Here’s an excerpt from Creating and Contesting Carolina which explains the origins of South Carolina and the culture it spawned across the Deep South from the Atlantic to East Texas:
“The Carolina colony was founded amidst a flurry of Barbadian expansion projects in the 1650s and 1660s. Nationalist approaches have situated the colony within the context of the area that eventually formed the United States. At its inception, however, South Carolina was part of a Caribbean world. Imperial rivalries and economic, demographic and political forces in the early English Caribbean dictated the settlement of the Carolina colony. Most of its principal architects drew on their experiences in settling and cultivating the English Caribbean, envisioning the colony as a satellite to their Caribbean world. To better understand the impetus for the settlement of Carolina, its initial failures, and its ultimate survival, the story of early Carolina needs a broader Atlantic framework. The capital that fueled the exploration and settlement of the Carolinas drew heavily on the fantastic wealth being generated in the sugar islands, and the leaders of the Carolina adventure envisioned the colony as a satellite to their Caribbean world. …”
Read the whole thing.
I hate the way American history is taught in our public schools. It artificially places the South in a narrative of an inevitable American nationalism. New England, of course, is at the center of the narrative. In reality, South Carolina was an extension of the British West Indies and originally it had nothing at all to do with the Puritan religious utopia being built in New England. It was an offshoot of Barbados.
In a series of stages, the Barbadians also successfully spread their plantation civilization to the Leeward Islands, Windward Islands and Jamaica in the Caribbean which never became part of the United States. They colonized Suriname on the coast of South America until they were run out by the Dutch after the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667. In fact, it was only after their failure to settle nearby Suriname and St. Lucia that the Barbadians turned their attention to settling South Carolina.
This story along with virtually everything else that is interesting about our past has been airbrushed out of our historical memory. The Deep South as a culture only makes sense when you think of it not as the southern most part of the United States, but as the far northern tier of the Greater Caribbean.
Here’s a story that is never taught to children in American classrooms: it is the story of where the Southern people came from, who never landed on Plymouth Rock, who never celebrated “Thanksgiving” with Squanto and the Indians and who never came here to “celebrate diversity” or because their ancestors believed in utopian ideas like “racial equality” or building a “City on a Hill.” This is the true story of how “the master race,” the South’s aspiring slave lords and aristocrats, came from England to Barbados only to later venture out from their cultural hearth in the Caribbean and wash up on the beach on the coast of the South Atlantic where they laid the foundation of Dixie by building Charleston.
The following excerpt is from Colin Woodard’s book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Regional Rival Cultures of North America which was quite thought provoking and inspired a lot of research in spite of being written from the perspective of a New England Yankee:
“The founding fathers of the Deep South arrived by sea, their ships dropping anchor off what is now Charleston in 1670 and 1671. Unlike their counterparts in Tidewater, Yankeedom, New Netherland, and New France, they had not come directly from Europe. Rather, they were the sons and grandsons of the founders of an older English colony: Barbados, the richest and most horrifying society in the English-speaking world.
The society they founded in Charleston did not seek to replicate rural English manor life or to create a religious utopia in the American wilderness. Instead, it was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity. Enormously profitable to those who controlled it, this unadulterated slave society would spread rapidly across the lowlands of what is now South Carolina, overwhelming the utopian colony of Georgia and spawning the dominant culture of Mississippi, lowland Alabama, the Louisiana delta country, Eastern Texas and Arkansas, western Tennessee, north Florida, and the southeastern portion of North Carolina. From the outset Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.
