Why English is Not the Second Language
in the Lowcountry
In this issue, we will turn from the intrigue of the forgotten Spanish and French settlements in the Lowcountry, to the little-known adventures and tribulations of the English, whose parallel efforts to settle these Lowcountry shores trailed their European competitors by a full century.
Our attention will shift from the drama of the dueling global powers in the 1500s to the less suspenseful, but engaging emergence of the English in the 1600s. This includes a perusal of the down and dirty realities that go with populating a new land, dealing with the natives, ethics, finding an adequate economic base to support European lifestyles, overcoming seemingly endless unimagined obstacles and handling insecurities, egos, and crises of one’s own making.
Even during the often-violent struggles between the French, Spanish and Native Americans examined previously, the English were watching. What limited involvement they exercised was delegated to proxies, privateers, British equipped pirates licensed by the Crown to prey on Spanish galleons transporting silver and gold treasures looted from the Inca and Aztec empires.
There was a burst of direct involvement at the end of Spain’s dominance in the Lowcountry. The famous Sir Francis Drake and the English Armada was dispatched to the region to make clear that La Florida (from the Florida Keys to Canada) was not going to happen as envisioned in Madrid, and that it would be wise for Spain to move its capital from today’s Parris Island further south.
Drake put an exclamation on his point in June 1586, when his armada of 23 large ships, 19 small ones and an armed force of 2,000 men stormed Spain’s imposing fortress and the village at St. Augustine. After soldiers and citizens fled into the woods, English looting, torching, destroying crops, livestock, fruit trees, sailing craft and anything Spanish took place over a week. The result was Spain’s reluctant withdrawal from Port Royal Sound the following year. Santa Elena’s population of 500 and its military detachment was disbursed between St. Augustine, one other Florida settlement, and Havana.
After the Spanish
There was no rush to fill the large vacuum left by the departure of Spain from Port Royal. The English show of force in St. Augustine took care of any such appetites. On top of that, Spain itself was in no mood to tolerate the French or anybody else sweeping into Santa Elena after their departure. So, the Lowcountry just quietly reverted to previous management – the Native Americans who were there before the tall European masts appeared from beyond the horizon.
For the time being, the English were content to have kept the Spanish notion of La Florida bottled up in Florida while they focused on activity further up the coast at Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost Roanoke Colony in North Carolina and the successful Jamestown Colony in Virginia in 1607. East and southeast of South Carolina, Bermuda was colonized in 1609, which in turn claimed and settled Barbados for England in 1626. Add Jamaica, various islands in the Bahamas chain plus others, and something akin to an English Caribbean Empire was unfolding and South Carolina would be woven into it.
“Carolina” came into specific focus in 1629 when King Charles I granted his Attorney General a royal charter to
settle Carolina (from Virginia to Spanish Florida), plus the island of Barbados. For Carolina, settlement was slow to
non-existent, thanks to long seasons of civil wars in England. But once finally settled, with the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, the fire rekindled. Three years later, in 1663, eight influential royalist supporters of Charles II acquired an expanded version of the 1629 charter to settle Carolina and Barbados. These became the properties of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina.
But even while crippling civil unrest swirled back in England, the distant Bermudian-Barbados entrepreneurial adventurers were settling Barbados on their own. They rapidly established a thriving sugar-for-export industry, quickly enough so that demand outgrew all the sugar cane fields the island could hold.
An Envisioned Symbiotic Relationship
The Barbadians, as well as their new sponsors in London, had a symbiotic relationship in mind for Carolina and Barbados, and the many other islands targeted for their investment stable. The plan was for the off-shore islands to exclusively grow their in-demand cash crops, such as sugarcane and cotton, while the abundance of land in Carolina would include land to grow routine crops, create dairy products and graze cattle and other livestock, all of which
would be shipped out to feed the large agricultural labor force it would take to generate the profitable output on the islands.
A second role envisioned for Carolina was meeting labor force needs on the distant, sparsely populated islands. As Europeans settled the islands, the indigenous people were increasingly pressed into servitude. At the same time,
their numbers were diminishing because of new European diseases and overwork.
