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REVOLUTIONARY CHARLESTON, 1765-1800
STANLEY KENNETH DEATON
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Stanley Kenneth Deaton
"If you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to
there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you."
Many people helped me to move this mountain. Though historical research and
writing are inherently solitary and lonely exercises, they are impossible to do successfully
without the help and support of others. My academic debts begin with my dissertation
supervisor, Dr. Bertram Wyatt-Brown, and the members of my committee, professors
Jeffrey S. Adler, David R. Colbum, C. John Sommerville, and Samuel S. Hill (who
graciously agreed to serve at the last moment). With remarkable patience they demanded
that I rethink my ideas and question my assumptions, hammered away at my sloppy use
of commas and passive voice, and continually challenged me to become a better thinker,
writer, and historian. I could not have chosen better mentors. Finally, I owe a special
intellectual debt to Dr. Carl J. Vipperman, who first kindled my interest in South Carolina
history as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia.
I am grateful to Allen H. Stokes, Henry Fullmer, and Daniel Boice of the South
Caroliniana Library of the University of South Carolina, Columbia; former directors
Alexander Moore and Joseph Kitchens and director of publications Stephen Hoffius of
the South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston; Elizabeth Alexander and Bruce
Chappel of the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History at the University of Florida; Dr.
John Ingram, director of Special Collections at the University of Florida Libraries; the
staffs of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, the
Charleston Library Society, and the University of Florida's Interlibrary Loan department;
and Betty Corwine, Kimberly Yocum, and Linda Opper of the UF Department of History.
The Department of History at the University of Florida provided teaching
assistantships for more years than I had a right to expect. The University's College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences awarded a generous fellowship that allowed me to spend a
summer in Columbia. And it was my good fortune and pleasure to work for three years
with University legend Dr. Samuel Proctor in the Oral History Program. Special thanks
to Dr. Barbara Oberlander of Santa Fe Community College, who took a gamble and gave
me my first opportunity to teach my own class. Her kindness will not be forgotten.
My personal debts to friends and family are many. Daniel W. Stowell is partially
responsible for getting me into this mess to begin with. If I was sometimes a burden to
him, I cannot say with any honesty that I regret a minute of it. I was fortunate to enter the
graduate program at the University of Florida with five men who turned out to be more
than just colleagues. They made the long journey of classes, qualifying exams, and
dissertations a little less bumpy and a lot more fun. My thanks to the "Fab Five," great
friends, learned scholars, and pretty good poker players: Andrew "Granddad" Chancey,
Glenn "Brains" Crothers, Mark "Ignatius" Greenberg, Dan "Snuggles" Kilbride, and
Chris "Gomez" Olsen. My aunt and uncle, Helen and Nathaniel Deaton, opened their
home and hearts to me on my many research trips to Charleston. They are two very
special people. April Arrington has become the sister I never had, a confidant who shares
my joys, sorrows, occasional triumphs, and my love of the Panda's buffet lunch. Her
warm heart and laughter helped preserve my sanity, and I count her friendship among my
greatest treasures. Finally, many thanks to dear friends Don and Dawn Denny, Bryan and
Lynn Drost, Bret and Shawna Hegi, Jim and Jan Johnson, and Scot Hawes, all of whom
must have wondered what was taking me so long but had the good grace not to ask.
My greatest debts are to my family. Ken and Elaine Grizzle generously supported
me throughout this endeavor, never questioning a decision that moved their daughter far
from home. I love them both very much and am honored to be their son-in-law. My big
brother Jeff bailed me out of many difficult school projects when we were growing up,
but for some reason he made me do this one alone. I hope he is as proud of the results as
I have always been of him. My parents, Bill and Jeannette Deaton, encouraged us to
follow where our interests and talents led, and they gave us both the means and the
freedom to find our own way. Their love and support has sustained me throughout my
life, and nothing I have done--especially this degree--would have been possible without
them. I love them dearly, and they deserve more than I can ever repay. Finally, my wife,
Deborah Grizzle Deaton, allowed me to follow my dream and eagerly chased it with me
every step of the way. This dissertation and degree are as much her achievements as they
are mine. She has been my rock and my strength, brightening my darkest days, believing
in me long after I stopped believing in myself. Debbie worked tirelessly, sacrificed much,
and never once complained. There will be many stars in her crown, and I thank God
every day that she chose to walk through life with me. Of Debbie, Mom, and Dad it may
truly be said, "If I reached high it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................. iii
ABSTRACT ................ ..................................... vii
INTRODUCTION: THROUGH THE PAST, DARKLY ..................... 1
1 THE CITY BEFORE THE STORM: CHARLESTON IN 1765 ............. 15
2 "THE MANY-HEADED POWER OF THE PEOPLE":
METAMORPHOSIS, 1766-1775 ............................... 59
3 "WE ARE AN UNDONE PEOPLE": WAR AND OCCUPATION,
1776-1782 .................... ......... ......... 111
4 DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL TWILIGHT, 1783-1790 ............... 163
5 THE DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL ECONOMY, 1783-1800 ............... 223
6 "SELF-PRESERVATION IS THE FIRST LAW OF NATURE":
CHARLESTON AND SLAVERY, 1783-1800 ..................... 298
EPILOGUE: "TO FINISH WHAT THEIR FATHERS HAVE BEGUN":
CHARLESTON IN 1800 .................................... 344
BIBLIOGRAPHY ....................................... ......... 356
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................. ........................ 410
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
REVOLUTIONARY CHARLESTON, 1765-1800
Stanley Kenneth Deaton
Chairman: Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Major Department: History
This project addresses four major problems: the transforming nature of the
American Revolution; the expansion of democratic politics and economic liberalism in
the South; Charleston's evolution from the colonial South's largest city to an increasingly
inward-looking, paranoid, and declining port; and the transformation of slavery from a
ubiquitous American institution to a primarily Southern one. The American Revolution
transformed Charleston and South Carolina from a world that emphasized hierarchy and
deferential elite leadership to one marked by contentious, egalitarian politics and
economic liberalism. The movement replaced the notion of a classical republic led by a
disinterested, entrenched Charleston aristocracy with a "democratic political economy"
where individuals openly acknowledged competing political and economic interests.
Artisans, mechanics, yeoman farmers, and small merchants did not seek to exclude or
isolate themselves from the market economy but instead sought improved access to it in
order to ensure that it would benefit all segments of society, not just lowcountry planters
and merchants. Simultaneously, however, Revolutionary ideology forced many
Americans to question and ultimately condemn slavery at just the moment when most
white Charlestonians became convinced that their prosperity and identity rested more
than ever upon slavery's survival and expansion. The contested meanings of the
Revolution, growing abolitionism, and subsequent events in France and Santo Domingo
combined to raise white levels of anxiety over slavery to a fever pitch. Many South
Carolinians found themselves defending and maintaining by force an institution
increasingly labeled anti-modem, anti-progressive, and anti-Christian by much of the rest
of the world. Charleston subsequently became less "cosmopolitan" during the 1790s,
increasingly erecting an intellectual blockade against hostile "outside" ideas and people at
just the moment when its economic future shone brightest. Ultimately, the American
Revolution in the South spawned a dual, Janus-faced, legacy: a strongly optimistic faith
in political and economic liberalism that favored trade with all the world coupled with a
growing anxiety over dangerous external ideas about universal equality that threatened to
destroy the very fabric of Southern economic and social life.
THROUGH THE PAST, DARKLY
Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to
reconstruct a dead world in its completeness however thorough or revealing their
documentation.... We are doomed to be forever hailing someone who has just gone
around the corer and out of earshot.
Simon Schama, Dead Certainties (1991)
This study began with the question, "What were the effects of the American
Revolution in the South?" Gordon S. Wood has recently portrayed the American
Revolution as "the most radical and most far-reaching event in American history," a
movement that democratized the nation and cleared the way for liberal capitalism.
