The Political Background of Proprietary Carolina:
Fraction Is the Calculus of the Tymes
IN 1690 JOHN STEWART, A RESIDENT OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND a partisan politico, wrote to a friend in Scotland: “Thus fraction fraction is the Calculus of the Tymes.”1 And so it was. Between 1690 and 1700 six men occupied the office of governor in South Carolina, resulting in seven separate administrations: James Colleton, 1686–1690; Seth Sothell, 1690–1691; Philip Ludwell, 1691–1693; Thomas Smith, 1693–1694; Joseph Blake, 1694; John Archdale, 1694–1696; and Joseph Blake, 1696–1700. Because each governor—if his brief term permitted—appointed a deputy for North Carolina, its record of administrative change resembles that of South Carolina. Despite these frequent turnovers in the governor’s office, the underlying political themes remained remarkably consistent: between 1690 and 1700 the politics of South Carolina was dominated by a successful effort on the part of the colonists to gain ascendancy in making policy at the expense of the power of the proprietors, a development that was delayed more than a decade in North Carolina. With colonial control firmly established in South Carolina by 1700, the political focus changed, and a new question was posed: Which group within the colony was to have the preeminent voice in the determination of policy?2
In 1690 South Carolina was on the brink of political convulsion. James Colleton, brother of one of the proprietors, Sir Peter Colleton, had held the office of governor since 1686. He was confronted with a general intransigence, because Carolinians, constituting a broad spectrum of political opinions, held him responsible for the stalemate that had developed in public policy. Rumors, largely unsubstantiated, had reached the colony that French and Spanish forces were advancing on the settlement, but the governor refused to convene the legislature. Colonial leaders were torn between supporting the governor in the face of a possible common enemy or abandoning Colleton altogether, preferring to meet whatever crisis arose unencumbered with an executive whose rigid, legalistic approach exacerbated problems rather than eased them and who commanded the loyalty of only a narrow band of supporters.3
In a pamphlet written in 1690, John Stewart, an ardent Colleton man, whose ambition outstripped his modest role as small planter-Indian trader, attempted to make a case for the governor. The governor’s opponents, he observed, were party men, self-interested conspirators, led by a colonial “Matchivell,” unidentified but doubtlessly Job Howes (often spelled “How” by contemporaries), who had been a leader of the opposition in the last meeting of the assembly. These men, Stewart explained, planned and schemed “to blow up the parliament,” not literally, of course, but by doing nothing while pretending to protect the security of Carolina. Meanwhile, asserted Stewart, the strategy of Governor Colleton’s opponents was to leak incriminating information: “The pigmy dwarfy narrow scanty soull cannot containe its own tho-w-ghts or measurs but here and there a little scatters, which evry warty and prudent ear sucks up.” Adversaries of the governor, in turn, declared that he “betray’d his trust to the Lords,” that he acted outside his instructions, and that, as a result, “al the measurs of Government and evry single step thereof that he had made use of for 3 years were bot [but] mushroum ordinances and Illegall Laws, yea disloyall traiterous and treacherous both to the K. [King] and Lds. [Lord Proprietors].”4
The position taken by Colleton’s opponents taxed the limits of Stewart’s pejorative vocabulary. “How monstruous and stupendious a pice of Jugle [deceit] it wes [was].” With no less than the security of the colony at stake,
Such Meanders of Ruining polecies … undermind our Goshen exposing the province designedly to ruine and Calamity by a french conquest, that we had vipers in our own in our bowels gnawing the commonwealth in pices and fractions, cary’d on by Jehu-like driving Jehu-like on a designe that contradicts and gives itself the lye in all its pretensions…. And this pernicious wheill [wheel] of politicks unskilfully lays open the very nervs and sinews, muscles and arteries of once seeming politicall bot now a … fatuus Trap.
But the polemic was not at an end. “Ar the Inhabitants blinded, can they not sie bot a charme and Infatuatione from the pestiferous breath of a Jugling Tongue has almost bro-w-ght the Country on the brink of Ruine and hazard, and dayly we lie open to all the Insults and Calamitys that warr from Papists may offer or Impose.”5
Job Howes was etched in black. “Had Raphael Angelo or Albertus Durer,” the latter especially known for his somber paintings, “with a pencill been at work to have drawn this Hydra viperous Monster of politicks a worser never affrick [Africa] bredd.” According to Stewart, he challenged Howes with swordplay: “We standing 6 minuts with sword to sword 2 foot within other,” but Howes, “the cowardly roage [rogue],” according to Stewart, suggested that they sheath their weapons. When Stewart finally agreed to terminate this confrontation and started to move off, a friend of Howes clutched Stewart’s arm while Howes “cam up basely and struck me with a hickory stick.” Stewart, according to his own account, wrenched himself free, swung his sword, and “mist my stroak within an Inch of his [Howes’s] neck,” which sent the latter scampering off.6
Whatever the results of this match may have been, Stewart claimed that his written word won a favorable hearing among leading Carolinians. “The Governor wes [was] pleas’d, when I first read it to him befor a Company of his friends [sic], to say it wes the best and sharpest and truest to the text that ev’r he heard or read in his lyfetyme of that nature.” Such admiration from Colleton was not surprising, but Stewart claimed broader support: Captain Robert Quary, a former governor dismissed for allegedly consorting with pirates, and, reputedly, a committed opponent of Colleton in the past; Ralph Izard, a more moderate critic; and Joseph Blake, also a former governor. More significant is Stewart’s claim of a favorable reception from Captain James Moore, a hearty self-serving spirit whose fame in the colony had yet to reach its zenith. Even Maurice Mathews, called “the prince” by Stewart and whose contest against Colleton was a matter of record in the last assembly, appeared to waiver, especially when Nathaniel Johnson, a prosperous planter and former governor of the Leeward Islands who recently arrived to settle in Carolina, seemed favorably disposed toward Colleton.7
