The History of the Carolinas

About 1630, Sir Robert Heath was granted a tract embracing the Carolinas, but no settlements were made under the grant. The earliest emigrants came from Virginia about 1650. In 1663 the province of Carolina was granted to Lord Clarendon and seven others. The charter secured religious freedom and a voice in legislation to the people, but retained the main power and privilege in the hands of the proprietaries. In 1660 or 1661 a party of New-Englanders settled on Cape Fear River near Wilmington. The settlement was soon abandoned, on account of Indian hostilities, but a permanent colony was established in the same locality in 1665, by a party of planters from Barbadoes.

The charter of the proprietaries embraced the whole region from Virginia to Florida, and in 1670 a colony was planted on the Ashley River, in the South Carolina region, which was known as the Carteret County Colony, on the site of Old Charleston. Slaves from Barbadoes were soon introduced, Dutch settlers came from New Netherland, then recently taken by the English, and afterwards from Holland, a colony of Huguenot refugees from France was sent out by the King of England, and the new settlement prospered. In 1680 the city of Charleston was founded, and was at once declared the capital of the province. The growth of the settlements in North Carolina was less rapid, many of the colonists removing south, while domestic dissensions retarded prosperity.

The most interesting feature attending the colonization of the province of Carolina, however, was the remarkable system of government devised, at the request of the proprietaries, by the celebrated English philosopher John Locke. Made in the retirement of his study, and based upon conditions of society utterly unlike those of the thinly-settled wilderness of America, Locke's scheme was absurdly unsuited to the purpose designed, while its autocratic character was entirely out of accordance with the democratic sentiments of the settlers. As a strenuous effort, however, was made to carry out the provisions of this magnificently-absurd "Grand Model" of government, we may give its leading features, as epitomized by Hugh Williamson in his "History of North Carolina."]

As it was to be expected that a great and fertile province would become the residence of a numerous and powerful body of people, the lords proprietors thought fit in the infant state of these colonies to establish a permanent form of government. Their object, as they expressed themselves, was "to make the government of Carolina agree, as nearly as possible, to the monarchy of which it was a part, and to avoid erecting a numerous democracy." Lord Ashley, one of the proprietors, who was afterwards created Earl of Shaftesbury, a man of fine talents, was requested by the proprietors to prepare a form of government; but he availed himself of the abilities of John Locke, the celebrated philosopher and metaphysician, who drew up a plan, consisting of one hundred and twenty articles or fundamental constitutions, of which this is but one:

Carolina shall be divided into counties. Each county shall consist of eight signiories, eight baronies, and four precincts. Each precinct shall consist of six colonies. Each signiory, barony, or colony shall consist of twelve thousand acres. The signiories shall be annexed unalienably to the proprietors; the baronies, to the nobility; and the precincts, being three-fifths of the whole, shall remain to the people..

Locke's governmental scheme never took root in Carolina. It was a government of theory, not the result of a natural growth, as all persistent government must be, and was utterly unsuited to the conditions of a thinly-settled colony inhabiting a wilderness and composed of persons little disposed to submit to regulations more aristocratic than those from which they had emigrated. The plain and simple laws under which the colonists had previously lived were suited to their circumstances, while the "great model," with its nobles, palatines, and other grand officers, was in ridiculous contrast with the actually existing condition of sparse population, rude cabins, and pioneer habits. A strong effort was made to establish it, but the people effectually resisted, and, after twenty years of contest, Locke's constitution, which had simply kept the country in a state of discord, was voluntarily abrogated by the proprietaries.

Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 1)