It has been a pleasure to read William A. Link’s Southern Crucible: The Making of an American Region which is a one volume history of the South for a general audience. It also comes in two volumes which carries Southern history to 1877 and down to the present day.
I’m sure that we have many readers who consider this website a fringe blog, but our understanding of American history is fully mainstream and is based on the latest cutting edge research. We have discussed topics here for a decade now that are shocking and unfamiliar to mainstream progressives and conservatives, but are old hat to our audience.
The following excerpts come from William A. Link’s Southern Crucible: The Making of an American Region:
“The Chesapeake’s legal and political system became especially geared toward the protection of slaveholders. Runaways, according to legislation of 1705 in Virginia, could be hunted down, caught, and dismembered, or even killed lawfully; the colony compensated masters. County courts authorized masters to cut off toes or feet of refractory slaves. Black people and Indians were explicitly prohibited from possessing political rights and were banned from voting or holding office. After 1692, slaves lost the right to jury trials; instead, special courts of oyer and terminer prosecuted slave crime. The legal system included safeguards against the threat of slave insurrection. Virginia, according to a contemporary, had a “great Number of disciplin’d and arm’d Militia, ready in Case of any sudden Irruption of Indians or Insurrection of Negroes.” Virginians restricted the physical mobility of slaves by requiring passes, and in 1738 introduced the patrol system, by which local whites maintained control over slaves’ physical freedom. The county courts could appoint a five-member patrol with sweeping powers to visit slave quarters and “other places suspected of entertaining unlawful assemblies of slaves, servants, or disorderly persons.” Slaves without passes could be arrested and whipped.”
This was the social order that was transplanted into Virginia and Maryland and was directly copied from Barbados after Bacon’s Rebellion. The Chesapeake didn’t start out that way. It didn’t become a Slave Society until the early 18th century. Previously, it had been a hierarchical and authoritarian society with slavery, but one composed largely of English planters and their workforce of indentured servants. It only later became a society based on plantation slavery.
“Originally colonized by the English in 1627, Barbados blazed the trail for future English plantation societies. In the early years of the colony, planters produced cotton, ginger, and tobacco on plantations whose labor force was mainly white indentured servants. Within twenty years, Barbados, along with English possessions in the Leeward Islands and Jamaica, had switched almost completely to sugar production. Unlike other crops, sugar required a large labor force and a heavier capital investment. Plantations became concentrated in fewer hands; the work was arduous, unpleasant, and dangerous, with very high mortality rates. White servants no longer provided enough labor, and planters turned to enslaved labor. During the 1660s, Barbados’s labor force became majority African; by 1700, the island’s population was three-quarters black. Meanwhile, landownership became more concentrated, and the number of farms declined from 11,200 in 1645 to 745 in 1667. The Barbadian sugar planters in the 1680s produced exports that were greater in value than the total exports of British North America.
The emergence of the sugar economy made Barbados, with a slave and black population of 50,000 in 1670 inhabiting 166 square miles, among the most densely populated places in the English Empire. While the number of slaves increased, the white population declined. Overpopulation spurred an exodus of the white population, which declined from about 30,000 in 1650 to about 16,000 in 1700. Barbados’s sugar planters were among the wealthiest people in British America. By 1680, 175 planters on the island owned more than sixty slaves. South Carolina’s connection to the Caribbean plantation culture proved crucial. Many of the immigrants to South Carolina came from the British West Indies, and, as important, the society organized itself along a Barbadian model with a slave-based economy, a hierarchical social system with large differences between rich and poor and the production of great wealth. In the early 1680s, perhaps two-fifths of South Carolina’s white population was Barbadian.”
Barbados was the most important cultural hearth of the South.
There was no such thing as the South though until after the American Revolution. This isn’t surprising because there was no such thing as the United States either until it won its independence. Previously, there had been 26 British colonies each with their own relationship with the Mother Country and only 13 of them were organized as the United States.