But the governor, inclined to respond to a crisis with fixed solutions and prodded by a few of his confidants, particularly Thomas Smith, a deputy and landgrave, and Paul Grimball, described by a contemporary as “hot and martial” and the “Eyesore to the party” and even acknowledged by the proprietors to be a man of “indiscretion,” invoked martial law. This step was taken after more than one hundred men signed a petition requesting it. In later recantations some who signed declared that they were misinformed and misled. Certainly, the governor’s friends misinterpreted the initial response to martial law. Those who opposed the petition, according to Stewart, were merely “wasps of the party” who were “at Work to dam further subscriptions to the petition.” Indeed, with martial law, “we overcom all opposition and laid flat all their desynes [designs].” Tranquility blossomed, he remarked, because of “a Lock on all the party’s tongues.”8
Scorning criticism of the consequence of the martial law, Stewart raised a question: “fears from the ffrench hes [has] been hush’t and suppres’t bot fears and jealousies of a Councell of Warr hes bine presented in a Magnifying Glas, Insomuch that a bussy party hes held furth greater dainger and loss … from a councell and Jury of its own Inhabitants then from forayne Enemyes that ar [are] papists[.] If the Countrys Militia doe bot ordinary dewty will their own Nighbors and Inhabitants ruine them?”9
The penultimate act of the governor, declaring martial law on the pretense of protecting the colony from foreign encroachment when his primary goal was to safeguard his personal power, inadvertently gave the antiproprietary men enough leverage eventually to overthrow his administration and to set a course toward a final rejection of proprietary rule. Colleton discovered that martial law can only be enforced with militia, that militia are composed of settlers, and that settlers hesitate to take action against themselves. Invoking martial law, rather than placing “a Lock on all the party’s Tongues,” as asserted by Stewart, raised resentment that solidified colonial leadership against Colleton, the proprietor’s representative. When Seth Sothell, who had become a proprietor by purchasing the share of Lord Clarendon, arrived in Charleston, some five hundred petitioners, representing a broad spectrum of political views and every geographic sector as well as including many of the principal men in the colony, forced the overturn of Colleton and the elevation of Sothell.10
The issues dividing the partisans were of long standing. In a petition to Sothell, drawn up by Governor Colleton’s critics, the colonial position was defined in incisive language.
On the distribution of land and its cost, the collection of quitrents, and the procedure to be followed to obtain grants, proprietary policy not only failed to satisfy the Carolinians, but in certain of its consequences, they asserted, deceived them.
We, in behalfe of the whole Countrey, most humbly and heartily begg and beseech the Lords Proprietors out of their favorable beneficence to be pleased to grant that whatever the conveyance be that the Lands shall therein be granted for a penny an acre or the vallew [value] thereof, without any expressed reservation of re-entry, & the people will all-wayes, in parliment or otherwise, be ready to adjust the price of Comodityes, so as that the Lords Proprietors shall be gainers, and then we doubt not but in a very few years to see such multitudes of tennants here as that their Lordships shall quickly be re-imbursed their great charge.11
On the Indian trade: “But in this case, as in all other publick actions, an endeavour was made, upon pretence of this Law, to stopp all persons from going abroad to trade with the Indians, while the late Governor [Colleton] was providinge to send himselfe, and did, allsoe, after a little time, goe in his owne person out of the Settlement, and commanded agen, as formerly, noe [no] Yamassee Indian to goe and assist any man in trading but himselfe, and then sent people to trade, &c.”12
When Colleton became governor, he removed a number of officials from office with the approval of the proprietors. These men, Robert Quary being one, were among the principals who prepared the petition, and their disgruntlement pervades the document:
That the Deputies and other Magistrates and Officers, Civill and Military, have been every day put out and others put in, without any respect to their qualityes, parts, honesty or other abilityes, and the Commoners of the Grand Council turned out, under pretence of misdemeanour, for any unwary action or word committed or said out of Council! or over a bottle of wine in a taverne; and this hath been and may still be done with ease, for there is but eight Commoners [delegates of the electorate in the assembly] when all the places are full (which seldome happens of late yeares)[;] and if one of the Deputies charge one of them with any action or word, misdone or said, the person accused must stand by, and then there is eight Deputies to vote against seaven Commoners, which, not onely in this case but in all others, make the Grand Councill which is alsoe all Courts of Justice, except the County Court, and receive, allsoe, appealls from that, be wholy in all its Judgments, Acts, Orders and Ordinances as the Governor and Deputyes please,[;] and they not onely have a negative but an affirmative upon all occasions, and to justifye all this doe record the matters as they please and have entred men present when absent, &c, as we are ready to prove.13
The longest and most exacting segment of the petition was reserved for an opening statement, providing a detailed recital of the history of the Fundamental Constitutions as proposed by proprietors and the respective colonial responses to those initiatives.