According to Wood, the Revolution created "the most liberal, the most democratic,
the most commercially minded, and the most modem people in the world."' Wood's
thesis, however, contradicts two prevailing paradigms in Southern history. First,
Eugene D. Genovese and other Southern historians argue that the South was
dominated by patriarchal slaveholders committed to an anti-capitalist ethos that
emphasized staple crop agriculture, slavery, honor, and leisure.2 Opposed to
'Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 8, 7.
'All of this literature is discussed more fully in chapter five, but see in particular
Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the
Slave South (New York: Random House, 1968), 3-39. This is perhaps the most
aggressive capitalistic behavior, Southerners supposedly remained anti-modem in
outlook,3 anxious about capitalistic development,4 and culturally opposed to
economic improvements.5 They eschewed the commercial behavior that paved the
way for an increasingly capitalistic society in the North in the years after the
Revolution.6 Secondly, historians of the eighteenth-century South have insisted that
the American Revolution in the region was primarily a conservative, cautious,
political revolt that simply consolidated elite rule, in this case replacing the Crown
influential articulation of the view that Southern planters were anti-capitalists. Genovese
argues that Southern planters and their economic system were tied to the world system of
markets but were not capitalists. "The planters were not mere capitalists; they were
precapitalist, quasi-aristocratic landowners who had to adjust their economy and ways of
thinking to a capitalist world market. Their society, in its spirit and fundamental
direction, represented the antithesis of capitalism." Genovese, Ibid., 23.
'The best recent summary of this point of view is Douglas R. Egerton, "Markets
Without a Market Revolution: Southern Planters and Capitalism," Journal of the Early
Republic 16 (Summer 1996): 207-221. Egerton argues that "if the Atlantic market
shaped the plantation economy to its own ends, it simultaneously spawned a landed elite
with economic interests and moral values antagonistic to the spirit of modem capitalism."
4See most recently Joyce E. Chaplin, An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation
and Modernity in the Lower South. 1730-1815 (Chapel Hill NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 1993).
'See for example W.J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1941), 3-55; David Bertelson, The Lazy South (New York: Oxford University Press,
1967); Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).
6For good recent discussion of the notion that the South developed differently than
the rest of America and has been "at odds with the mainstream of American values or
behavior and therefore has been constructed as a special problem," see the collection of
essays in Larry J. Griffin and Don H. Doyle, eds., The South as an American Problem
(Athens GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995), especially David L. Carlton, "How
American is the American South?" 33-56. The quote is on p. 1.
with a slaveholding oligarchy. Historians characterize particularly the Revolution in
South Carolina--home to some of the most conservative, wealthy, and politically
powerful Americans--as a limited political movement in which traditional
aristocratic leaders survived the break with Great Britain. Robert M. Weir maintains
that the Revolution in South Carolina was a "remarkably conservative movement"
that never led to any extensive social or economic change.7 Almost every other
historian of eighteenth-century South Carolina agrees.' How then does one square
7Robert M. Weir, Colonial South Carolina: A History (Millwood NY: KTO Press,
'Historians of Revolutionary South Carolina have denied the existence of a
"radical" Revolution in that state, and generally agree, as S.R. Matchett has noted, on two
points: that the Revolution was limited to political reforms and that the traditional
aristocratic leaders survived the break with Britain, despite making a few concessions to
backcountry upstarts. None has examined the "radicalism" of the expansion of political
and economic liberalism in the post-war decades. S.R. Matchett, "'Unanimity, Order and
Regularity': The Political Culture of South Carolina in the Era of the Revolution," Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Sydney, 1980, 6-7. Matchett argues for a "consensus model"
as a way of understanding South Carolina political culture in the years after the war.
"The 'aristocrats' held power," he argues, "not in spite of popular opposition but because
they reflected the values and interests of the community at large." Matchett, Ibid., 16.
See also Mary Catherine Ferrari, "Artisans of the South: A Comparative Study of
Norfolk, Charleston and Alexandria, 1763-1800," Ph.D. dissertation, College of William
and Mary, 1992; Rachel Klein, Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class
in the South Carolina Backcountrv. 1760-1808 (Chapel Hill NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 1990); George Winston Lane Jr., "The Middletons of Eighteenth-Century
South Carolina: A Colonial Dynasty, 1678-1787," Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University,
1990; John C. Meleney, The Public Life of Aedanus Burke: Revolutionary Republican in
Post-Revolutionary South Carolina (Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press,
1989); Weir, Colonial South Carolina, 332-333; E. Stanly Godbold Jr. and Robert H.
Woody, Christopher Gadsden and the American Revolution (Knoxville TN: University of
Tennessee Press, 1982); Jerome J. Nadelhaft, The Disorders of War: The Revolution in
South Carolina (Orono ME: University of Maine at Orono Press, 1981); George C.
Rogers Jr., Charleston in the Age of the Pincknevs (1969; rpt., Columbia SC: University
of South Carolina Press, 1980); Frances Leigh Williams, A Founding Family: The
Pincknevs of South Carolina (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978); Richard
the new synthesis on the American Revolution--Wood's interpretation--with the
prevailing model of development for the American South?
Charleston, South Carolina, as the colonial South's largest city, for a number
of reasons proved to be an ideal place to examine the hypothesis of a "radical
revolution" in the South. First, eighteenth-century seaboard commercial cities,
according to Gary B. Nash, "predicted the future."' Though America remained
overwhelmingly rural, colonial cities were "urban crucibles," on the cutting edge of
economic, social, and political change and the cradles of both American capitalism
and American democracy. Transformations in American society first occurred in
cities and then radiated outward to the countryside."0 In Charleston, if anywhere in
Brent Clow, "Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, 1749-1800: Unproclaimed Statesman,"
Ph.D. dissertation, University of Georgia, 1976; Eva B. Poythress, "Revolution By
Committee: An Administrative History of the Extralegal Committees in South Carolina,
1774-1776," Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, 1975; Robert M. Weir,
"'The Harmony We Were Famous For': An Interpretation of Pre-Revolutionary South
Carolina Politics," William and Mary Quarterly 26 (October 1969): 473-501; Marvin R.
Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pincknev: Founding Father (Chapel Hill NC: University of
North Carolina Press, 1967); Jerome J. Nadelhaft, "The Revolutionary Era in South
Carolina, 1775-1788," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1965; Raymond G.
Starr, "The Conservative Revolution: South Carolina Public Affairs, 1775-1790," Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Texas, 1964; George C. Rogers Jr., Evolution of A Federalist:
William Loughton Smith of Charleston. (1758-1812) (Columbia SC: University of South
Carolina Press, 1962); Frederick P. Bowes, The Culture of Early Charleston (Chapel Hill
NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1942).
9Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the
American Revolution, Abr. ed. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), ix.
1"In addition to Nash, see Richard D. Brown, "The Emergence of Urban Society in
Rural Massachusetts," Journal of American History 61 (June 1974): 29-51.
the South, the effects of the American Revolution and its legacy should be most
Secondly, historians of the Revolutionary era have focused much attention on
Northern urban centers over the past twenty-five years to the exclusion of the urban
South." Their findings, like Wood's, also contradict the prevailing themes of
"In addition to Nash's work, see Charles F. Olton, Artisans For Independence:
Philadelphia Mechanics and the American Revolution (Syracuse NY: Syracuse University
Press, 1975); Eric Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1976); Dirk Hoerder, Crowd Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts.
1765-1800 (New York: Academic Press, 1977); Richard A. Ryerson, "The Revolution is
Now Begun": The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776 (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978); Howard B. Rock, Artisans of the New Republic:
The Tradesmen of New York City in the Age of Jefferson (New York: New York
University Press, 1979); John K. Alexander, Render Them Submissive: Responses to
Poverty in Philadelphia. 1760-1800 (Amherst MA: University of Massachusetts Press,
1980); Edward Countryman, A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and
Political Society in New York. 1760-1790 (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1981); Lynne Withey, Urban Growth in Colonial Rhode Island: Newport and
Providence in the Eighteenth Century (Albany NY: State University of New York Press,
1984); Elaine Forman Crane, A Dependent People: Newport. Rhode Island in the
Revolutionary Era (New York: Fordham University Press, 1985); Thomas M.
Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in
Revolutionary Philadelphia (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986);
Paul Gilje, The Road to Mobocracy: Popular Disorder in New York City. 1763-1834
(Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1987); Steven Rosswurm, Arms,
Country, and Class: The Philadelphia Militia and the "Lower Sort" During the American
Revolution (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987); Billy G. Smith, The
"Lower Sort": Philadelphia's Laboring People. 1750-1800 (Ithaca NY: Comell University
Press, 1990). Urban studies of the Revolutionary South include Richard Walsh,
Charleston's Sons of Liberty: A Study of the Artisans. 1763-1789 (Columbia SC:
University of South Carolina Press, 1959); Edward C. Papenfuse, In Pursuit of Profit: The
Annapolis Merchants in the Era of the American Revolution. 1763-1805 (Baltimore MD:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975); Charles G. Steffen, The Mechanics of Baltimore:
Workers and Politics in the Age of Revolution, 1763-1812 (Urbana IL: University of
Illinois Press, 1984); Mary Catherine Ferrari, "Artisans of the South: A Comparative
Study of Norfolk, Charleston, and Alexandria, 1763-1800," Ph.D. dissertation, College of
William and Mary, 1992.
Southern history. Nash, for instance, found that in Boston, Philadelphia, and New
York the Revolution brought "an internal struggle for a new social order." In
Northern cities "plebeian urban dwellers" adopted street demonstrations, mass
meetings, and extralegal committees to challenge the established elite and force their
way into the political arena.12 Similarly, the Revolution in New York, according to
Edward Countryman, "amounted to a democratic revolution" that firmly laid the
"foundations of a liberal bourgeois society." New York's Revolution appealed to
"artisans, white laborers, small farmers, and expectant small capitalists," while
bypassing blacks, Indians, and women, none of whom "took part as a group in the
revolutionary coalition, and none of them got much that they wanted out of its
radicalism."13 And in Philadelphia, Thomas M. Doerflinger found that merchants
displayed "a vigorous spirit of enterprise" by capitalizing on the commercial
opportunities stimulated by war. Indeed, he located the "entrepreneurial origins of
American economic development" in the "drive and flexibility, the tolerance for risk,
[and] the roving quest for new markets" that characterized Northern--but not
Southern--businessmen during the Revolutionary era." These findings are broadly
suggestive of the recent scholarship on northern colonial cities and demonstrate, in
Countryman's phrase, that "the revolution was genuinely revolutionary."" But are
"Nash, Urban Crucible, 201, 246-247.
"Countryman, A People in Revolution, xvii, 296, 288-289.
"Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise, 344, 355.
"Countryman, A People in Revolution, ix.
these conclusions applicable to the colonial urban South as well? The consistent
theme of Revolutionary urban history over the last quarter-century--that the
American Revolution fundamentally reshaped Northern society, politics, and
economies--directly contradicts the predominant interpretations in Southern history
of an anti-capitalist South and a Revolution limited to minor political reforms. A
study of the American Revolution in Charleston thus provides an excellent
opportunity to test these competing and contradictory interpretations.
Thirdly, Revolutionary Charleston should furnish a better understanding of
the Revolution's transformative effect--or lack of--upon Southern cities. Even now,
upon first entering the city, a visitor cannot help but notice that Charleston seems
frozen in time, the Federalist architecture of the 1790s remaining the dominant
characteristic of the city. Though the eighteenth-century docks that once jutted out
into the Cooper River along East Bay Street have long since disappeared, there are
no skyscrapers, no subways, no factories, no concrete canyons. The absence of
modern development becomes all the more startling when one learns that Charleston
was the largest city in the colonial South, and the fourth largest city in America until
1800. How had it become an almost living museum? If it once rivaled New York,
Philadelphia, and Boston, why did it not do so now? Why did the American
Revolution not propel this colonial metropolis toward continued growth and
expansion in the early Republic, as it did for Baltimore and its more Northern rivals?
Conversely, what role did the Revolution play in Charleston's eventual decline and
This dissertation reconciles the contradictions between the new synthesis of
the American Revolution and the dominant interpretations of Southern history. It
addresses four major problems: the transforming nature of the American Revolution;
the expansion of democratic politics and economic liberalism16 in the South;
Charleston's evolution from the colonial South's largest city to an increasingly
inward-looking, paranoid, and declining port; and the transformation of slavery from
a ubiquitous American institution to a primarily Southern one. The first three
chapters chronicle the enormously disruptive forces that shattered the stable world of
Charleston's elite between 1765 and 1782. These chapters particularly emphasize
the "internal revolution" caused by social, political, and economic unrest in the years
before the war and the chaos and disruption of the war itself. Charleston's
traditional leaders proved unable to contain the upheaval and a series of events--high
prices, scarce goods, rebellious slaves, armed invasion, military occupation, and
political and religious concessions to "outsiders"--combined to shake the
foundations of elite power and dominance and paved the way for substantial political
challenges in the post-war years. Chapter four examines the political results of the
Revolution: the continued challenge to elite domination in Charleston, the
incorporation of the city, the expansion of divisive democratic politics, and the
backcountry challenge to lowcountry political hegemony which culminated in
""Economic liberalism" is defined as an economic system stressing
individualism, competition, and a free market economy.
constitutional reform and the removal of the capital to Columbia. Chapter five
reviews the economic results of the American Revolution and the ways in which
economic liberalism muted the divisiveness of democratic politics, healed sectional
wounds, and secured Charleston's continued economic prosperity despite its political
losses. Finally, chapter six explores how increasing white anxiety over slavery in the
1790s created an "intellectual blockade" against potentially threatening ideas and
people. Revolutionary ideology, abolitionism, the French Revolution, and the slave
revolt in Haiti combined to poison Charleston's previously cosmopolitan intellectual
atmosphere and eventually enervated the effects of the American Revolution itself.
The American Revolution in Charleston was indeed a radical revolution,
transforming Charleston and South Carolina from a world that emphasized hierarchy
and deferential elite leadership to one marked by contentious, egalitarian politics and
economic liberalism. The movement replaced the notion of a classical republic led
by a disinterested, entrenched Charleston aristocracy with a "democratic political
economy" where individuals openly acknowledged competing political and
economic interests. "In these days," William Homby asserted in 1784, "we are equal
citizens of a DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC, in whichjealously and opposition must
naturally exist, while there exists a difference in the minds, interests, and sentiments
of mankind."17 The Revolution did not create modem democracy or capitalism, per
se, but as Gordon Wood has recently argued, it certainly made both things possible.
"Gazette of the State of South Carolina, July 29, 1784.
It did spread the notion that all should benefit equally from the political and
economic opportunities created by the war. And ultimately the Revolution toppled
Charleston from its dominant position in both South Carolina and the Lower South.
The years 1765-1800 were transforming ones in Charleston and throughout
South Carolina. The Revolution as an event brought outsiders into the political
process and gave them a voice for the first time. Simultaneously, the Revolution
created unprecedented opportunities for economic expansion and growth, and the
elite quickly grasped the chance to invest in new agricultural techniques, new
financial institutions, and innovations in transportation. Outsiders, both in the
backcountry and within the city, demanded to be part of this process--not to
overthrow the system but to participate as equals in the market economy and in a
more participatory democratic politics. They petitioned for new towns and markets,
protective tariffs to encourage home manufactures, improved roads, bridges, ferries,
and canals to link them more effectively with the economic metropolis, while
simultaneously demanding that the political capital be removed to a more central,
"plebeian" location. Artisans, mechanics, yeoman farmers, and small merchants did
not seek to exclude or isolate themselves from the market economy--far from it.