In the late seventeenth century, Barbados was the oldest, richest, and most densely populated colony of British North America. Wealth and power were concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy of acquisitive, ostentatious plantation owners. These great planters had earned a reputation throughout the British Empire for immorality, arrogance, and excessive displays of wealth. Founder John Dickinson later dismissed them as “cruel people … a few lords vested with despotic power over myriad vassals supported in pomp by their slavery.” Another visitor declared, “For sumptuous homes, clothes, and liberal entertainment, they cannot be exceeded by the Mother Kingdom itself.” Said a third, “The gentry here doth live far better than do ours in England.” They bought knighthoods and English estates for themselves, sent their children to English boarding schools, and filled their homes with the latest and most expensive furnishings, fashions, and luxury goods. …
This was the culture that spawned Charleston and, by extension, the Deep South. Unlike the other European colonies of the North American mainland, South Carolina was a slave society from the outset. Established by a group of Barbadian planters, “Carolina in ye West Indies” was, by its very founding charter, a preserve of the West Indian slave lords. Written by John Locke, the charter provided that a planter would be given 150 acres for every servant or slave he brought to the colony; soon a handful of Barbadians owned much of the land in lowland South Carolina, creating an oligarchy worthy of the slaves states of ancient Greece. The leading planters brought in enormous numbers of slaves, so many that they almost immediately formed a quarter of the colony’s population. The slaves were put to work cultivating rice and indigo for export to England, a trade that made the large planters richer than anyone in the colonial empire save their counterparts in the West Indies. By the eve of the American Revolution, per capita wealth in the Charleston area would reach a dizzying 2,338 pounds, more than quadruple that of Tidewater and almost six times higher than that of either New York or Philadelphia. The vast majority of this wealth was concentrated in the hands of South Carolina’s ruling families, who controlled most of the land, trade, and slaves. The wealthy were extraordinarily numerous, comprising a quarter of the white population at the end of the colonial period. “We are a country of gentry,” one resident proclaimed in 1773; “We have no such thing as a Common People among us.” Of course, this statement ignored the lower three quarters of the white population and the enslaved black majority, who by that time comprised 80 percent of the lowland population. …
Not wishing to idle away their time on their sweltering plantations, the planters built themselves a city where they could enjoy the finer things in life. Charleston – “Charles Town” until the revolution – quickly became the wealthiest town on the eastern seaboard. It resembled Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, with its fine townhouses painted in pastel colors, adorned with tiled roots and piazzas and built along streets covered in crushed seashells. Unlike Williamsburg or St. Mary’s City, Charleston was a vibrant city, for the planters spent as much time there as possible, leaving the day-to-day management of their estates to hired overseers. They filled their city with distractions: theaters; punch houses; taverns; brothels; cock-fighting rings; private clubs for smoking, dining, drinking, and horse racing; and shops stocked with fashionable imports from London. Like the nouveaux riches everywhere, they were fixated on acquiring appropriate status symbols and followed the latest fashions and customs of the English gentry with a dedication that startled visitors. “Their whole lives are one continued race,” one resident wrote, “in which everyone is endeavoring to distance all behind them and to overtake and pass all before him.”
Like Tidewater’s aristocracy, many of the planters had ancestors who had fought for the king in the English Civil War, and they embraced the trappings and symbolism of the British nobility, if not the social responsibilities that were supposed to attend them. Thrilled by the end of Puritan rule at home, they hand named Carolina and Charleston for the restored king, Charles II. The Barbadian-born aristocracy trumpted their genetic association with English knights and nobles by displaying coats of arms on their imported French porcelain. These often including the heraldic symbol for a younger son: a crescent moon tilted with the horns to the wearer’s right. This device was later incorporated into the South Carolinian flag and worn as an emblem on the uniforms of its revolutionary-era military forces, loyalist and rebel alike.
While not particularly religious, the planters embraced the Anglican Church as another symbol of belonging to the establishment. Locke’s charter for the colony had guaranteed freedom of religion – Sephardic Jews and French Huguenots emigrated to the region in great numbers – but the elite overturned these provisions in 1700, giving themselves a monopoly on church and state offices. Their Anglican religious orientation also gave the Deep South elite unfettered access to London high society and the great English universities and boarding schools, milieus generally denied to Puritans, Quakers, and other dissenters. Whether English or French in origin, the Deep South’s planters would also come to embrace the Tidewater gentry’s notion of being descended of the aristocratic Normans, lording over their colony’s crass Anglo-Saxon and Celtic underclass. …
By the middle of the eighteenth century, black people faced Barbardian-style slave laws everywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line.