That the methods which those principally entrusted by the Lords Proprietors have, for many yeares, used for the imposition of the seaverall fundamentall Constitutions afore mentioned, have caused much uneasiness and trouble to the good Inhabitants of this Countrey in generall and many persons in particular, have felt upon the least surmised occasion the indignation, rather then [sic] the justice, of those that governe here,[;] and many thousands of people have been detered from cominge hither to the disconsolation of those that are here, & the disprofitt of the Lords Proprietors[;] and many alsoe left the Cuntrey, being not willinge to live constantly after soe uncertaine and unquiett a rate.14
The petition was addressed to Seth Sothell who assumed the office of governor under a provision in the Fundamental Constitutions which authorized a proprietor in residence to become governor. Sothell’s appearance as a knight to rescue distressed colonists in South Carolina was tinged with irony, for only a few months earlier he had left a situation in Albemarle (North Carolina) in which he had been accused of using his authority as the proprietary representative arbitrarily. Petitions written by Albemarle colonials to the proprietors in England accused Sothell of gross misdeeds: confiscation of land held by political opponents, the imprisonment of individuals under false charges, and taking bribes. There is evidence to modify, if not to doubt, the hue and cry of the petitioners. Before coming to Albemarle, Sothell was regarded as a man of moderation; and, it should be noted, the petitioners were not only Sothell’s political opponents, but precisely those men who, assuming the powers of government in the absence of a representative from the proprietors, had everything their own way—until Sothell arrived. Sothell was relieved of his office in North Carolina by his fellow proprietors, and Philip Ludwell, appointed governor-elect of North Carolina in his place, was instructed to determine whether the complaints against Sothell were justified.15
These proprietary orders and appointments, obviously at odds with events as they transpired, were still circulating in the unreliable transatlantic communication system; the pressing problems at Charleston required immediate action. Whatever is said of Sothell at Albemarle, his conduct at Charleston won broad support among the colonists. Because of a peculiar situation resulting from the dispute with Colleton, Carolina, in relation to its legislation and law, could begin with a clean slate. A provision in the Fundamental Constitutions specified that any enactment was automatically terminated at the end of two years if not renewed by the Carolina Parliament or ratified by the proprietors and thereupon published at the following session of Parliament. When Colleton refused to call a meeting of the Carolina Parliament new measures were not enacted and the old ones expired. Consequently, when Sothell became governor no statutes were legally in force.
The new governor summoned the Carolina Parliament, which adopted some forty statutes covering a broad range of issues critical to the colony: regulation of the Indian trade, establishment of a system of courts, rules to govern the issuance of licenses, provision for militia, regulation and improvement of inland transportation, confirming political and civil rights of freeborn citizens upon French protestants, an election law, and other needed legislation. In a colony with an unenviable history of contention, the preparation and acceptance of these statutes in so short a time constituted a genuine achievement.16
The enactment of an extensive legislative program is seldom attained without political cost. In the case of Sothell, his actions were bitterly opposed by proprietary-appointed officeholders in Carolina who posted notices throughout the province that instructed colonists to defy Sothell; in England Sothell’s fellow proprietors, upon learning of his actions, censured him. Paul Grimball, who received his appointment as secretary of the colony under Governor Colleton from the proprietors, refused to turn over his records and the Great Seal of the colony to Sothell, whereupon the governor seized the records by force and imprisoned Grimball. Perhaps the tenacity and impertinance of these few diehard Colleton men, together with the confidence engendered in Sothell by his seemingly sweeping popular mandate, entrapped the new governor in acts of retribution for which he was held responsible. He participated in the passage of punitive legislation that barred Colleton from Carolina and excluded forever many of Colleton’s appointees from holding public office. The unseated governor was directed to appear in England to defend himself against formal charges as yet unformulated. Although this legislation was much less the result of an arbitrary decision by Sothell than an act of vengeance sought by leaders in the Carolina Parliament, the enactments were imprudent if not downright witless, because they set the proprietors in England against Sothell.17
The proprietors invalidated the laws enacted during Governor Sothell’s brief term of office and declared that his conduct was not only illegal but so offensive as to constitute a high misdemeanor and even treason. In their view, the governor, in a quaint phrase, was “outing of the rest of the proprietors of their Rights.” It is likely that Sothell, since he was not one of the established proprietary families, was resented by his colleagues in England. Moreover, the fact that the deposed Governor Colleton was the brother of proprietor Sir Peter Colleton did nothing to aid the Sothell case.18
In any event, Sothell was removed from office on the basis of the extraordinary official argument that the Fundamental Constitutions, because of the failure of the Carolinians to accept them, made his appeal to its provisions obsolete. Only the specifications of the charter, it was asserted, prevailed. Under its provisions, a new governor was appointed—Philip Ludwell of Virginia and more recently Sothell’s successor in North Carolina—who had married the widow of William Berkeley, late governor of Virginia and one of the original proprietors of Carolina.19
The administration of Philip Ludwell is significant solely because during his tenure the issues involved in the confrontation between the proprietors and the colonists were more sharply defined; eventually the power of the proprietors was diminished and that of the Carolinians strengthened. After the dismissal of Sothell, the proprietary officials in the colony, regardless of the strategy or tactics they employed, simply could not escape this course of events. To trace the struggle in detail would, in itself, involve a small volume; yet it is essential to indicate the broad outlines, using as a preeminent case study the response of the colonials to the Fundamental Constitutions as the basis for governance.