Instead they sought improved access to it in order to ensure that it would benefit all
segments of society, not just lowcountry planters and merchants. This "democratic
political economy" was not modem, industrial capitalism, nor was it radically anti-
capitalist. It simply sought to spread the benefits of the American Revolution
equally throughout white society. This in effect was the "real" American
Revolution. It certainly did not completely level society, destroy all social ranks,
redistribute wealth or property, or give complete equality to women and African-
Americans. It did, however, fundamentally alter the political, social, and economic
relationships that bound white South Carolinians together.
This interpretation challenges the contention that a majority of Americans in
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century resisted the "transition to
capitalism."" Most historians who have addressed this subject have either ignored
the South altogether or argued that the South was non- or anti-capitalistic. This
thesis also disputes the notion that Southern planters were anti-modem in economic
outlook, anxious about capitalistic development, or culturally opposed to economic
improvements." Gordon Wood': :.trumcrl thaji "no event in the eighteenth century
"See especially Michael Merrill, "Putting 'Capitalism' in its Place: A Review of
Recent Literature," William and Mary Ouarterly 52 (April 1995): 315-326; Allan
Kulikoff, The Agrarian Origins of American Capitalism (Charlottesville VA: University
Press of Virginia, 1992), particularly chapter four, "Was the American Revolution a
Bourgeois Revolution?" 99-126; James A. Henretta, The Origins of American
Capitalism: Collected Essays (Boston MA: Northeastern University Press, 1991);
Christopher Clark, The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts. 1780-1860
(Ithaca NY: Comell University Press, 1990); Steven Hahn and Jonathan Prude, eds.. The
Countryside in the Age of Capitalist Transformation: Essays in the Social History of
Rural America (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1985). See also
note five in Chapter Five below.
t ec Cash, Mind of the South. 3-55; William R. Taylor, Cavalier and Yankee:
The Old South and American National Character (New York: George Braziller, 1961),
95-141; Eugene D. Genovese. The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in
Interpretation (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1969), 165-194; William W.
Freehling, Prelude to Civil War: The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina. 1816-
1836 (New York: Harper and Row, 1965); Bertelson, The Lazy South; C. Vann
Woodward, "The Southern Ethic in a Puritan World," William and Mary Ouarterly 25
(July 1968): 343-370, reprinted in Woodward, American Counterpoint: Slavery and
Racism in the North-South Dialogue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 13-46;
accelerated the capitalistic development of America" more than the American
Revolution is as equally true for the South as the North.20 And finally, it rejects the
argument that the American Revolution in South Carolina was a limited,
conservative, primarily political movement.
Nevertheless, the American Revolution had a much darker side as well.
Therefore this work also traces the evolution of slavery from a general American
institution to a primarily Southern one. Despite--and in many ways because of--the
sweeping changes in the political economy, the Revolution fastened the chains of
slavery more tightly upon Charleston's--and the South's--slaves. The increased
economic opportunities created by the war helped to renew and strengthen white
commitment to the institution of slavery, particularly as the shift to tidal rice
cultivation and the expansion of cotton production further increased demands for
labor. Simultaneously, however, Revolutionary ideology forced many Americans to
question and ultimately condemn slavery at just the moment when most white
Charlestonians became convinced that their prosperity--indeed their very identity--
rested more than ever upon slavery's survival and expansion in the region. Thus
Charlestonians and other Southerners became even more committed to an institution
Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial
Virinia (New York: W.W. Norton, 1975), 44-71; Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of
Virginia. 1740-1790 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1982), esp. 88-138, 320-322; Wyatt-
Brown, Southern Honor, 88-114, 175-197, 327-361.
"Wood, "Interests and Disinterestedness in the Making of the Constitution," in
Richard Beeman, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II, Beyond Confederation:
Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity (Chapel Hill NC: University
of North Carolina Press, 1987), 78.
that would increasingly become defined as outmoded and uncivilized by the majority
of the trans-Atlantic world.
Ultimately, the American Revolution in the South created a dual, Janus-
faced, legacy: a strongly optimistic faith in political and economic liberalism that
favored trade with all the world coupled with a growing anxiety over dangerous
external ideas about universal equality that threatened to destroy the very fabric of
Southern economic and social life. The generation of South Carolinians that lived
through and experienced the American Revolution was as excited about future
commercial possibilities, as open to new technologies, financial institutions,
agricultural improvements, and potential for improved transportation as their
Northern brethren. In that sense being Southern or slaveowners made them no less
modern or liberal than other late eighteenth-century Americans. "The genius of our
people," David Ramsay observed in 1783, "is entirely turned from war to commerce.
Schemes of business and partnerships for extending commerce are daily forming."'
But the contested meaning of Revolutionary ideology, growing abolitionism, and
subsequent events in France and Santo Domingo combined to raise white levels of
anxiety over slavery to a fever pitch. Many found themselves defending and
maintaining by force an institution increasingly labeled anti-moder, anti-
progressive, and anti-Christian by much of the rest of the world. As a result,
Charleston subsequently became less "cosmopolitan" during the 1790s at just the
2David Ramsay to Benjamin Rush, September 9, 1783, in Robert L. Brunhouse,
ed., "David Ramsay, 1749-1815: Selections From His Writings," Transactions of the
American Philosophical Society 55, Part 4 (1965): 76.
moment when its economic future shone brightest. Charleston became caught on the
horns of an enormous dilemma, simultaneously embracing the expansive economic
opportunities of the American Revolution while increasingly erecting an intellectual
blockade against hostile "outside" ideas and people.
Charlestonians thus failed to follow through on most of their grandiose
schemes for economic improvements. The canals of which they dreamed that would
link Charleston with the Ohio Valley and endless prosperity remained only dreams in
the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and other cities eclipsed Charleston in
economic and political importance. The Erie Canal in New York firmly linked the
Midwest with the North rather than the South. By that time Southerners had begun
to seal themselves off from the rest of the nation rather than seek new ways to
increase economic and commercial ties.
Nevertheless, though succeeding generations of South Carolinians failed to
sustain an optimistic vision of Charleston as the economic terminus of a vast
Southern hinterland, we are compelled still to recognize the existence of a
progressive, modem, liberal vision in the South before 1800 and its origins in the
political and economic radicalism of the American Revolution. In many ways it
represented a road not taken. Yet to overlook or dismiss it as unimportant or fleeting
because of the cataclysmic events of the nineteenth century is to miss the
significance of the American Revolution in the South.
THE CITY BEFORE THE STORM:
CHARLESTON IN 1765
"In human terms Charles Town might best be described as the capital of an African
foothold with a diverse minority of Europeans all under the shaping influence of English
West Indian experience, forcibly wedged into American Indian realms."
D.W. Meinig, Atlantic America, 1492-1800 (1986)
In 1765 Charleston, South Carolina, reigned as the undisputed metropolis of the
Lower Southern British colonies. Charleston's original English and Barbadian settlers
arrived on the west bank of the Ashley River in 1670 at Albemarle Point and relocated
downriver ten years later to the peninsula of land between the Ashley and Cooper rivers.
The city, with its wide and deep harbor, prospered chiefly because of favorable geography
and the city's expanding role as economic entrep6t for a fast-growing agricultural
hinterland. But the revolutionary events that began with the Stamp Act crisis in 1765
would ultimately shatter the stability and prosperity of the city and weaken Charleston's
position of dominance in both the state and the region. When Charleston's powerful,
confident elite rose to meet the ministerial challenge to their political authority, they
found themselves in the center of an upheaval that would eventually alter not only their
government but also their society as well. The consequences of the Stamp Act tumults of
1765 reverberated throughout the region, heralding like thunder the approach of more
cataclysmic storms to come.
'Historians have generally argued for the primacy of either geography or economic
function in explaining why South Carolina had an urban center while the rest of the South
did not. For instance, D.W. Meinig argues that Charleston flourished because of climate.
