Editor’s Note: I feel like taking a look at early colonial South Carolina this morning. I expect the concept of “Greater Appalachia,” which covers the Scots-Irish expansion through Appalachia, the Upper South, the Ozarks and down into Texas, is more familiar than “Greater Caribbean” which covers the Barbadian expansion across the British West Indies to South Carolina and from there the spread of this culture across the Gulf Coastal Plain and the Lower South to Texas.
The following excerpt comes from Justin Roberts and Ian Beamish’s “The Barbadian Diaspora and the Carolina Colony, 1650-1685” in Creating and Contesting Carolina: Proprietary Histories:
“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. The peculiar history of New England, which was settled by disgruntled Separatists and Puritans, is at the center of the narrative. In reality, South Carolina was a Caribbean colony founded by mainstream English Anglican settlers and originally had nothing to do with the Puritan experiment in New England. It was an offshoot of Barbados.
The Barbadians also successfully spread their plantation civilization from the hearth in Barbados 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 has been airbrushed out of our historical memory. The Deep South which looks like an aberation in the United States only makes sense when you think of it as the far northern tier of the Greater Caribbean. The mainland was only separated from the island colonies after South Carolina and Georgia participated in and won their independence during the American Revolution.
Here’s another excerpt from Matthew Mulcahy’s book Hubs of Empire: The Southeastern Lowcountry and British Caribbean:
“The English Men – and it was almost exclusively men at first – who ventured to the Caribbean in the early seventeenth century came in search of riches. As the historian Richard Dunn remarked, these early adventurers “did not attempt calypso-style Holy Experiments, nor did they build palm-fringed Cities on a Hill.” Neither religious persecution nor the desire to establish new, model societies motivated the majority of the colonists. That is not to say that religion played no role in the development of English colonies in the Caribbean, but there is little doubt that the search for individual wealth occupied a particularly prominent place in the minds of these men. As one early visitor stated, colonists “came here in order to be wealthy.”
Colonists in Barbados and the Leeward Islands pinned their initial hopes for riches on tobacco. They gradually cleared the land, built up farms, grew provision crops along with tobacco for export, and used the profits to purchase more and more indentured servants. Tobacco provided solid, if unspectacular profits for several years, but prices dropped in the 1630s and colonists began to search for other crops that could generate revenue. Beginning in the 1640s, a few planters in Barbados learned the secrets of making sugar from the Dutch in Brazil, and within a few decades the island had become an economic juggernaut …”
I went ahead and bought the book on Palmetto Patriot’s recommendation.
This is a profound statement when you think about it. The English who settled the Caribbean “came here in order to be wealthy.” The motivation of the founding of the Southern and Caribbean colonies was economic prosperity, not escaping from religious persecution. As Mulcahy explains, it started with the pirates like Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh who sailed the Caribbean in order to loot the Spanish Main and search for the riches of El Dorado. It progressed from there to establishing colonies on the fringes of Spanish America in order to grow tobacco. When that proved unprofitable due to competition with the superior tobacco crop grown in the Chesapeake, the Caribbean colonists switched to sugar.
As we saw in Pursuits of Happiness, New England was a great outlier in British America. Most of the other British colonies were founded by mainstream Englishmen. By mainstream Englishmen, we mean the colonists were highly individualistic and materialistic like England itself was at the time. They were secular and commercially oriented people. Eventually, the Anglican Church became the established church in all of the “Greater Caribbean” colonies of the Lower South and West Indies.
There was no grand idealistic moral purpose behind these colonies. They weren’t established to promote universal liberty and equality or to save and inspire the world. Quite the opposite. The local Indians were enslaved, exterminated or deported to Caribbean sugar plantations. African slaves were imported to work as a labor force on sugar and rice plantations. The idea was to make as much money as possible so that one day you could return to England, join the country gentry and live in a mansion and maybe serve in Parliament. These people didn’t have any qualms about “racism” or “human rights” which were concepts that were only invented much later and which were not part of their culture.
