The Deep South


*While England had many large colonies on the continent of North America, the true wealth of her empire lay in the Caribbean, where sugar was cultivated on small islands in the Lesser Antilles.


*Sugar was a labour-intensive and capital-intensive crop.  Large numbers of workers were required to clear farmland, plant the sugarcane, harvest it, and process it.  Furthermore, the sugar mills that processed the sugar into molasses and table sugar were expensive to build.  A large investment was required to become a sugar planter.  However, the rewards for producing sugar were very sweet.  The sugar monoculture was one in which the rich got richer and England got rich from it, too. 


*Much of the wealth of the sugar planters was invested in the labour that made their wealth possible.  Once the local Indian population was wiped out, African slaves were imported in huge numbers and often worked to death in turn.  On the cruel Middle Passage between Africa and the New World, it was cheaper to pack in many slaves in unsanitary conditions, even if many died, than to transport a smaller number in relative comfort.  Likewise, it was sometimes cheaper to import new slaves than to take good care of existing ones. 


*The transport of slaves to the New World was just one part of what has been described as Triangular Trade.  Finished goods (including weapons and rum) were transported from Europe or New England to Africa.  There they were traded for slaves (many of them captured from the interior by Africans living on the coast), who were carried to the New World, primarily the Caribbean.  They were sold and local crops purchased, and the sugar would be resold in Europe or Caribbean molasses would be turned into rum in New England.  Finished goods would be purchased there and shipped to Africa, and the cycle would continue:  molasses to rum to slaves.


*To control the slaves who outnumbered the white population of the sugar colonies about four to one, harsh slave codes were created.  In Barbados, the oldest and richest of England’s sugar islands, the slave code gave slave-owners almost complete control over the lives of their slaves, and harsh punishments were common.  It became a model for other Caribbean islands and later for slavery in the Thirteen Colonies.


*As Barbados grew crowded, other islands were colonised, both to provide opportunities for the younger sons of planters and as a source of food, because the land on Barbados itself was too valuable for food production. 


*In 1655, the English (including William Penn, senior) seized Jamaica and it was colonised as a farm for the sugar islands, raising cattle and various crops.  However, that was not enough (and some Jamaicans wanted to focus on the more lucrative sugar trade, too).


*In 1665, King Charles II granted a large tract of land south of Virginia to eight Lords Proprietor, who named it Carolina in honour of their king.  In 1670 the first settlers arrived and in 1680 Charles Town was founded.  Many of these settlers came from the Caribbean, and they brought a sugar-based and slave-based culture with them.


*One of the Lords Proprietor, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, and his friend John Locke, wrote the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which offered a parliament elected by a secret ballot, and many other freedoms, including religious freedom for everyone but atheists, and Charles Town in particular became a religiously diverse place, even having one of the few Jewish synagogues in North America, although the Church of England was the official church..  However, the Fundamental Constitutions also recognised slavery and had rules for creating a hereditary nobility with a class of hereditary serfs for them rule over. 


*There was a generous headright system under which freemen who moved to Carolina were granted 150 acres of land per family, male indentured servants were given 100 acres from the Lords upon the completion of their indenture, and gave 150 acres to anyone who imported a slave.  This constitution was largely ignored by the settlers of Carolina, who wanted to import the customs of Barbados instead.


*In general the Lords Proprietor were not popular.  They were seen as not protecting Carolina from attacks by Indians, particularly during the Tuscarora War of 1711-1715 and the Yamassee War of 1715-1717, but they still meddled in other aspects of local politics. 


*In 1719, local leaders seized control of South Carolina from the Lords Proprietor.  They petitioned the British government to make them a royal colony, and in 1729 South and North Carolina were recognised as royal rather than propriety colonies (and the Crown bought the rights of seven of the Lords Proprietor at that time and of the eighth after the American Revolution).


*Carolina was not all the colonists might have hoped.  Its tropical environment was deadly.  In the early days of the colony, one in four children died by the age of five, and of those though managed to live to twenty, 73% died before they turned fifty.  Compared to New England, where people often lived into the 70s and 80s, and even to Virginia, where the death rate was finally declining, this was murderous.  It also meant that many children were raised by older siblings, step-parents, and aunts and uncles, and many had to take on great responsibilities even in the 20s.