The South grew out of four cultural hearths – Barbados and the West Indies, the Chesapeake, the Carolina Lowcountry and Appalachia. The Carolina Lowcountry was a branch of Barbados and the West Indies. Virginia and Maryland adopted the Barbadian social order. Appalachia was long dominated within the Southern states by the Lowland South. The American Revolution cut off Barbados and the West Indies from the South, but in the colonial era the emerging South was far more influenced by the British Caribbean than it ever was by New England.
“The colonial assembly, recognizing the insurrection as a dire emergency, granted a broad amnesty to any whites who summarily executed slave rebels. In legislation enacted in 1740, South Carolina slaveholders imposed harsh new controls designed to prevent insurrection; these formed the slave code during the next century or so. Masters were required to monitor slaves’ physical mobility, enforced through a pass system, while slaves were banned from traveling in groups of larger than seven people without a white person present. Slaves’ assemblies were prohibited. The law regulated slave attire, prohibiting slaves from wearing any clothing that was “finer … or [of] greater value than Negro cloth, duffels, kerseys, osnabrigs, blue linen, check linen or coarse garlix, or calicoes, checked cottons, or Scotch plaids.” The law prohibited slaves from buying, selling, or bartering. Masters who taught their slaves to read and write could be fined twenty pounds.
As in Virginia, South Carolinians created separate courts to try slave crime. Slaves engaged in insurrection or murder of whites faced death sentences; those repeatedly guilty of assault or of grievously wounding their masters could also be executed. Free blacks harboring slave criminals and runaways faced punishment. The authors of the 1740 act were especially concerned about the urban slave population and selling items, thus attempting to close off their underground economy. Charles Town slaves were prohibited from buying “anything to sell again, or to sell anything upon their own account.” Tavern keepers were banned from selling alcoholic beverages to slaves. …
Charles Town housed many of South Carolina’s Lowcountry planters, the richest social group in the world by the middle of the eighteenth century. Planters fled their plantations during the fever seasons between May and November; they returned when the frosts killed the mosquitoes. But the planter presence in Charles Town defined the shape of the urban community. Planter homes in the city became symbols of conspicuous consumption. They were filled with furniture, silverware, glassware, jewelry, and artwork from around the world. Madeira wine and punch were the “common Drinks of the Inhabitants,” wrote one visitor. This observer noted that upper-class women were more temperate, drinking more water, which he described as “very unwholesome.”
As in the Chesapeake, the Carolina Lowcountry became a Slave Society in the early 18th century. It also adopted a modified version of the Barbadian social order. The Chesapeake were tobacco colonies. The Carolina Lowcountry was a rice colony. It was a “country of gentry.” Neither the Chesapeake or the Carolina Lowcountry had much in common with New England until the Great Awakening. Both had far more in common with the West Indies.
“In 1755, the Georgia assembly, under the control of a new planter elite, enacted a slave code, modeled on South Carolina’s law, that brought the colony’s slaveholding practices in line with other English colonies. Much of it focused on controlling and punishing resistant slaves and affirming that all whites were expected to defend the slave regime. As in other colonies, slaves’ physical mobility became severely restricted; slaves were permitted to travel only with passes. The slave code also provided legal power against possible conspiracies or insurrection that might arise from unsupervised assemblies of slaves, who were also prohibited from carrying arms. Masters were prohibited from teaching their slaves to read or write. Special courts heard capital and noncapital cases of slave crime. An even harsher set of controls came into place with new legislation in 1765 and 1770. In many respects, by the time of the American Revolution, Georgia had become a full-fledged slave society.”
Georgia was consciously planned to be a White ethnostate.
As was the case in Virginia and South Carolina, the colony was founded for a different purpose by its owners – in Georgia’s case, as an egalitarian refuge for the worthy poor of England – and the colonists ultimately got their way and adopted the Barbadian social order.
