Internal Politics in Proprietary Carolina:
An Emerging Political Mosaic
IN THE 1690S THE POLITICS OF SOUTH CAROLINA WAS DOMINated by a struggle for power between the colonials and the proprietors; during the decade after 1700 the struggle became a contest for control within the colony. The political evolution of North Carolina, in contrast, cannot be categorized so neatly, one of numerous indicators that informs the historian of the character of the mosaic subdividing the southern colonies.
Before reviewing these developments, it is useful to remember that historians, by the nature of their profession, describe, analyze, and explain events that have transpired. They abhor conjecture as to what might have occurred. As a result critical questions frequently are evaded.
In the case of Carolina, historians commonly assume that the creation of two Carolinas, North and South, was somehow foreordained. It was not a presumption shared by the proprietors. Because the separation of the Carolinas is taken for granted, critical questions are seldom raised. For example, did the respective political experiences of the Albemarle and Ashley River settlements contribute to the ultimate division? And how is the historian to explain why the political institutions of South Carolina, which in the 1690s were based on counties as governing subdivisions, failed to develop the forms and functions of local government when these practices thrived in North Carolina?
Stripped to its essentials, the political struggle within South Carolina after 1700 involves a contest between counties, their interests and their constituencies, and the distribution of political power within a county which promoted or discouraged intercounty political alignments. Contemporary South Carolinians, it should be noted, frequently discussed rival political blocs within the framework of two principal religious groups, Anglicans and Dissenters. But these designations distort, if not falsify. Anglicans, considered as a religious affiliation, included a broad spectrum—high churchmen, moderate churchmen, and Englishmen with no genuine church allegiance but who out of custom associated themselves with the Anglican church. Dissenters, considered as a religious movement, included Presbyterians, Independents, and Quakers, depending upon their divergence from Anglican polity and doctrine. Many if not most Dissenters, however, had migrated from England. French Huguenots were, in fact, Dissenters, but they never classified themselves under this rubric.1
Not only do the terms “Anglican” and “Dissenter” fail to correspond with a precise religious affiliation, but they are also deceptive if used to designate political blocs. Stephen Bull, to cite an example, was an Anglican; but he was considered a member of the Dissenter bloc. The so-called Goose Creek Men, a half dozen prominent political leaders of Berkeley County, many of whom migrated from Barbados to take up lands along Goose Creek, a tributary of the Cooper River, were also Anglican. They opposed the “Dissenter coalition.”2
Obviously, then, during this stress-filled period of South Carolina politics no label accurately or fully reflects the composition of political blocs. Only when the more general terms, English-Anglican—which distinguishes between the English and those French Huguenots who eventually became Anglican—and Dissenter, are correlated with an analysis of the population makeup and political influence within a county do patterns of political alignments emerge.3
The base of power for any political bloc within the colony was the county, defined as a subdivision of the colony, not as a unit of local government. Delegate strength in the Commons House of Assembly and the influence of these delegates upon legislative policy grew out of the informal personal and political associations of the constituency of the county. Berkeley not only had the largest population of the counties of South Carolina, but it was also the most heterogeneous, as could be expected of a county that included a major port of entry, Charleston. The English-Anglicans arriving from Barbados were probably the largest single segment of the population of Berkeley County, although a specific figure cannot be cited with confidence. The population of Berkeley County also included a substantial number of Dissenters. At least three Dissenter churches flourished in Charleston compared with one Anglican church. English-Anglicans and Dissenters resided in Charleston and owned fertile land adjacent to the Cooper River and its tributaries. French Huguenots, who as a group were generally not classified as Dissenters, comprised perhaps fifty families in the population of Berkeley County.
In contrast to Berkeley, the population of Colleton and Craven counties, located south and north of Charleston respectively, were remarkably homogeneous. Colleton was made up largely of Dissenters with a scattering of English-Anglicans, but the Dissenters had such superiority in numbers that political control of the county was assured unless they divided over a grave political issue, a rare occurrence. Sparsely populated Craven County, located north of Berkeley and extending toward “North Carolina,” was composed almost exclusively of French Huguenots.
The consequence of this population distribution within South Carolina dramatically illuminates the configuration of intracolonial political strife. Considered in terms of the entire population of South Carolina, the English-Anglicans and the Dissenters were nearly at a standoff. Arthur Hirsch, historian of the Huguenots of colonial South Carolina, suggests that on the basis of contemporary estimates the approximate ratio between Dissenter and Anglican populations was three thousand to twenty-five hundred. To accept such precision is treacherous. Even if correct, gross population figures cannot be equated with the number of persons who enjoyed the franchise. Regardless of the exact numbers, the base of Dissenter political power in Carolina was much more secure because of its grip upon Colleton County and thus its delegates to the Commons House, in contrast to the English-Anglicans who were never fully confident of controlling Berkeley County and its delegates to the Assembly. A modest number of defectors, joining with a bloc of Huguenots and Dissenters, could and did cause the Berkeley County English-Anglicans to lose their power base. And if one-fourth of the delegates of Berkeley County were Dissenters, that group allied with the Colleton delegation could determine Carolina policy. One indicator of the continuity of Dissenter strength is their domination of the office of governor which was held by Dissenters eighteen out of the first thirty years of the colony’s existence. Craven County, inhabited by French Huguenots, was neither automatically in the political camp of the Dissenters nor in that of the English-Anglicans.4
Against this backdrop, two factors in the political contest emerge as being critical: first, the allocation of representation among the three counties; and second, the political allegiance of the Huguenots, who, despite their modest numbers, held the balance of power.
The apportionment of delegates to the Commons House between counties was altered radically between 1694 and 1696. Beginning in 1691 the allocation of representation in the Commons House was: Berkeley, seven; Colleton, seven; and Craven, six. In 1694 the governor and council, composed of Dissenters or men favorably disposed to them, wished to eliminate Craven County as a unit of representation, fearing that the Huguenots might align themselves with the English-Anglicans of Berkeley County. Ten delegates were allocated jointly to Craven and Berkeley and ten were allocated to Colleton. In August 1695 Governor John Archdale, recently arrived in South Carolina, issued writs for an election with an apportionment of delegates as follows: Berkeley, ten; Colleton, ten; Craven, none. But this decision was altered by the issuance of a writ for a new election in December, the governor summoning “all the Kings Leidge Subjects the freeman Inhabitants of Berkly and Craven Countys to bee and Appear” in Charleston. In reporting the results, Robert Gibbes, the sheriff, provided a list of twenty delegates for Berkeley and Craven jointly, with Colleton retaining only its original allocation of ten delegates. This pattern was followed in subsequent elections.5
What prompted these alterations in the apportionment for the Commons House is uncertain, but they obviously were related to the second factor in the intracolonial struggle for power, the political allegiance of the French Huguenots. A petition signed by a hundred inhabitants of Carolina, addressed to the governor and forwarded to the proprietors in August 1695, complained that instructions sent Governor Ludwell in 1691 resulted in the election of six Frenchmen from Craven as delegates to the Commons House, “which hath been very Dissatisfactory to the English here.” The petition called for “an Assembly of Purely English and Elected onely by English.” To call for an assembly with Frenchmen as delegates, they reported, “will be of Dangerous Consequence the English being highly incensed at it.”6 In August 1696 Governor Archdale observed: “the ffrench have never been told they Should not voat for or bee Elected members of Assembly but were for their owne Safeties and the preservacon of the publick peace perswaided to forbeare voteing which if they had not Done at that time the ruining of this part of Your province had very probably followed.”7
Contemporary comments quoted give the mistaken impression that opposition to the French Huguenots was supported by all political blocs; in reality the English-Anglicans were more favorably disposed to them than were the Dissenters, because they expected the political support of the French Huguenots. As early as 1690, when Governor James Colleton, a Dissenter, was replaced by Seth Sothell, the English-Anglicans not only led the opposition to Governor Colleton, but they were also given credit for passing enlightened legislation conferring the rights of British citizens upon French aliens, a measure originally vetoed by the proprietors. When Craven and Berkeley counties were coupled as a voting unit, the English-Anglicans were sensitive to the requirements of the Huguenots. Their ability to win political control of Berkeley and Craven counties depended on an alignment with the French.
