South Carolina Education

South Carolina Education 1670 to 1700


Dr. David Ramsay asserted that the early settlers had no sooner provided shelter and the necessities of life than they adopted measures for promoting the moral and literary improvements of themselves and particularly of the upcoming younger generations. Edward McCrady stated that Ramsay's observation was:

"somewhat strained and overdrawn, it is nevertheless remarkable that, nothwithstanding the constant political turmoil, the varied disasters which befell the colony, the continual apprehensions of war, and the actual repeated invasions of the province, so much was conceived and attempted in these respects.

"But few of the very first settlers, as may well be supposed, brought with them wives and children. The necessity for schools, therefore, did not begin for some years after the founding of the colony. But before the seventeenth century had closed, the number of children born and brought here began to demand schools and religious instruction beyond the resources of the inhabitants."

What became South Carolina was first settled by families from England/Wales, along with a number of leaders who had most recently lived in the large plantation-style society of Barbados. Most were small-time farmers with few, if any, slaves to work the fields. Some, however, were very large-scale farmers who had many slaves to work their large plantations, which included many thousands of acres of land. These plantation owners were "learned men," who had been educated back in England, for the most part. And, they would soon send their sons - a few would also send their daughters - back to England to acquire an education as they had.

Unlike its northern and older sister colony in the Albemarle Region, this southern plantation-style society immediately established its first town upon landing on the shore - Charles Town. The growing hub of Charles Town was "the center of the universe" for all South Carolinians for many decades to come. Along with the small-time farmers and the large-scale plantation owners, a "merchant class" quickly materialized within Charles Town. Among the steadily increasing number of merchants, many plantation owners maintained homes in Charles Town, even if their main home was located miles away on their sprawling plantation. Very few "small-time farmers" could afford a second home, but of course, some did.

Not long after Charles Town was established, the citizens deemed that their spiritual side needed attention and they soon built several small churches within the town's borders. A slight majority of the population was of the "Anglican faith," some were "dissenters," and some were essentially "agnostics," with little need for organized religion. As the population quickly spread out into the surrounding countryside, a few more churches were built to suit the needs of the local communities that quickly sprang up outside of Charles Town before the year of 1700. The town of New London was established in 1682; the hamlets of Dorchester and Mount Pleasant had their beginnings in 1696. French Huguenots arrived in 1680, and they soon built their own churches along the Santee River - small towns followed along the Santee in the early 1700s.

With a much more vibrant religious society in South Carolina than in the Albemarle Region in North Carolina during the latter half of the 1600s, it is not hard to realize that the primary education taking place in South Carolina was the result of the many churches and religious factions arriving first in Charles Town, then spreading out to nearby communities. Quaker records were maintained for the Charles Town Meeting from 1680 through 1786. Their meetings were held in private homes until 1715, when a meeting house was finally built in Charles Town proper.

In 1683, Baptists of Kittery, Maine relocated to South Carolina. Upon arriving, they first settled in Somerton, on the Cooper River near Charles Town. The first Church meetings were held in the King Street home of William Chapman. In 1699, the present lot was donated to the Church by William Elliot and a frame building was constructed.

The first dissenter church in South Carolina was the Independent or Circular Church in Charles Town, founded about 1680. The original members were from England, New England, as well as some of the newly-arrived French Huguenots.

Aside from the typical "religious education" as provided by the many and growing number of churches all over South Carolina, very few of the "merchant class" and the "small-time farmers" could afford to formally educate their children. These needed practical training and experience in keeping their families clothed and fed. As had been the case for centuries, this practical training and experience came from their parents and neighbors, who generally helped each other when it suited them. Boys learned to be farmers, how to manage livestock, and how to build structures to store their harvests and protect their livestock. Or, they learned the merchant skills of their fathers. Girls learned to make clothing, how to cook, and how to preserve the products of their family's harvests. The majority of the population never learned how to read or write, but most knew "how to count."

As mentioned above, the more wealthy land-owners could afford to send their children back to England for their education. However, some of these wealthy landowners, a very few number of the small landowners, and a smaller number of the merchants, chose to educate their children at home. Many employed "indentured servants" to serve as tutors, exchanging "room and board" for a specified length of time until their "indenture" was paid off. Some hired "specialized tutors" directly from England and paid their expenses to travel across the Atlantic Ocean, then paid for their "room and board" plus a nominal monthly stipend to teach their children in a small number of subjects. Only on rare occassions did these "hired tutors" teach more than one family at a time.

In 1693, the College of William & Mary was founded in Virginia. While this Author has not delved deeply into the early records of this fine institution, one can reasonably expect that within a few years there were students at William & Mary from South Carolina - again, mostly from the fairly wealthy families. It is possible that some of the wealthier families sent their children to other colonial colleges, such as Harvard (in Boston since 1636) or King William's School (in Baltimore since 1696).

By the end of the seventeenth century, there were still no schools in South Carolina. But, there was soon a growing number of books in the southern colony, and many families agreed to share their books with their friends and neighbors. In his book entitled "The History of South Carolina Under the Proprietary Government," by Edward McCrady in 1897, on Page 701, he asserts:

"Indeed, as early as 1698, but thirty five years after the first charter of the province, but twenty-eight years before Franklin formed "The Junto" - the debating society out of which grew the Philadelphia Library, which he claimed to be the mother of all American subscription libraries - a free public library had been established in Charles Town."

The first Act upon the subject, i.e., that of 1700, has not been preserved, but its enactment and the establishment of the library under it is definitely ascertained by the recital of the Church Act of 1712, as well as the existence of the library at that time. Also noted in the Journals of the Commons House of Assembly on June 17, 1703 that Nicholas Trott informed the House that Dr. Bray had sent sundry books as a further addition to the "Public Library," together with additional books for a layman's library, and the thanks of the House was ordered to be transmitted to Dr. Bray via Mr. Trott.

On May 7, 1704, the Public Treasurer was ordered to pay Edward Moseley for transcribing the catalogue of the library books the sum of £5, 15s. McCrady states "This is believed to have been the first public library in America."

Mr. McCrady is not correct in his assertion that the Act of 1700 has not been preserved. Click Here to read the entire Act as it was written and approved on November 16, 1700, and later included in "The Statutes at Large of South Carolina - Volume VII," Pages 13-16.

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