A simplistic look at American 19th Century history might summarize its politics and economy as a clash between two rival, starkly opposed, political cultures and economic bases: Yankee and Deep South, industrial versus agricultural. Of all the political cultures these two were the largest and among the most mobile. In the end Yankees proved more expansionist because Deep South migration was limited by the productive capacities of the soil demanded by its agricultural economic base. In this module I introduce and outline the pre-cotton evolution of the Deep South culture. The next module mini-series on the Rise of the Cotton Belt describes its subsequent evolution, fused and driven by an cotton-export economic base, that both changed and deepened its character and content.

The Deep South culture proved to be an almost polar opposite of the northern Yankee-Puritan culture in the Early Republic–and the two have been at bitter odds to the present day. Both in 1789 were overwhelmingly rural and agricultural, but industrial and finance capitalism developed from the northern political cultures. The Deep South culture, heavily rooted in agriculture and the late-medieval value system/society persisted carried over that nexus through to the Civil War–and even after.

During the Early Republic (called the antebellum years for the South) the United States contained two distinct dominant cultural systems and economic bases. During the Early Republic that cultural and economic chasm blocked an early attempt by the Federal government to play a major role in several critical economic development strategies. There was neither a cultural/political consensus that permitted that involvement, and the reality of two quite different regional economic bases, with different perspectives/needs on such vital strategies such as internal improvements and free or protected trade lent a zero-sum veneer to that debate. And then there was, of course, slavery.

Say it another way, the first eighty years of our American S&L ED history reflected the reality that ED did not mean the same thing in the North as it did in the South. At root was the profound differences in the political cultures that, reflecting their contrasting economic bases, produced different policy systems and desired different goals from ED strategies and programs. If the ultimate winner was the North and industrial/finance capitalism, that inevitably meant the loser, the South, would evolve along time lines and would experience different historical and economic legacies. That has exerted/inserted a huge legacy into our history–and the nation’s as well.

Over the course of time, the South evolved a different economic base and  policy systems that produced distinctive styles of ED/CD. Population flows–in both directions (in and out)–further cemented a distinctive southern regional dynamic that shaped our state and local ED/CD history dramatically.

Regionalism became an enduring and crucial characteristic of American ED. It remains so today.

An Agricultural Path into Modernity?

Simplistic though it might be any hope the South would join the North in embracing industrial, urban capitalism did not pan out in the antebellum South. To be sure there was a level of industrial capitalism that developed; the South was never an industrial desert. But as we shall see because of slavery and its decision to develop an agricultural economic base, the South did evolve into a financial/investment desert. Follow the money/investment almost always proves to be good advice, and the southern investment finance sector proved to be the chief long-term casualty arising from the adoption of slavery and an agricultural economic base–putting aside, of course, the human and moral dimensions.

The South and the Deep South Today

That decision to double-down on agricultural and perpetuate a quasi-medieval way of life owed a great deal to the development of a Deep South political culture. Arguably the chief driver of that decision was population migration of English colonists (and their slaves) with plantation owner aspirations from Barbados to mostly the Colony of South Carolina, and its entry port, Charleston.

That in and of itself was not inevitable, but seemed to become so when a great technological innovation, the cotton gin in 1794 transformed cotton into the gazelle agricultural sector that was so successful and broadly impactful  we will describe it as a “platform technology” that not only created robust economic growth over sustained periods of time, but exacted or exerted transformative impacts on society, politics, and economy of those geographies which followed its siren call. Cotton “saved” the plantation economy, and offered it a path for incredible wealth creation, for an entrepreneurial (and moralistically challenged) few.

the First Big Sort: Contrasting Deep South with Northern Political Cultures

New England’s economic base was created by migratory ethnic groups whose leadership channeled ED into homestead (i.e. household) agriculture and city/town-building. The jump-starting investment was land sales to new homesteads by economic well-off individuals/families who had acquired property from town governments. These land sales proved to be the principal means of capital accumulation for an economic finance elite, which later diversified into marine-based venture capital (shipbuilding, timber, and fishing-global/domestic commercial trade) and even later to textile factory industrialization. Elite-financed Industrialization was further supplemented by an organic evolution from artisans to craft production  by individual entrepreneurs using sweat labor and their own profits. Technology and process “copying” from Great Britain supplemented or kickstarted domestic innovation.