The Dissenters, especially those residing in Colleton County, were aggressive in upholding British commercial regulations which specified that all trade must be carried on in vessels manned and owned by Englishmen. English-Anglicans were willing to interpret imperial policies liberally, but Dissenters condemned ships and cargoes owned by the French Huguenots and profited personally from enforcement of the English Acts of Trade.8
Under the dispensation of ten delegates from Colleton and ten from Berkeley, the Dissenters, with their political base in Colleton secure, were at an advantage. The election of two or three Dissenters from Berkeley County gave them a slight political edge. Perhaps relying upon this strength, Dissenters during this period were amenable to concessions to English-Anglicans. However, moderation in the exercise of power was built in, because the Dissenters could not afford to alienate the Crown and Parliament.
When Archdale altered the allocation of representation between the counties in December 1695, giving Berkeley-Craven twenty delegates and Colleton ten, he set in motion three predictable developments which perhaps he did not foresee. First, the political advantage shifted slightly in favor of the English-Anglicans. Second, the French Huguenots became an even more critical voting bloc in Berkeley County, the stronghold of English-Anglican strength. And third, the Dissenters became increasingly, indeed, almost violently, anti-French.
The alteration in the political balance in favor of the English-Anglicans was confirmed in 1700 when James Moore became governor. He was the first English-Anglican to hold that office in more than a decade, gaining the post in a close contest. Only by a clever and successful maneuver was he able to block the selection of Joseph Morton, a Dissenter. The proprietors—albeit reluctantly in view of Moore’s antiproprietary record—confirmed James Moore’s appointment.9
Because of the narrow margin of victory, it might be expected that Moore and the English-Anglicans would opt for compromise. Instead, they sought to enlarge their advantage by unexpectedly forceful measures. They acted to give the Huguenots the franchise—because they were supporters—without extending the privilege of officeholding. To consolidate their political control, within five years the English-Anglicans were prepared to take the extraordinary step of excluding Dissenters from office.
In 1700 Governor Moore issued writs for an election calling for ten delegates from Colleton County and twenty from Berkeley-Craven. If the number of votes cast is used as the criterion in the apportionment of delegates, to the disadvantage of Colleton, then Moore’s call appears to be justified. But the governor’s critics complained that he compromised the election by bringing in unqualified voters. “Much threat’nings, many intreaties & other unjustifiable actions were made use of, & illegal and unqualify’d votes given in to the Sheriff, & by him receiv’d & returned,” asserted the petitioners,
particularly the votes of very many unqualify’d Aliens were taken & enter’d, the votes of several Members of the Council were fil’d & receiv’d, a great number of Servants & poor & indigent persons voted promiscuously with their Masters & Creditors, as also several free Negroes were receiv’d, & taken for as good Electors as the best Freeholders in the Province. So that we leave it with Your Lordships to judge, whether admitting Aliens, Strangers, Servants, Negroes, 8cc, as good and qualified Voters, can be thought any ways agreeable to King Charles’ Patent to Your Lordships, or the English Constitution of Government.10
Out of seven new delegates in Berkeley County, two, John Crosskeys and Robert Fenwick, were outright Dissenters, and one, Stephen Bull, was a moderate churchman who received Dissenter support and was properly considered a member of their political bloc. At the same time warm friends of the church such as James Risbee and Charles Burnham were turned out of office. The results, then, represented a modest rather than dramatic shift in the composition of the Commons House, but it was sufficient to place the English-Anglicans of Berkeley County in positions of leadership.11
Governor Moore used his newly won gains to obtain the reluctant approval of the Commons House to mount an expedition to attack the Spanish at St. Augustine, Florida, but the expedition itself turned into a military and financial disaster. As a consequence the colony incurred four thousand pounds sterling of debt, which was quickly transformed into a political issue. Attempts to regulate the Indian trade also failed in the Commons House.12
Never a patient man and certainly not a bashful one, the governor campaigned to broaden his political support in the Commons House, and a new call for elections was issued. The voter turnout in Berkeley County was spectacular. In previous elections a vote of 150–200 gave a candidate a comfortable victory margin, but in this case the big winners backed by Moore almost doubled the number of voters. Moore’s opponents cried fraud, and a new call for elections was issued. “We further represent to Your Lordships,” they petitioned the proprietors,
that contrary to the rights & priviledges which we ought to enjoy, the last Election of Members to serve for Berkly County was managed with greater injustice to the Freeman of this Province than the former. For at this last Election, Jews, Strangers, Sailors, Servants, Negroes, & almost every French Man in Craven & Berkly County came down to elect, & their Votes were taken, & the Persons by them voted for were returned by the Sheriff, to the manifest wrong & prejudice of other Candidates.13
Popular Dissenters such as John Crosskeys and Robert Fenwick failed reelection. When the members of the Commons House were sworn, all except a half-dozen accepted the Oath of Supremacy, an indication of the growing English-Anglican strength. Petitions were promptly submitted to the Commons House contesting the returns. Numerous voters were summoned to the House where their right to vote was challenged. This review induced a legislative paralysis; the hearings, in themselves, demonstrated that, regardless of the election and its results, the Commons House did not act either as the servant of the governor or as an arbitrary authority. Despite its pronounced English-Anglican constituency, the Commons House conducted itself as a self-governing institution, with full recognition of appropriate legislative procedures.14
The review conducted by the Commons House failed to satisfy the Dissenters of Colleton County. They recognized that a minimum of five Dissenters needed to be elected to the Berkeley delegation of twenty if the Dissenters were to regain control of the Commons House. With an English-Anglican as governor, this objective became more urgent. Therefore, Dissenters began increasingly to concentrate on the alignment between the French Huguenots and the English-Anglicans, with the elimination of the political power of the Huguenots as their goal.
In June 1703 the Dissenters prepared and signed a petition of grievances addressed to the proprietors. In it they denied that the issue was merely a temporary reduction of their political strength; instead, they claimed a breach of their fundamental rights.
