San José State University
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Early Economic History
of South Carolina

The Amerindian Tribes of South Carolina

At the time of European contact and settlement the area that is now South Carolina was occupied by a large variety of tribes which were unrelated linguistically and culturally. Most were small tribes with names that did not become well known. The exception is the Cherokees who occupied the Southern Appalachian Mountains, including that portion in what is now western South Carolina. The Cherokee speak a language that is related to those of the Iroquois of New England. Apparently thousands of years ago a branch of the Iroquois separated from the rest and migrated to the Southern Appalachians. This branch may have been one that was defeated in a tribal war among the Iroquois. At the time of European contact the Cherokees were not a united tribe; instead they consisted of independent villages.

There arose the name Catawba for the tribes living in the upper reaches of the Catawba River. They were not united and they did not speak related languages. The name was one the Europeans just used to designate the tribes living in one area.

Spanish and French Expeditions
by Land and Water to the Carolinas

One would hardly suppose from the later history of South Carolina that in the 16th there were vicious wars carried out along the South Atlantic Coast between the French and Spanish Empires over the establishment of settlements in the region.

Soon after the establishment of Spanish colonies on the Caribbean Island a shortage of slave labor was developing. A government official and sugar planter on the island of Hispaniola, Lucas Vásquez Ayllón, started searching for a source of slaves. In 1514 he sent an expedition to the South Atlantic coast. That expedition reported back that there were natives there and they were bigger and stronger than the ones the Spanish had been using. In 1521 Ayllón sent out a second expedition to the South Atlantic coast. The expedition ships made contact with natives at the coast and enticed a significant number on board. The ships then set sail for Hispaniola with the native captive. In Hispaniola the captives were sold as slaves. One of the expedition ships was wrecked on the way to Hispaniola and many of the captives on board died but some survived. One of those that survived learned Spanish and became a Christian. He was given the name Francisco Chicora. Ayllón took Chicora with him to Spain where Chicora entertained the court with tales of his life in his native land. Thanks in part to Chicora's tales Ayllón obtained a commission from King Charles V to explore the Atlantic Coastal area north of Florida. When he returned to Hispaniola in 1525 Ayllón immediately sent out an expedition to choose a site for a settlement. Ayllón then put together an expedition including six ships and six hundred settlers. In 1526 this expedition founded the settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape.

The settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape suffered some colossal bad luck. One ship and its supplies were lost. Francisco Chicora, the native who had been been captured in that region in 1521, was to be the guide and interpreter for the expedition. But Chicora escaped from the Spanish as soon as he could. Then Ayllón caught a fever and died in October of 1526.

Some of the settlers did not accept the man who was to be Ayllón's successor. They put the successor in jail and ruled over the slaves oppressively and mistreated the natives. The slaves rebelled and the natives attacked the settlement. Some of the other settlers captured those who had mutinied against Ayllón's successor and executed them. But the settlement did not have enough food for the winter and the natives refused to help. The surviving settlers then decided to return to Hispaniola. Sailing south in the winter resulted in some of the survivors freezing to death. All totaled the number to original 600 settlers who made it back to Hispaniola was 150.

In 1540 the expedition of Hernando de Soto started out on the west coast of Florida. That story is told Elsewhere. The Soto expedition did pass through what is now South Carolina but that was just a small part of the expedition. The expedition turned west and reached the Mississippi River and crossed it into what is now Arkansas where Soto died. The expedition built a ship and made it back to New Spain (now northern Mexico).

The Ayllón and Soto expeditions introduced diseases into the native population that were deadly and substantial shares of the native populations died in the period of the first half of the 16th century.

Spain wanted a settlement in the South Atlantic coast area not only for what the settlement might produce but also for the security of the Spanish fleet sailing from the Caribbean to Spain. In 1559 King Philip II of Spain commanded that a settlement be established at Punta de Santa Elena. In 1561 an expedition set out to fulfill the king's command. It ran into a hurricane that destroyed three of the expedition's four ship and killed 26 of the 100 people belonging to the expedition. The plan for a settlement at Punta de Santa Elena was abandoned.