If Yankee Puritans seemed to have industrial capitalist entrepreneurialism in their veins and DNA, it can be similarly argued that all three southern migrations (Tidewater, Scots-Irish, and Barbadian English) were differently “wired” to employ their entrepreneurial instincts to agriculture, and less inclined to change the values and challenge the institutions of the late-medieval society, economy, and politics. This would argue that our First (colonial) Big Sort was what it was, and it was not simply a matter of bad choices, and perverse morals/ethics.

Whatever the reader’s reaction to the above assertion, what is more clear is the Deep South political culture proved every bit as significant–and durable– as the Yankee Puritan culture. At least until our Contemporary Era (post 2000) the goings-on between and within these two cultures were savagely impactful on the course of American economic development, and politics/public policy for that matter.

As late as 1980, it was evident the South did not resemble the North in several ways pertinent to ED. First, it was markedly less urban, or more precisely Big Cities were fewer and “less Big”. As was discovered at the time, they had evolved dissimilar economic bases (the rise of the service economy). We will here of something called the New South and read about the Rise of the Sunbelt. If one confines oneself to the hard-core seven state Deep South (Carolina, non Highland Georgia, southern Alabama, northern Florida, Mississippi, north Louisiana, and East Texas)–i.e. the Cotton Belt, however, there was very little “New South” where King Cotton ruled. Eastern Texas discovered oil and gas. The hard-core Confederate Old South did not, and today are quite distinguishable from the New South. The Deep South cotton legacy persists into our Contemporary Era.

Ethnic Ancestries by County, Census 2000

The dominance of those involved in the antebellum Cotton Belt migration was still very evident in 1980 when the Census revealed that in these states the largest element of white residents defined themselves as “English”, as distinct from the second largest ethnicity: Scots-Irish (Louisiana was a charming exception as the largest single element ascribed their ethnicity as French). This is remarkable given the massive exodus of white population that left the South during the 20th Century, and enormous change created during World War II. That a goodly number of these English were pre-Civil War South Carolinians who likely devolved from the Barbadian migration is suggested but not asserted by my history. That things have noticeably changed since 1980 is a reality with which we shall later deal. Still nearly two-hundred years suggests durability of what happened during the South’s antebellum period.

Introducing the Carolina Colony and its Importance to the Deep South Culture

While our initial focus is on Barbadian immigration, which involved movement from one English Colony, less than 450 miles from South America’s Guyana’s coast: Barbados, to a second English Colony in Carolina, the Deep South culture will also embrace Tidewater emigres, the occasional Yankee or Quaker, and Scots-Irish. It is a fusion culture that is more the sum of its individual groupings. As the reader shall see starting in this module, and continuing into the module mini-series on the Rise of the Cotton Belt, the interaction and accommodations/ tensions inherent in this fused culture add much to the practice and policy outputs that its policy systems produced.

The Deep South culture owes its ability to fuse separate cultures into one to King Cotton. Cotton and the development of a Deep South political culture is what started this off. The two are joined at the hip and our story interweaves both, but before cotton there was the Barbadian South Carolina migration. After this brief introduction, however, we shall leave cotton to our next module.

It is helpful to understand how the Carolina Colony served as the womb for the Deep South culture and its accompanying economic base. The Carolina Colony “birthed” four states (South/North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia), and indirectly that led to two other “births”: Alabama and Mississippi. The Colony, founded in 1629, ended only with the victory of Washington at Yorktown and the resulting peace treaty in 1783. The colony itself was significantly involved in the Revolutionary War, and was the location of a goodly number of battles and campaigns. It was an important player in the politics that created both the Article of Confederation and our Federal Republic.

The defining values of the Deep South culture certainly include notions of racial supremacy and aristocratic privilege. Woodard reasonably posits they were derived from “a version of classical [i.e. Greek-Roman] Republicanism modeled on the slave states of the ancient world where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many”.[1] This fits nicely with both Tidewater and aspirational Deep South Barbadians who embrace “of being descendants of the aristocratic Normans, lording over their colony’s crass Anglo-Saxon and Celtic underclass” [2].