But considering that the very Foundation of our lawful rights, hath of late been struck at by Persons, who have more regard to their private Interest than the publick good, we humbly conceive, that it cannot stand with the Duty we owe to our selves as Englishmen, or to our Posterity, to sit down contented with less than that which every Liege and Freeborn Subject of the Crown of England may, and of right ought to have. And, therefore, lest our silence should be prejudicial to so important a cause, we humbly crave Your Lordships leave, faithfully and impartially to represent to you the great and notorious violations & infringements of our Laws and Liberties, under which we suffer.15
“Are we to be ruled by foreigners?” asked the Colleton Dissenters. “For when once our lawful Rights & privileges are denied us, when Foreigners & Strangers shall make our laws” then resident English suffer the loss of their liberties. Indeed, “no Alien born out of the Allegiance of the Crown of England, unless he be otherwise especially qualifyed, ought to elect for, or be elected to serve as a Member of Assembly.” The Dissenters denounced the alleged machinations of the English-Anglicans of Berkeley County. “As to the French, they have hitherto lived peaceably, & with due encouragement amongst us; but when we see & consider that they are often made tools of & imposed upon, & persuaded by ill-designing Persons here, to carry on sinister Designs, to the general disadvantage of the Country … we can’t imagine that we do them any hurt, by making good and wholesome Laws for us & them.”16
The petition also included a predictable but largely unsubstantiated indictment against Governor Moore—his self-interest in the Indian trade, his attack on St. Augustine reputedly to divert the Commons House from other issues, and his falsification of election returns. The only complaint for which evidence exists is the possible influence of Moore and his supporters at the polls and the physical threats to the Dissenters by such English-Anglican extremists as Captain George Dearsley and Captain William Rhett. Even this charge must be treated with caution. In reviewing the Commons House list of delegates, for example, Dearsley was a member of the assembly of 1698 under Blake, a Dissenter, and Rhett cooperated with the Blake. Neither Dearsley nor Rhett was elected a member of the House when the English-Anglican group supporting Moore made modest gains in the membership of that chamber in 1700.17
By the time the petition of the Colleton County Dissenters was signed on 26 June 1703, Nathaniel Johnson, a determined Anglican churchman and former governor of the Leeward Islands who had lived in Carolina since the political troubles of 1690, had been officially appointed governor of Carolina by the proprietors. When the petition was written, it was, in many respects, already dated. Certainly, when John Ash, a Colleton County leader, described by former Governor Archdale as “not a Person suitably qualified to Represent their State here [in England], not that he wanted Wit but Temper,” presented the petition in England, its force was spent.18
Originally drawn up to attack a modest target—the controversial election returns in 1700, 1701, and 1702—the petition, in an odd, almost inadvertent way, was eventually employed to counter a genuine threat, an attempt to curtail the political rights of Dissenters by divesting them of the privilege of officeholding, an action taken a year after the petition was drawn up. To achieve this end, the extremists among the English-Anglicans used the vehicle of an established church. Considered in the long term, the church establishment was most influential in developing the social-religious institutions which were to operate in the colony for three-quarters of a century. In the short term, however, the significance of the issue was its explosive political content: How would the formation of an established church affect the balance of power in the internal politics of Carolina?
The issue, as it developed, was indigenous to Carolina. It did not arise or take form at the initiative of the proprietors. Only as the issue became increasingly heated was it projected into the proprietary deliberations, and ultimately to the Crown.
This assertion is not to suggest that the events in Carolina took place in isolation. Indeed, shortly after 1700 England attempted to adjudicate the question of the political rights of Dissenters, and Parliament engaged in a passionate debate on the issue. No doubt news concerning these events in England encouraged Governor Johnson to take the bold step of disbarring the Dissenters from the franchise. But the distribution of delegate strength in the counties and the composition of political blocs had already determined the dimensions of the issue in South Carolina.
Adopted in May 1704, “An Act for the More Effectual Preservation of the Government of This Province, By Requiring All Persons That Shall Hereafter be Choosen Members of the Commons House of Assembly … To Conforme to the Religious Worship in this Province According to the Church of England,” excluded, in effect, the Dissenters from membership in the Commons House of Assembly. It was enacted by a majority of one vote. “As nothing is more contrary to the profession of the Christian Religion, and particularly to the doctrine of the Church of England, than persecution for conscience only” the preamble declared,
nevertheless, whereas it hath been found by experience that the admitting of persons of different persuasions and interest in matters of religion to sitt and vote in the Commons House of Assembly, hath often caused great contentions and animosities in this Province, and hath very much obstructed the publick business; and whereas by the laws and usage of England, all members of Parliament are obliged to conforme to the Church of England, by receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper accornidg [sic] to the rites of the said church; Be it, therefore enacted.19
The vote on the so-called Exclusion Act does not reveal the precise numerical division between the English-Anglicans and the Dissenters in the Commons House. In every assembly after 1700 the substantial majority of delegates, often as many as two-thirds, took the prescribed Anglican Oath of Supremacy instead of exercising the right of mere affirmation. Because the contemporary material relating to the vote on the Exclusion Act is either fragmentary or a part of a “Case for the Dissenters,” a final judgment is precluded, but the indication is that a sufficient number of English-Anglicans in the Commons House found the disbarment of Dissenters so high-handed as to constitute a permanent threat to acceptable governmental institutions and political behavior.
On 4 November 1704, about six months after the Exclusion Act, the Commons House passed and the governor hastily signed an act to establish the Anglican church. It set out the appropriate arrangements for an established church: parishes were designated, in some cases complete with boundaries; tax payments to support the church were fixed; authority to impress laborers to build the parish churches and complementary buildings was granted; authority to impress slaves in respective parishes to work was specified; and clergymen were to be selected by a majority of the inhabitants of the parish.