So much has been said about the Fundamental Constitutions, originally drafted in 1669 to serve as the organic act of the new colony, and yet much remains to be written. The idea that the Fundamental Constitutions was a wild scheme, wholly inapplicable to a New World and therefore to be discarded as inconsequential, has fortunately been thoroughly discredited by recent studies. Although never accepted in its entirety, the Fundamental Constitutions influenced Carolina land policy and religious development, to a degree its social structure, and certainly its government, especially that of North Carolina.20
Scholars are generally in agreement regarding the circumstances surrounding the preparation of the Fundamental Constitutions. A clause, common to many colonial charters, is found in the Carolina Charter of 1665: “And because such Assemblies of Freeholders cannot be so suddenly called as there may be occasion to require the same: We do … give and Grant … full power and authority, from time to time, to make and Ordain fit and wholesome Orders and Ordinances, within the Province or Territory aforesaid … to be kept and observed … for the better Government of the People there abiding.”21
Acting accordingly, the proprietors adopted the Fundamental Constitutions, a document prepared principally by Lord Ashley, one of the most influential and active proprietors, and John Locke, who became famous for the treatises he later wrote rationalizing the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England. The weight of evidence suggests that Lord Ashley was the chief author and that Locke, as Ashley’s secretary and as scribe for the proprietary group, advised, commented, and drafted policy statements at the request of the men in whom authority was vested and upon whom responsibility rested.22
A draft of the Fundamental Constitutions, dated 1669, was agreed to by the prospective colonists and presumably by the proprietors. However, the proprietors considered this draft incomplete, and in 1670 a finished document was sent to the colonials for endorsement. But their acceptance was never given.
This simple fact is the key that opens the door to a better understanding of the issues in dispute. The Charter of 1665 stated that the proprietors were authorized “to Ordain, make, and Enact, and under their Seals to Publish, any laws and Constitutions whatsoever, either appertaining to the Public State of the said whole Province or Territory, or of any distinct or particular County, Barony, or Colony of or within the same”; and now comes the essential qualification which is found in most colonial charters, “by and with the advice, assent, and approbation of the Freemen of the said Province or Territory, or of the Freemen of the County, Barony, or Colony For which such law or Constitution [my italics] shall be made, or the greater part of them, or of their Delegates or Deputies.”23
Under these specifications, no system of government or societal relationship could be imposed upon Carolina by the unilateral action of the proprietors. The semifeudal character of the Fundamental Constitutions complete with its prescriptions for distributing lands and titles, for an elaborate and somewhat contradictory judicial system, and for additional institutions to reinforce the highly structured interrelationships among the settlers—aspects of the document that have been the primary focus of scholars—had little if any relationship to the questions that troubled contemporaries. In effect, later generations of historians misrepresented the issue. They branded the Fundamental Constitutions as a fascinating but essentially amusing example of an archaic document, unworkable in the American setting and, therefore, to be discarded rather casually on the historical scrap heap as a quaint curiosity. Carolina contemporaries perceived the issue from a distinctly different point of view: any constitutional system unilaterally imposed was unacceptable. To them the issue was at once as simple and profound as self-government itself.
The reluctance of the freemen of Carolina to accept the Fundamental Constitutions can be readily understood in light of its language. It called for the establishment of a Carolina Parliament. This parliament was made up of the governor, the Grand Council composed of deputies of the proprietors, and elected delegates of the freemen sitting together in a single house to enact legislation. The Grand Council alone could propose bills; indeed, all measures were required to pass the Grand Council before they could be submitted to parliament. If the legislation was adopted, the Grand Council, now acting in an executive-judicial capacity, could veto parliamentary legislation. Within this political framework, elected freemen to the parliament, in relation to the decision-making and policy-making process, were scarcely more than ciphers.
That this provision in the Fundamental Constitutions struck a sensitive issue is reflected in the exchange between the spokesmen for the proprietors and those of the petitioners, representing the colonials. “And the people haveinge not [my italics] accordinge to the Royall Charters assented or approved of any fundamentall Constitutions in Parliment [sic],” asserted the Carolina petition,
have unanimously declared that the Goverment now is to be directed and mannaged wholy and solely accordinge to the said Charters, [;] and in particular the last Parliment did deny that any Bill must necessarily pass the Grand Councill before it be read in Parliment, and did profer [prefer] for the maintenance of peace and justice, to assent to & approve of any Law for that end, to be made according to the directions and commands in the said Royal Charters …[;] but the Governor and the Lords Deputies pressinge to proceed as formerly, viz., by havinge all Bills first past the Grand Councill, nothinge was don.24
In contrast, John Stewart, speaking for Governor Colleton, found the revisions for enacting legislation sought by the petitioners absurd. That “no bill shall pass but their way and in a new Channell” was a design to ensnare the governor. What motive could inspire such a demand “bot [but] malice or a designe of higher consequence than any yet dreams of.” Unknowingly, Stewart’s rhetoric catches a glimmer of reality.25
William Rivers, one of the earliest modern scholars to investigate the history of South Carolina, emphasizes that the “incomplete” version of the Fundamental Constitutions of 1669, at least so regarded by the proprietors, was altered in the 1670 version by the inclusion of a number of clauses, one of which encouraged the formation of an established Anglican church. This clause stated:
As the Country comes to be sufficiently Planted and Distributed into fit Divisions, it shall belong to the Parliament to take care for the building of Churches and the public Maintenance of Divines, to be employed in the Exercise of Religion according to the Church of England, which, being the only true and Orthodox, and the National Religion of all the King’s Dominions, is so also of Carolina, and therefore, it alone shall be allowed to receive public Maintenance by Grant of Parliament.26
Rivers suggests that its inclusion prevented the Dissenters from supporting the Fundamental Constitutions. He further hints that those who supported an established church waited patiently for thirty years to fulfill their objective.