From the very outset, exploration along the North and South American coasts involved locating sources of slaves. The Lowcountry was reported to have giants on today’s Dataw Island, which generated one of the earliest Spanish exploration forays into the area.
Slavery was routine in the Aztec and Inca cultures and among the smaller American indigenous peoples as well. Some tribes specialized in “harvesting” slaves and trading them to other tribes.
Ultimately, the main reason that Africa became the main source of slaves in America, north as well as south, was because the supply of Indian slaves simply became inadequate to meet the rapidly growing demand. The inability of Carolina to satisfy the Barbadian wish list for such manpower would lead the islanders to African sources and make Barbados one of the first of the islands to import African slaves.
The Barbadian Captain William Hilton
With Barbados becoming part of the Lords Proprietor’s operations in 1663, almost before the ink was dry on the charter in London, Barbadians had commissioned an exploration to Carolina to assess its ability to meet their needs. A local Captain William Hilton and the good ship adventure were hired to lead the expedition.
Hilton departed August 10, 1663 and entered St. Helena Sound on September 3. Five months later the expedition was back in Barbados and not long thereafter, Captain Hilton had published the exciting, “A Relation of a Discovery lately made on the Coast of Florida.” Hilton relates his experiences with natives who still spoke some Spanish, a visit to the former capitol of La Florida at Santa Elena/Parris Island and details of resources, agriculture, navigation, climate and inhabitants. Even with the ghastly typical title of the day, the writing was not unlike some of the adjective prone travel brochures and booklets of our own time.
Charleston Founded in 1670
Hilton’s skills as a pitch artist are credited with contributing to the settlement of Charles Town seven years later. Settled at Albemarle Point, the initial plan was to plant Carolina’s first English settlement where France and Spain had gone before.
By 1683, Charles Town had grown to around the same population as Santa Elena at its height, 200 families, with the total European population of South Carolina being around 1,000. Given the hardships, the abiding threat of Spanish or French incursion and Indian issues, this probably was not a bad rate of growth. But the Lords Proprietors were keeping score on their charter from King Charles another way – the bottom line. After 13 years of formal existence, Carolina was still in the red, having never shown a profit. As developers would say today, the problem was, “critical mass”. Other brochures had been produced. Sales people were recruiting immigrants in England. Deals were being struck to bring prisoners and indentured servants to Carolina. But still, after 13 years, 1,000 people was still far short of what was planned.
The Indian Co-op Strategy
Henry Woodward, one of the first English explorers to trade with the local Indians, hatched a visionary concept in 1670 that could greatly expand the weak trading business among the declining tribes in the area. The idea was to reach tribes as distant as the Mississippi River and focus on the exchange of furs, deerskins and Indian slaves for metal tools, cloth and firearms. The key to the strategy was the Westo Tribe, a small nation from Augusta, GA, which was already quite experienced with long distance trade and tribes, and was enthusiastic about the monopoly concept that would enrich both Lords Proprietor’s coffers and those of the Westo. A 1674-1680 exclusive trading alliance was the result.
But there were unanticipated downsides to the arrangement. Included were Indian traders who would join the equivalent of an early trading union, but excluded were numerous independent, successful and respected Indian traders who liked their independence.
Secondly, the trading plan was remarkably successful and very profitable, but so much so that the small tribe of Westos, as skilled as they were, could not keep up with the volume of work. That created misunderstandings and trust issues with partners and clients alike.
Third, the nature of the enterprise was harshly exploitive, particularly the slave trading element. The Westos were not sensitive to it, as slave harvesting had long been a business line for them, but other tribes were less receptive. On top of this, the overworked Westos became less selective about which tribes they attacked for slaves and started to create hostilities where none had existed before.
As issues of trust, slave harvesting among client tribes and is trust of the Westo also grew in Charles Town, the excluded Indian traders saw an opportunity to pit other tribes, Charles Town business leaders and slave brokers against the Westos. There was even a movement to enslave all the Westos. An Indian war against this one small tribe was the result and when over, the tribe had been almost exterminated.
The Scottish Solution
All this caused the Lords Proprietors to want nothing to do with the Indian trade. Even as it was unraveling, they were hatching something apart from Charles Town, back at Port Royal Sound. The new plan was to satisfy a significant unmet need within the English population, in the Scottish segment of it.