The sacrament of marriage was to follow the Table of Marriage as provided by the Church of England, placing in question ceremonies performed by Dissenting clergy. The responsibilities and conduct of vestries were defined. An extraordinary section of the act established a supervising group of twenty laymen called commissioners. The first commissioners were listed in the act and included the leading figures of the English-Anglican party: Governor Johnson, former Governor James Moore, and Job Howes, a member of the Commons House frequently elected to the speakership. Proposing a body of commissioners was an ingenious attempt by the English-Anglicans in Carolina to achieve multiple objectives, eliminate Dissenters from politics and at the same time minimize the influence of the church establishment. Nothing was to be left to chance. The commissioners were authorized to review the conduct of the clergy, which included the power to rescind an appointment to a particular parish. The act exceeded seven thousand words in length, unmistakable evidence that it was long in preparation.20
A second act adopted the same day, entitled “An Act to Regulate the Elections of the Members of the Assembly,” was brief put potent. It granted the franchise to persons over twenty-one years of age who were resident in the county and who owned fifty acres of land or ten pounds value in goods, rents, or chattels. An Act for Making Aliens Free granted “aliens” the rights of British citizens in every regard, including the franchise, but it did not permit them to serve as members of the Commons House of Assembly. This qualification followed the lead of Parliament which forbade political officeholding by aliens.21
According to contemporary accounts, the Establishment Act of November 1704 as well as the early Exclusion Act of May 1704 was accepted by the proprietors on a divided vote—Archdale, the former governor and Quaker, and Maurice Ashley being opposed. The Earl of Granville, a confirmed and forceful Church of England man and now the most prestigious proprietor, championed both acts, and, reputedly, to validate them, he cast his vote and the two votes he held in proxy in the affirmative. Whether these accounts were accurate is uncertain.22
What is certain is that Joseph Boone headed a group of petitioners, composed principally of London merchants trading with Carolina, to present the House of Lords with a list of their grievances. What had been said about the elections between 1700 and 1702 was now repeated about the election of 1703. “The election was managed with very great partiality and injustice, and all sorts of people, even Servants, Negroes, Aliens, Jews, & Common Sailors, were admitted to vote in Elections.” The petition to the House of Lords condemned that part of the Establishment Act which was the most vulnerable, the “Ecclesiastical Commission” in the colony which had already taken action against Edward Marston, the Anglican clergyman in Charleston, who was regarded by the governor and his friends as “a pest.” The act calling for conformity was condemned as “illegal” because the Commons House met in April 1704 and adopted the act on May 6 when, according to the petitioners, the House was, as slated in the original writ, supposed to be in adjournment.23
Outside Parliament, the Dissenters enlisted the pen of Daniel Defoe, who wrote a pamphlet, Party-Tyranny, published in 1705. The pamphlet includes a predictable compilation of documents, but it is preceded by an arresting constitutional argument. The Carolina Exclusion Act, Defoe contended, was tyrannical and invaded English liberty. Defoe then raised the question of the authority of Parliament and the relationship of colonial peoples regarding that authority:24
If any Man shall say this Matter is not Cognizable in Parliament, and that the People of Carolina are not represented here, having a Parliament of their own, by whom they are to be Determin’d, that they are therein entirely under the Government of themselves, and that these Oppressions are the Act and Deed of their own Representative, and therefore their own Act and Deed, I shall take leave to Answer.
Tis true, by the Constitution of Carolina, they are under the Government of themselves, and perhaps if their Constitution were rightly Administred, it may be allow’d the best Settlement in America. But as the Wisdom of their Constitution is known, and unquestion’d, without doubt those able Heads that settl’d their Government, did not forget, that even those Representative Assemblies, especially in the Infancy of the Government, might be corrupt, or might by Bribery or other ill Practices, be Modell’d and Influenc’d in Matters of Parties, to Oppress and Injure the people they acted for. …
That when any Body of Men Representative, or other Acting by, or for a Constitution, from whom they receive their Power, shall Act, or do, or make Laws and Statutes, to do anything destructive of the Constitution they Act from, that Power is Ipso facto dissolv’d, and revolves of Course into the Original Power, from whence it was deriv’d.
Then Defoe turned to a discussion of the source of power which in part reinforced English authority but which in part contradicted the reality of self-government as it was being developed in the English colonies in America:
From hence it must follow, that upon known Depredations of Common Liberty, Breach of the Capitulations of Government, between the Governors and the People of Carolina; the People without doubt, by Right of Nature as well as by the Constitution, revolves under the immediate Direction and Government of the English Empire, whose Subjects they were before, and from whom their Government was deriv’d….
In England the House of Lords agreed to hear Boone’s petitions. After exploring the consequences of the South Carolina Exclusion Act, the Lords resolved on 9 March 1706 that the Carolina legislation violated the laws of England. A few days later that prestigious body sent an address to the Queen asking that the Crown act to relieve the Carolina colonials from this arbitrary oppression. The Queen then directed the proprietors to disallow the Exclusion Act.25
Learning of the action taken by the House of Lords, Governor Johnson anticipated the disposition of the Crown by recommending to the Commons House of Assembly of South Carolina that it repeal the Exclusion and the Establishment Acts of 1704. In his request the governor recognized the opposition of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to that part of the act which granted the Carolina commissioners almost exclusive authority over the church. Indeed, the society had refused to send ministers until the power of the commissioners was rescinded or at least modified. The Commons House acted promptly upon the governor’s recommendations.26
The governor further recommended the adoption of a new Church Establishment Act which produced the Church Act of 1706, more moderate in tone and in consequence than that of 1704. Ten parishes were created; Berkeley was divided into six parishes, Craven one, with the remaining three assigned to Colleton. Glebes were authorized for the clergy, and annual salaries were specified. Inhabitants of the parish retained the power to select their ministers, a congregational aspect of Church of England polity in America that ran parallel to the experience of Virginia. Commissioners for Carolina were established, but with restricted authority as compared with the act of 1704. Seven vestrymen for each parish selected by their fellow churchmen were to carry out duties as authorized in the act. Expenses not covered by gifts or by the other fees were to be paid by means of an assessment upon each and all inhabitants of the parish. In short, a comprehensive church establishment was formulated, to be refined further by an act adopted in 1708.27
Repealing the offensive conformity act and moderating the church establishment did not appear to produce a radical turnabout in political affairs. It certainly did not mark a great advance on the part of one social group or the fulfillment of a social revolution, because Dissenters were equal in wealth and status to English-Anglicans. The French churches were gradually assimilated into the established Anglican church; the French offered political leadership as well as votes. The anti-French position of the Dissenters moderated as a political balance was restored.
The makeup of the Commons House delegations of Berkeley and Colleton counties changed slightly, but, surprisingly, the membership immediately succeeding the repeal of the Exclusion Act accepted without question or debate the Oath of Supremacy. Not a single member chose mere affirmation, a practice commonly exercised before the Exclusion Act. This result underscores the conclusion that a political balance rather than religious convictions was at the root of the internal political conflict in South Carolina.
Sheared of extremism, the English-Anglican and Dissenter political blocs turned to two pressing problems that had been persistently projected into the intracolonial struggle for power after 1700 and the politics of the establishment issue: (1) the rivalry with the Spanish—to a much more limited degree the French—which occasionally exploded into a military confrontation, and (2) the regulation of the Indian trade.
