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Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies

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 African-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.

Georgia-Maryland-North Carolina

The Creek and Cherokee inhabited the Georgia area when Hernando De Soto and his expedition passed through the region c.1540. The Spanish later established missions and garrisons on the Sea Islands. In 1663, Charles II of England made a grant of land that included Georgia to the eight proprietors of Carolina. However, Spain claimed the whole eastern half of the present United States and protested the grant. The English ignored the protest, and the English-Spanish contest for the territory between Charleston (S.C.) and St. Augustine (Fla.) continued intermittently for almost a century. England became interested in settling Georgia as a buffer colony to protect South Carolina from Spanish invasion from the south.

In June, 1732, the English philanthropist James E. Oglethorpe received a charter from George II (for whom the colony was named) to settle the colony of Georgia and form a board of trustees to manage it. Oglethorpe planned to settle Georgia as a refuge for debtors in England. The first colonists, led by Oglethorpe, reached the mouth of the Savannah River in Feb., 1733. On a bluff c.18 mi upstream, the colonists laid out the first town, Savannah. In 1739 war broke out between Spain and England. Fighting occurred in Georgia, and in 1742, near Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island, Oglethorpe defeated the Spanish in the battle of Bloody Marsh, thereby effectively ending Spain's claim to the land N of the St. Marys River.

Georgia's early settlers included English, Welsh, Scots Highlanders, Germans, Italians, Piedmontese, and Swiss. Jews, Catholics, and settlers from other American colonies were at first barred. Immigrants fell generally into two groups: charity settlers, who were financed by the trustees, and adventurers, who paid their own way and came to receive the best land grants. The trustees had hoped that the colony would produce silk to send back to England, and early colonists were required to plant a specific number of mulberry trees for the cultivation of silkworms. The scheme, however, came to nothing. At first slavery was prohibited, but this and other restrictions impeded the colony's growth, and by the time Georgia became a royal colony in 1754, most of the restrictions had been abolished.

Georgia flourished as a royal colony. It fitted well into the British mercantile system, exporting rice, indigo, deerskins, lumber, naval stores, beef, and pork to England and buying there the manufactured articles it needed. Georgia's citizens were slower to resent those acts of the crown that exasperated the other colonies, but by June, 1775, Georgian patriots had begun to organize, and the following month delegates were elected to the Second Continental Congress. Georgia's colonists were about equally divided into Loyalists and patriots during the American Revolution, but the patriots, exposed to Loyalist Florida on the south and Native American tribes on the west, fared badly. In Dec., 1778, the British captured Savannah, and by the end of 1779 they held every important town in Georgia.

Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian navigator in the service of France, probably visited (1524) the Chesapeake region, which was certainly later explored (1574) by Pedro Menéndez Marqués, governor of Spanish Florida. In 1603 the region was visited by an Englishman, Bartholomew Gilbert, and it was charted (1608) by Capt. John Smith.

In 1632, Charles I granted a charter to George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore, yielding him feudal rights to the region between lat. 40-°N and the Potomac River. Disagreement over the boundaries of the grant led to a long series of border disputes with Virginia that were not resolved until 1930. The states still dispute the use of the Potomac River. The territory was named Maryland in honor of Henrietta Maria, queen consort of Charles I. Before the great seal was affixed to the charter, George Calvert died, but his son Cecilius Calvert, 2d Baron Baltimore, undertook development of the colony as a haven for his persecuted fellow Catholics and also as a source of income. In 1634 the ships Ark and Dove brought settlers (both Catholic and Protestant) to the Western Shore, and a settlement called St. Mary's was set up. During the colonial period the Algonquian-speaking Native Americans withdrew from the area gradually and for the most part peacefully, sparing Maryland the conflicts other colonies experienced.

Religious conflict was strong in ensuing years as the Puritans, growing more numerous in the colony and supported by Puritans in England, set out to destroy the religious freedom guaranteed with the founding of the colony. A toleration act (1649) was passed in an attempt to save the Catholic settlers from persecution, but it was repealed (1654) after the Puritans seized control. A brief civil war ensued (1655), from which the Puritans emerged triumphant. Anti-Catholic activity persisted until the 19th cent., when in an unusual reversal of the prevailing pattern many Catholic immigrants came to Baltimore.

In 1694, when the capital was moved from St. Mary's to Annapolis, those were the only towns in the province, but the next century saw the emergence of commercially oriented Baltimore, which by 1800 had a population of more than 30,000 and a flourishing coastal trade. Tobacco became the basis of the economy by 1730. In 1767 the demarcation of the Mason-Dixon Line ended a long-standing boundary dispute with Pennsylvania.

North Carolina's treacherous coast was explored by Verrazano in 1524, and possibly by some Spanish navigators. In the 1580s, Sir Walter Raleigh attempted unsuccessfully to establish a colony on one of the islands. The first permanent settlements were made (c.1653) around Albemarle Sound by colonials from Virginia. Meanwhile, Charles I of England had granted (1629) the territory S of Virginia between the 36th and 31st parallels (named Carolina in the king's honor) to Sir Robert Heath. Heath did not exploit his grant, and it was declared void in 1663. Charles II reassigned the territory to eight court favorites, who became the "true and absolute Lords Proprietors" of Carolina. In 1664, Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia and one of the proprietors, appointed a governor for the province of Albemarle, which after 1691 was known as North Carolina.

By 1700 there were only some 4,000 freeholders, predominantly of English stock, along Albemarle Sound. There, with the labor of indentured servants and African- and Native-American slaves, they raised tobacco, corn, and livestock, mostly on small farms. The people were semi-isolated; only vessels of light draft could negotiate the narrow and shallow passages through the island barriers. Furthermore, communication by land was almost impossible, except with Virginia, and even then swamps and forests made it difficult. There was some trade (primarily with Virginia, New England, and Bermuda).

In 1712, North Carolina was made a separate colony. The destructive war with Native Americans of the Tuscarora tribe broke out that year. The Tuscarora were defeated, and in 1714 the remnants of the tribe moved north to join the Iroquois Confederacy. A long, bitter boundary dispute with Virginia was partially settled in 1728 when a joint commission ran the boundary line 240 mi inland.

The British government made North Carolina a royal colony in 1729. Thereafter the region developed more rapidly. The Native Americans were gradually pushed beyond the Appalachians as the Piedmont was increasingly occupied. German and Scotch-Irish settlers followed the valleys down from Pennsylvania, and Highland Scots established themselves along the Cape Fear River. These varied ethnic elements, in addition to smaller groups of Swiss, French, and Welsh that had migrated to the region earlier in the century, gradually amalgamated. There has been little new immigration since colonial days, and North Carolina's white population is now largely homogeneous.

In 1768 the back-country farmers, justifiably enraged by the excessive taxes imposed by a legislature dominated by the eastern aristocracy, organized the Regulator movement in an attempt to effect reforms. The insurgents were suppressed at Alamance in 1771 by the provincial militia led by Gov. William Tryon, who had seven of the Regulators executed.

Verner W. Crane. The Southern Frontier 1670-1732 Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1956.
Robert M. Weir. Colonial South Carolina: A History Univ of South Carolina Press, Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.A., 1997.


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