If so, the Deep South culture does not easily fit into our Privatist-capitalist model based on individualism, liberty and free enterprise. This is truly a feudal culture and its insertion into southern economic development is very much an ironic “back to the future” approach.

Slavery, the masses of slaves, and the isolation of the individual plantation amid a sea of black slaves permeated and defined the politics as well as the economics of this culture. Fear of slave uprisings reinforced the “cavalier” military orientation of its white elite. So-called southern “colonels” (without any military experience whatsoever) became a title of honor among the elite. Justification of slavery in short order became defense of a “master race” and the legitimacy of its elite rule. Moreover, however, profitable or not, slavery was precariously balanced in a modern world and its sustenance almost necessarily involved every major institution, societal, economic, and political to play its role in its operation. In short, slavery became an element, a major element, in the “way-of-life” where it existed. In many ways it “fused” society, economy, and politics into a single concept.

The Carolina Colony

The New England path was not followed in the 17th/18th Century South, either in Tidewater Virginia, nor as we shall see in this module, the Carolina Colony. The Deep South political culture, whatever else it is, is not a mere extension of the Tidewater Royalist, plantation/manor and supporting culture. The Deep South political culture congealed over time in the Carolina Colony.

1st Lord of Shaftesberry, Anthony Ashley Cooper

The Deep South culture shares with its Tidewater cultural companion the essential features we commonly identify with the antebellum South: slavery, plantations, agriculture, and plantation owners. But as we shall discover, from its start in the late-17th Century Carolina Colony, the Deep South culture was led by English investors in Barbadian, Azores, and West Indies colonies.

Immigration from these colonies was  the sustaining driver of immigration to Carolina (both Black and White). The nature, values and character of these investors and immigrants–as well as their motivation for immigration were noticeably different from Yankee and Pennsylvania religious refugees (the latter supplemented by German economic and religious refugees). The experiences, expertise, and hopes/expectations acquired in Barbados or the other colonies was carried over to Carolina. If for no other reason, that ensured a separate path for Carolina than that followed in Virginia and the Tidewater.

Atlantic and Caribbean investors and immigrations sought more material and worldly goals, and their class structure and demographic configuration did not closely match the family and village-wide exodus of northern immigration. Young males seeking their fortune and businessmen selling them opportunity in the New World created a distinctly different immigrant whose colonial government sought private gain through individual entrepreneurial risk-taking.

From its start, therefore, Carolina government had limited ambitions restricted primarily to safety, security of investment, maximum (white) individual rights, economic growth and individual wealth creation were defining goals. As shall be seen the Carolina Colony was operated by an investor-oligarchy, resident mostly in London, and there was little local government or local policy-making. The Carolina Colony stressed individual economic self-improvement, with little commitment to ethical/religious/moral values and developed a weak commitment to the “community”–except when threatened by external forces.

Therefore, distinctive policy systems resulted–the “shredded community” mentioned in the previous module. They did not resemble the Yankee town, nor the Midland’s city for that matter, instead  throughout the Deep South,

widely dispersed settlement patterns [fostered] county and county government … incorporating towns only at actual settlements …. Although county officials—judges, clerks, sheriffs—were usually planters who constituted a local political elite, the wide-ranging activities of empaneled juries consisting of ordinary freeholders meant that local government … had a popular dimension too …. The county courts, through operating in a judicial mode, were involved in considerable policy-making, administering their territories and acting as assessors and arbitrators on a great many issues”.[3]

Accordingly, governmental structural capacity in the Deep South was minimal indeed, and regretfully, often focused on preservation of a political and economic system which ran counter to national development. Policy-making was largely private, although private in a sense not contemplated by our Privatist model of political culture. In this system, the policy elites were drawn principally from the planter class, and key suppliers-institutions.