The Lords Proprietor who had John Locke write their constitution for their colony lost control over South Carolina to the Goose Creek Men. The Protestants in Maryland revolted and took over the colony from the Calverts who were Catholics. They later regained control and converted to Protestantism. The original plan for Virginia was to emulate the Spanish conquest of Mexico, not to create a plantation society based on cash crop agriculture like in Brazil.
“The Carolina Proprietary bore little relation to the realities prevailing in the Albemarle. Late seventeenth-century North Carolina possessed few profitable crops generating enough wealth to sustain an elite. Early settlers imported tobacco culture – and a few slaves – but they lacked access to markets because the shallow waters of the area’s rivers and sounds made water navigation very difficult. Hammocks, land islands containing oak, popular, and beech forests, only occasionlly interrupted the prevalent Great Dismal Swamp, 2,300 acres filled with giant cypress, shrub bogs, and thick undergrowth. The swamp provided a formidable impediment to travelers and transportation. …
By far the most serious revolt during this era of North Carolina history was Cary’s Rebellion. Its origins reflected brewing religious strife and conflict. In the late 1600s, the English Parliament began a policy of disenfranchising religious dissenters from political office and voting. The Vestry Acts of 1701 and 1703 expanded Anglican influence by laying out parishes and vestries, creating churches, and requiring financial support, or “establishment,” through public taxation, and placing political disabilities on religious dissenters. When royal officials attempted to extend this policy to North Carolina, the colony’s significant Quaker minority , several thousand strong, objected. Having suffered persecution in England and Virginia, the Quakers migrated to Albemarle because of Carolina’s policy of religious toleration announced in the Fundamental Constitutions. Quakers occupied positions of political power dominating Albemarle’s council and assembly for much of the 1680s.
Quaker opposition culminated in a revolt that overthrew the governor in 1711 and installed a pro-Quaker governor, Thomas Cary. Only after Alexander Spotswood, the governor of Virginia, dispatched a man-o-‘er and troops to the Albemarle, was the revolt suppressed, and Cary was shipped to London for trial for rebellion and sedition. The political ascendancy of the North Carolina Quakers thereafter ended, and disenfranchisement of dissenters became standard policy.
The first English colony outside the Chesapeake in the Southeast, North Carolina was essentially an annoying distraction to royal officials. Isolated because of the treacherous rivers and bays, the most profitable enterprise became piracy and smuggling. Although the colony adopted slavery from its earliest beginnings, the prevalence of slavery was small, reflecting the tenuous existence of plantation agriculture.”
North Carolina was a middle class colony uneasily sandwiched between the Chesapeake to the north the Carolina Lowcountry to the south. The plantation complex put down roots here around its margins with tobacco plantations in northeastern North Carolina and rice plantations in southeastern North Carolina, but the economy was dominated by the naval stores industry which gave North Carolinians their nickname as Tarheels.
The Southern colonies were all illiberal.
They had English constitutions and representative institutions before the American Revolution. In the mid-18th century, the elites of these colonies began to subscribe to the country ideology of the Commonwealthmen, which justified the revolt against Great Britain and the adoption of classical republicanism. The American Revolution didn’t disturb slavery or white supremacy and left the Southern social order intact and protected by state sovereignty.
As we have seen in Eric Foner’s The Second Founding, there was no such thing as “equality before the law” until the Reconstruction era. The Radical Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The Reconstruction amendments amounted to a Second Constitution which was essentially nullified by the Supreme Court in the late 19th century. The Second Constitution only began to be enforced nationwide by the Warren Court which launched the Second Reconstruction in the 1950s. Since the end of World War II, there has been an effort from above by national elites to impose a liberal social order on the South, which has sparked bitter resentment.
Southern resistance to the Second Reconstruction, as with the First Reconstruction, is ultimately rooted in its own indigenous organic culture which was illiberal from the outset.
Note: The Golden Circle is our term for a plantation-based civilization which used to stretch from the Chesapeake to Brazil. The region was defined by its hierarchical, authoritarian social order with socially conservative values. Its culture was grounded in plantation slavery and its elites prized classical values as opposed to modern ones.