In the Deep South, African Americans formed a parallel culture, one whose separateness was enshrined in the laws and fundamental values of the nation’s white minority. Indeed, the Deep South was for at least three centuries from 1670 to 1970 a caste society. And caste, it should be noted, is quite a different thing from class. People can and do leave the social class they are born into – either through hard work or tragedy – and can marry someone of another class and strive for their children to start life in a better position than they did. A caste is something one is born into and can never leave, and one’s children will be irrevocably assigned to it at birth. Marriage outside of one’s caste is strictly forbidden. So while the Deep South had rich whites and poor whites and rich and poor blacks, no amount of wealth would allow a black person to join the master caste. The system’s fundamental rationale was that blacks were inherently inferior, a lower form of organism incapable of higher thought and emotion and savage in behavior. Although presented into service as wet nurses, cooks, and nannies, blacks were regarded as “unclean,” with Deep Southern whites maintaining a strong aversion to sharing dishes, clothes, and social spaces with them. For at least three hundred years, the greatest taboo in the Deep South was to marry across caste lines or for black men to have white females as lovers, for the caste system could not survive if the races began to mix. Even the remotest suspicion of violating the Great Deep Southern Taboo would result in death for a black male.”
I could argue that one of the most important things to grasp about colonial America is that all the radical religious sects who were alienated from mainstream English culture – the Pilgrims (English Separatists), the Puritans (revolutionaries within the Church of England) and the Quakers – who came to America because of religious freedom reasons settled at the North.
In stark contrast, all the normal people who were within the mainstream of English society in the 17th century who tended to be West Country Anglicans and who were motivated by simply bettering themselves and their descendants settled at the South and the Caribbean. This is why New England has always been the most bigoted part of the country why the South has been more carefree, easy going and tolerant. Southerners have never taken themselves as seriously as Yankees.
The reason that the Scots-Irish fled Pennsylvania to the South to settle Greater Appalachia is because they couldn’t live among overbearing Yankees. The same is still true today.
The pastels in Charleston have a major Caribbean vibe for a reason.
America’s abhorrence of miscegenation, its social conservatism and authoritarianism, its resistance to wild utopian abstract ideologies and the fanatics and enthusiasts drawn to these sects, the aristocratic elements of the Constitution like the Senate and Electoral College, its imperial impulse to expand to the Pacific and especially its strong and peculiar sense of White racial identity … all of that was due to the legacy of the culture of Deep South and Tidewater within the United States.
New York City’s contribution to America was the spirit of commercialism and materialism which was modeled on Amsterdam. Pennsylvania’s contribution was radical egalitarianism and tolerance of religious minorities. New England’s contribution was democracy and the language of abstract rights. The Scots-Irish contribution was the “Don’t Tread on Me” spirit of Appalachia which they brought from Scotland and Ulster. The Scots-Irish are also largely responsible for the Southern strains of libertarianism, egalitarianism and radical individualism that inflect our composite culture.
Southern culture is a mixture of its three founding cultures: the Scots-Irish Backcountry, the Tidewater Cavaliers and the Carolina Chivalry. Northern culture is similarly a mixture of its three founding cultures: the New Amsterdam commercial entrepot the Yankee Puritans, and the Pennsylvania Quakers. Here in the South, these three cultures blended together over time, especially as they migrated West. Thus, Alabama was settled by Virginia and Carolina planters who migrated to the Black Belt, as well as Scots-Irish farmers in the Hill Country who often became slaveowners and planters themselves. Look no further than President Andrew Jackson and Sen. John C. Calhoun who were of Scots-Irish ancestry.
“Americanism” is the schizophrenic sum of these six founding cultures struggling with a failing liberal paradigm. Much of the racial animosity in this country is due to the Northern cultures attempting to establish their hegemony within the Union over their rival Southern and Western cultures by forming alliances on the basis of identity politics with the blacks and Hispanics to control Washington.
Note: While this is all highly fascinating to read about, I would caution you there is no reason to get mad about history. We live in the 21st century and slavery hasn’t existed here in over 150 years. In order to understand the present though, I believe we have to understand our past because in order to understand really anything you need to explore its history.