It will be understandable that when the Early Republic of the United States began in 1789, it replaced the Carolina  Colony with a state government that inherited an extraordinarily weak, undeveloped local government system. That a need for local government, so strong in northern communities, had not occurred in Carolina was mostly the result of Carolina’s economic reliance on a rural, self-sufficient plantation that did not require well-developed urban centers. Urban centers, the home-base of northern ED, is a corollary of the Deep South culture. Southern state and local “landscape” does not mirror that which evolved in the North–or the West for that matter.

The Carolina Colony–In 1629, Charles I granted a charter for the Province of Carolina (including South/North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee). The English Civil War intervened, and for the next thirty years little immigration or development occurred. With the monarchy’s restoration in 1661, Charles II granted a second Carolina/Charleston charter to eight “proprietors”, the most important being the Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper.

Under the auspices of that Proprietorship, Charleston was founded in 1670, failed, and recreated/relocated in 1680. Charleston never incorporated as a city until 1783, and was instead governed, from London, directly by the Proprietorship with a strong appointed governor, a weak provincial elected legislature and a judiciary. The Grand Model, a revolutionary “constitution” in the context of its times (aka Fundamental Constitution of Carolina) exhibited a glaring deficiency–it created no true local or even county-level government. It was not until the American Revolution/Articles of Confederation that Charleston elected mayors.

The Grand Model (1670), written by Cooper’s secretary John Locke, is a remarkable set of documents, which set down planning principles and even designs to be followed in laying out the city, as well as establishing local governance institutions and demarcating the proposed economic base. It was in almost every sense of the term a “modern” plan for settlement and development of Carolina–a plan that included elements of today’s smart growth–and allowed for religious tolerance.

John Locke–Not the John Locke of the TV Series “Lost”

However “enlightened” (pardon the pun, Locke is an Enlightenment intellectual), Carolina’s Grand Model’s society and governance did not adhere to Locke’s other famous political writings, but in fact established in Charleston and in the Carolina Province, a quasi-feudal class-based hierarchical policy system–and allowed for, indeed anticipated, the introduction and use of slaves in the establishment of a plantation-based economic base.

State and local leadership were restricted to the wealthy, and plantation elites. On the other hand, about 60% of the Province land was earmarked for “the people (yeoman farmers), but as a long-term objective. In the short-term Cooper advised against too many of the “poorer sort” “until “men of the estates” could “stock the country with Negroes, cattle, and other necessaries“. [4The Constitution itself granted every freeman “absolute Power and Authority over his Negro slaves“. An early incentive of the Proprietorship also offered new settlers 20 acres of free land for every male Negro imported, and 10 acres from a female.

While the Fundamental Constitutions certainly included a great number of social and political elements, it is absolutely clear that by the time it was written and came into effect that the plantation, slavery, and the agriculture that it produced was a central feature. That was logical as it was drafted by proprietors experienced in Barbados immigration (which began in 1627), and the evolution of the Barbados and West Indies, as well as Virginia, economic experience. In addition, the goal of the Proprietors was to make money, for themselves; it was an investment vehicle, and it reflected the Crown’s decision to “privatize” settlement of the New World. Say it another way, everything about the Carolina Colony eventually devolved from its core economic missions.

London-biased decision-making had its strengths and weaknesses, but Privatist profit and a cosmopolitan-British Empire perspective fostered close links with Barbados and the West Indies British possessions. Its complete lack of concern for Carolina transportation infrastructure, however, meant that trade into the hinterland was constrained to the Carolinas Low Country (and Georgia Sea Islands). As the Province expanded into Georgia and southern North Carolina, however, internal “control” became problematic given the chronically insurgent Native Americans, and restive populist white residents.

Lacking infrastructure, governance and site control over settlements in its hinterland, the Fundamental Constitution was amended in 1710 to separately incorporate–under its Proprietorship auspices–what was to be the state of North Carolina. The Province of Georgia was likewise created in 1732; Oglethorpe founded a “planned” Savannah in 1737. South Carolina itself, in 1719, formally rejected the Constitution, and elected its own legislature. The Proprietorship and Crown-appointed governors, however, were the dominant political force. By royal decree in 1729, governors in all American colonies were royally appointed. At this point the Crown seriously entered into Province of Carolina decision-making.