Because Charleston was healthier and cooler than the surrounding countryside, planters
and merchants built houses there and lived in town much of the year. Meinig, The
Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, volume one,
Atlantic America. 1492-1800 (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1986), 172-190.
See also Herman Wellenreuther, "Urbanization in the Colonial South: A Critique,"
William and Mary Quarterly 31 (October 1974): 653-671; Leila Sellers, Charleston
Business on the Eve of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill NC: University of North
Carolina Press, 1934), 5. Others argue that Charleston grew because of the economic
functions involved in marketing South Carolina staple crops. The factors necessary for
marketing rice differed substantially from those needed for marketing other southern
staples, particularly tobacco. Chesapeake planters shipped tobacco primarily to London
and Bristol; Carolinians sent rice to Britain, a number of ports in southern and northern
Europe, as well as American mainland and Caribbean ports. Exporters thus had to have
extensive knowledge of considerably more markets as well as maintaining
correspondence with agents in those markets. Also, since rice was shipped in bulk,
obtaining favorable freight rates became as important as choosing the right market. South
Carolina planters thus sold their rice to merchants in Charleston who performed these
delicate and difficult tasks for them. Tobacco planters consigned their crops to Britain,
where they were sold by commission agents on the planters' risk and account. There was
no need for a centralized market. Thus the centralization of the rice trade in Charleston
accounts for the city's rise in the eighteenth century. The most recent and persuasive
articulation of this view is R.C. Nash, "Urbanization in the Colonial South: Charleston,
South Carolina, as a Case Study," Journal of Urban History 19 (November 1992): 3-29.
See also Nash, "South Carolina and the Atlantic Economy in the Late Seventeenth and
Eighteenth Centuries," Economic History Review 45 (November 1992): 677-702; Peter
A. Coclanis, The Shadow of A Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina
Low Country, 1670-1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989); David A. Smith,
"Dependent Urbanization in Colonial America: The Case of Charleston, South Carolina,"
Social Forces 66 (September 1987): 1-28; David R. Goldfield, Cotton Fields and
Skyscrapers: Southern City and Region, 1607-1980 (Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana State
University Press, 1982), 13-27; Peter A. Coclanis, "Bitter Harvest: The South Carolina
Low Country in Historical Perspective," Journal of Economic History 45 (June 1985):
251-259; Edward K. Muller, "Regional Urbanization and the Selective Growth of Towns
in North American Regions," Journal of Historical Geography 3 (January 1977): 21-39;
Carville Earle and Ronald Hoffman, "Staple Crops and Urban Development in the
Eighteenth-Century South," Perspectives in American History 10 (1976): 7-78; Edward
Despite Charleston's distance from any of the three main river systems in South
Carolina,2 the Ashley, Cooper, Stono, and Wando rivers linked Charleston to the
surrounding hinterland much more extensively than either Beaufort to the south or
Georgetown to the north.3 "It is a market town and the produce of the whole province is
brought to it, for sale or exportation," the London Magazine reported, "its trade is far
from being inconsiderable for it deals near one thousand miles into the continent."4
K. Muller, "Selective Urban Growth in the Middle Ohio Valley, 1800-1860,"
Geographical Review 66 (April 1976): 178-199; Michael P. Conzen, "A Transport
Interpretation of the Growth of Urban Regions: An American Example," Journal of
Historical Geography 1 (October 1975): 361-382; Jacob Price, "Economic Function and
the Growth of American Port Towns in the Eighteenth Century," Perspectives in
American History 8 (1974): 123-186; Joseph A. Ernst and H. Roy Merrens, "'Camden's
Turrets Pierce the Skies!': The Urban Process in the Southern Colonies During the
Eighteenth Century," William and Mary Quarterly 30 (October 1973): 549-574. It should
be noted that Carville and Earle emphasize "staple flows and their linkage effect" more
than economic function, per se. They argue that "the size and spatial pattern of regional
ports and their respective hinterland towns resulted from the staple produced." And
geography, of course, determined the staples grown and how farmers transported them to
market. The southeastern flow of rivers out of the North Carolina piedmont, for example,
ensured that wheat and naval stores would flow into Charleston rather than to the North
Carolina coast. See "Staple Crops and Urban Development," 11, 18, 62, 66-67, and "The
Urban South: The First Two Centuries," in Blaine A. Brownell and David R. Goldfield,
eds., The City in Southern History: The Growth of Urban Civilization in the South (Port
Washington NY: Kennikat Press, 1977), 35.
2The Pee Dee in the northeast, the Santee in the central area, and the Savannah in the
southwest. WPA Writers' Program, South Carolina: A Guide to the Palmetto State (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1941), 9.
3 George C. Rogers Jr., Charleston in the Age of the Pincknevs (Norman OK:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1969, reprint, Columbia SC: University of South Carolina
Press, 1980), 8.
4"An Account of the City of Charles-Town, Metropolis of the Province of South
Carolina, With An Exact and Beautiful Prospect Thereof, Copied From the London
Magazine, June 1762," Yearbook. City of Charleston. 1882 (Charleston SC: News and
Courier Presses, 1882), 341-342.
Planters and small farmers from the Cape Fear River valley in North Carolina south to
Pensacola in British West Florida shipped the region's great staple products--rice, indigo,
tobacco, wheat, and naval stores--downriver, along the seacoast, or overland by wagon to
Charleston, and by 1765 the city had become the largest in the Southern colonies. Indeed,
the city's population of 8,000 in 1765--almost evenly divided between black and white--
ranked as the fourth most populous in colonial America behind Philadelphia, New York,
and Boston [see Tables 1-1 and 1-2].' The streets of Charleston in 1765 teemed with
royal officials, slaves, indentured servants, merchants, ministers, planters, lawyers,
sailors, ship captains, soldiers, immigrants, beggars, orphans, and prostitutes. Charleston
offered a catholicity of taverns, ballrooms, race tracks, library and benevolent societies,
clubs, churches, coffeehouses, marketplaces, and theaters to meet all tastes. Between
1680 and 1765 Charles Town survived Spanish invasions and a succession of natural
disasters to become the political, social, and economic capital of the region, dominating
and overshadowing Wilmington, Baltimore, and Norfolk to the north, and Savannah and
'George Milligen Johnston, a contemporary observer, placed the white population in
1763 at 4,000, "and the negro servants near the same number." George Milligen
Johnston, A Short Description of the Province of South Carolina (1770), 32, South
Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia. Lieutenant-Governor
William Bull reported the population to the Board of Trade in 1770 as 5,030 whites,
5,831 blacks. William Bull to Earl of Hillsborough, November 30, 1770, in Transcripts
of Records in the British Public Records Office Relating to South Carolina, 1663-1782,
36 volumes, 32:387-388, Records Deposited With the Secretary, Records of the Secretary
of State, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia (hereafter cited
as SCBPRO). Carl Bridenbaugh relies on Bull's figures in Cities in Revolt: Urban Life
in America. 1743-1776 (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), 333.
St. Augustine to the south.6 In short, by 1765 Charleston had become the capital "of the
most flourishing of all His Majesty's American colonies."7
William Gerard De Brahm, the royal surveyor, described Charleston as "the most
convenient and by far the richest city in the Southern District of North America."8 The
London Magazine marveled that "here the rich people have handsome equipages; the
merchants are opulent and well bred; the people are thriving and extensive, in dress and
life, so that everything conspires to make this town the politest, as it is one of the richest
in America."9 Publisher Peter Timothy boasted to his friend Benjamin Franklin that "I do
not suppose there is a colony on this continent in so flourishing and promising a situation
as South Carolina at present. Very elegant buildings are rising in almost every street by
private gentlemen.""' Indeed, the city contained over 900 houses and rent ranged from
6See Sellers, Charleston Business on the Eve of the American Revolution, 3-48. On
Savannah's growth in this period as compared to Charleston's, see Frances Harrold,
"Colonial Siblings: Georgia's Relationship with South Carolina During the Pre-
Revolutionary Period," Georgia Historical Quarterly 73 (Winter 1989): 707-744; Barratt
Wilkins, "A View of Savannah on the Eve of the Revolution," Georgia Historical
Quarterly 54 (Winter 1970): 577-584. See also Carl Bridenbaugh, Myths and Realities:
Societies of the Colonial South (1952; reprint, New York: Atheneum, 1975), 59-60.