While the observation of Rivers sounds plausible, particularly in view of the contest that raged in the colony after 1700 to promote such an establishment, the evidence does not support it. First, the Fundamental Constitutions confronted the colonials with a partial contradiction: a guarantee of religious toleration and participation in civil affairs regardless of religious belief, and, at the same time, specific instructions to establish the Anglican church. Second, the protracted debate between 1670 and 1700 never focused upon the particular clause referring to an established church. Third, Anglicans as well as Dissenters vigorously opposed the Fundamental Constitutions.
Even though the Fundamental Constitutions was eventually set aside, it operated de facto in selected areas of colonial affairs. During these years the South Carolina legislature was known as the “Parliament,” a designation given by the Fundamental Constitutions. For a time Parliament operated much as it was designed to do, as a single body with the Grand Council proposing legislation. Land was granted under pertinent provisions of the Constitutions. In North Carolina, Albemarle County was governed, for the most part, according to the Fundamental Constitutions. In contrast to South Carolina, where the opposition to the Fundamental Constitutions was fierce, in North Carolina it never emerged as a primary issue. As a result, the legislative capacity of North Carolina was crippled until well into the second decade of the eighteenth century, a phenomenon that will be subsequently explored.27
But in South Carolina the elected freemen were determined to separate themselves from a unicameral legislature dominated by the proprietary agents and to gain the right to initiate legislation. By 1692 the elected delegates were meeting separately in a Commons House of Assembly. They subscribed to their own rules of procedure; they elected a speaker of their own choice. They were not yet wholly free from the initiative of the Grand Council in proposing legislation, but they formulated bills for consideration. Members of the Commons House of Assembly used their parliamentary skill to exert pressure to modify legislation proposed by the Council, and at times they were able to delay or reject bills. During the 1690s the Commons House of Assembly definitely came into its own: initiating legislation, gaining control of the legislative process, and operating somewhat independently from the wishes of the proprietors.28
The Fundamental Constitutions, however modified by the proprietors to meet colonial critics, had been and remained a symbol: the imposition of a government by the proprietors without consultation or agreement with the colonists. The majority of colonials as represented by their elected delegates appealed to the Carolina Charters of 1663 and 1665 which stated in language that could not be misunderstood that laws were to be passed by and with their advice, assent, and approbation. The proprietors, on the other hand, argued that the charter gave them the right to make laws until such a time as the colony was sufficiently mature to be able to participate in the government, a position that could also be confirmed by a close reading of the charter. The proprietors contended that the Fundamental Constitutions was more generous than the charter in its guarantee of religious freedom and in its affirmation of political and civil rights. These arguments, in a technical, legalistic sense, may have been accurate, but they assumed acquiescence to a framework of government which the colonials had no part in forming and when accepted would seriously hamper any meaningful exercise of power.
Since the founding of the colony the colloquy on the Fundamental Constitutions had been ceaseless. As early as 1682, after a decade of agitation, more than half the representatives in the Carolina Parliament walked out of that body rather than sign the Fundamental Constitutions. Soon after Governor Colleton took office in 1686, a committee in the Carolina Parliament was appointed to inspect the Fundamental Constitutions and to propose alterations; but, in the language of contemporaries, “the worke grew volumious suddenly” and the committee’s deliberations, in 1687, were “layd aside for some heates ariseinge in the howse.”29 When Governor Ludwell took office in 1691, the pendulum swung toward the point of view of the colonials, and in 1693 the proprietors acknowledged the position of the Carolina petitioners, in a proclamation dated 11 May 1693:
And whereas the Inhabitants of our Province have desired rather to be governed by the full power granted to us by our Charter from the Crowne[–]as it was represented to us by Mr. Maurice Mathews he whom they did Impower to be their Agent[–]with which their desire Wee having complyed whereby the Rules and Limitations apointed by the sd. Constitutions for the Goverment [sic] are now ceased[;] and the Goverment of the said Province is to be for the future as it shall be directed by the Majority of Us the sd. Lords Proprietors of the sd. Province pursuant to the powers granted to us by our sd. Charter.30
As late as 1702 the proprietors tried to win the colonists to the position that the Fundamental Constitutions be accepted as a guide, but any effort made after 1693 was no more than a gesture. The proprietors and their spokesmen entertained no expectation that the colonists would reverse themselves. Even in 1702 the question was only raised because the Fundamental Constitutions guaranteed a remarkable degree of religious toleration; thus it was responsive to the most burning political-religious issue in the colony at that time.
No one would be so naive as to suggest that the men and forces working to set aside the Fundamental Constitutions and to bring about a larger measure of self-government were free from the daily sweat of self-interest. A case in point was that of representation in the Commons House of Assembly. The proprietors in the 1680s, and again under Governor Ludwell in the 1690s, sent instructions that the assembly of South Carolina should be composed of seven delegates from Colleton County, seven from Berkeley County, and six from Craven. Berkeley County, of which Charleston was the center, contained, according to an estimate made by Ludwell, three-fourths of the population; yet it received only one-third of the representation. The “frontier” counties of Colleton and Craven received representation far beyond what was justified on a democratic basis, an interesting reverse of the usual generalization about the under-representation of the frontier. Governor Ludwell suggested that the proprietors moderate the instruction with regard to equal representation between the counties, but the proprietors asserted that in the future the population of Craven and Colleton would eventually catch up to that of Berkeley. “Those that governe a Countrey that is Settling must have an Eye to the future, for Wee have reason to hope that in time those Countys will come to have at least each of them as many people as Berkley County and then what right will it be that Craven County should choose but two and Berkly County 14.”
