Mary Gunderson

Professor Shiroya

History 2111 Project

April 8, 2005


Life in Colonial South Carolina

History of the Colony       

During the 1500’s, people from Spain and France began to form settlements on the land which is now North Carolina and South Carolina.  In 1566, the Spanish built Fort San Felipe on Parris Island, creating the settlement known as Santa Elena.  When the Spanish felt threatened by the English, they abandoned Santa Elena and focused on protecting St. Augustine, in Florida.  South Carolina was then left to Native Americans from 1587 to 1670, until the English established the first permanent settlement at Albemarle Point, which is on the Ashley River.  King Charles of England named the land “Carolana”, meaning “Land of Charles,” but in 1663 King Charles II changed the spelling to “Carolina”.  Charles II then gave the land to eight English noblemen as a gift.  These men became known as the Lords Proprietors.

            The Lords Proprietors sent 100 people to settle in South Carolina in 1669.  When these people arrived at Albemarle Point in 1670, they started the first settlement known as Charles Town.  It was later shortened to Charleston.  The settlers built homes, shops, and a port. Cheap land and religious freedom drew many people to South Carolina and Charleston grew quickly, as more and more people from England came to this town.  Unfortunately, crops did not grow well in the swampy land, and colonists survived only from shipments of food from England, and by trading with Indians.

            Until 1712, the northern and southern parts of Carolina were one colony, however, they were very different.  The Lords Proprietors of South Carolina lived in England and sent governors to rule over the colony.  In order to make money, settlers were charged rent to live there.  The governors took advantage of the settlers and continuously raised the rent.  In 1719, the colonists rebelled, throwing the governor out of office, and making South Carolina a royal province.


Since farming was unsuccessful in South Carolina, settlers had to find a new way to make a living.  They began to capture Native Americans and sell them as slaves to people in other colonies and in the West Indian islands.  By 1700, the colonists discovered that rice and indigo grew very well in this land.  These two goods prospered, making the farmers very wealthy.  Large plantations became widespread throughout the area, and black slaves from Africa became the primary source of labor. 


By the early 1700’s, there were 60,000 black slaves in South Carolina, outnumbering the white colonists.  Most black slaves who came to America went through the Charleston Harbor and then were sold.  Slaves were bought with no regard to family ties, and often separated husbands and wives, and parents and children.  Slaves worked long hours in the indigo fields and rice paddies, and lived in horrible conditions.  They were not taught to read or to write, for fear that educating slaves would cause them to rebel.  The law even made it illegal to teach literacy to slaves.  Plantation owners heavily suppressed African traditions, but slaves created a new culture by combining their African roots with their new way of life.  Slaves made a new language, called Gullah. It was a combination of English and their native African languages.


When Africans were taken to America, they brought Malaria with them.  This disease does not cause death but it weakens the immune system, causing a person to become more susceptible to other illnesses.  Slaves were affected by this disease, and it soon spread to the white colonists.  Infants and young women were most affected by this disease, causing a high infant mortality rate, miscarriages, and premature labor.  Malaria had a tendency to flare up from August to December, causing a high death rate during these months.

Yellow fever was also brought over from West Africa.  This disease was different from Malaria in that it would run its course by the time the slaves arrived in America.  The disease was carried by mosquitoes on the ships. Fourteen days after the mosquito is infected, it can transmit the disease for the rest of its life. Treatments for malaria and for the yellow fever were quite similar.  Colonial doctors gave patients opiates and crude quinine.  They commonly used bleeding and purging practices to rid patients of the disease.  One colonial doctor thought that getting rid of rice cultivation completely and adopting other forms of agriculture was the only way to bring healthier living conditions to the area.

Social Structure

South Carolina was divided in two parts: the Low Country and the Up Country.  The Low Country, near the coast, included the important towns of Charleston, Georgetown, and Beaufort, as well as the large plantations.  Most people in South Carolina lived in the Up Country, and were called frontier people.  They owned far fewer slaves than those who lived in the Low Country.  The Up Country families lived in log cabins, wore clothes of buckskin, and hunted and farmed for food.  The frontier people were very kind.  When a new family needed a log cabin, they would help them build it.  When the cabin was completed, they would have a large celebration which included a shooting contest, and dancing to fiddle music.


            The major cash crop, indigo, was actually introduced by a young girl named Eliza Lucas.  Her father, Lt. Col. George Lucas bought a plantation on Wappo Creek and brought his family there from Antigua. When he was called back to be governor of that island, he left seventeen-year-old Eliza to run the plantation. The plantation was too close to the sea, so growing rice was not possible. She tried to grow many different crops and was finally successful with indigo, in 1742.

            The roles of men and women differed greatly during the colonial time period.  Women, unlike men, could not own land, vote, or hold any type of office in government.  The responsibilities of women were mainly within the household.  The role of a wife was to bear children, and to take care of her husband.