Between 1700 and 1702 policy decisions made with respect to Spanish Florida aroused furious opposition from a small minority of the Commons House. John Ash, the leading petitioner among the Dissenters, revealed an absence of restraint that insulted reason as he asserted that Governor Moore was planning to undertake this expensive expedition solely for private plunder. When the expedition failed and the colony found itself with a debt of four thousand pounds, Moore and others suggested that bills of credit be issued, a practice accepted in Massachusetts and later followed by most English colonies from Massachusetts to Carolina. Ash attempted to use this request to gain a political trade-off: issuance of bills of credit in return for passage of two measures formulated by him; an election law, the terms of which are unknown but probably directed against the French; and an act to regulate the Indian trade. Moore succeeded in getting his bills of credit, but Ash failed to get his election law and regulatory legislation. Ash’s frustration affected his subsequent actions, including his decision to leave the Commons House in the spring of 1703 and to prepare the Colleton Dissenter Petition of June 1703—a year before the Exclusion Act and eighteen months before the Church Establishment Act. Obviously, provocative political manipulation was not confined to the English-Anglicans.28
The reality of the Spanish rivalry was dramatized in August 1706 when five French privateers, reinforced by Spanish troops, disembarked near Charleston. Their appearance threw the population into a temporary fright, but the threat to Charleston was dissipated when a united colony faced the intruders, defeated them, and ended, at least for a time, the fear that Spanish or French forces would reappear momentarily at the wharves of Charleston. In retrospect, these eruptions between Spanish Florida, France, and Carolina represent incidents in the struggle between the European nations to achieve a world balance of power, a subject of singular importance but one that has no place in this discussion. In terms of the immediate political setting, however, the Carolina adventure to St. Augustine in 1702 exacerbated internal political conflict within South Carolina rather than caused it. A successful expedition against Spanish Florida in 1704 relieved the tension but did not end it.29
As a corollary of international rivalry, the issue of the Indian trade was never wholly absent from the political debate between 1700 and 1710, but specific action was not taken until 1707. The issue was complicated by four simultaneous developments: the growing international rivalry among England, France, and Spain for shares in the Indian trade; Carolina’s challenge of Virginia’s ties to the Indian nations occupying the territory of the southern Applachians; the proprietors’ demand for exclusive trading rights; and, last, by the intracolonial struggle between the principal Carolina leaders and the multitude of small traders. Indian enslavement and exploitation, reprehensible conduct by individual Indian traders, or other policies or practices at one level of rivalry reverberated at all levels. When the Indians were encouraged to make war against each other or against European settlers, the trade in deerskins inevitably declined abruptly. Warriors have no time to hunt; no skins or fur, no trade or profit.
As the fulcrum of political power in Carolina changed, control over the Indian trade changed. At the outset of settlement the proprietors managed the Indian trade. As their power weakened in the 1680s and became enfeebled in the 1690s, Carolina colonials took control over this profitable enterprise. But they quarreled among themselves over who should be permitted to engage in it and who should be excluded.
Except for an abortive act adopted during the administration of Governor Sothell, no statute on Indian trade was enacted during the 1690s, but the record reveals unmistakably that the Commons House presumed it possessed the power to initiate regulatory legislation. In 1698, for example, the Commons House, acting as a committee of the whole, debated a bill to regulate the Indian trade. What should be included in the bill was reviewed: the issuance of public stock, the concept that every man could act as a free trader on his own plantation, and the appointment of commissioners to enforce regulations. Although the bill was finally rejected, a message from Governor Joseph Blake to the House clarifies the dominant role of the Commons House in the management of the Indian trade: “And if you have thoughts of an adjournment we Desire you will not Expect it for to Long time And that you will before you rise this meeting, (Since you have not approved of your owne Bill Lately before you for Regulateing the Indjan Trade) Appoynt a Committee to Consider of Some other way of Regulateing it [the Indian trade] against your next Sitting.”30
In effect, the failure to act in 1698 preserved the status quo. Theoretically, the trade was open to everyone; but because of the capital required to bring in trading goods as well as the experience and connections within Indian country that were necessary prerequisites to produce results, the trade, in fact, was best utilized by the principal men of Carolina, Dissenters as well as English-Anglicans. After 1700 Ash and the Colleton Dissenters tried to make the issue a partisan one by accusing Governor Moore of attempting to monopolize the trade, but the evidence contradicts them. Moore offered several options for a licensed, open trade regulated by the Commons House by means of commissioners. When an enactment was finally agreed upon, the Commons House appealed to Moore’s proposal as the precedent for their act.
The controversy over control of the Indian trade persisted during the bitter embroilment of the Exclusion Act and Church Act. During the winter session of the Assembly in 1706–1707 when Governor Nathaniel Johnson called for repeal of both disruptive enactments, he urged, in an extraordinary personal way, that an act to regulate Indian trade be adopted: “Once more I offerr you a Regulac’on of the Indian Trade but so that it may be safe to the Countrey[,] Honourable and proffitable to my self [,] and no way Chargeable to the publick.” His candid comment concluded a series of exchanges during the session between the Governor and the Commons House over the regulation of the trade. The Commons House responded in an address signed by Speaker William Rhett, an outspoken English-Anglican, that the terms proposed by the House were reasonable.31
An act to regulate the Indian trade was finally adopted on 19 July 1707. Support for it came from all political blocs. Thomas Nairne, a leading figure from Colleton County, and Richard Beresford, an unimpeachable English-Anglican, represent the quality and experience of the advocates. When Governor Johnson experimented with a final delaying tactic, the House responded that it was unwilling to vote for fortifications unless the governor consented to an act of regulation: “We are not Sollicitous to provide a defence for Our breasts when we may at the Same Time receiue a mortall Stabb: thro Our Backs.”32
The act called for the licensing of traders and carried penalties for selling liquor and ammunition to the Indians or for taking goods from them by force or by inducing conditions that implied force. Thomas Nairne was appointed the resident Indian agent. Ralph Izard, James Cochran, Richard Beresford, John Ash, John Abraham Motte, and John Fenwick were appointed commissioners, a relatively balanced contingent of Dissenters, English-Anglicans, and Huguenots. Under the terms of the act the commissioners were to prepare the regulations for the everyday conduct of the trade and to serve as a court to adjudicate infractions. Adjustments to the act itself were made frequently in subsequent years, and regulations by the commissioners were modified almost every year to accommodate changing conditions. Regardless of the adjustments, the act was never wholly satisfactory. As early as 1711 it was asserted that none of the traders in the Indian country took the trouble to acquire a license. The question of Indian trade and Indian relations was obviously in its opening rather than its concluding phase.33
In return for accepting the act of 1707, Governor Johnson demanded and received an outright gift of four hundred pounds in lieu of the annual revenue that he customarily received in Indian presents. Johnson and succeeding governors were also to receive as additional compensation one hundred pounds annually.34
The appointment of the public receiver for South Carolina was briefly ensnarled in the debate over the Act on Indian Trade. Governor Johnson considered this appointment a pawn to obtain a larger stipend from the Commons House for relinquishing the prerogative of receiving presents from the Indians. He claimed that he had the right to nominate the receiver, even though, in fact, the Commons House had exercised this authority for a decade. The governor abandoned this position when he received the grant of four hundred pounds from the Commons House.
In December 1708 Edward Tynte was appointed governor to replace Nathaniel Johnson, but Tynte died soon after taking office. He was succeeded by Charles Craven. By the time Governor Johnson left office, however, the political pattern, as it operated until the overthrow of the proprietary government, was established. The South Carolina colonials had gained firm control of their own destiny. After 1700 the internal struggle for power, after a spasm of dramatic confrontation by extreme factionalism, resulted ultimately in a relatively stable and balanced political alignment.