This was the culture the Barbadians brought to South Carolina. I’ve never believed in “American Exceptionalism.” I’ve always known that I didn’t care about being part of any “City on a Hill.” I don’t feel any sense of White guilt either. All the moralizing about “racism” leaves me feeling flat. I knew intuitively that it wasn’t part of my traditional culture long before I could explain why I felt that way. MacDonald King Aston explains that morally speaking we are an honor culture, not a guilt culture.
Genetically speaking, it is not in our nature to be paralyzed by guilt over modern day sins like racism, sexism, nativism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc., etc. I’m laughing just typing that out because I realize it is nothing but the latest example of the long established tendency of Yankees to universalize and project their own culture on to foreigners. Unlike New England, the Greater Caribbean wasn’t founded as a Covenant based society. We don’t have any history of fanatically thought policing our neighbors or yearning for “moral perfection.”
Here’s an excerpt from Jack Bass and W. Scott Poole’s The Palmetto State: The Making of Modern South Carolina:
“South Carolina developed as the only English colony in North America where slavery had been entrenched from the very beginning. Although the earlier colonists of Virginia had first experimented with slavery early in the seventeenth century, it was the hard- and high-living English planters on the Caribbean island of Barbados who perfected the oppressive system of chattel slavery in the 1630s. Their system became the model for the Carolina settlement, and sons of Barbadian planter families – seeking new lands and new staple crops – became a significant part of the original Charles Town settlement ..,
Most of the Lords Proprietors already had strong Caribbean connections. Ashley Cooper, in addition to a Caribbean plantation, also held a financial interest in the Royal African Company, the major English financial concern involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Moreover some of South Carolina’s most prominent families, including the Draytons and the Middletons, can trace their lineage directly to Barbadian settlers. The first Africans in the colony had been slaves in Barbados. Some historians refer to South Carolina as “the colony of a colony” because of the strong Barbadian influence. Barbadian architectural influence is also found in Charleston, especially the single houses – a single room wide with their downstairs and upstairs piazzas, or porches, to catch the breezes.”
We’ve discussed this at length.
Just as Yankees settled New Hampshire and the rest of New England from their cultural hearth in Massachusetts, South Carolina was founded by culture bearing settlers who spread their plantation civilization out from their cultural hearth in Barbados who had already spread their culture across the Leeward Islands and to Jamaica.
Paul M. Pressly’s book On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World discusses how migrating South Carolina planters took over Georgia – “Colonial Georgia was West Indian rather than North American.” Adam Rothman’s Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South shows how this culture spread west into Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana with the expansion of the Cotton Kingdom in the early 19th century.
Cuckold Point? I’ve read elsewhere that disobedient slaves were subjected to something called the “cucking stool.”
The Barbados Slave Act of 1661 swept through the Greater Caribbean and became the model slave code for South Carolina and eventually the other Southern colonies:
“Colonists in Barbados responded to the growing number of enslaved Africans by drafting a comprehensive slave act in 1661. Early colonists had created a number of laws dealing with indentured servants, but the slave act represented a new and harsher system of control, one for which no English precedents existed. The preamble manifested the prevailing attitudes toward Africans, labeling them “an heathenish, brutish and uncertaine, dangerous kinde of people,” before moving on to specific regulations. By law, masters had complete control over the lives of their slaves. They could punish slaves as they saw fit; there was no consequence for killing slaves while punishing them, and only a fine for outright murder. Slaves who physically assaulted any “Christian” faced a series of draconian penalties, ranging from branding to having their noses slit, and ultimately, to death. Planters did not extend the English tradition of trial by jury to the slaves. Instead, a committee composed of two justices of the peace and three freeholders passed judgment. Rebels and suspected rebels were tried by court-martial.