The clothes that people wore in colonial times were all hand-made in the home and usually passed down from sibling to sibling.  For the average settler, their clothes were neutral colors because they could not afford expensive fabric.  Another reason for the dull colored clothing was the common religious belief that bright colors brought unwanted attention to women. 

Toddlers often wore a brace around their body to make them sit up straight.  Both boys and girls wore long gowns and a cap until the age of five or six.  After that, boys wore stockings, garters, doublets, brown shows, points, hats, and always tucked in their shirts.   Older girls and women wore long skirts or dresses, and often a hat.  They wore three petticoats, corsets, stockings, garters, and a waistcoat.  They also wore a hat, called a coif, an apron, and a bonnet.  Men wore robes and felt hats.


            Education during colonial times was not formal.  The school schedule revolved around the farming season.  Since children were needed at home to work in the fields, girls usually stopped attending school around the 6th grade and boys stopped in 8th grade.  Only the very privileged boys went to college.  Each town only had one school, usually located at the edge of town.  The main subjects were reading, writing and arithmetic.  Students would write on slate boards or use a quill pen and ink.  The teacher lived at the back of or near the schoolhouse.  When a teacher got married, she had to stopping teaching.  Students called the teacher “schoolmaster” or “school-mistress.”  Discipline was a major part of education.  If a student misbehaved, the teacher would put the student in the corner, wearing a dunce hat, or spank them.  Besides the school work children had to do, they also had chores at school.  Girls swept the classroom and boys collected firewood to keep the building warm.

            During the school day, children had a break for lunch.  Children brought their lunches from home, and ate outside if the weather was good.  During recess, they would play tug-o-war, or hide and seek.  Children were not given homework because they had chores waiting for them when they returned from school.


            Until the early 1700’s, all religious groups in South Carolina were able to freely practice their faith.  The three main religions were Anglicans, dissenters from the Church of England, called nonconformists, and French Huguenots.   In 1704, the Anglicans successfully deprived all other religious groups from their religious freedom.  Religious freedom was not restored until 1706, when the English government took necessary action.

            The first dissenters in South Carolina, from the Church of England, were the Presbyterians.  They formed the Independent or Circular Church in Charleston, in 1680.  Among the earliest settlers in South Carolina were the Quakers, Baptists, and Anabaptists.  The Baptists were established in the colony by 1670.  The first Jewish synagogue was not established until 1749, in Charleston.  The Methodists were not established in the colony until the 1770’s.



            The colony of South Carolina realized that they needed armed forces and formed the Colonial Militia in 1670.  This militia was formed to protect the colony from possible Spanish invasion.  There were two groups that formed the militia.  There was a “Militia” and a “Volunteer Militia.”  The difference between the two is that Militia was made up of most men, ages 18 to 60.  They were not skilled, and were very unorganized.  The Volunteer Militiamen were legally enrolled in the Militia, met on a regular basis, practiced drills, and were the first to go into action, if needed.

Professions and Leisure Activities

            The leisure activities in colonial America were not only for people to have a good time with, but many of the crafts made were used for everyday life as well.  Common professions were silver smiths, glass makers, and needle workers.  Silver smiths created sugar bowls, jewelry, and coins.  When glass making was introduced in the middle 1700’s, many people learned the trade and made their own household items.  There were also glass factories where many people worked.  Needle work was done by women.  They made blankets, clothing, and even carpet.  Furniture making was a common profession as well.  A few famous furniture makers were Thomas Sheraton, George Hepplewhite, and Thomas Chippendale.  Furniture was very heavy during early colonial times but became lighter in the 1700’s. 

Other professions were basket makers, brick makers, blacksmiths, carpenters, gunsmiths, millers, printers, shoemakers, wheelwrights, and wigmakers.  Trades were not learned by going school.  People would learn a certain craft and become an apprentice.  The apprentice would not get paid but instead would live with the master craftsman, and be given clothes, and food.  After the apprentice trained with the craftsman for a while, he would create one final product, called his “master-piece”.  It would then be judged by the master craftsman and if it was passed, the apprentice would become a “journeyman”.  Until the journeyman made enough money to open his own shop, he would travel to different villages finding as much work as he could.

            Playing music and dancing were very popular hobbies in South Carolina, and in all the colonies.  A popular dance, called the Virginia Reel Dance, was introduced in 1685 by Sir Roger De Covertly.  The violin and French horn were played often, and many children were taught how to play at a young age.

            Colonial life in South Carolina was full of culture.  The people who lived in Charleston were very wealthy, living in large, extravagant homes, going to shows at the theatre, and attending large balls.  The frontier people lived their lives very different from the Low Country people.  They lived communally, and had to work hard to make a living.  Overall, the colony of South Carolina has a very interesting and unique history.