NO ONE LIVING IN THE SOUTHERN UNITED STATES OF TODAY or in the colonies founded along the Atlantic coastline south of Pennsylvania need be told his region is not or was not a monolith. Daily experience taught them otherwise. The rich composition of peoples, places, occupations, speech, background, and cultures can match that of most if not all parts of the nation. Yet the concept of “the South” commands sufficient specificity in the minds of Americans that the term is used with confidence by everyone—politicians and businessmen, writers and scholars, teachers and students.
But what does the term “the South” connote? A geographical area? an attitude? a state of mind? linguistic peculiarities? a distinctive character and culture? Politicians have spoken of a southern strategy, not always using that precise term, for more than a century and a half, and courses on the South have been offered in universities since historians developed a professional curriculum. Shelves bend under the weight of books on the South. If the South exists, when did it originate and what were or are its characteristics?
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, New England could be identified as a distinctive region because of the shared background in England of most of its settlers, its religious ideas and practices, its method of granting land, and its common considerations of governance. In exploring each of these elements, the colonies south of Pennsylvania stand in stark contrast. The development of each was distinct, individual, and separate. Virginia, settled by English Anglicans seeking profit and adventure, was the legacy of a bankrupt joint-stock company. Maryland emerged from a bargain the king struck with the Baltimore family. As a proprietorship its government and its method of granting lands did not correspond with the practices of Virginia, and its settlement by Catholics and Protestants represented an almost unbridgeable difference. The early history of the Carolinas had no link with Virginia or Maryland. The background of the people who settled in the Carolinas, the government under which they lived, and the crops they produced had little if anything in common with the colonists in Virginia or Maryland. Georgia was a unique experiment in the history of English colonization. Yet these colonies, differing so dramatically in character, are the antecedents of what we label the American South.
The essays presented in this volume are an attempt to address the problem of delineating the origins of the American South. It is not begging the issue, in my judgment, to suggest that one of the bonds that define the South is its quilt-like mosaic, identifiable enclaves that contribute a special quality to the whole. For the purposes of illustration, I have limited my focus to early South Carolina and Georgia and examined various representative facets to explain why they developed as they did. My approach is selective, not comprehensive. Obviously, the lectures as delivered were abstracted from these essays.
The opportunity to offer my ideas in such a congenial setting as the Lamar Lectures made the event itself a memorable one. Contributing to this result were Professor Spencer B. King, Jr., Professor Henry Y. Warnock, their departmental colleagues at Mercer University, and the Lamar Memorial Lectures Committee. The warm response of the audience on that occasion encourages me to believe that my effort to illuminate the historical issues involving the origin and development of the American South can contribute to a broader intellectual debate.
Clarence L. Ver Steeg