'Shelburne to Lord Charles Montagu, February 19, 1767, SCBPRO 31:309.
'Louis De Vorsey, Jr., ed., De Brahm's Report of the General Survey in the Southern
District of North America (Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), 90.
9"An Account of the City of Charles-Town," 341-342.
"Peter Timothy to Benjamin Franklin, September 3, 1768, in Hennig Cohen, ed.,
"Four Letters From Peter Timothy, 1755, 1768, 1771," South Carolina Historical
Magazine 55 (1954): 162-163. See also Henry Laurens to James Grant, March 23, 1767,
in Philip M. Hamer et al., eds., The Papers of Henry Laurens, 14 vols. to date (Columbia
SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1968-), 5:237-238.
80 to 800 a year, depending upon the size and substantiality of the dwelling." By 1774
"many elegant" houses covered White Point at the south end of the peninsula."
Governor's Bridge connected the city with its first suburbs north of town at Craven's
Bastion, Meeting Street had been extended north to George Street, and in August 1769
the legislature fixed Boundary Street (present-day Calhoun Street) as the town's northern
limit.1 Commercial improvements continued along the riverfront and harbor. The
legislature built a new Exchange at the intersection of Broad and Bay streets and a new
beacon and lighthouse in the harbor, while merchants constructed wharves along the
Cooper River and, for the first time, on the Ashley.14 Christopher Gadsden erected a large
new wharf on the Cooper, just north of town, "reckoned the most extensive of its kind
ever undertaken by any one man in America."" Off South Bay Street, William Gibbes'
wharf extended over 300 feet into the Ashley River. Between November 1768 and
November 1769 Charleston merchants exported over 123,000 barrels of rice and 380,000
hogsheads of indigo from Charleston's wharves. These two great staples represented 85
"South Carolina Gazette, August 17, 1767.
"Ibid., March 7, 1774.
"George C. Rogers Jr., "The Charleston Tea Party: The Significance of December 3,
1773," South Carolina Historical Magazine 75 (July 1974): 155; South Carolina Gazette
and Country Journal, August 28, 1769.
"South Carolina Gazette, August 1, 1768. The foundation for the Exchange was laid
on Monday, July 25, 1768.
"Ibid., March 7, 1774; E. Stanly Godbold Jr. and Robert H. Woody, Christopher
Gadsden and the American Revolution (Knoxville TN: University of Tennessee Press,
1982), 73-74. See Gadsden's advertisement for workers in the South Carolina Gazette,
March 23, 1769.
percent of the exported goods valued at 404,056 sterling shipped from Charleston that
Despite such outward symbols of economic prosperity, the Southern metropolis
did not lack substantial social problems, however. In addition to difficulties with the
poor (which will be discussed), Charleston had insufficient and overcrowded jails, a
workhouse full of "notorious bawds, strumpers, vagrants, drunkards, [and] idle persons,"
too few public wells, street lamps, and public stocks, too many vagrants, taverns, filthy
streets, and bad roads, and an undermanned and underpaid town watch. Governor
Montagu complained to London that "building a jail is a thing that is become now
absolutely necessary, as the present one is so old and weak that the prisoners are
frequently breaking out."" The city lacked an adequate police force, and disgruntled
citizens seeking police assistance often found the Watch House on the corer of Broad
and Meeting streets empty." Charleston's narrow streets contained "all kinds of filth,"
6William Bull to Board of Trade, December 5, 1769, Bull to Hillsborough, December
6, 1769, SCBPRO 32:122-130.
"See grand jury presentments in South Carolina Gazette, June 8, 1765, June 2, 1766,
November 9, 1767, May 9, 1768, January 25, 1770, February 2, 1771, February 22, 1773,
May 24, 1773; South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, November 17, 1767; South
Carolina and American General Gazette, January 29, 1768, March 26, 1770; Lord Charles
Montagu to Earl of Shelbume, August 14, 1767, SCBPRO 31:413.
"The law required the town watch to be active from sunrise Sunday to sunrise
Monday. This was in reaction to the Stono Rebellion, which took place on Sunday,
September 9, 1739. For the Stono Rebellion and its aftermath, see Peter H. Wood, Black
Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 Through the Stono Rebellion
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1974), 308-326.
while horses and cattle fed openly in the streets "to the great annoyance of the
Charleston's growing population consisted of four separate and distinctly unequal
ranks: the elite, artisans and mechanics, common laborers, and slaves.20 A ruling elite of
merchants, planters, and lawyers governed the city and dominated its political and social
institutions.21 The Commons House of Assembly, the lower house of South Carolina's
"South Carolina Gazette, May 24, 1773, February 7, 1771, June 2, 1766; South
Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, June 20, 1775.
2"The use of the term "rank" instead of "class" follows the lead of Gary B. Nash,
Edward Countryman, and Stuart M. Blumin, who all argue that eighteenth-century society
was organized vertically into ranks rather than horizontally into layered, antagonistic
classes. Blumin writes that the term "ranks" identifies "the flow of influence, patronage,
and deference within this system of interests, rather than the experiences and
consciousness of separate classes." My account of Charleston in 1765 agrees with
Blumin's description of eighteenth-century society as "profoundly elitist in its recruitment
of political leadership and in its assignment of social prestige." Stuart M. Blumin, The
Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City. 1760-1900
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 17. Gary B. Nash warns that
"eighteenth-century society had not yet reached the historical stage of a mature class
formation," but nevertheless believes that historians can "understand more fully the
origins and meaning of the American Revolution by analyzing the changing relations
among people of different ranks and examining the emergence of new modes of thought
based on horizontal rather than vertical divisions in society." Gary B. Nash, The Urban
Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution Abr. Ed.
(Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), xii. Edward Countryman writes that
the "middling sort" in New York "did not form a class." Edward Counryman, A People
in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York. 1760-1790
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1981), 12. Historians who do use the term "middle class" in
the eighteenth century include Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt, 332; Charles F. Olton,
Artisans For Independence: Philadelphia Mechanics and the American Revolution
(Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 1975), x; Richard A. Ryerson, "The
Revolution is Now Begun": The Radical Committees of Philadelphia. 1765-1776
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978), 254.
2 A note is in order here about the use of the papers of members of the governing elite
in this project, particularly the papers of Henry Laurens. Few of the papers of prominent
colonial legislature, remained the exclusive enclave of these wealthy aristocrats
eighteenth-century South Carolinians have survived. The most notable exceptions are the
papers of Henry Laurens, David Ramsay, and to a lesser extent, Christopher Gadsden.