Such statesmanlike foresight by the proprietors veiled a more immediate and powerful motivating force. In reality, they sought, by an equal allocation of delegates among the counties, to develop a proprietary party. By extending over-representation to Craven and Colleton counties, “Wee have reason to hope the French and all others will in time have their Eys opened and act more reasonably for our and their owne Interest.”31
The instructions of the proprietors directly affected two principles involving representation: that a legislative body can determine for itself the establishment of election districts, a power which many, but not all, English colonies in North America exercised; and that representation should be in reasonable accordance with population, a principle little honored in colonial and United States history. In either case political power is the prize. With such high stakes in Carolina the leadership of Berkeley County resented the distribution of delegates among the counties, particularly as it applied to Craven whose population was not only sparse but composed almost exclusively of French Huguenots who had only recently arrived.
The Fundamental Constitutions protected these “aliens”; although the charter provisions were not explicit, the “Concessions of 1665” offered protection the equal of the Fundamental Constitutions. It is possible but unlikely that the decision of the Berkeley County leaders to oppose the Fundamental Constitutions was reinforced by a fear that their political influence would be undermined if the French received the protection of that constitutional framework. Berkeley County leaders with support from those of Colleton County had taken their stand on the Fundamental Constitutions well before the main body of Huguenots settled in Craven County. Furthermore, Berkeley County leaders took the initiative during Sothell’s administration to adopt an act in 1691—negated by the proprietors in England along with the other enactments under Sothell—to confirm the civil and political rights of the French and Swiss Huguenots.32
The trinity of representation, self-government, and the Fundamental Constitutions was not the only development to awaken the tug of self-interest; also affected were the vital questions of land and Indian trade. In accordance with earlier agreements, the proprietors had set 1690 as the deadline to collect quitrents, payment to be made in specie. Contemporary complaints as found in Carolina letters and petitions expressed a distaste for making specie payments; payment in commodities produced in the colony was preferred. If this were the essence of the problem, it certainly would have been short-lived because the proprietors in their instructions to Governor Ludwell stated that they would be willing to accept commodity payment. Despite this concession, the dispute lingered. Carolinians were obviously reluctant to pay quitrents in any form. In addition, they, like all settlers in rapidly developing colonies, laid claim to more land than they were entitled to by patent; and they delayed taking the final steps toward full ownership in order to avert the payment of quitrents.
Grievances on land policy had plagued the colony from the beginning. In 1665, in a document entitled “Concessions and Agreements’’ made between the proprietors and the Barbadians who were being encouraged to settle in Carolina, the price of land had been set at one pence an acre. This agreement was not honored. In the 1680s and 1690s the terms governing land grants were less generous than those specified in the “Concessions.” Complaints heard in other colonies were repeated in Carolina: the best land was allocated to the proprietors; the grants made to them were not only extensive but also contiguous, making settlement by an individual planter more difficult and settlement by a group of planters almost impossible; and friends of the proprietors received favored treatment at the expense of other settlers. A special fear persisted in Carolina that the proprietors would carve up the colony by permitting groups such as that of Lord Cardoss—who established a settlement of Scots at Port Royal and who asserted unequivocally that his “colony” had an independent political jurisdiction—to preempt the territory, denying opportunities for future land and profit to those already in the colony.
The procedure in granting land fell into a special category of grievances. The proprietors introduced a form of land conveyance, called an indenture, as a substitute for an outright deed, which required the grantee to sign a statement agreeing to begin payment of the appropriate quitrent within six months or to forfeit the grant. No warrant to issue the grant or to survey it could be obtained until the prospective grantee signed this “reentry” clause. The prospect of laying out cash for a grant with a chance of losing it in six months was not attractive to Carolinians regardless of economic status.33
Whether the issue was representation, land policy, or some other question involving political content, the underlying proposition remained the same: so long as the Fundamental Constitutions remained the basis for governance, the proprietors determined policy because they controlled the pressure points of power. Eliminating the Fundamental Constitutions dramatically altered the character of the political contest.
In this context the issue of self-government is well represented in a list of grievances prepared in 1692–1693 by the delegates to the Commons House of Assembly: that the “office of Sheriffe and Judge of the Court of pleas” was “Lodged” in the same person, thereby uniting in a single man the prosecutor and judge; that though the creation of a court system was a proprietary prerogative, those courts “ought to be bounded and Regulated by Laws made by the assent of the people”; that public officers received fees in excess of those charged for similar responsibilities in England and these fees should “be settled by act of assembly here” in the same way that the Parliament in England determined fees; that too few people’s delegates were in the Assembly, by which the colonists meant that the delegates representing the freeman could be out-voted by the governor and the proprietors’ deputies in the Carolina Parliament; that the Palatine Court was working at cross purposes, invalidating legislation which the members of the court sitting as members of Parliament had “Ratified”; that the Palatine Court “putt in force” English laws that, in its judgment, were “addapted to this Province” without consulting the assembly; that the inferior courts in Carolina, whose membership was controlled by the proprietors through the governor, presumed to decide the extent of the powers of the Carolina House of Commons by determining the validity of their acts; and that the establishment of martial law, except in cases of rebellion, sedition, or invasion, exceeded the powers given by the proprietors under the charter. The recurring theme of this list reflects a fixed conviction on the part of the Carolina colonials that they, not the proprietors, must set policy.34
The conflict between the colonial demands to control policy and the prerogatives of the proprietors was resolved between 1694 and 1700 under the administrations of John Archdale (1694–1696) and his personally selected successor, Joseph Blake (1696–1700). The settlement did not extend to every detail of the complex interrelationship between proprietors and settlers, but it penetrated to the fundamentals: the distribution of land and payment of quitrents, but more significantly, the role of the Commons House of Assembly, representing the freemen, in establishing policy for South Carolina.