Charleston itself was an island, more tied to the Caribbean than to its hinterland–or to its companion provinces of North Carolina and Georgia. Still by 1690, Charleston was the nation’s fifth largest city and a major Atlantic port. In 1698, a trifecta of disasters hit the unfortunate city. A great fire, an earthquake, and a yellow fever epidemic (the first of eight) killed 15% of its residents. With malaria chronic from its start, the city acquired a deserved reputation for being the colonies’ most unhealthful colony. This added to the city’s exposed location. Its hinterland was always confronting Native American opposition, and was subject to persistent Spanish–and pirate–threats. Blackbeard besieged the city for three days in 1718.

While Charleston’s growth was not explosive, it was sustained. Setters were primarily English, but also a sizable number of Europeans of varying nationalities, including Dutch Jews, also immigrated. Increasingly over the years, second generation immigrants from Bermuda and later Barbados also immigrated. These settlers frequently brought their slaves as they established plantations in the interior. In 1782, planter refugees from the Haitian Revolution settled in Charleston–with slaves. Charleston established a municipally-owned college in 1770, and in that year Charleston was America’s fourth most populated city (11,000–with half African-American).

Only in 1783 was its name officially changed to Charleston, and the city was finally incorporated and self-administered. In 1788, Columbia replaced Charleston as the state capital.

“a Colony of a Colony”

A distinguishing difference between the Tidewater and the Deep South political culture is the latter’s profound and sustained inclusion of British Caribbean immigrants, economic institutions and practices, and its early reliance, then dependence, on “workforce gang” slavery. Caribbean slavery was transplanted into the Carolinas and Georgia by the sons of Barbados plantation owners driven to seek their fortune abroad in the land-restricted island by the dictates of primogeniture.

To these can be added the constant stream of Barbados frustrated wealth-seekers, originally from the British Isles who had come to Barbados in one of its episodic “gold rush-like population surges” to seek their fortune. It was they who later seized upon Virginia’s “cavalier legacy” to instill both legitimacy and status to their new-found wealth and to underpin the slavery that made it possible.

So to Barbados–and its emigrants–we must look for an infusion of values and economic practices that transformed the the South’s 19th century agricultural economic base, diverted it from manufacturing, and set the path toward the Civil War. This requires us to examine Barbados and to outline its role in the formation of a Deep South political culture, a culture still very much in evidence today.

Barbados is an unlikely candidate for such a cultural infusion to the United States. Nineteen hundred miles from Charleston, three-hundred miles off the Venezuela coast, it reputedly took nearly a month to travel by sea. But the reality was the Province of Carolina “sailed” its instructions and emigres to Barbados first, stocked up, and then from Barbados went to found and establish the Carolinas. Barbados, almost by accident became a British proprietary colony and garnered its first English immigrants during Charles I’s (1826) reign.

Tides, winds and unfavorable currents made subsequent invasion unlikely, so the West Indies Island quickly captured the imagination of all sorts of British subjects during the volatile pre-English Civil War period. A sort of “California-style” land-rush attracted hordes of British, Welsh, Scotch-Irish, Scots, and Jews displaced Jewish refugees. When the English Civil War broke out, more refugees and captured prisoners/criminals were sent to Barbados–nearly all as indentured servants. Between 1640 and 1660 two-thirds of all British immigrants wound up in Barbados–more than New England, Tidewater, and the Mid-Atlantic combined. By 1650, an estimated 44,000 Brits called Barbados home (Virginia about 27,000 and Massachusetts 20,000 in the same year). During this period, conditions were horrible, the death rate extraordinary (similar to Jamestown in Virginia), and the cash crop was tobacco.

Bathsheba Barbados

The island, 21 by 14 miles, could not sustain this immigration, but the real dynamic that drove Barbados to Carolina was the disruptive effect of an agricultural product/gazelle: sugar cane. Introduced by Dutch Sephardic Jews, Dutch Brazilian sugar cane came to Barbados in the early 1640’s. At that point only about 800 Barbados residents were Black. The Brazilian model of sugar production rested entirely on gangs of slaves (labor-intensive) on large plantations. English small land holdings were quickly purchased and consolidated into large plantations whose new owners became the dominant Barbados planter class.