The Laurens Papers are an indispensable source for the student of Revolutionary
Charleston and this project, like most recent works on eighteenth-century South Carolina,
extensively utilizes this primary source, particularly in the first three chapters. Laurens
was a successful merchant-planter in colonial and Revolutionary Charleston and played a
prominent role in the Revolutionary movement in South Carolina. He maintained a vast
political and commercial correspondence and commented on almost every aspect of the
Revolution on a local, regional, and national level. This correspondence is preserved in
the Henry Laurens Papers in the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston and is
currently being published by the University of South Carolina Press. Similarly, David
Ramsay served in the Confederation Congress and was active in Charleston affairs in the
1780s and 1790s. His published post-war correspondence has been particularly helpful in
.lluniinjrin events discussed in the last three chapters. Christopher Gadsden was another
successful merchant who played a conspicuous role in the Revolution. His extant papers
are much thinner than those of Laurens and Ramsay, but it too has been collected and
published. Biographies of prominent eighteenth-century South Carolinians are rare
because so few of their personal and business papers survive. The few biographies that
have been written over the last thirty-five years by necessity tend to focus either on public
rather than private lives ("life and times" biography), or on prominent families rather than
individuals. The best published works are George C. Rogers Jr., Evolution of a
Federalist: William Louehton Smith of Charleston. (1758-1812) (Columbia SC:
University of South Carolina Press, 1962); William M. Dabney and Marion Dargan,
William Henry Dravton and the American Revolution (Albuquerque NM: University of
New Mexico Press, 1962); Marvin R. Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pincknev: Founding
Father (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1967); Frances Leigh
Williams, A Founding Family: The Pincknevs of South Carolina (New York: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1978); Carl J. Vipperman, The Rise of Rawlins Lowndes, 1721-1800
(Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1978); Godbold and Woody, Gadsden
and the American Revolution; John C. Meleney, The Public Life of Aedanus Burke:
Revolutionary Republican in Post-Revolutionary South Carolina (Columbia SC:
University of South Carolina Press, 1989); Kinloch Bull Jr., The Oligarchs in Colonial
and Revolutionary Charleston: Lieutenant Governor William Bull II and His Family
(Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991); Arthur H. Shaffer, To Be An
American: David Ramsay and the Making of the American Consciousness (Columbia
SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991). There are no first-rate published
biographies of Gabriel Manigault, John or Edward Rutledge, Ralph Izard, Henry or
Arthur Middleton, Alexander Gillon, or surprisingly, Henry Laurens.
throughout the colonial period.22 Charleston merchants exported Southern staples to all
parts of the British empire and many places beyond and imported the manufactured goods
and luxuries--especially the human cargoes--that Charleston's planters demanded. The
city's merchants had been growing in economic stature since the 1730s and by the 1760s
had successfully monopolized Southern trade. Their influence originated from their
beginnings as factors sent out as agents by British companies trading with the province.
Many remained in Charleston, invested their capital, took risks, and flourished as
Charleston became the most important trading center in the Southern colonies.
Charleston merchants sponsored storekeepers at the heads of rivers and ferry crossings,
where they bought produce, livestock, and commodities for shipment to Charleston.23
Most of these exports came to Charleston from the vast hinterlands of the midlands and
backcountry of South Carolina and from the neighboring colonies of Georgia and North
Carolina. Inland waterways provided the primary avenues to market, but many
inhabitants made the journey over bumpy and bad roads. Lieutenant Governor William
Bull noted in 1770 that 3,000 wagons laden with the produce of the countryside had come
to Charleston the previous year.24 Merchants and planters thus required efficient and
220f the forty-eight members of the Commons House in 1765, over two-thirds owned
property worth 5,000 sterling or more, and the other one-third owned property worth at
least 2,000 sterling or more. No artisans ever served in the colonial South Carolina
legislature. Jerome J. Nadelhaft, The Disorders of War: The Revolution in South
Carolina (Orono ME: University of Maine at Orono Press, 1981), 105. Assembly
membership required 500 acres and 10 slaves or houses and town lots valued at 1,000.
Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pincknevs, 19.
23Rogers, Charleston in the Aee of the Pincknevs, 11-12.
24William Bull to Hillsborough, June 7, 1770, SCBPRO 32:283.
affordable transportation links to Charleston. Grand juries complained often about
dreadful conditions on public roads, while the Commons House of Assembly licensed
ferry operators and passed legislation to clear rivers and construct new roads.2
Backcountry farmers who made the long journey to Charleston sold their deerskins,
indigo, flour, wheat, hemp, and tobacco in the various city markets or to merchants and
factors, and they returned to their homes with "necessaries and luxuries from every
quarter of the globe."26
Charleston merchants maintained close ties with the Atlantic mercantile
community throughout the colonial period.27 From November to May of each year the
harbor filled with ships from all parts of the British empire, bringing manufactured goods
to the colony and returning to European, West Indian, and North American ports with rice
and indigo, the great staple crops of South Carolina. In January 1765 alone ships entered
Charleston from Havana, Montserrat, Lisbon, Jamaica, London, Bermuda, St. Kitts,
Philadelphia, St. Augustine, and Aberdeen." Many of the city's merchants had forged
economic links by serving as apprentices in London and returned to the province with
"See for instance South Carolina Gazette, June 2, 1766, and Sir Matthew Lamb to
Board of Trade, March 10, 1767, SCBPRO 31:316-317.
26Milligen Johnston, A Short Description of the Province of South Carolina, 36.
27See David Hancock, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of
the British Atlantic Community. 1735-1785 (New York: Cambridge University Press,
2South Carolina Gazette, January 17, 1765. Lieutenant-Governor William Bull
reported to London in March 1765 that "at Charles Town within the last 12 months
arrived 360 sail from different countries. At Beaufort 40, George Town 21." Bull to Earl
of Halifax, March 1, 1765, SCBPRO 30:245.
valuable commercial ties. Henry Laurens entered business as a clerk in the offices of
London merchant James Crokatt. After touring London, Bristol, and Liverpool in order
to establish contacts, Laurens went into partnership in Charleston with George Austin in
1749. During the Seven Years War the pair grew wealthy trading in rice and slaves.
When Austin retired and returned to England in 1762, Laurens invested in Mepkin, a
3,000-acre plantation thirty miles north of Charleston on the Cooper River, combining
rice and indigo production with his successful mercantile business. At his death thirty
years later, he owned over 20,000 acres in Georgia and Carolina.2 Gabriel Manigault
grew wealthy importing and exporting primarily with the West Indies, Philadelphia, and
New York. He began acquiring land in the 1730s, eventually owning several thousand
acres and almost 300 slaves. During the Revolution he loaned the state government more
than 650,000 before his death in 1781.30 Laurens and Manigault serve to represent the
shared interests and fluidity of Charleston's merchant-planter community. Their fortunes,
and that of their city, were inextricably linked. "
"Walter B. Edgar and N. Louise Bailey et al., eds., Biographical Directory of the
South Carolina House of Representatives, 5 vols. (Columbia SC: University of South
Carolina Press, 1977-1992), 2:390-393; South Carolina (WPA) Will Transcripts, Wills of
Charleston County, 24 (1786-1793): 1152-1158, microfilm, South Carolina Department
of Archives and History, originals in Charleston County Courthouse; Rogers, Charleston
in the Age of the Pincknevs, 38.
"Edgar and Bailey, Biographical Directory, 2:428-429. For Manigault's career as a
merchant, see Maurice Alfred Crouse, "The Manigault Family of South Carolina, 1685-
1783," Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, 1964, 317-339.
"See also R.C. Nash, "Trade and Business in Eighteenth-Century South Carolina: The
Career of John Guerard, Merchant and Planter," South Carolina Historical Magazine 96
(January 1995): 6-29.
Charleston merchants supplied the planters with credit, allowing them to expand
their production through land, supplies, and above all, slave labor. The planter in turn
paid off his debts in the winter when he brought his staples to Charleston. One visiting
Newport merchant observed the intimate ties between Carolina planters and Charleston
merchants. "The merchants who import merchandise from Europe supply the planters
both by the piece and retail," he wrote, "and what they do not have stored in their shops
they will obtain from others." Planters often refused "to do business with anyone but his
merchant. This is so much so that although elsewhere they offer him what he needs more
cheaply, he does not change."32
The city's planters grew on their surrounding lowcountry plantations the rice that
fed much of Northern Europe and the indigo required by the burgeoning British Industrial
Revolution. Parliament placed rice on the enumerated list in 1705, requiring the article to
be shipped directly to England before reexport to any other port. In 1730 the British
relaxed the restriction somewhat, allowing direct shipment to all ports south of Cape
Finisterre on the northwestern coast of Spain.33 In 1765 Charleston exported more than
107,000 barrels of rice. By 1770 rice exports had expanded to 131,805, an increase of
215 percent since 1730, and the highest figure reached during the colonial period. In fact,
Charleston served as the rice port for the American colonies: Between 1765 and 1774
Charleston exported an average of 83 percent of all rice shipped from the colonies [see
32Thomas J. Tobias, ed., "Charles Town in 1764," South Carolina Historical Magazine
67 (April 1966): 66.
