Carolinas' colonial history

EARLY in 1609, some colonists under the direction of Captain John Smith left Jamestown and seated themselves on the Nansemond River, near the Dismal Swamp. In 1622, the ambitious Porey, Secretary of the Virginia colony, penetrated the country southward to the tide-waters of the Chowan River. He told, in earnest words, of the beauty and richness of the country, but did not induce settlers to go there. Eight years later, as we have observed, Sir Robert Heath, the Attorney General of Charles the First, obtained from his king a charter for a domain south of Virginia, six degrees of latitude in width, and extending westward to the Pacific Ocean. This included the region between Albemarle Sound and the St. John's River in Florida. That patent was declared void in 1663, because neither the proprietor nor his assigns had fulfilled their agreements.

Sufferers from the oppression of the State Church in Virginia looked to the wilderness for freedom, as the Huguenots and the Pilgrims had done. In 1653, a few Presbyterians from Jamestown settled on the Chowan River near the present village of Edenton. Other non-conformists followed, and the settlement flourished. Already the New England colonies had begun to swarm. The Massachusetts hive had become too small; and in 1661, some adventurous New Englanders appeared in a small vessel, in the Cape Fear River, in search of a home in a more genial climate. They purchased lands of the Indians, and were making the experiment of establishing a colony of farmers and herdsmen there, when news came that the whole region had been given by Charles the Second to some of his favorites. The New Englanders had partners in their enterprise, in London. These pleaded, in behalf of the claims of the colonists, their prior purchase of the soil, and also their right to self-government. A compromise was offered by the patentees, yielding to every claim of the settlers excepting the owner-ship, of the soil; and that they offered at a yearly rent of a half-penny an acre. The soil was not inviting enough for those who might choose a dwelling-place from almost an entire continent. Most of the New Englanders returned home and "spread a reproach on the harbor and the soil" at Cape Fear.

The grant alluded to was made to several of the rapacious courtiers of Charles the Second, the most of them men past middle-life in age, and possessed of the easy virtue which distinguished the reign of that monarch. They begged the domain of the king under the pretence of "a pious zeal for the propagation of the gospel" among the heathen. Their real object was to rob the "heathen" of their lands, and to accumulate riches and honor for themselves. These grantees were the covetous and time-serving Earl of Clarendon, the historian and the Prime Minister; Monk, who, for his conspicuous and treacherous services in the restoration of Charles to the throne of his father, had been created Duke of Albemarle; Lord Craven, who is supposed to have been the husband of the Queen of Bohemia; Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, afterward Earl of Shaftesbury; Sir John Colleton, a corrupt loyalist who had played false to Cromwell; Lord John Berkley and his younger brother, Sir William, who was then governor of Virginia; and the "passionate, ignorant and not too honest" Sir George Carteret, proprietor of New Jersey. It is said that when these petitioners appeared before Charles in the garden at Hampton Court and presented their memorial so full of pious pretensions, the monarch, after looking each in the face for a moment, with a merry twinkle of his eye, burst into loud laughter, in which his audience joined involuntarily. Then taking up a little shaggy spaniel, with large, meek eyes, and holding it at arms length before them, he said: "Good friends, here is a model of piety and sincerity which might be whole-some for you to copy." Then tossing the little pet to Clarendon, he said: "There, Hyde, is a worthy prelate; make him archbishop of the domain which I shall give you." He granted the prayer of the petitioners, and in March, 1663, he gave them a charter for the territory which had been given to Sir Robert Heath. By the terms of that charter, the proprietors were made absolute sovereigns of the domain, returning to their king only a bare allegiance. Charles, with grim satire, introduced into the preamble of the charter the statement that the petitioners, "excited with a laudable and pious zeal for the propagation of the Gospel, have begged a certain country in the parts of America not yet cultivated and planted, and only inhabited by some barbarous people who have no knowledge of God." The title of "Carolina," in honor of the king, was given to this vast domain.

We have observed that some non-conformists from Virginia were settled on the banks of the Chowan ten years before the charter was granted. How extensive was the settlement at the latter period, we do not know. The plantations were mostly on the northern bank of the Chowan, and had become so conspicuous that in the autumn of 1663 the new proprietors authorized Governor Berkeley, of Virginia, to extend his jurisdiction over them. He organized a separate government instead, under the title of the Albemarle County Colony, so named in honor of Monk. He appointed William Drummond, a Presbyterian emigrant from Scotland to Virginia, and a republican at heart, governor, and gave to the colonists every freedom which they could reasonably desire. Here was presented the anomaly of a colony founded under the direction and control of rigid churchmen and royalists who were filling the prisons of England with men like John Bunyan, composed of non-conformists as rigid as these, and republicans as staunch as Sidney. And they were left to grow into an independent state with very little hindrance.

Two years later some English emigrants came from Barbadoes, purchased from the Indians a tract of land on the Cape Fear River, thirty-two miles square, including the domain abandoned by the New Englanders, and near the site of Wilmington founded a settlement. They treated the few New Englanders who had remained very kindly, and harmony prevailed. This settlement was soon organized into a political community under the title of the Clarcndon County Colony, in honor of the historian. Sir John Yea mans, an impoverished baronet who had settled in Barbadoes to improve his fortune, was appointed governor of the new colony, with a jurisdiction extending from Cape Fear to the St. John's River. The poverty of the soil prevented a rapid growth of the settlement, yet the industry of the inhabitants made them prosperous. Finding themselves in the bosom of a vast pine forest, the settlers turned their labor into the manufacture of boards, shingles and staves, and the gathering of turpentine, for all of which they found a ready and profitable sale in the West Indies. The settlement became permanent; and so, with the organization of the two colonies, the foundation of the commonwealth of North Carolina was laid.

The avaricious courtiers now sought the acquisition of more territory, and in June, 1665, they readily obtained from the king another charter which confirmed the former one, and gave renewed assurance and commendation of the "pious and noble purpose" under which these men thought it decent to cloak their ambition and rapacity. It granted to them the territory from the now southern boundary of Virginia to the peninsula of Florida, and westward to the Pacific Ocean, comprising all of our States excepting the lower part of Florida south of the thirty-sixth degree, and a part of Mexico, the whole under the name of Carolina. The terms of the charter give evidence that the founding of a great empire was contemplated. Provision was made for the appointment of legislators and magistrates; for levying troops and erecting fortifications; waging war by sea and land; erecting cities; establishing manors and baronies, and creating titles; levying impost duties; and other features coincident with those of the existing British government. "Every favor was extended to the proprietors," says an eminent historian; "nothing was neglected but the interests of the English sovereign and the rights of the colonists." It was the duty of Clarendon, as Prime Minister of the realm, to affix the great seal of the kingdom to this charter that conferred such extraordinary privileges upon himself and his seven associates.

In the year 1670, the proprietors sent three ships with emigrants to settle the more southern portions of Carolina. These were under the directions of William Sayle and Joseph West. Sayle had already explored the coasts; and twenty years before, he had endeavored to plant in the Bahama Isles a Puritan colony from Virginia, and to establish an "Eleutheria"-a place dedicated to liberty-among the islands near the coast of Florida. The three ships entered Port Royal harbor, and the emigrants landed at Beaufort Island, near the place where the Huguenots built Fort Carolina a hundred years before. There Sayle died early in the following year, and was buried under a broad live-oak tree draped with Spanish moss. The emigrants abandoned Beaufort soon afterward, and sailing northward entered Charleston harbor. On the banks of a stream a few miles above the site of Charleston, they landed, built houses and cultivated the soil. There they planted the first seeds of the colony of South Carolina at a spot known as Old Town.

The settlers found the Indians unfriendly, for tradition had taught them to believe that the white man was a cruel robber. The planters were compelled to labor in the fields and on the waters, well-armed, yet they prospered; and they soon conquered the Indians by kindness. West exercised the authority of magistrate until the arrival of Sir John Yeamans from Barbadoes with the commission of governor late in 1671. He brought with him fifty families and many negro slaves. This was the introduction of slave-labor into South Carolina, which has always been pre-eminently a planting state.

The settlement at Old Town was organized under the title of the Cartcret County Colony, and representative government was established there in 1672. So was founded the commonwealth of South Carolina. It was known as a place where freedom was enjoyed, and emigrants flocked to it from England, Holland, and New York. They spread over the peninsula between the Ashley and another stream which they called the Cooper River, both so named in honor of Ashley Cooper, one of the proprietors. At Oyster Point, at the junction of three streams, on the verge of a fine harbor and in sight of the sea, they laid the foundations of a capital city for the province eight or ten years later, and named it Charles Town (Charleston) in compliment to the king. Old Town was abandoned, and the new village flourished. Very soon thriving settlements were seen along the Santee and Edisto Rivers; and the region between the Ashley and Cooper-the Ke-a-wah and E-ti-wan of the Indians-became quite populous with industrious inhabitants.

We have observed that it was designed to establish a great empire in the region of the Carolinas. It was deemed proper to devise a scheme of government commensurate with that grand idea. To Sir Ashley Cooper, and the philosopher John Locke, was entrusted the task of framing a constitution. Cooper was then about forty-seven years of age, and in the full maturity of his genius and power. He was of an old and wealthy family, and connected with some of the most distinguished members of the English aristocracy. He was now a royalist of the strictest pattern. A few years later (1672), he was elevated to the peerage as Earl of Shaftesbury, and made Lord High Chancellor of England. Locke was much younger-only thirty-four-but was a more profound thinker than Cooper, and was already famous as a philosopher. He was a tutor of Cooper's son. His views of government were consonant with those of his friend, the statesman and courtier. Neither of these men was fitted for the task of framing an acceptable constitution for the government of a free people, and the magnificent scheme which they prepared, with the title of "Fundamental Constitutions," was entirely inconsistent with the condition and circumstances of the American colonists. It was the production chiefly of the brain and hand of Locke, it is believed, and was perfected in 1669. For purposes of settlement, the proposed constitution provided for dividing the vast domain into counties, each to contain four hundred and eighty thousand acres. These lands were to be distributed in five equal parts, one-fifth to remain the inalienable property of the proprietors; another fifth the inalienable property of two orders of nobility, namely, landgraves or earls, and caciques or barons, one of the former and two of the latter belonging to each county; and the remaining three-fifths to belong to "the peoples," that is to say, farmers and lords of manors, the latter having no prescriptive legislative powers, but exercising judicial functions on their respective domains, in baronial courts. The number of the nobility was not to be increased nor diminished, the places of those who should not leave heirs, to be supplied by election. It gave to every freeman of Carolina absolute power over his negro slaves; and tenants, cultivating small quantities of land, were not only to be denied political franchises of any kind, but were serfs of the soil, and under the jurisdiction of their lord, without appeal; and all their children were to endure the same social degradation "to all generations."

When that elaborate constitution, which provided for titles, and classes, and aristocratic distinctions in America, was submitted to the people of the Carolinas, they rejected it as absurd in its details. They had made judicious laws for their own government, were satisfied with their workings, and resolved to have nothing to do with the scheme of the proprietors. Under their own laws they built up flourishing colonies, inseparable in interests and aims, and so they remained over sixty years, when they were dismembered and formed the separate colonies of North and South Carolina.

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