Fragmentary evidence denies the scholar the opportunity to provide the same detailed analysis of the politics of North Carolina from 1690 to 1715 as that of South Carolina, but the dissimilarity in their political evolution reinforces the mosaic character of the southern colonies at an early date. Although contemporaries agree that the Quakers controlled the Assembly of North Carolina after 1690—and probably before that date—the records cannot be checked for confirmation because they do not exist in any consistent form. In most cases, therefore, isolated bits of correspondence and other evidence from one group of partisans must be evaluated against that of another. In either case, conclusions must be hedged with qualifications. The absence of documentary material is reflective of the character of early North Carolina, a colony sparsely settled with a scattered population and unformed political institutions given to an episodic history. There is not the faintest indication that North Carolina would become the fourth most populous English colony in North America by the time of the American Revolution.
Although North and South Carolina attained the same objective, the eventual overthrow of proprietary rule, the route taken to achieve it reflected their respective strengths and weaknesses. In the 1690s South Carolina gained political maturity by its confrontation with the proprietors. Assured of an ascendant position in relation to the proprietors, South Carolina then faced the issues of an internal contest for positions of authority and power in which the political content of the Exclusion Act and Church Act of 1704 figured significantly, but at no time after 1690 or 1700 were the institutions of self-government in South Carolina in jeopardy. The struggle in South Carolina took place within a political framework accepted by the forces in contention for power.
In contrast, the political institutions of North Carolina were neither well developed nor accepted by contesting political groups. In particular, the establishment of the Fundamental Constitutions as the basis of government in Albemarle emasculated the power exercised by the assembly and enhanced that of the council, whose members were directly appointed by the proprietors and who spoke for them. The result was the enfeeblement of popular political institutions and processes. The North Carolina colonials could not and did not stand up to the power of the proprietors. Political settlements arrived at internally were always tentative. The slightest pressure from the proprietors or the most trivial internal problem tended to produce political tremors that often degenerated into monumental chaos. The political assurance, the concept of an accepted framework of political institutions, the assumption that decisions reached within the colony would stand regardless of external forces, so characteristic of the political evolution of South Carolina between 1690 and 1710, were absent in North Carolina. If the political groups of South Carolina were fractionated, those of North Carolina were atomized. If the political alignments of South Carolina changed but remained identifiable, those of North Carolina were so splintered as to verge on the edge of anarchy.35
These characteristics colored the political life of early North Carolina and it followed a distinctive course. The overriding consideration in South Carolina politics during the 1690s was to reduce the power of the proprietors, but this issue was not raised in North Carolina for two decades. North Carolina was still in the process of establishing a dependable set of political institutions. As late as 1713 Lieutenant Governor Spotswood of Virginia, irritated by events in Albemarle, wrote: “There reigns such stupidity and Dissention in the Government of North Carolina that it can neither concert any measures nor perform any engagements for its own Security.”36
Those political institutions available to North Carolina in the 1690s were fragile weapons with which to confront the proprietors. At the same time, undependable political organization and institutions encouraged a pronounced individualism. A contemporary critic unintentionally paid the Albemarle colonials a tribute when he intimated that they were a lawless people allowing no power or authority in either church or state except that which was derived from them. The countervailing forces of heightened individualism versus proprietary dominance, not merely for the 1690s but for the early eighteenth century, increased political tension which, in turn, triggered sweeping, abrupt, and sometimes violent political upheavals.
When Philip Ludwell was made governor of the Carolinas in 1691, he appointed Thomas Jarvis, a North Carolinian, to serve as his deputy there. Ludwell had been instructed by the proprietors to call an assembly representing North Carolina and South Carolina to meet in Charleston, but the instruction was impossible to implement. The allocation of representatives designated in the instruction, three for South Carolina to one for North Carolina, is a reliable, if somewhat exaggerated, assessment of how contemporaries rated the relative strength and potential of the two areas of settlement.
An incident surrounding the appointment of Ludwell as governor reflects the temper of the times. John Gibbs claimed that when Seth Sothell was removed from the government of North Carolina, he, Gibbs, had been elected governor by the council. In a declaration issued 2 June 1690, he denounced Ludwell as “a Rascal, imposter, and Usurper.” He sent out a call to “keep the King’s peace” and “to consult the ffundamentals,” meaning, of course, the Fundamental Constitutions; and he urged the populace to give him their allegiance. If a Ludwell supporter decided to take to the sword, Gibbs remarked, “I will single out and goe with him into any part of the King’s Dominions, and there fight him in this Cause, as long as my Eyelids shall wagg.” Gibbs, like self-styled insurrectionists who preceded and followed him, eventually fled to Virginia.37
The arrangement of a deputy governor appointed by the resident governor in South Carolina was followed until 1710, when Edward Hyde received an appointment directly from the proprietors to become governor of North Carolina. This action is usually interpreted by historians as an acknowledgment by the proprietors that Albemarle settlements were to become a separate colony. The evidence to support this view is not only insubstantial but unclear. Certainly, there was no break in the political process of the colony.38
So far as the evidence is available, good will seems to have prevailed in the relationship between the proprietors and the settlers during the 1690s. Preoccupied with the unrest and discontent in South Carolina, the proprietors virtually ignored North Carolina. Governor Archdale’s appointment in 1694 was welcomed. He had visited the colony a decade earlier; he was a Quaker, and the Quakers in North Carolina held many of the principal executive and judicial offices and exercised leadership in the assembly. Stephen B. Weeks, the historian of Quakerism in North Carolina, asserts that the period between 1675 and 1700 was its golden age.
Between 1700 and 1715 the politics of North Carolina took a turn that more closely paralleled the experience of South Carolina: factions contesting for political control. The principal issue, as in South Carolina, was the creation of an Anglican church establishment; but much more was involved than a difference of religious views. The issue awakened renewed political rivalry between the antiestablishment group led by the Quakers and the establishment group led by those loyal to the Church of England. In contrast to South Carolina, the proprietors played a significant role in this struggle, but their precise influence cannot be accurately gauged. After 1715 when an acceptable political compromise was reached, North Carolina finally exerted its political strength. But it failed to experience a “revolution” against the proprietors to match that of South Carolina in 1719, or even to capture the mood held by its sister colony in the struggle after 1690.
In 1701 a colonial faction with firm ties to the Anglican church secured control of the Assembly by employing, as described by Henderson Walker, president of the Council, acting governor and a moderate churchman, “a great deal of care and management.” This Assembly passed the First Vestry Act by a narrow margin. Although the specific content of the act is unknown, it apparently included the founding of parishes, the organization of vestries, the building of churches, and the levying of taxes to maintain the clergy. In brief, it embraced the prerequisites to institute a comprehensive church-state establishment.39
Walker, who had lived in Carolina for more than a decade, tried to implement the act, but those who opposed a church establishment rallied to repeal the act or at least to modify it. Quakers were the principal opponents, but they were reinforced by others. In reporting to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in 1703, John Blair wrote of distinct categories in the antiestablishment camp:
First, the Quakers, who are the most powerful enemies to Church government, but a people very ignorant of what they profess. The second sort are a great many who have no religion, but would be Quakers, if by that they were not obliged to lead a more moral life than they are willing to comply to. A third sort are something like Presbyterians, which sort is upheld by some idle fellows who have left their lawful employment, and preach and baptize through the country, without any manner of orders from any sect of pretended Church.
Blair then described the proponents of the establishment, “who are really zealous for the interest of the Church, are the fewest in number, but the better sort of people, and would do very much for the settlement of the Church government there, if not opposed by these three precedent sects.”40
In 1703 the opponents of the Vestry Act gained control of the Assembly. “My Lord,” wrote Walker to the Bishop of London, “I humbly beg leave to inform you, that we have an Assembly to sit the 3d November next, and there is above one half of the burgesses that are chosen are Quakers, and have declared their designs of making void the act for establishing the Church.” The leaders of the Assembly intended to repeal the Vestry Act; but, unknowingly, this task was accomplished by the proprietors who had already declared the legislation invalid, not because they disapproved of an Anglican church establishment but because the act failed to provide adequate support for the clergy. John Blair reported that “the Quakers … will endeavor to prevent any such law passing for the future, for they are the greatest number in the Assembly, and are unanimous.”41
The dispute over an Anglican church establishment had not, obviously, run its full course. Robert Daniel, resident of South Carolina and an ardent Church of England man, was appointed deputy governor by Governor Nathaniel Johnson upon the death of Henderson Walker in 1704. By that date the issue was further complicated because of the confrontation of establishment and antiestablishment forces in South Carolina. When the North Carolina Assembly met in March 1704, Daniel was fortified with special instructions to obtain an Establishment Act. He pressed for legislation to provide maintenance of an Anglican clergyman, but the Quaker-controlled Assembly refused to comply.42
Governor Daniel then attempted to oust the Quakers from the Assembly. His weapon was an act that required the taking of an oath of allegiance adopted by the English Parliament in the first year of the reign of Queen Anne. The Quakers, as a matter of faith, refused to take oaths and in many colonies were excused. Until Governor Daniel forced the issue, Quakers in North Carolina were not required to take oaths because to enforce compliance would automatically disqualify them from office. According to an account written five years later by William Gordon, an Anglican missionary, “the Quakers refusing to take [the Oath], they were dismissed [from] the council, Assembly, and courts of justice, and a law was made that none should bear any office or place of trust without taking such oaths.” This maneuver gave the establishment forces a narrow majority—reportedly at most two votes. A Second Vestry Act was adopted whose precise language is not known because the document is not extant.43
Turbulent is the only adjective to describe North Carolina politics in the succeeding years as the respective partisans organized to gain control of the Assembly. The precise details are unknown because of insufficient records, but the two major factions continued to be Quaker-centered and Anglican-centered. The uncommitted were placed in a strategic role, but the evidence is not clear whether or not they recognized their advantage or whether they merely accepted the rule of the group temporarily in the ascendancy.
In this turmoil the labels “Quaker” and “Anglican” are misleading, because they imply that the struggle for power was a contest between religious factions and that each political bloc, in essence, constituted a closed circle. Somewhat surprisingly, the men supported by the Quaker bloc for the highest political offices within the colony were often Anglicans. To cite a prominent example, Edward Moseley served on one of the Anglican vestries, but he invariably was supported by the Quaker-dominated Assembly for the position of speaker, the highest office within the gift of the Assembly. Thomas Cary, whom the Quakers supported intermittently for governor, was also an Anglican churchman and appears to have been the same person who served as speaker of the Commons House of Assembly of South Carolina in 1707 and perhaps in the council of that colony in the 1690s.
In any case, the realities of politics are apparant. Political leaders recognized that acquiring control of the government carried with it desirable secular privileges which even a religious zealot could not treat lightly, and that these benefits could be shared. Colonial finances, for example, could be controlled by the Assembly using their power to name the public receiver. Religion-centered factions also recognized that influencing the governor had a direct relationship to the distribution of lands. Religious conviction cannot be dismissed as inconsequential, but neither can it be considered as the decisive factor in the political eruptions in North Carolina between 1704 and 1712.
Control of the government changed hands several times, often provoking violence. The Anglicans dominated the assembly affairs until 1708. In that election both parties claimed to be the legally elected representatives of the people, and each county sent two sets of delegates, one favoring the establishment and the other opposing it. The parties met in separate rooms, each claiming to be the authorized government. The Quakers, led by Edward Moseley, an Anglican, triumphed and Cary became governor while his opponent, William Glover, who at one stage had been supported by the Quakers but was now out of favor, fled to that favorite hideaway, Virginia.
The Cary-Moseley-Quaker alignment within the government was able to nullify the Test Oaths which had kept the Quakers out of the government, but in 1711, when the “Anglicans” regained control, the Quakers were brought to account. When Governor Edward Hyde arrived in January, he summoned an assembly in March that opposed the Cary-Moseley-Quaker position. The Reverend John Umrston[e], not always a particularly trustworthy witness because of a weakness for alcohol and his hatred of the Quakers, did, in this instance, describe the assembly with perspicacity: “A strange mixture of men of various opinions and inclinations a few Churchmen many Presbyterians Independents but most anythingarians some out of principle others out of hopes of power and authority in the Government to the end that they might Lord it over their Neighbours, all conspired to act answerable to the desire of the President of the council.”44
But the Assembly was obviously more anti-Quaker than anything else, and it adopted a number of the pernicious enactments. All acts passed during the Cary-Moseley-Quaker period, 1708–1711, including all judicial proceedings, were nullified. The most extreme measure adopted by the Assembly was a sedition act that threatened to fine, imprison, and exclude from government those who uttered libel against the government. As is so often the case in sedition laws, the authors of the act were also to judge its infringement. Even Governor Spotswood of Virginia, from whom the Hyde government could expect support, observed: “It must be confessed they [the Hyde administration] shewed more their resentment of their ill usage during Mr. Cary’s usurpation (as they call it) than their prudence to reconcile the distractions of the Country.”45
Whereas Cary had been bereft of support because of popular expectations from Hyde, the sedition law and other punitive legislation raised a new protest from the colonials, especially the Quakers. Cary was determined to resist the execution of the laws. When Governor Hyde sent out a force to capture Cary, they found it impracticable because he had converted his house into an armed camp. When Hyde’s forces retreated, Cary took the offensive and proceeded to attack Hyde. The “Cary Rebellion” of July 1711 was finally quelled when Governor Spotswood of Virginia sent a detachment of Royal Marines to assist Hyde. According to contemporary accounts, the Marines “frighted the Rebellious party so as to lay down their arms and disperse.” Cary and his closest followers hastened to Virginia where they were imprisoned, sent to England for trial, and eventually released.46
In September the Tuscarora Indian War erupted and numerous outlying settlements in North Carolina were destroyed, their inhabitants massacred. Aid from South Carolina in the form of a force of whites and Indians headed by John “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell saved the North Carolinians from further Indian attacks, and a second expedition in 1712 headed by James Moore, Jr., routed the Tuscaroras.