Scottish Presbyterians had just been on the losing end of decades of civil wars involving the tangled mess of British aristocracy, business alliances, the Church of England, the dissenting churches and frictions between the pieces of the Kingdom, particularly Scotland and England at this point. The result was that thousands of Scottish Presbyterians, Covenanters, wanted to leave the Kingdom and move to the New World and a place where religious tolerance was the norm.
A number of the Lords Proprietors were Scot themselves and personally sympathetic with their increasingly disenfranchised compatriots. The idea of opening a second major settlement in Carolina had been growing among the Proprietors for some time and this new market was seen as what might just be the key to a second community, one that would give all of Carolina a fresh start.
Stuart Town at Port Royal
In 1684, the first Scottish immigrants arrived at Port Royal and the flow, which was planned to continue at a rate of thousands per year for eight years, was underway. At that rate, the settlement at Charles Town would be quickly eclipsed by Stuart Town, but it would also be an answer to Proprietor’s economic aspirations.
Fatefully, also in 1684, a major Indian immigration began into the Port Royal area. Given the long depopulation after Spain’s withdrawal, the Yemassee had decided to move their entire tribe of 2,000 souls from central Georgia into ten new villages mostly surrounding Port Royal Sound. By then, native Indians in the area had declined to around one hundred.
Being enterprising and well aware of the Westos’ success and then demise, the Yemassee soon completed an import/export agreement with the Scottish settlers similar to what the Proprietors had with the Westos. Everyone but Charles Town, was feeling good about the future. But then – Disaster.
Stupidest Move in 331 Years
It certainly didn’t look like disaster at first Almost immediately after the Yemassee-Scot partnership was completed, in March 1685, the partners left Port Royal on a slave-catching raid southward from the Lowcountry. It was yet another reemergence of the old problem in the New World – manpower. If Stuart Town was going to grow at the pace envisioned under the Scot-Lords Proprietor agreement, there was a lot of work to be done. Building sites needed to be prepared, drainage installed, roads cleared, commercial space created, docks built. It would take a lot of manpower, more than the Europeans could provide themselves.
So off the new partnership went with a sizeable party of Yemassee on their inaugural joint “slave-catching” raid to “harvest” manpower for the building of Stuart Town. Incredibly, foolishly, stupidly the party ended up on the outskirts of St. Augustine. There, for some reason, the Yemassee zealously attacked a Spanish mission, burned several towns to the ground, including a chapel and friar’s house, and killed 50 Timucuans, the faithful Spanish Indian allies, and captured 22 more to take back to Stuart Town as slaves.
Of course, most residents of Charles Town were utterly horrified at the wanton recklessness of all this, but they had little compassion for the folly of their impulsive new competitors. And what they knew would occur did occur, on August 17, 1686, when three Spanish Perreaugoes appeared at the Port Royal River with a force of 100 Spanish soldiers and a larger compliment of Timucuan Indians.
Just as astonishing as the raid itself, the Spanish accomplished a complete surprise attack on the unprepared Scots. Three days later, nothing whatsoever remained of Stuart Town or of the ten Yemassee towns. Nothing.
There probably has been nothing as ill-advised, catastrophic and downright stupid that has impacted the Lowcountry as that Indian “slave-catching” fiasco outside of St. Augustine 331 years ago. There are some surprise benefits from that fiasco today, but lingering consequences as well. But the negative consequences are just pieces of the whole slaving culture that infect every society worldwide. It is interesting to see it among American Indians before Europeans arrived, in the first reflexes of the Spanish explorers of this coast, of the Bermudians who settled
Barbados, of African tribes that sold slaves to Arab, Scandinavian and Bostonian slavers who delivered them here and to those in our South and around the world who required slaves to generate more of the more than enough they already had.
In the next installment we will focus on how what we have seen in this installment ties into the terrible and remarkably successful Yemassee Indian Wars and look at some unexpected contributors to the conflict. We’ll see how the aftermath helped trigger beginnings of the plantation economy and move right into that and the unique outworkings of the Revolutionary War in the Lowcountry. This is an interesting place!