The 1661 Barbados law served as the model, directly or indirectly, for slave laws in other colonies throughout the region. Colonists in Jamaica copied it extensively in 1661 but added new language, including clauses concerning runaways and slave provision grounds, when they revised the law twenty years later. The 1684 Jamaican law, in turn, provided the model for colonists in South Carolina who adopted it almost word for word when they passed a slave law in 1691. Colonists in Antigua drew on the Barbados and Jamaica laws when they drafted their slave act in 1697. …”
A few points need to be made here:
- First, it is beyond clear that the Greater Caribbean wasn’t based on Lockean liberalism. In Barbados, a slave could legally be murdered by his master, so there unquestionably wasn’t any universal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness there. This is fascinating because John Locke himself drafted South Carolina’s original constitution which established the colony as a full blown Slave Society.
- Second, it hard to imagine a society less based on the liberal tradition as defined by Jeffrey Tucker and FEE.org than the Greater Caribbean. It was a capitalist society without being a liberal one.
- Third, there was a tradition of “liberty” in the Greater Caribbean. It wasn’t abstract or universalist though. Instead, it was the idea that English liberty followed English subjects overseas like the English flag. This is why the English could boast about “liberty” while simultaneously creating Slave Societies because “liberty” was an extension of their own culture and traditions rather than some preposterous abstract system.
Specifically, I want to learn more about “liberty” as it was understood in Britain, the British West Indies and the Southern colonies and it how it related to slavery. That’s where my research is going.
The cult of Americanism holds that the Lower South shares a common origin (the Mayflower, Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims, etc.) with the Yankee colonies in New England. It is not even remotely true though. You won’t learn about the origins of the Deep South (why do children in Dixie learn about multicultural Yankees celebrating Thanksgiving?) in American history textbooks in the public school system. The culture of the Deep South was spawned in Barbados, a very different animal with classical authoritarian impulses, and spread up through the British Antilles to the South Carolina Lowcountry:
The following excerpt comes from Walter B. Edgar’s book South Carolina: A History:
“English adventurers established colonies on the Lesser Antilles islands of St. Christopher, Barbados, and Nevis during the 1620s. While St. Christopher, which England shared with France, was settled first, (1624), Barbados (1627) would become the cultural hearth, the model for the rest of the English West Indies – and South Carolina.
On Barbados between 1640 and 1670 there evolved a powerful local culture whose institutions, with some slight alteration, would be re-created throughout the English-speaking Caribbean and along the South Carolina coast. “South Carolina and the Lower South culture that developed out of those small beginnings,” writes a modern historian, “was as much the offspring of Barbados as was Jamaica or the other English Caribbean colonies.” South Carolina, then, arose from a different cultural tradition than the colonies of New England and the Chesapeake….
During the 1640s sugar cane from Brazil was introduced into Barbados. Within twenty years the entire nature of the colony was dramatically altered. There seemed to be an insatiable worldwide demand for sugar as well as its by-products, rum and molasses. The price of land skyrocketed. Smaller planters were bought out and tenant farmers pushed off the land, White indentured servants were replaced by African slaves. A small, fantastically wealthy elite emerged that dominated the colony….
Supplying the labor that produced this wealth were thousands of Africans. Initially the labor on the island was performed primarily by young white males. However, as white labor costs remained high and white laborers were difficult to manage, Barbadians soon turned to the Brazilian model of African slavery….
In 1638, before the introduction of sugar cane, two hundred enslaved Africans were only about 3 percent of the population; fourteen years later there were twenty thousand and they outnumbered whites….
In 1663 a group calling themselves the Barbadian Adventurers commissioned William Hilton to explore the Caroline coast….
A company of Barbadians, led by John Vassall, established Charles Town on the Cape Fear River….”
In one of the great flukes of history, South Carolina and Georgia were separated by the American Revolution – or more accurately, by the Royal Navy – from the six other British Caribbean colonies with whom we shared a common origin, culture and domestic institutions.
In another geopolitical fluke of history, the obvious fear and self interest in maintaining independence from Great Britain and predatory European powers forced us into a closer Union with the New England states, an unnatural association whether in terms of culture or economic self interest which over time has proved to be a source of far more conflict than the British yoke we had escaped from in 1783.
The following excerpt comes Paul M. Pressly’s book On the Rim of the Caribbean: Colonial Georgia and the British Atlantic World:
“The plantation complex that stretched from Brazil to the Lower South sank deep roots into Georgia’s soil within a very short period of time. Philip D. Morgan went a step further when he asserted, “While lowcountry Georgia possessed the territorial extent of a mainland colony, it bore many of the features of a Caribbean island.” The culture and example of the sugar islands, especially those of the Lesser Antilles, exercised a profound influence over the province. As Jack Greene argued, slavery in the lowcountry followed a model worked out in the sugar culture of Barbados. At the same time, the lowcountry developed its own distinctive features.”
Unlike South Carolina, Georgia was founded as a utopian colony for poor Whites. It was also envisioned as a geopolitical buffer state between South Carolina and Spanish Florida. Slavery was banned in Georgia from 1735 until 1750, but eventually it was assimilated to the South Carolina model.
Here are some excerpts from David Brion Davis’ book Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World which reiterate the narrative we have argued here for years that the Deep South is a cultural branch of the British West Indies and is part of the “Greater Caribbean.”
You won’t find this story taught in a single public school in the United States. Few college graduates are even aware of this. The South is the deviant region in America because it is a cultural extension of the race-based plantation societies of the British Caribbean:
“Given the way history is taught, few educated Americans realize that when the English were beginning to grow tobacco in Jamestown and Pilgrims were imposing order at Plymouth by cutting down a Maypole, other Englishmen were beginning to settle in St. Christopher (St. Kitts) (1624), Barbados (1627), Nevis (1628), and Montserrat and Antigua (1630s). They were closely followed by the French, who actually joined the English on St. Christopher in a surprise night attack on native Indians. The French proved more willing than the English to combat and push back the fierce Carib Indians on Guadeloupe and Martinique, though they took somewhat longer to turn to sugar. By 1655 England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell, who sent a large army to join pirates in seizing Jamaica from the Spaniards. A few years later the French occupied the western third of Santo Domingo, now named Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) Cromwell’s expedition had tried but failed to capture any part of Santo Domingo.”
The story of the Deep South begins in St. Kitts, Barbados, the Leeward Islands and continues with Oliver Cromwell’s conquest of Jamaica in 1655, and the development of these British colonies in the Caribbean into Slave Societies between the 1640s and 1690s:
“Barbados led the way in this economic and dietary revolution, and the first momentous change occurred in only three yesrs, from 1640 to 1643. There is a profound historical irony, or some might say evidence of God’s design, in the fact that the birth of Britain’s slave plantation economy in the West Indies coincided in time with Britain’s domestic civil war of the 1640s, in which radical religious groups challenged all forms of oppression and privilege, including private property, and established the theological foundation for the much later antislavery movements.”
Davis is referring to the Yankee Puritans and the Quakers here and “God’s design” that we ended up chained to these people in the United States. The normal mainstream Englishmen settled the South and the Caribbean while the dissenters settled Pennsylvania and New England. Later, the Scots-Irish and other European immigrants like the Germans poured into Pennsylvania and demographically took over the colony from the Quakers and made it much more sane:
“The population of Barbados still included some 20,000 whites, more than any British-American colony except Virginia and Massachusetts. But the small planter elite, in the words of historian Richard S. Dunn, “held the best land, sold the most sugar, and monopolized the best offices. In only one generation the planters had turned their small island into an amazingly effective sugar-production machine and had built a social structure to rival the tradition-encrusted hierarchy of old England.”
