that the upper Cape Fear River and the backcountry opened and Scotch-Irish, Germans, Scottish Highlanders, and the Welsh moved in. The Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia opened up the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia as well as North and South Carolina in the 1750s. Slavery also flourished in North Carolina, although not in anywhere near the same numbers as the plantations of South Carolina. Estimates of the population of North Carolina in the 1760s suggest some eighty thousand whites and maybe twenty-six thousand blacks, but these figures may be even less reliable than other colonial-population statistics. North Carolina was of little interest to royal officials, so information on the colony remains elusive.
Richard S. Dunn, “The English Sugar Islands and the Founding of South Carolina,” South Carolina Historical Magazine, 12 (1971): 81–93;
Hugh Talmage Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, The History of a Southern State: North Carolina, third edition (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973);
Charles H. Lesser, South Carolina Begins: The Records of a Proprietary Colony, 1663–1721 (Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1995);
William S. Powell, North Carolina: A Bicentennial History (New York: Norton, 1977);
Joseph I. Waring, The First Voyage and Settlement at Charles Town 1670–1680 (Columbia: Tricentennial Commission by the University of South Carolina Press, 1970);
Richard Waterhouse, “England, the Caribbean, and the Settlement of Carolina,” Journal of ‘American Studies, 9 (1975): 259–281;
Robert M. Weir, Colonial South Carolina: A History (Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1983);
Peter Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York: Norton, 1974).