John Archdale came to Carolina at the request of his fellow proprietors, after Thomas Smith, a landgrave appointed temporary governor in 1693–1694, appealed to his superiors in England to send one of their number with authority to resolve the critical issues confronting the colony, especially those policies related to land; otherwise, Smith concluded with a flourish, the settlers would abandon the colony. The proprietors first asked Lord Ashley, grandson of the Earl of Shaftesbury, to undertake the task, but he declined, pleading a commitment to his father’s business affairs. It is possible that he recognized a thankless task. Archdale, a Quaker who had purchased a proprietary share for his son in 1678, agreed to come.35
John Archdale was not a stranger to America, having worked unsuccessfully to develop the claim of Ferdinando Gorges in Maine. Upon returning to England he became a Quaker. His interest in North Carolina was aroused when a large number of Quakers had either settled there or been converted to the faith. Archdale is described as a person of moderate judicious temperament, an attribute in short supply. To judge from his writing, he was a man of learning, although he did not wear it lightly. Archdale visited North Carolina in 1683, and his return to the English colonies three decades after his first venture into the New World, this time to act on behalf of proprietors committed to a colony on the southern rather than the northern frontier, demonstrates once again the contagion of colonization; those engaged in it, however discouraging their earlier experience, never seemed to acquire immunity.36
Archdale writes that conflict interrupted the initial stages of his administration. “Some endeavour’d to sow Seed of Contention, thereby to nip the same; insomuch that they sat six Weeks under Civil Broils and Heats; but at length recollecting their Minds into a cooler Frame of Spirit, my Patience was a great means to overcome them; so that in the conclusion all Matters ended amicably.” Although Archdale credited his own patience, the concessions he made to the colonials are more persuasive evidence.37
Archdale moved swiftly to resolve differences over land policy. Acting on instructions that he had solicited from the proprietors—although in certain details his colleagues in England complained that he exceeded instructions—the Governor instituted drastic changes in the distribution and sale of lands. These policies were incorporated in two acts: one, an Act to Ascertain Prices of Land, the Forms of Conveyances, Recovery of Rents, and Prices of Commodities for Payment; and two, an Act for Remission of Part of Arrears of Rent. Both were adopted 16 March 1696.38
Under the first act the price of land was greatly reduced, making it possible to purchase one thousand acres of land near the settled section of Carolina for twenty pounds current money; the same number of acres in the interior could be purchased for ten pounds. It was still necessary to pay a quitrent of twelve pence per one hundred acres, but, interestingly enough, failure to pay it did not prompt the immediate forfeiture of the land, thus evading the vexatious reentry clause, unless the lapse in payment extended to twenty-one years. This provision eliminated any immediate threat on the part of the proprietors to repossess land already granted. The law also provided that new settlers be exempted from quitrents for five years.
Adoption of the Act of Remission quieted but did not settle the land issue. From 1690, when quitrent payments were to begin, until 1694 when Archdale assumed office, collection lagged, even among affluent colonists. In an effort to enforce their will and to provide an object lesson, the proprietors instructed Governor Ludwell to initiate court proceedings against James Moore, a large landholder and leading Carolinian who was to become a member of the council and eventually governor.39 This unsatisfactory state of affairs was eased only when Archdale and the assembly finally struck a bargain. The governor remitted quitrents for three years in some cases and four years in others. In response, the assembly adopted legislation requested by Archdale and needed by the colony: taxes to pay for the fortification of Charleston; procedures to expedite the payment of quitrents in the future; and a militia act, which included the provision that religious scruples could exempt a man from taking up arms.40
In the Commons House the effect of the quitrent remission was especially salutary. On the final day of the session, addressing the governor and the proprietors, the delegates singled out only one piece of legislation: “Wee … Profoundly Sencible of your Most Gratious Intimations Considerations and ffavours in … Investing … Archdale … with Such Large and ample powers … Doe Most Humbly Recognize and Sincerely and Cordially Thanke your Honours for the Late Acts of Grants Remission of Arrears of Rent The Undeniable Manifestation of your Honours Paternall Care of us Living in this your Collony.”41
During his administration, Archdale made two concessions that illustrate how powerful the Commons House was becoming. First, the governor, when convening the session beginning January 1696, did not insist that Craven County be granted equal representation with Colleton and Berkeley. Berkeley and Craven jointly were allocated twenty delegates and Colleton ten delegates. When the Commons House met, the list of delegates did not contain a single French name, and no person who had represented Craven County in the two previous assemblies was elected. Berkeley County was able to exercise controlling influence, although the speaker selected was Jonathan Amory from Colleton. The concession made by Archdale on the allocation of delegates caused an uproar among his fellow proprietors in England. “Wee cannot aprove of your Expedient not to Grant Summons to Craven County to be represented in your Assembly as formerly.” When Archdale explained that under the previous allocation of representatives, the number of eligible voters in Craven almost equalled the number of delegates—an overstatement of the case—the proprietors in England acquiesced.42
A second and equally significant concession to the Commons House is highlighted by the language of the Act to Ascertain Price and Conveyance of Land. Not only did its concluding clause declare that once the act was ratified by the governor and proprietors’ deputies in Carolina it was not to be “repealed, annulled or revoked but by and with the consent of the Generall Assembly,” but also that “this Act” was “unrepealable and irrevocable by any power or persons whatsoever, without the consent of the Generall Assembly.”43
Among the factors that enabled the colonials to take such a forceful stand was the growing weakness of the proprietors. Original proprietors such as Edward Hyde, the Earl of Clarendon and a minister during the reign of Charles II, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, were giants in English politics during the Restoration period with its structured, contained society. During their primacy such men infused all governmental policy. Indeed, as late as the 1680s when the Crown attempted to regain control over all proprietary and charter colonies, the Carolina proprietors remained untouched.