With the founding of Charleston in 1670, the Carolinas became Barbados English safety valve when population and entrepreneurs exceeded land and available capital. A steady stream made the sea trek to Charleston, carrying with them hopes and the sugar cane plantation model as their entrepreneurial image. Slavery, therefore, and English Barbadian immigration into Carolina are synonymous and simultaneous.

Most of the Lords Proprietors already had strong Caribbean connections. Ashley Cooper, in addition to a Caribbean plantation, also held a financial interest in the Royal Africa Company [as did John Locke], a major English financial concern involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Moreover some of South Carolina’s most prominent families, including the Draytons and the Middletons, can trace their heritage directly to Barbadian settlers. The first Africans in the colony had been slaves in Barbados. Some historians refer to South Carolina as “the colony of a colony” because of the strong Barbadian influence. [5] [Historian Peter Wood coined the phrase]

And thus arrived African-American slavery in the Barbados. Early slavery exhibited different patterns reflecting the agricultural commodity produced, the geographic location, and time period. Its effect on the political culture intensified depending on the time period, proportion of slaves in the geography, and whether slavery was viewed as an essential pillar of the “economic system”. Barbados slavery and the “Barbadian” slave code is widely-regarded as one of the harshest ever, and that is the form transferred to the Carolina Colony.

Sullivan Island–Called the Ellis Island of Black Slaves

Since the English, and the mass of indentured servants, did not fit willingly into these sugar cane gangs, large-scale Africans slave importation soon followed. Black to white proportions soon exceeded 1-1 (by 1670 blacks were estimated to have exceeded whites by 2-1) and from 1661 through the decade a series of laws and regulations, referred to today as “black slave codes” were approved–a response to a number of small-scale African rebellions.

Statue of Bussa, the Leader of Barbados Slave Rebellion

As intimated above, slavery came early to the Province of Carolina. By the first decade of the 18th century, a majority of Carolina residents were African-American slaves. An estimated 40% of Middle Passage slaves were sold in the auction blocks of Sullivan’s Island off Charleston. In 1767 Gadsden Wharf was constructed to accommodate the slave trade. By that time the slave trade was a “two-way street” with South Carolinians selling Native Americans to the West Indies (and Boston).

In 1739, a small-scale Cato/Stono Rebellion, savagely repressed, prompted legislation imposed a ten-year moratorium on slave importation–and other anti-Black cultural/civil restrictions as well. The early appearance of a slave uprising in Carolina (Stono Rebellion 1739) triggered intensification of the Black slave codes. In 1691 the Carolina Province approved its slave code “almost verbatim after laws passed by the Barbadian assembly between 1661 and 1668. [6] By way of contrast the Virginia slave revolt (Nate Turner 1831) was nearly one-hundred years later.

the Colony of Carolina

Today, the “Bajan” culture is very visible in Charleston architecture (even though much has since burned down), its cuisine, and accent. Interestingly, the disparate British elements that constituted the Bajan exiles split evenly into Church of England and various “dissenting” Protestant faiths–and this not only resulted in Carolina/Georgia religious strife, but class distinctions as well–the Planter Class became the higher status “Cavalier” Church of England.

It was the “fierce independence of the Barbadian settlers”  (the Goose Creek faction) checked both the profits going to the Proprietorship, and in 1719 their ‘strong aristocratic temperament linked to a strong entrepreneurial impulse” gained control over the pre-1690 deerskin-beaver hat trade and prompted the 1719 political insurgency that created the Province of Carolina elective legislature and broke up the Province into the three “states” (South and North Carolina and Georgia) [7] .

The Proprietorship, although in decline during the 17th century with the King’s able assistance managed to manage the big picture in Carolina from London, but the Revolution ended that policy system and replaced it with Carolina and Charleston’s first locally-controlled democratic policy system. The early policy system of both the state and Charleston was planter-dominated, elitist, and resting ultimately on harsh slave codes to keep the “plantation workforce” under control. Carolina’s did not develop a tradition of formal local governance until the 1789 Early Republic. Government was always limited, distant, and often reflected concerns and interests beyond Carolina itself.