Around the year 1560 a French admiral named Gaspar Coligny conceived a plan to establish a French settlement somewhere along the South Atlantic coast. Such a settlement would lay claim to the territory for the French Empire. Gaspar Coligny was a French Protestant, Huguenot. and he saw such a settlement as being a possible refuge for the Huguenots. In 1562 Jean Ribaut was given command of an expedition with two ships and 150 men to establish such a settlement. The expedition found a good harbor which they called Port Royal. There on the island now known as Parris Island they started building the settlement. A fort was constructed and named Charlesfort. Ribaut and a majority of the expedition members then sailed for France to gather more supplies and migrants. But in France the country was being torn apart by the religious war between the Catholics and Protestants. Ribaut could not put together a second expedition to Port Royal.

The 28 men who had been left at the settlement saw they were going to run short of food. The local natives could only provide a limited amount because their supplies were low also. The expedition scoured the region and obtained some supplies. Those supplies were stored in a structure with a thatched roof. The roof caught fire and the supplies were lost. The local natives could not help with any more supplies. The commander harshly mistreated the settlements men and they rebelled and killed him. The rebels decided they would have to go back to France. They constructed a makeshift boat and set sail using shirts and sheets. Some after terrible trials did make it back to Europe thanks in the last stages to an English ship.

The failure at Port Royal did not deter Admiral Coligny. He organized a new expedition with three ships and three hundred settlers. In 1564 this expedition set sail and built a settlement on St. John's River. They called it Fort Caroline.

When King Philip II of Spain heard of this intrusion into what he consided his territory. He ordered to Pedro Menéndez de Avilés of La Florida to takepedition north to establish a Spanish settlement and destroy the French settlement at St. John's River.

Menéndez stopped first at an inlet south of St. John's River and founded St. Augustine. Menéndez then attacked and captured the French settlement of Fort Charles. Most of the settlers were executed. The French tried to attack St. Augustine but were defeated and captured. The Spanish executed almost all of them. Some escaped and lived with the Amerindians.

Menéndez built up St. Augustine and then in 1566 took 150 soldiers north to Port Royal to build a military base to secure the Spanish control of the coast. On Parris Island they built a fort, called Fort San Felipe, and which was to develop on the island. Menéndez designated this embryonic settlement the capital of La Florida. Menéndez then chose Esteban de las Alas to be governor of La Florida from Santa Elena.

In 1566 and 1567 two expeditions under the command of Juan Pardo traveled into the interior to make contact with the natives there and to see if there was anything of value there. Pardo established several forts in the interior and garrisoned them with small contingents of soldiers. These forts subsequently disappeared without a trace.

Santa Elena grew. By October of 1569 there were 327 people residing there. They included artisans as well as farmers. However, the farmers of Santa Elena were not able to produce enough food for the community. A supply ship from Spain brought typhus as well as supplies and the community suffered.

The governor appointed by Menéndez, Esteban de las Alas, was not able to establish good relations with the natives and went to Spain, leaving Santa Elena subject to incompetent and oppressive leadership. In 1576 the incompetent leader had three local tribal chieftains killed. Their tribes attacked the Spanish and were joined by other tribes. Soon the attacking force numbered five hundred and many in Santa Elena were killed, including thirty of the fifty soldiers of the fort. The surviving settlers of Santa Elena were driven to seek refuge in the fort. The surviving soldiers in the fort were able to withstand the attack and had enough munitions and supplies to hold out against an extended siege. But most of the refugees were women and children and they implored the commander of the fort to take them to safety. In July of 1576 the commander complied with their entreaties and set sail leaving Santa Elena and Fort San Felipe to be burned by the Amerindians. This conflict spread to wherever the natives could attack the Spanish. It was known as the Escamacu War and only St. Augustine survived it.

After the Spanish abandoned their settlement in Port Royal the French tried to locate a settlement there. But the French were not able to withstand the hostilities of the natives and soon the French soldiers were killed or captured. The French authorities abandoned their effort to create a French outpost at Port Royal.

The Spanish however had no given up on creating a settlement at Port Royal. A fort was built and settlers brought to Santa Elena. This second Santa Elena was bigger than the first. It covered fifteen acres and had a church and tavern as well as forty houses.

The second Santa Elena seemed to be a success, but in 1586 Francis Drake captured and burned St. Augustine. The king's ministers in Spain thought that Spanish resources were being stretched too thin. They ordered the settlers of Santa Elena to destroy the facilities there and leave. Thus ended the attempt to create Spanish settlements north of St. Augustine.