But what a dramatic change had taken place by the late 1690s! Except for the Earl of Craven, the original proprietors were dead; Craven succumbed in 1697. In rare cases the proprietary legacy had been inherited by able sons and grandsons or assigned to competent guardians of minor children. But most titles changed hands when the proprietor died without heirs or when the proprietary right was sold. Generally the instructions in the 1690s were signed by only three of the following men: John Archdale, Thomas Amy, William Thornburgh, and the Earl of Craven. Although apparently fit, the earl was in his eighties; what energy he possessed was largely absorbed by domestic politics. Thornburgh acted as the guardian for the ten-year-old son of James Colleton, an arrangement that did not encourage a vigorous colonizing effort. Amy had been granted a proprietary share, apparently because he had helped to send colonists; his inexperience was never mitigated, so it would appear, by either talent or vision. However one might value his character, Archdale’s claim of proprietorship was at best of doubtful legality, for Lady Berkeley, from whom he had reputedly purchased his share, had apparently sold the identical title to Amy. In the 1690s, therefore, the management of the colony of Carolina was in the hands of two men whose titles to a proprietorship were in doubt, a stand-in for a proprietor who was a minor, and a man whose age seriously limited his involvement. What is amazing is not that the colonials in the 1690s were able to gain ascendency in their struggle for power with the proprietors but that they did not overthrow proprietary rule altogether.44
A number of considerations delayed this ultimate step. First, the Crown, preoccupied with domestic and foreign problems resulting from the Glorious Revolution which placed William and Mary on the throne, did not encourage the Carolinians. To attempt to overthrow proprietary rule without at least the tacit consent of or assurance from the Crown would have been foolhardy. Indeed, Carolinians did not express a desire to become a Crown colony at this time, no doubt recognizing that to gain control of the government of the colony only to relinquish it to the Crown was not in their best interest. When more was to be gained than lost by becoming a royal colony, this consideration was to be reappraised. Second, the seemingly limitless territorial boundaries of Carolina, extending from Virginia to present-day Florida and from the seaboard to the Mississippi River basin, deterred the consolidation of political strength. Finally, postponement of the eventual overthrow of the proprietors was an understandable corollary to a new and preeminent dimension in Carolina politics after 1700, the contest within the colony for control of policy.
The administration of Governor Joseph Blake, beginning in 1696 and ending with his death in 1700, was the longest of any early Carolina governor except for the second term of Joseph West, 1674–1682. The years of Blake’s governorship can be classified as an era of good feeling, but as so often happens in such a period, those subterranean and contentious forces which were to dominate the following decade and to affect every Carolinian were already taking shape.
An important achievement during Blake’s administration was “An Act for making Aliens free … and for granting Liberty of Conscience to all Protestants,” adopted 10 March 1697. As early as 1693, after the foresighted act passed during Sothell’s administration conferring the rights of English citizens on aliens in Carolina had been invalidated by the proprietors, the French Huguenots petitioned them to issue fresh instructions for a reenactment. The proprietors’ reply could not conceal a pettiness of spirit. The French Huguenots, they declared, had been misled by men “who in the bottom love you not…. when you have tryed all you will find the Lords Proprietors themselves the best Friends you have.” But, the proprietors concluded, “unwilling to take advantage of the Inconveniencys the said Forraigners have contributed to bring on themselves by joyneing with those who oposed the receiving the said Constitutions,” they, the proprietors, agreed to instruct the governor to obtain legislation guaranteeing land titles and conveyances.45
Under the terms of the act of 1697 aliens named in it or those who petitioned the governor within three months were granted rights the equivalent of those held by Englishmen, including the right to own, convey, and bequeath property. Conveyances made previous to enactment of the law were validated. A final clause in the act provided for religious liberty—except for Catholics. Obviously, the Huguenots gained the most from this legislation. The solution to the issue of the status of aliens, it should be noted, was resolved not by proprietary order but on specific terms formulated by the assembly.46
A fresh set of demands prepared by the Commons House on 19 November 1698 reconfirms the consummation of a decade of growing colonial political power and anticipates the ultimate goal. The colony, the House asserted, should have the right to coin money, a function considered the prerogative of a sovereign; land grants must be confined to one thousand acres, the unstated premise being that arbitrary awards by the proprietors were to be minimized; no law could be enforced unless adopted by the colonial legislature; the governor and council, with the advice and consent of the assembly, should have the right to repeal any law confirmed by the proprietors; the governor should be less inhibited by his instructions. Including the governor and council as a part of the demand for colonial political rights reflects the realities of the political life, that Carolinians possessed the power to control the governor—in fact if not in theory.47
Having reached a new plateau, Carolinians could advance to the next stage in their political education, an internal struggle to control the policies of the colony.