Robert Johnson

Governor of South Carolina Province 1717 to 1719

Royal Governor of South Carolina 1729 to 1735

Robert Johnson was born in 1682 and he died in Charles Town, South Carolina on May 5, 1735. He was the son of Sir Nathaniel Johnson, governor of South Carolina from 1702 to 1708, who left his son a considerable estate.

On 30 April, 1717, he was commissioned governor by Sir John Carteret, 2nd Baron Carteret (later 2nd Earl of Granville), Palatine, at a time when the disaffection of the colony toward the Lords Proprietors was rapidly developing into rebellion. One of his first orders was to equip a ship to act against the pirates that were than infesting the coast, and he commanded in person in a victorious engagement with them off the bar of Charles Town.

The struggle between the Lords Proprietors and the Commons House of Assembly culminated in the convention of 1719, of which Arthur Middleton was elected as President. This convention established a revolutionary government, and requested Robert Johnson to assume the executive in the name of the Crown, which he declined to do, asserting the rights of the Lords Proprietors. The convention thereupon elected James Moore, Jr. and asserted their power by military force.

In 1729, Robert Johnson was appointed Royal Governor, and came from England to take possession of this office. Governor Johnson aided General James Oglethorpe and the first settlers of Georgia by giving them food and escort, and during his term the settlement of Purrysburgh, by the Swiss under Colonel Peter Purry, was made. The Commons House of Assembly erected a monument to his memory in St. Philip's Church, Charles Town.

Robert Johnson (1682 - 1735) was South Carolina's governor under both the Lords Proprietors and the British Crown. Appointed governor by the Crown in 1729, his "Township Scheme" was an attempt to establish frontier settlements that would provide a buffer zone between the coastal settlements and the danger from attack by Native Americans, Spanish, and French forces. Additionally, the recruitment of white immigrants was to balance out the increasing importation of African slaves.
Soon afterwards the Lords Proprietors gave great offense to the colonists by vetoing a number of popular laws which had been enacted by the Commons House of Assembly. The most important was one changing the method of election for the members of the Commons House of Assembly, so that instead of being chosen altogether at Charles Town they should be elected by the voters in the various districts of the province.

This veto seemed to be intended to secure the continued domination of a little group of politicians in Charles Town, and led finally to armed resistance. In 1719, the colonists assembled in arms and called upon their governor, Robert Johnson, to renounce the Lords Proprietors and assume the government in the name of the Crown. This Governor Robert Johnson loyally refused to do. He was, therefore, set aside and James Moore, Jr. elected governor in his place, with the understanding that he was to hold office for King George I.

Governor Charles Craven was succeeded by Robert Johnson, the son of the former governor, and during his administration a revolution occurred in South Carolina which changed the government from a Proprietary to a Royal one. The remote causes of this change may be found in the desire of the people for a simple and inexpensive government responsible only to the Crown, and not to be subjected to the caprices, avarice, and inefficiency of a Board of Control composed of private individuals, intent only upon personal gain.

The immediate and ostensible cause was the refusal of the Lords Proprietors to pay any portion of the debt incurred by the Yamassee War so promptly suppressed by Governor Charles Craven; and the severity with which they enforced the collection of quit-rents. The people looked to the Crown for relief, aid, and protection.

A scheme for a revolution was secretly planned, and on the twenty-eighth of November of 1719, Governor Robert Johnson was deposed. The people proceeded to elect James Moore, Jr. as governor. The militia, to whom Governor Johnson looked for aid, was against him, and finding himself entirely unsupported, he withdrew to his plantation. James Moore, Jr. was proclaimed governor of the province in the King's name, and Royal authority was established soon thereafter.

During the administration of Sir Francis Nicholson, the successor of Moore, and that of Arthur Middleton as Acting Governor, little of political importance occurred in relation to the colony, except the legal disputes in England concerning the rights of the Lords Proprietors. These were finally settled in 1729, by a Royal purchase of both colonies from the Lords Proprietors, and during that year North and South Carolina became separate Royal provinces. [Lossing - 1850]

Charles Town leaders and residents grew increasingly intolerant of the raiding and plundering of the pirates of the early 1700s. The embarrassing blockade of the port which Blackbeard performed in May of 1718 and the terrorizing of Charles Vane a while later were so infuriating that Governor Robert Johnson dispatched Colonel William Rhett in the ships Henry and the Sea Nymph to deal with the criminals once and for all.
The shipbuilding industry in South Carolina got off to a slow start. In 1708, Governor Sir Nathaniel Johnson reported to the Board of Trade in London that "There are not above ten or twelve sail of ships or other vessells belonging to this province about half of which number only were built here besides a ship or sloop now on the stocks near launching." In 1719, his son, Governor Robert Johnson, reported that "Wee are come to no great matter of [ship]building here for want of persons who undertake it tho no country in the world is [as] plentifully supplyed with timber for that purpose and [so] well stored with convenient rivers . . ." He notes that of the twenty or so vessels belonging to the port, "some" were built here.
In 1730, Royal Governor Robert Johnson devised the Township Plan to attract white settlers to the backcountry. He hoped they would protect the frontier from Indians and discourage slave uprisings.

Governor Johnson planned ten 20,000-acre townships. Each was to have a town where settlers lived. Farms were outside the town limits. To attract settlers, the colony offered 50 acres of land for every family member. It also waived settlers' quit-rents, or land taxes, for ten years and provided a food and equipment bounty, or allowance, for two years. The immigrants were known as "bounty settlers."

The system was moderately successful in the 1730s and 40s. During the first decade, the townships attracted about 2,500 settlers, mainly from Germany, Switzerland, and the British Isles. Of the nine townships settled, Orangeburgh and Williamsburgh townships were the most successful.

Problems increased after 1739. Prospective immigrants discovered that the Commons House of Assembly sometimes suspended the bounty and that life in the backcountry was often quite difficult. During the 1740s, the townships attracted fewer settlers. Only after the French and Indian War ended in 1763 did the backcountry attract the settlers Governor Robert Johnson had hoped for thirty years before.

Orangeburgh was settled in 1735 by 250 Swiss immigrants. By 1760, it had nearly 800 residents. Leaders of the colony hoped its citizens would grow much-needed wheat and corn. Within a few years of its settlement, Orangeburgh became a valuable source of food for Charles Town.

Saxe Gotha, a precursor of Columbia, was one of nine townships put in place by Governor Robert Johnson in 1731. Saxe Gotha was laid out near Old Fort Congaree, a 1718-1722 trading post on the west bank of the Congaree River. By 1735, Swiss and German immigrants were living in Saxe Gotha, and by 1740 there were mills, stores, and farms. Because that side of the Congaree is low-lying and subject to flooding, Saxe Gotha was abandoned by the turn of the century as residents moved to higher ground.
Jean Pierre Purry was nothing if not persistent, and, in 1729, the Lords Proprietors finally relinquished control of the South Carolina colony to the Crown. This greatly improved the political and financial opportunities for Purry's scheme. Purry's plan fit perfectly into the highest priority instructions from the king's ministers to the Royal Governor of South Carolina, Robert Johnson.

One of the principal reasons for the Crown's interest in acquiring South Carolina was to defend British imperial interests in America and particularly to counter the entrenched Spanish in Florida and the encircling French in Louisiana. Governor Robert Johnson was instructed to establish "townships" on the South Carolina frontier and settle them with European protestants. Governor Johnson's "Township Plan" grew not only out of Purry's memorial to the Duke of Newcastle, but also out of the "Barnwell Plan" of 1721.

1733 - After almost two months at sea, James Oglethorpe and Georgia's first 114 colonists sailed into Charles Town harbor aboard the ship Anne. Upon arriving, Oglethorpe went ashore, where he was warmly welcomed by South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson and the Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly, Paul Jenys.
1735 - When Governor Robert Johnson died in 1735, South Carolina held its first state funeral. Two companies of militias served as an honor guard, royal Executive Councillors were his pallbearers and members of the Commons House of Assembly were official mourners. Johnson was interred near the alter of St. Philip's Church in Charles Town.
Issued in 1731, this proclamation was one of the first documents printed in South Carolina. It explains how people could apply for land grants.

Click Here for information on the Executive Council under Governor Robert Johnson.

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