English Settlement and the Barbados
Connection for South Carolina

The Atlantic Coast of North America from the southern border of the English colony of Virginia down to the northern border of the Spanish colony of Florida was "up for grabs" in the 17th century. England was going through the political turmoil of the battle between the Protestant Puritans and the Royal family. When the Puritans won the Civil War a Royalist supporter named John Colleton went into exile in Barbados, one of the eastern most islands of the Caribbean. Barbados had become the most prosperous of the English colonies in the New World based upon an economy of sugar cane cultivated with slave labor from Africa. Colleton became a planter in Barbados. He would have been aware of the scarcity of land for entrepreneurs in Barbados. The largest of the plantations were only about 200 acres. Nearly half of the landowners had less than 10 acres and 35 percent of the families in Barbados owned no land at all.

When the monarchy was restored in England John Colleton decided to return to London and participate in the new government. He was amply rewarded for his loyalty to the royal cause. He was made a knight and a member of the Council of Foreign Plantations. The Council was made up of wealthy and powerful people. They included the governor of Virginia, the chancellor of the Exchequer, the vice chamberlin of the royal household, the treasurer of the navy, the first minister of the king and assorted dukes and earls. Colleton soon led a group which included four other members of the Council and three others to petition the King Charles II for charter to establish a colony on the Atlantic coast between Virginia and Florida. The petition was successful and the petitioners named the prospective colony Carolina after Charles. The charter granted by Charles made the eight petitioners the true and absolute lords and proprietors of Carolina. The produce of the colony could be imported into England duty free. But primarily the Lords Proprietors of Carolina had millions of acres of land to dispose of.

A group which labeled itself Barbadian Aventurers showed interest in making a settlement in Carolina but their negotiations with the Lords Proprietors failed to produce any agreement and their efforts ended. The first attempt at a settlement in Carolina was by a group of New Englanders in 1663. They had explorer the area around Cape Fear in the northern part of Carolina. They stayed only six months before abandoning the settlement and returning to New England. Shortly thereafter a company of Barbadians established a settlement they called Charles Town on Cape Fear River. It appeared to be a success and was reported to have a population of eight hundred by 1666. However in the late summer of 1667 Charles Town was abandoned.

This was a time of trauma for England as well as the colony. England was engaged in a second war with Holland (1665-1667). At the same time England was hit by the bubonic plague. In 1666 London was devastated by a great fire. Also in 1666 John Colleton died.

Some of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina were high level officials in the royal government and more preoccupied with the affairs of state of England than the affairs of the Carolina colony. In 1669 one Lord Proprietor and member of the Council of Foreign Plantations, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, decided to get things going concerning the Carolina colony. He convinced the others that they and he should invest funds in the development of the colony. Ashley Cooper then bought and supplied three ships to carry about a hundred settlers from England to Carolina. The secretary of Ashley Cooper at that time was the philosopher John Locke. The two of them began drafting a Fundamental Constitution for the Carolina colony.

The Fundamental Constitution
for the Carolina Colony

The goal of John Locke and Lord Ashley was to encourage migration to the Carolina colony. To this end they tried to include in the constitution provisions which would appeal to the various categories of potential migrants. Thus although the Church of Enand was to be the official church for the colony the constitution stipulated that there was to be religious freedom for anyone who believed in God. This allowed for Jews to be welcomed as well as dissenters from the Church of England. In legal matters a person could affirm instead of swearing an oath. This was to encourage Quakers to settle in the colony. The constitution provided for those subscribing to it to become naturalized citizens. This was targeted to the French protestant Huguenots.

The constitution provided for 150 acres to be given to each adult male settler and 100 acres for each adult female settler or male under the age of sixteen. If a settler acquired at least 3000 acres his estate would be declared to be a manor and he would have the rights of a lord of a manor. There were property ownership qualifications for voting (50 acres) and for hold various offices (500 acres for member of parliament and 50 acres for a register of vital statistics).

The Fundamental Constitution had its desired effect. Migrants were drawn in from the various sources. Substantial numbers of settlers came from Barbados and other English island colonies of the Caribbean. These were generally all known as Barbadians even though they might not have been actually from Barbados. Culturally they were all like Barbadians so the mislabeling was no significant. The leadership of the colony was initially largely Barbadian and so Barbadian culture permeated the colony. French Huguenots also came. Here is a table of the distribution of origins of the European colonists in a number of colonies, as compiled by Walter Edgar, from standard sources.

The Distribution of Origins of European Colonists

(To be continued.)


Walter Edgar, South Carolina: A History, University of South Carolina, 1998.

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