Barbados became the cultural hearth of the British West Indies as the culture bearers moved from island to island and eventually to the North American mainland in search of new land:
“Nevis, St. Christopher, Antigua, and other Leeward Islands to the north followed a similar pattern to that of Barbados, as did Jamaica, somewhat belatedly, a thousand miles to the west. Through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries an increasing number of plantation owners became “absentees,” living and spending in Britain, where a few Barbados planters were knighted or received baronetcies… Still, one should add that despite significant white emigration from Barbados to North America, where Barbadians played a decisive role in founding South Carolina in 1679-80, that island had fewer absentee planters than any of the other British West Indian colonies.”
In a cultural event that was equally significant to the arrival of the Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts, the islanders arrived on the Carolina in South Carolina and in subsequent waves of emigration:
“In the third distinct region, the Carolina and Georgia lowcountry, plantations modeled on the Caribbean prospered by producing rice and, for a briefer period, indigo, for the dying of textiles. By the late eighteenth century many planters turned to high grade “Sea Island” cotton along the coast. Then the perfection of the cotton gin gave a tremendous stimulus to the cultivation of short-staple cotton, which revolutionized the British and American textile industries and eventually spread westward from inland Georgia and South Carolina to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas.”
The cotton gin allowed the culture of the South Carolina and Georgia lowcountry to explode westward creating a culture of Slave Societies in the Cotton Kingdom around the Gulf Coast.
“To turn, then, to the history of the colonies north of the Chesapeake should first observe that no British founders of North American colonies, except for South Carolina, intended to create slave societies …
The far more conservative culture of the Deep South centered in South Carolina, which by 1690 had been partly settled by whites and black slaves from Barbados and in that year instituted a slave code adapted from Barbados.”
1690 was late in the game.
The South Carolina colonists transplanted the culture (the Barbados slave code) and economic system of the British West Indies (race-based plantation slavery) to the North American mainland. As we have already seen, Virginia would increasingly adopt the Barbados model of African slavery in the Chesapeake during the 1670s and 1680s after Bacon’s Rebellion and Pennsylvania was opened up and it would later spread to Georgia after the legalization of slavery in the 1750s and 1760s.
More here on the arrival of the Carolina from Barbados in 1670:
“The first English settlement in what is now called South Carolina was made in 1670, when William Sayle sailed up the Ashley River with three shiploads of English emigrants from Barbados and Bermuda. These settlers pitched their tents on its banks and built a town, which has since wholly disappeared.
The first ship to land in the second Charles Town was the Carolina, which landed in April of 1670. It was followed shortly by the Port Royal and the Three Brothers. These three ships had left Barbados with 150 people on board; two died enroute.
The original destination for the ships was Port Royal, further to the south. The Kiawah Indians in that area convinced the settlers that Charles Town was a better choice for farming, and the settlers observed that Charles Town was further away from the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine.
The Carolina reached land and anchored at Sewee Bay/Bull’s Island on March 17; Port Royal about March 21 and stayed 2 days; then to St. Helena; then to Kiawah, Ashley River, arriving early in April.
In 1671, Sir John Yeamans, the governor of the first Charles Town along the Cape Fear just four short years earlier, joined the second Charles Town colony, bringing with him about two hundred African slaves. …”
I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I suspect that the New England-centric narrative of the Mayflower and the total neglect of the founding of other hugely significant American cultures whether it is that of the Deep South or especially Greater Appalachia is no accident.
Note: Fortunately, we have plenty of time to correct this narrative and provide a more accurate account of American history.
Note: I bought Professor Newman’s book A New World of Labor at Monticello in Charlottesville. I had just started reading it this evening when I found this video. If you want to understand our origins in the Deep South, you have to understand how it all got started in Barbados.
It gets real good around 14:00. Professor Newman explains how the plantation complex expanded out of Barbados to the Leeward Islands to Jamaica and to South Carolina. From Charleston, it spread into the South Carolina Backcountry before it exploded west to Texas.