Somewhat chastened by the bloody encounter with neighboring Indians, North Carolina entered a more tranquil period. A new governor, Charles Eden, was appointed in 1714. A code of laws was adopted in 1715 which reflected a more orderly political structure. Among these laws was one which created an Anglican church establishment. Another enactment, “An Act for Liberty of Conscience,” allowed Quakers and Dissenters the right to affirm rather than to subscribe to an oath. The willingness to accept the church establishment is perhaps the best evidence of the true weakness of the Anglican church. All questions had not been finally resolved, but North Carolina was slowly gathering sufficient political and economic strength to discard the proprietors and thereby to open a new phase in its history.
In discussing the evolving political mosaic in the Carolinas, the contribution of local government or its absence has not yet been properly explored. In the Albemarle settlements that became North Carolina, local government flourished. In the Ashley River settlements that became South Carolina, every effort to establish local government failed. As early as 1664 the Carolina proprietors organized Albemarle and Clarendon counties; the former thrived but the latter did not. The designation given, that is, counties, was not, in reality, organized local government, but their subdivisions, called precincts, were.47
The date during the proprietary period when the precinct courts were officially recognized as agents of local government cannot be fixed, but the evidence is unmistakable that they were fulfilling this obligation during the 1690s and probably at least a decade earlier. The court minutes of Perquimans precinct from February 1689 to April 1693 are preserved, and the court’s jurisdiction in all criminal cases, excepting treason, murder, and other offences involving the death penalty and civil cases not exceeding fifty pounds sterling, was reaffirmed rather than created.48
To the four original Albemarle precincts operating by 1700—Perquimans, Currituck, Pasquotank, and Chowan—two were added during the proprietary period: Bertie (1722) and Tyrrell (1729). Five precincts—Beaufort, Hyde, Craven, Carteret, and New Hanover—made up Bath County, created in 1696. In each original precinct a court functioned with justices of the peace, usually four or five, but the number varied, with one serving as “stewart,” a title derived from the Fundamental Constitutions. A quorum was usually required in order to conduct business. The jurisdiction regarding criminal cases remained unchanged, but the limit of civil suits was adjusted from fifty pounds sterling to one hundred pounds currency. Precinct courts were required to meet four times a year, but some met more often, depending on the number of items on the docket. They served as courts of record for the probation of wills and the registering of deeds, mortgages, and conveyances as well as the recording of births, marriages, and deaths. These courts fulfilled social responsibilities, such as the care of orphans and the indigent, the supervision of violations involving indentured servants and slaves, and the management of roads, bridges, and ferries.49
The earliest records refer to a sheriff and constable to execute court orders. In 1694 the title of sheriff was abandoned and that of provost marshall introduced, a title once employed in Virginia. In practice the titles of sheriff and provost marshall became interchangeable. Precincts also became the unit of representation in the colonial assembly.
The political turbulence that gripped North Carolina at intervals during the proprietary period does not appear to have disrupted precinct, that is, local, government. Indeed, its operations were vastly strengthened, so that local government continued uninterrupted when North Carolina became a royal colony.
How different the story was in South Carolina! Representation from the respective counties, each with its clearly identified constituency, formed the base of power for political control of the colony. But no genuine effort was made during the proprietary period to establish local government, complete with court systems and magistrates with defined spheres of authority. Moreover, no serious consideration was given to provide a system of local government to fulfill such social obligations as care of the indigent and orphans, or to act as courts of record.
It is true that in 1720 the South Carolina Assembly, in a comprehensive petition to the Crown, listed the absence of local courts as one of the numerous grievances nursed by the colonials against the proprietors. “Neither have they settled any County jurisdiction for the preservation of the peace and regular Government according to the laws of England,” asserted the petition, “… but have abandoned all to an unacountable disorder and confusion under the administracon and underhand management of a single person whom they have commissionated and call Chief Justice,” the last reference, of course, directed to Nicholas Trott. The chief justice, the petition continued, holds “all Assize County Courts and Sessions only in Charles Town the only place of Judicature in the whole Province … summoning all persons from the remotest parts of the Colony to attend his Courts,” from which there was no appeal. The case made by the petition of South Carolina was essentially a negative one, directed against Nicholas Trott rather than one which claimed that somehow serious neglect by the proprietors or their own shortsightedness failed to organize a systematic framework of local government, complete with county courts.50
When Francis Nicholson appeared in 1721 as the first royal governor, he recommended and the Commons House adopted legislation establishing county governments fashioned after the pattern of Virginia. But these governments never fulfilled the expectations of their creators, and before the decade of the 1720s closed all pretence of active county governments was dropped, never to be revived. Parishes took on certain social functions such as those affecting the poor, but county government and courts as they were known in North Carolina had no counterpart in South Carolina.51
Why were these end products of the two Carolinas so different when seemingly they had been subject to precisely the same rules, first under the proprietors and then the Crown? Demography unquestionably played a part—the dispersed settlements in North Carolina in contrast to the concentration of population along the Ashley and Cooper rivers with their respective tributaries—but that is by no means a complete or satisfactory answer. The pull of Charleston as a social-economic center with concentrated political influence also contributed to the centralizing rather than the decentralizing forces.
But a more profound political influence has generally escaped scholarly attention. The Albemarle settlements-North Carolina—accepted the Fundamental Constitutions with minor modifications as their governmental charter, and the Fundamental Constitutions provided for precinct, that is, local, government. All the functions of such an institution were prescribed: the precinct courts, the number of magistrates, the authority to be exercised by the magistrates, the limits of that authority, in brief, a comprehensive system of local government. “And you are to keepe or cause to be kept,” proclaimed the Fundamental Constitutions, “ye sd Courts as often as by ye Fundamentall Constitutions is prescribed.” In creating local governments, the Fundamental Constitutions dramatically influenced the institutions and practice of government in North Carolina.52
In direct contrast, South Carolina never accepted the Fundamental Constitutions as its charter of government, and its struggle against proprietary control from 1690 to 1700 was never duplicated in North Carolina. Local government as defined in the Fundamental Constitutions was never introduced into South Carolina, therefore, because it would have been considered a breach of principle, that only the colonists could decide such a question. No one can state with confidence why the settlers of South Carolina themselves failed to institute local government, but the political reality, that control of the assembly constituted control of colonial policy affecting each of the three counties, tended to place local government on a much lower order of priority during the proprietary period.
As a result, highly centralized government took deep root. When up-country Carolina grievances were articulated late in the colonial period, including the absence of local government which was a serious hardship for those remote from Charleston, it was too late to adjust a framework of political institutions and a political system whose shape had been formed during the proprietary period.
One final obvious, but pertinent, question relating to the political mosaic of the Carolinas remains to be asked: Why was the colony ultimately divided into North and South Carolina? A full answer requires a separate essay, especially when an examination of the historical literature reveals that no scholar has addressed the question, presumably on the assumption that the outcome was somehow inevitable But this response is unacceptable. After taking account of the geographic and demographic factors and noting the evolution of a small planter economy, what can be said, in light of the investigations into the early politics of the Carolinas, is that the division that was made had a pervasive, perhaps decisive, political component arising out of individual political experiences, which is another way of reasserting the significance of differing patterns of life and politics in the colonial South.