*The survivors of South Carolina’s high death rate were closely inter-related, and ten or twelve families basically ran South Carolina—it did not even have a state house for many years, the elite just took turns meeting in each other’s houses to make decisions.  This elite, in turn, was connected by business and family ties to London and Barbados, and they had much closer commercial and personal ties with those places than they did with nearby Virginia—they were even closer to Boston commercially than they were to the Chesapeake. 


*Another disappointment was that sugar did not grow as well in South Carolina as in the Caribbean, and although there were attempts to grow indigo, that was largely unsuccessful, too.  Instead, a trade developed in deerskins, partly through trade connections with the Indians (including the Cherokee) in the interior of South Carolina, and eventually a rice monoculture developed along the coast worked by slaves from rice-growing areas in West Africa.  This fed the West Indies and made South Carolina wealthy.


*The large slave population and the harshness of its slave code did mean that the threat of a slave uprising always hung over South Carolina.  There had already been a large slave uprising in New York in 1712 which had been put down harshly, its captured leaders punished severely (20 executed by burning and one broken on the wheel), and laws against slaves and even free blacks were made harsher.  In 1739, rebellion broke out in South Carolina near the Stono River just outside Charles Town.


*The Stono Rebellion (or Cato’s Rebellion, after one of its leaders, was the deadliest slave revolt in colonial history.  Many of the slaves involved had come from the Kingdom of Kongo in Africa, shared a similar culture, similar religion (many were Catholic), and worked well together.  During the fighting, twenty-one whites were killed along with forty-four slaves (along with others who were later executed or sold to plantations in the Caribbean).  Afterwards, it was made much harder for owners to free their slaves, the already minimal rights of slaves were limited further, and the importation of slaves directly from Africa was prohibited for 10 years.  On the other hand, some laws were passed slightly limiting how much work owners could demand of their slaves.


*At the time of the American Revolution, the per capita income of South Carolina was four times that of Virginia and five times that of New York or Pennsylvania.  However, the upper class was small, closed, and stagnant.  It had difficulty accepting the changes of the late 18th and afterwards.  Furthermore, there was little opportunity for anyone outside the elite to rise in society.


*Some of the people who could not make it in South Carolina, and many of those who could not make it in Virginia (and some other colonies) moved to the heavily forested area in between, and North Carolina got a separate governor starting in 1691 and unofficially split from South Carolina (with the permission of the Lords Proprietor) in 1710.  In 1729 it was confirmed as a separate royal colony and based its laws on those of Virginia. 


*Although the Church of England was the established church of North Carolina, its rule was not strongly enforced, and many religious groups were tolerated, not unlike in Rhode Island.


*North Carolina was a very different colony from South Carolina.  It did not really develop a plantation economy or a large and entrenched elite, instead having many small independent farmers.  Its main exports were naval stores, such as tar, pitch, and lumber for shipbuilding.


*The last of the Thirteen Colonies to be founded was the royal colony of Georgia.  It was based on a land grant given by King George II to James Oglethorpe in 1732; the first settlement was built at Savannah in 1733.


*Georgia had two purposes, one philanthropic, the other coldly practical.  Oglethorpe was the leader of a group who wanted to help the many Englishmen who were imprisoned for debt by creating a place to which such non-violent prisoners could be transported to start a new life. 


*They even tried to keep slavery out of Georgia but because of its cruelty and because he thought it would make it hard for small, independent farmers to succeed.  However, in 1750 the importation of slaves was legalised and within 25 years they accounted for the majority of the colony’s population, and grew rice and some indigo, just like South Carolina.


*The other purpose for Georgia’s creation was to serve as a buffer between the valuable colony of South Carolina and Spanish Florida and their Indian allies, and it was pretty effective at this from South Carolina’s point of view, but it made life in Georgia very dangerous. 


*The bad climate and the danger of Spanish and Indian attacks prevented Georgia from growing much during the colonial period, and it was the least populous and certainly the least developed colony by the end of the colonial period.

This page last updated 10 August, 2016.
Powered by Hot Air