As we have explained at length, South Carolina was the cultural hearth of the Deep South and it was itself a colony of Barbados. The Barbadian settlers set out to build a Slave Society in South Carolina from the outset in which prosperity was the meaning of “liberty.” Initially, they enslaved the local Indians, but by 1710 blacks had replaced Indians as the workforce on the emerging plantations.
The following excerpt comes from Withrop D. Jordan’s excellent book White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812:
“By contrast, in the Carolinas Negro slavery was deliberately planted and cultivated. In the 1660’s a group of enterprising gentlemen in Barbados, well acquainted with perpetual slavery, proposed removal with some Negroes to the new mainland colony; their agreement with the proprietors in England clearly distinguished between white servants and Negro slaves. Barbadian influence remained strong in South Carolina throughout the seventeenth century. The establishment of slavery in the Carolinas was the more easily accomplished because after 1660 traditional controls over master-servant relations were breaking down rapidly in England itself. Since the state in England was abdicating some of its traditional responsibilities for overseeing the relationship between landlords and tenants at home, it felt little solicitude for the relations between planters and Negroes in far-off plantations. Besides, a good supply of sugar was enough to bury any questions about its production. It was a telling measure of how far this process had advanced in the English-speaking world that the famous Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669) should have granted each freemen of the colony “absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion or religion soever.” English civil authorities offered little or no resistance to the growth of this new idea of uncontrolled personal dominion in the colonies; they knew perfectly well what was going on and were inclined to welcome it, for, as the Council for Foreign Plantations exclaimed happily in 1664, “Blacks [are] the most useful appurtenances of a Plantation and perpetual servants.” For their part, the planters demanded that their legislative assemblies regulate Negro slavery, but what they wanted and got was unfettering of their personal power over their slaves and the force of the state to back it up. In the 1690s the South Carolina Assembly borrowed from the already mature slave code of Barbados in an effort to maintain control over the growing masses of slaves. Negroes were given virtually none of the protections accorded white servants, protections which were in fact designed to encourage immigration of white men to counterbalance the influx of Negroes. A requirement that “all slaves shall have convenient clothes, once every year,” the only right accorded slaves by an act of 1690, was dropped in 1696. Perhaps it would have comforted slaves had they known that anyone killing a slave “cruelly or willfully” (death or dismemberment during punishment specifically excepted) was liable to a fine of five hundred pounds. By the end of the seventeenth century the development of rice plantations and the Barbadian example had combined to yield in South Carolina the most rigorous deprivation of freedom to exist in institutionalized form anywhere in the English continental colonies.”
South Carolina wasn’t founded to be anything like New England.
It was a colony of Barbados and a cultural extension of the British West Indies. No one came to South Carolina to create a “Holy Experiment” like in Pennsylvania or a “City on a Hill” like in New England. Instead, the goal was merely to become wealthy through cash crop agriculture. The cultural model of plantation slavery, racialism and white supremacy had also already been pioneered in Barbados. South Carolinians were also Anglicans whereas the Puritans were Congregationalists.
As Winthrop points out, the White men in South Carolina were given “absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion or religion soever” from the outset. South Carolina was also notable for establishing “the most rigorous deprivation of freedom to exist in institutionalized form anywhere in the English continental colonies.” In other words, the founders of South Carolina created an authoritarian society much like the one they left behind in the British West Indies.
Here’s an excerpt from Jack Bass and W. Scott Poole’s book 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.
Locke had written his document of governance for his patron, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, who emerged as the leader of the colonization effort as one of eight entrepreneurial English aristocrats. Known as the Lord Proprietors, all had loyally supported Charles II in his days of war and exile. As a reward after the Restoration, Charles gave them a grant of land that would be named “Carolina” after “Carolus,” the Latin version of his name …
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 Africa 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.”
The Cooper River and Ashley River in South Carolina which empty into Charleston Harbor are both named after Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who was one of the Lords Proprietors of South Carolina. As the founder of the Whig Party, Cooper was the patron of John Locke and was himself one of the most important figures in English politics in his day.
Today, we can trace the origins of American liberalism back to Anthony Ashley Cooper and John Locke and the Whig Party in the aftermath of the Restoration in England, but in their time Locke wrote a draft of the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina which established racialism, white supremacy and plantation slavery in the colony. Both Cooper and Locke were investors in the Royal Africa Company which dominated the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th century and Cooper was also the owner of a slave plantation in Barbados. Interestingly enough, Carolina was named after King Charles II who was strongly supported by Cooper, but Locke’s propaganda was later used to justify the overthrow of his brother King James II in the Glorious Revolution which brought about the end of the Stuart dynasty.
Over the course of the next several decades, rice plantations were developed in the South Carolina Lowcountry which were dominated by black slaves who had replaced Indians in the workforce. In 1739, the worst slave rebellion in colonial America broke out in South Carolina.
Bass and Poole continue:
“In September 1739 resistance reached its apex with the Stono Rebellion. A group of about twenty African slaves seized weapons near the western branch of the Stono River south of Charleston and began a march they hoped would take them to the safety of Florida. As their numbers grew, the Africans made no attempt to hide themselves. Martial tunes played on captured fife and drums joined with shouts of “Liberty!”
Leaving a swath of destruction and violence in their wake, the Africans burned and plundered plantations, taverns, and shops. Whites were killed with little regard for age or gender, but at least two were spared because of their reputation for kindness to slaves.
In a dramatic moment the carriage of Lieutenant Governor William Bull crossed paths with the insurrectionists. Bull ordered his driver to get him back to Charleston posthaste, where he called out all available white militia. The white militia and the rebels fought a pitched battle near Jacksonborough, between Charleston and Beaufort. The better-armed and better-trained militia defeated and captured many of the slaves. Roughly forty whites and sixty blacks died in the melee. Others escaped in groups into the woods, where they continued to harass outlying white settlements for many months.
White response to the rebellion proved swift and brutal. Travelers on the Old Post Road between Charleston and Beaufort (U.S. Highway 17 essentially follows this route today) would have seen the heads of the rebels placed on pikes up and down the route.
Many scholars view the Stono Rebellion as a significant turning point in South Carolina’s history. The “Negro Act” of 1740 significantly narrowed the lives of African slaves while encouraging white planters to follow a policy that combined paternalism and repression. This method of control characterized white supremacy in South Carolina into the mid-twentieth century.”
In the Stono Rebellion, black slaves rose up and killed their White masters in the name of “Liberty,” and the Whites responded to their appeal to natural rights by killing them and mounting the heads of the rebels on pikes on the Old Post Road between Charleston and Beaufort.
How did the American Revolution come about in South Carolina? Why would a Slave Society declare its independence from the British Empire in the name of liberty and natural rights? What motivated South Carolina to ratify the United States Constitution and join the Union? This is one of the most fascinating topics in Southern history and it is one we will be exploring in depth shortly.