Carolina - The Barbadians' Influence

How did Barbados and its short "history" influence Carolina?

In 1536, Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos discovered the island en route to Brazil. He named the island Los Barbados, meaning the "Bearded One," after the island's fig trees, whose long hanging aerial roots have a beard-like resemblance.

In 1625, Captain John Powell landed and claimed the uninhabited island for England. Two years later, his brother Captain Henry Powell landed with a party of 80 settlers and 10 slaves. More settlers followed in their wake and by the end of 1628 the population was around 2,000. The colonists originally planted the fields with tobacco and cotton, but by 1640 they had discovered the potential of sugar cane.

Barbados acquired the nickname "Little England" because, through the centuries, it has remained the most British of the Caribbean islands. Since wind currents made it relatively difficult to reach under sail, it was not conquered and reconquered like most of its Caribbean neighbors. British control over Barbados lasted from 1625 until independence in 1966.

About fifty male settlers, including some slaves captured en route, arrived in 1627 to settle the island, which was uninhabited and had no food-bearing plants. Twelve years later, in 1639, the House of Assembly was formed, the only representative legislature in the Caribbean to remain in existence for more than three centuries.

Following the introduction of sugar cane by a Dutchman in the early 1640s, the island was deforested, and the economy became dominated by large plantations. As the plantation economy developed, the land became consolidated in the hands of a decreasing number of white familes, leading to the emigration of some 30,000 landless Barbadians (1650-1680), who left the island for other Caribbean islands or the North American continent.

In 1645, the black population was estimated at 5,680; by 1667, it was over 40,000. As the slave trade continued, Barbados became the most densely populated island in the Caribbean. As the planters in Barbados devoted all their land and labor to raising sugar cane, New England provided food, horses, cattle, and lumber to all colonies and to England.

After the 1650s, the supply of white indentured servants began to dry up due to increased wages in England and less incentive to migrate to the West Indies. Additionally, lifelong slaves were a better long-term investment for their owners than having indentured servants for just four to seven years. By 1660, African slaves outnumbered colonists on Barbados.

In 1663, several residents of Barbados, not being satisfied with their condition, and desiring to establish a colony of their own, sent a vessel to examine the country extending from the 36th degree of north latitude to the river San Mateo, which had already been erected into a territory in London under the name of Carolina. The report being favorable, the planters purchased from the local Indians a tract of land thirty-two miles square on the Cape Fear River (named the Clarendon River at that time), and begged the Lord Proprietors for a confirmation of the purchase and a separate charter of government.

Not all of their request was granted, but Sir John Yeaman was appointed their governor, with a jurisdiction that extended from Cape Fear to San Marco. A new county was established and named Clarendon. In the autumn of 1665, he arrived from Barbados with a group of emigrants and founded a town on the south bank of Cape Fear River that proved so utter a failure that even its real existence was long in dispute. This first Barbadian settlement was named Charles Town, and it was located on the exact same land that the New Englanders had just abandoned only months before the Barbadians arrived.

The first Charles Town flourished for a time, and exported boards, staves, and shingles to the parent colony. Emigration increased, and in 1666 the plantation is said to have contained over 800 souls. Yeamans seems to have managed affairs satisfactorily, but after a time he returned to the West Indies. Those who remained began petty quarrels amongst themselves and the new colony was never harmonious. The Cape Fear Indians were never the friendly type, but they were mostly on the other side of the Cape Fear River.

The settlers endured blistering heat, swarms of insects - especially mosquitos - and fairly harsh winters, much colder than what they were used to on Barbados. They began to despise their new Charles Town. In August of 1667, a gigantic hurricane hit the coast and pretty much wiped out all of the newly-built structures. This was the "straw that broke the camel's back." With no help nearby, most of the Charles Town settlers trekked overland to the north end of the colony - in the Albemarle region - some not stopping until they were in James Town, Virginia. Many died along the way. Settlement along the Cape Fear was suspended for over fifty years.

Even though the first Barbadian venture into Carolana failed miserably within three years, the Barbadians did not give up.

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 England and Barbados. These settlers pitched their tents on its banks and built a town, which has since wholly disappeared because the settlers found a better spot ten miles upstream.

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 Albemarle and the Port Royal. These three ships had left with 150 people on board; 2 died enroute.

The original destination for the ships was Port Royal. 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.

Ten years after the first settlers arrived, a more favorable site for the town was desired. A point between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers was chosen, and this is where Charles Town was actually founded in 1680, where it remains today.

Since the Barbadians had been in the "plantation" business for decades, they brought this concept and its associated culture to the second Charles Town in the 1670s, where it flourished. Charles Town was launched under completely different circumstances than the Albemarle region in the northern part of Carolana, which was settled slowly by the early Virginians. These two quite-different cultures never really got along with each other. Each were convinced that their "way of looking at things" was better than the other's.

Furthermore, the geography of the two regions were very different, as well. In the Albemarle region, there were many shallow rivers, bays, sounds, etc., but very few large expanses of land for the "plantation" concept to actually take root. The geography in and around Charles Town was perfectly suited for plantations, and the Barbadians used the geography to their advantage, a blessing compared to the overpopulated island from when they came.

And, the Barbadians had no problem using slave labor on their plantations. As the Barbadian plantations grew along the Ashley and Cooper Rivers and away from Charles Town, the numbers of slaves increased tremendously. By the end of the rule of the Lord Proprietors in 1729, South Carolina had over 40,000 slaves, whereas, North Carolina only had around 6,000 slaves. This fact alone clearly points out the utter differences between the two cultures found in a single colony.

With that said, however, both cultures were based upon the English culture, so the two groups did have quite a few things in common. It was not their common heritage that brought them together - if one could ever say they were ever really brought together - it was their common irritation and frustration with their "government" that brought out any similarities. Both groups were quite actively involved in pursuing personal freedom and rejecting oppressive and stupid governance.

It was their differences that ultimately caused "the Split." The two groups just didn't like each other, and as long as they were separated by large distances things were "ok" between them. As the colony gradually began to "grow towards the middle," and the two factions actually began to have to "co-exist," things did not go so well.

In 1725, Governor George Burrington began to distribute land along the Cape Fear River - for the first time since the long-abandoned settlement of 1665-1667 - and he granted most of the land to South Carolinians because of the lower taxes in North Carolina. This angered the North Carolinians and continued to fuel their fire - but, the Lords Proprietors' era was soon to be over, and things did not heat up again until a few more years, well into the Royal period.

The Barbadians brought their West Indies experiences and the cultural and political institutions they had developed on the island in the previous forty years. They had experience in subduing a wilderness. They had experience in governing a colony. They were seasoned against many tropical diseases. They brought with them their plantation system and African slavery.

For the first twenty years of the colony's existence, nearly 50% of all white settlers and almost all blacks were from Barbados. By the mid-1700s, South Carolina had become on of the three wealthiest and economically imporant colonies in the English empire.


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved