William Sayle

First Governor of Charles Town 1670 to 1671

William Sayle was the first governor of Charles Town from March 17, 1670 to March 4, 1671, and was given his commission by Sir John Yeamans under the authority of the Lords Proprietors in their commission to him in 1669.

William Sayle, former governor of Bermuda, was the leader of a group of 70 Bermudians who came to The Bahamas in 1647. Suffering religious oppression in their homeland these people were looking for a place where they could worship God freely. To this end the island they settled on was given the name Eleuthera from the Greek word meaning freedom.

In 1657, William Sayle returned to Bermuda, and in 1658, he was re-appointed Governor, a position he lost in 1662.

However, in 1670, the Lords Proprietors of Carolina made him Governor of the new Charles Town settlement.

Sayles was instrumental in encouraging the Lords Proprietors to successfully apply for a grant of The Bahama Islands in 1670. He died in 1671.

William Sayle was an Independent in religion and politics, an adherent of Cromwell. He was Governor of Bermuda in 1643.

While in England to oppose his sucessor Turner in 1648, he obtained a charter to settle the Bahamas.

After returning to Bermuda with Raynor, a co-religionist, he took 70 settlers to the Island of Segatoo (renamed Eleuthera). They later returned to Bermuda.

In 1658 Sayle again became Governor.

In 1669, he took over the command of a party of settlers to a new settlement in South Carolina after Sir John Yeamans resigned, while undergoing repairs of his vessel in Bermuda. Governor Sayle served three terms as Governor of Bermuda before becoming the first Governor of the Bahamas and the first Governor of Charles Town.

The first ship to land in Charles Towne 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 England with 150 people on board; 2 died enroute. Among the passengers on the Carolina was William Sayle, the first governor of Charles Town.

The original destination for the ships was Port Royal. The Kiawah Indians in that area convinced the settlers that Charles Towne was a better choice for farming, and the settlers observed that Charles Towne 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.

The five commoners of the first Executive Council, Joseph Dalton, R. Donne, Ra. Marshall, Paul Smyth, and S. West, were elected while they were anchored at St. Helena.

In January of 1670, the Lords Proprietors of Carolina sent out a colony under command of Joseph West and William Sayle. At this time there was not a single European settlement between the mouth of Cape Fear River and the St. John's River, in Florida.

Here was a beautiful coast of nearly four hundred miles ready to receive the beginnings of civilization. The new emigrants steered far to the south, and reached the mainland near the Savannah River. The vessels first entered the harbor of Port Royal. It was now a hundred and eight years since John Ribault, on an island in this same harbor, had set up a stone engraved with the lilies of France; now the Englishman had come.

But the colonists were dissatisfied with the appearance of the country, and did not go ashore. Sailing northward along the coast for forty miles, they next entered the mouth of the Ashley River, and landed where the first high land appeared upon the southern bank, which became known as Albemarle Point. Here were laid the foundations of Charles Town, so named in honor of King Charles II. Of this, the oldest town in South Carolina, no trace remains except the line of a ditch which was dug around the fort. By 1680, Charles Town was relocated further up the river, where it is today.

Sayle had been commissioned as governor and West as commercial agent of the colony. The settlers had been furnished with a copy of the Fundamental Constitutions. But instead of accepting the Grand Model they proceeded to organize a government more democratic.

Five councilors were elected by the people, and five others appointed by the Lords Proprietors. Over this Executive Council of ten the governor presided. Twenty delegates, composing a house of representatives, were chosen by the colonists. Within two years the system of popular government was firmly established in the province. Except the prevalence of diseases peculiar to the southern climate, no calamity darkened the prospects of the rising colony.

When the decision was reached to found a colony south of Cape Romain, the Lords Proprietors sent a blank commission to Sir John Yeamans, with the request that he would insert the name of him whom he thought most suitable for governor. Yeamans, though he still retained the title of governor of Carolina, was at this time in Barbados; moreover, because of his abandonment of the settlement at Cape Fear, he was somewhat distrusted by the Lords Proprietors.

After having given assistance to the colonists who were about setting out from Barbados for Carolina, Yeamans accompanied them as far as Bermuda, where he designated William Sayle as governor. In the documents accompanying this commission the Lords Proprietors admitted that the number of people who were expected at Port Royal would be so small that the Fundamental Constitutions could not at once be put into force.

There were as yet no Landgraves or Caciques among the colonists. For this reason, as a compromise, the Lords Proprietors, acting individually, appointed five Deputies, and an instruction was issued that, as soon as they reached Carolina, the freemen should be called together and should elect five other Deputies to be joined with those appointed by the Lords Proprietors to form the Executive Council. All officials were required to swear or subscribe fidelity to the Lords Proprietors and to the form of government by them established.

The instructions also provided that those who received grants of land within the province should, with their oath or declaration of fidelity, acknowledge their submission to the Fundamental Constitutions. This implied that the acceptance of the Fundamental Constitutions was to be a condition without which colonists would not be permitted to settle in Carolina.

It further implied that the Lords Proprietors intended to treat the Fundamental Constitutions as executive orders, and that, if this theory prevailed, they would never be submitted to an Assembly of the province for its acceptance or rejection. Many of the provisions of the document related to the organization of the Executive Council and courts, to the powers and titles of officials, to the granting of land, and to the creation of a provincial nobility. These all were matters over which, after the abrogation of the Concessions and Agreement, the Lords Proprietors claimed full control.

By the instructions of 1669, provision was also made for a parliament of twenty members, elected by the freeholders of the province. Its Acts, when ratified by the governor and three of the five Deputies of the Lords Proprietors, should be in force as provided in the Fundamental Constitutions. According to the plan contemplated in the Fundamental Constitutions, the executive should possess the sole right of initiative.

This right the Lords Proprietors soon began to claim and continued to insist upon it as long as there was any prospect that it might be secured. Considerations such as these show how the Lords Proprietors might plan to secure their object solely by executive action.

But the royal charter provided that the Lords Proprietors should legislate with the assent of an Assembly. The colonists, falling back on this, insisted that the Fundamental Constitutions must be regarded as a bill, and if they were ever to go into force it must be as a statute. They did this the more promptly, because it was the only way in which they could protect themselves against the reactionary provisions of the document, and ultimately secure what had once been granted in the Concessions and Agreement. They met the Lords Proprietors substantially with the demand that the Fundamental Constitutions be abandoned, or be submitted to the provincial parliament for its action.

This demand was formulated very early. While the colonists were at Port Royal, and before they decided to abandon that place for Albemarle Point, the elective members of the Executive Council were chosen.

William Owen, one of the defeated candidates, challenged the legality of the election, and it was held a second time without change of result. With Owen soon became associated William Scrivener, one of the Executive Council and a Deputy of Lord John Berkeley. These men were dissatisfied because Yeamans had appointed William Sayle, a Puritan, as governor, instead of retaining the office himself.

They also came to insist, as has already been stated, that all attempts to govern according to the Fundamental Constitutions, until they were accepted by the colonists, violated the provisions of the charter concerning legislation. It followed from this, as they thought, that the people of the province were still legally entitled to the benefit of the Concessions and Agreements of 1665.

In the light of the early Acts of the Lords Proprietors there was indeed much to be said for this view, and, as has been indicated, it practically determined the attitude of the colonists throughout the province toward the Fundamental Constitutions.

In the summer of 1670, Governor William Sayle and the Executive Council, wishing to restrain the profanation of the Sabbath and other abuses, considered whether or not, as provided in their special instructions, an Assembly should be called. But they found that there were not sufficient freeholders in the settlement to admit of the election of twenty members.

Therefore it was resolved that the necessary orders should be issued by the Executive Council. But while the orders were being discussed and published before an Assembly of the people, Owen held an election and returned the names of those who were chosen as representatives. No notice, however, was taken of this, and the orders were duly published. The dissentients then protested against the legality of this procedure, but without immediate result.

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 Barbados. These settlers pitched their tents on its banks and built a town at Albemarle Point, which has since wholly disappeared.

In 1671, Sir John Yeamans joined the 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 at Oyster Point. A point between the Cooper and Ashley rivers was chosen, and this is where Charles Town was permanently founded in 1680, where it remains today. William Sayle was their leader and first governor from 1670 to 1671.

William Sayle is described by an old narrator, somewhat unkindly, as a "Puritan and Nonconformist, whose religious bigotry, advanced age, and failing health promised badly for the discharge of the task before him."

He died on March 4, 1670/1, and Joseph West took the reins of government in Charles Town.

Click Here for information on the Executive Council under Governor William Sayle.

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