Oddly enough statistically this rendered Charleston as America’s most wealthy city in 1790. A planter-dominated political elite quickly rose to political power on the eve of, and during, the American Revolution. Mayors of Charleston and South Carolina governors during the Early Republic, many of which were military leaders, were also plantation owners as well–all slave-holders.

The Development of the Carolina Colony’s Economic Base

A simple timeline reveals the Barbadian and European/English melange were in place in Carolina by the  late 17th century–and Black slaves and plantation-based agricultural economy firmly established.

That its principal economic unit, the plantation, never a conscious goal but adopted more as a means to an end (wealth creation), quickly evolved, and was carried over to the Carolina from Barbados and the West Indies, is partly the consequence of the climate, soils, topography of Carolina which inclined immigrants to agriculture–which is why, of course, they immigrated in the first place–and the need to find crops suitable for exports to global markets in the early years of an mercantile/imperialistic capitalism.

During the first half-century after its second founding, the Carolina Colony incorporated a number of economic “sectors” into its agricultural economic base. Lumber, always a necessary sector, as well as pitch, tar, and turpentine animal skins, and cattle-herding, provided a measure of diversification. Sugar cane, tobacco and wheat were attempted unsuccessfully, but the crop that worked in Carolina in the early 1700’s was rice. After some trail and error, it was discovered that rice grew best in wet lands–you and I call them swamps–often land underwater during high tides. “The first known rice crop was in the Low Country in the 1690’s. Its success was made possible by the experience and skills of thousands of West African slaves familiar with the crop elsewhere. They also built the dikes that converted thousands of marsh acres into rice paddies” ([8]

Since salt water wasn’t so great, dams and dykes were constructed, and slave labor was the only workforce that would perform that savage task. Being so water-dependent rice plantations were restricted to geographies where water was abundant, along rivers and in the coastal Low Counties which extended about thirty or so miles inland–leading to the “extraordinary concentration of wealthy and cultured country gentry [plantation owners, planter class] within a short distance of Charles Town, Beaufort and Georgetown”,  and in Georgia’s Sea Islands. In  1747-8, the Carolina Colony export 55,000 600-lb barrels of rice .[9] 

The problem with rice, however, is that it was a commodity, restricted greatly as to where it could flourish–not easily planted in the hinterlands or highlands, and generated no secondary sectors. You simply harvested it, put it in a barrel and shipped it out. By the time of the Early Republic rice plantations had reached their natural limit given supply and demand limitations. As new populations immigrated, rice plantations were no longer an attractive opportunity. As in Virginia with its tobacco exhaustion, rice plantations, with their accompanying slavery, seemingly were not attractive opportunities for individual entrepreneurship.

In the 1740’s, however, a second crop, indigo made its appearance in the Carolina economy. Indigo was more tolerant of water and soil and hence more transferable to the internal hinterland. The problem with indigo–which was after all a dye–was limited demand. Absent today’s jean industry, its best prospects were the blue uniforms of the Revolutionary Army. At first indigo did not grow well, but a young sixteen year old, trained in biology, working with her plantation slaves experienced in agriculture and seed selection, planted experimental indigo in 1741, and by 1744 she produced seventeen pounds of indigo. Neighbors watch, others experimented as well. In 1746 nearly 5,000 lbs were exported–by 1748 in excess of 134,000 pounds made its way abroad [10]. The young female plantation owner, Elisha Lucas, had innovated an successful agricultural sector. We tell her story below.

A curious effect of slavery on the Deep South economic base, visible even in the 18th century, was the “hollowing out” of not just its working class–but its middle class as well. By the eve of the Early Republic (1790), Charleston was a two class society: plantation owners, and their slaves–with very little in between. Plantations were self-sufficient; tradesmen and artisans worked for the plantation–at the plantation, not in the city. The city was more the cultural and social center of the plantation elite–and a summer refuge from the plantation’s heat, humidity, and disease. Charleston’s relationship with the planter/plantation class was not economic, nor was it “home”.

The slave-created hollowing out of the Deep South class structure and workforce made industrial and finance entrepreneurship just that much more difficult. Middle and working classes were more robust in the North, and played a significant role in the policy system and economic base. Moreover, Tidewater and Carolina south depended heavily on export and import, and export cash crops was the basis for wealth creation, tax generation, and political power. Foreign-born and/or foreign “branch” export “factors” (occupational intermediaries of export trade) always responsive to external pressures, never developed sufficient “capacity” or local commitment in Charleston in particular. In remote state capitals their presence in state policy-making dwarfed in comparison to chronic “populist” influence.

Post-1745 indigo innovation diversified the Carolina economy beyond rice and fur-trading. The Scots-Irish moved in numbers after 1750, late-comers who settled in border regions with hardscrabble individual homesteads. , and limited urbanization to mostly port or capital cities–with a ton of trade/admin/ religious centers of extremely small populations in the hinterlands.

The 1775 “swirl” of Carolina Europeans present when Carolina entered into our Early Republic  included the Barbadian emigres, a predominately English that was about 37% of the Carolina population, Irish (presumably Catholic) were 12%, 9% Welsh, and about 33% Scots-Irish. The remainder were French Huguenots, Jews and German/Dutch. [11] About 91% were former British Empire residents. They were outnumbered, however, by the African-American slave population.

Eliza Lewis

Eliza Lewis (Pinckney)

In 1738, her father, seeking her safety in war-torn Antigua, entrusted to his sixteen year old daughter a 1500 acre family plantation in Carolina (the Wappoo Plantation), complete with twenty slaves. So off she went to Carolina, on her own, to manage the plantation. Seeking to diversify beyond rice,

Eliza, having been formally taught botany in Antigua, experimented with a number of crops and eventually, with Negro slave technological/farming expertise developed in 1740 improved strains of the indigo plant which produced high demand purple dye.The first cash crop was sold in 1744 (5000 lbs.), and by 1748 130,000 lbs. were sold. She shared seeds with other planters, and the improved strain diffused, and in short order became Carolina’s second largest cash crop [12].

At 22, very much in love, she married “the planter next door”, Charles Pinckney. Three sons followed–the oldest of which signed the American Constitution, and in 1808 ran as a Federalist for the Presidency. Another son was appointed ambassador to Spain, where he negotiated the 1795 Pinckney’s Treaty which guaranteed navigation rights to the Mississippi River. He was the Federalist 1796 Vice-Presidential candidate, losing to Thomas Jefferson.

During all this Eliza, a widow since 1758, managed the plantation until she died of cancer in 1793. President Washington served as her pall-bearer at the funeral.



[1] Woodard, American Nations, op. cit., p. 9. With considerable irony, these slave lords hired John Locke to draft a colonial charter/constitution for South Carolina which permitted slavery and provided as an incentive 150 free acres for each slave brought to the colony by a planter. Locke’s guarantees of religious toleration which encouraged emigration of French Huguenots and Sephardic Jews were stricken out in 1700—leaving the state a sort of Anglican Church theocracy.

[2] See William R. Taylor, Cavalier and the Yankee: the Old South and American National Character (New York, Oxford University Press, 1993). Taylor asserts the North and South “had adopted separate images by 1860” and the southern myth of the cavalier “was at odds with the dominant trends of the developing new country”.

[3] David Russo, American Towns, op. cit., p. 98

[4] the Shaftesbury Papers, p. 364

[5] Jack Bass & W. Scott Poole, the Palmetto State: the Making of Modern South Carolina, (2012), p. 4

[6] African Passage, Low Country Adaptations, “Barbadians in Carolina“.

[7] Jack Bass & W. Scott Poole, the Palmetto State:  Making of Modern South Carolina, (2012), p. 8.

[8] Jack Bass & W. Scott Poole, the Palmetto State: Making of Modern South Carolina, (2012), p. 7.

[9] David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina: a Short History, 1951, pp. 188-9.

[10] David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina: a Short History, 1951,  p. 190.

[11] Jack Bass & W. Scott Poole, the Palmetto State: the Making of Modern South Carolina, (2012), p. 10-11.

[12] David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina: a Short History, 1951,  pp. 189-90.