33Ibid., 67; Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pincknevs, 3, 9-11.
Table 1-3].34 Merchants sent most of the rice to Great Britain, where British traders then
re-exported the bulk to Northern Europe. Of the rice exported in 1766, 46 percent went
to England, 29 percent to ports south of Cape Finisterre, 14 percent to the British West
Indies, 4 percent to other American colonies, 4 percent to other West Indian islands, and
3 percent to Scotland.35 By 1775 rice ranked behind only tobacco and flour as America's
most valuable export. 36 Britain's growing cloth industry fueled the demand for Carolina
indigo, and Parliament placed a six pence per pound bounty on the crop in 1748. The
subsidy made indigo planting profitable, and production flourished, expanding from a
small beginning of 5,000 pounds exported in 1746 to more than 335,000 pounds in 1765.
"Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to
1970, 2 vols. (Washington DC: Bureau of the Census, 1975), 2:1192. See also Kenneth
Morgan, "The Organization of the Colonial American Rice Trade," William and Mary
Quarterly 52 (July 1995): 433-452; R. Douglas Hurt, American Agriculture: A Brief
History (Ames IA: Iowa State University Press, 1994), 43-46; Peter A. Coclanis, "Distant
Thunder: The Creation of a World Market in Rice and the Transformations It Wrought,"
American Historical Review 98 (1993): 1050-1078; Henry C. Dethloff, A History of the
American Rice Industry. 1685-1985 (College Station TX: Texas A & M University Press,
1988), 6-45; Dethloff, "The Colonial Rice Trade," Agricultural History 56 (January
1982): 231-243; James M. Clifton, "The Rice Industry in Colonial America," Agricultural
History 55 (1981): 266-283; David LeRoy Coon, "The Development of Market
Agriculture in South Carolina, 1670-1785," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign, 1972, 164-214; Lewis Cecil Gray, History of Agriculture in the
Southern United States To 1860,2 vols. (Washington DC: Caregie Institution of
Washington, 1933), 1:277-290.
"Historical Statistics of the United States, 2:1193.
"Hurt, American Agriculture, 46.
Indigo production peaked in 1775 at 1.1 million pounds [see Table 1-4]." Planters also
grew tobacco, hemp, silk, wine, oil, barley, wheat, flax, cotton, and ginger.38
The close ties planters maintained with Charleston's merchants and lawyers
ensured that the Carolina elite developed a "community of shared values," as Robert M.
Weir has noted.39 Charleston lawyers, often educated in London, primarily served the
city's merchants in securing debts. All of the colony's lawyers practiced in Charleston
since no other courts existed outside of the coastal capital. Many lawyers, of course,
doubled as planters or merchants as well.40 The elite further cemented their hegemony
7C. Robert Haywood, "Mercantilism and South Carolina Agriculture, 1700-1763,"
South Carolina Historical Magazine 60 (January 1959): 18, 20-21; Historical Statistics of
the United States, 2:1189. Exports figures for indigo are available only for all South
Carolina ports from 1765 to 1775. Charleston figures are based on the Census Bureau's
estimate that South Carolina ports other than Charleston averaged 7.8 percent of the
colony's total for 1768-1773 [Historical Statistics, 2:1189n]. Using this figure, an
estimated 261,924 pounds of indigo was exported from Charleston in 1765, and 873,316
pounds in 1775. For South Carolina indigo production, see Coon, "Development of
Market Agriculture in South Carolina, 1670-1785," 215-268; G. Terry Sharrer, "The
Indigo Bonanza in South Carolina, 1740-90," Technology and Culture 12 (July 1971):
447-455; Sharrer, "Indigo in Carolina, 1671-1796," South Carolina Historical Magazine
72 (April 1971): 94-103; Gray, History of Agriculture in the Southern United States,
38William Bull to Board of Trade, September 6, 1768, SCBPRO 32:30-34.
39Robert M. Weir, '"The Harmony We Were Famous For': An Interpretation of Pre-
Revolutionary South Carolina Politics," in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds.,
Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1983), 435. (Originally published in William and Mary Quarterly 26 (October
40See George C. Rogers Jr., Generations of Lawyers: A History of the South Carolina
Bar (Columbia SC: South Carolina Bar Foundation, 1992); Hoyt P. Canady Jr.,
"Gentlemen of the Bar: Lawyers in South Carolina," Ph.D. dissertation, University of
and their ties through selective marriages with other prominent families.41 These links
also served to reinforce the city's position as the political, social, and cultural center of
the colony. Most planters owned houses in Charleston and spent much of the year there.
They escaped the malarial conditions of their plantations during the summer, attended
sessions of the Commons House of Assembly, and enjoyed the "season" of social and
cultural activities which coincided with the busiest months of commercial activity.42
Members of the elite joined together socially at the Monday Night Club, the Hellfire
Club, or the Friday Night Club, or at meetings of fraternal organizations such as the
Freemasons. The city's benevolent organizations included the St. Andrew's Society, the
St. George's Society, and the South Carolina Society. In addition, the elite congregated at
the Charleston Library Society, the New Market racetrack, and at various balls, dances,
plays, assemblies, and taverns.43 The city contained a number of houses of worship,
4"See Richard Waterhouse, "South Carolina's Colonial Elite: A Study in the Social
Structure and Political Culture of a Southern Colony, 1670-1760," Ph.D. dissertation,
Johns Hopkins University, 1973; Waterhouse, "The Development of Elite Culture in the
Colonial American South: A Study of Charles Town, 1670-1770," Australian Journal of
Politics and History 28 (1982): 391-404; Samuel A. Lilly, "The Culture of Revolutionary
Charleston," Ph.D. dissertation, Miami University, 1972; Frederick P. Bowes, The
Culture of Early Charleston (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1942),
42"The usual time of shipping" rice, indigo, deer skins, and naval stores "is from the
month of January to the month of May, the great consumption of rice in Holland,
Germany, and Flanders, being early in the year, and to which very great quantities are
annually exported." Petition of Merchants Trading with South Carolina and Georgia to
the Board of Trade, December 18, 1770, SCBPRO 32:439.
3See Walter J. Fraser Jr., Charleston! Charleston! The History of a Southern City
(Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1989), 129-135; Rogers, Charleston
in the Age of the Pincknevs, 6, 89-115; Suzanne Krebsbach, "The Great Charlestown
Smallpox Epidemic of 1760," South Carolina Historical Magazine 97 (January 1996): 30-
though the Anglican church had been the established faith since 1706." Charleston had
two Anglican churches: St. Philip's on Church Street, and St. Michael's at the
intersection of Broad and Meeting streets. The Congregationalists and Presbyterians
worshiped on Meeting Street, the French Huguenots and the Baptists on Church Street,
37; H. Roy Merrens and George D. Terry, "Dying in Paradise: Malaria, Mortality, and the
Perceptual Environment in Colonial South Carolina," Journal of Southern History 50
(November 1984): 533-550; John Duffy, "Eighteenth Century Carolina Health
Conditions," Journal of Southern History 18 (August 1952): 289-302; St. Julien Ravenel
Childs, "Notes on the History of Public Health in South Carolina, 1670-1800,"
Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association, 1932, 13-22; Waterhouse,
"South Carolina's Colonial Elite"; Samuel A. Lilly, "The Culture of Revolutionary
Charleston"; David Morton Knepper, "The Political Structure of Colonial South Carolina,
1743-1776," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, 1971; John Christie Dann, "Low-
Country Planter Society in Colonial South Carolina," M.A. thesis, College of William
and Mary, 1970; Robert J. Bagdon, "Musical Life in Charleston, South Carolina From
1732 to 1776 As Recorded in Colonial Sources," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Miami,
1978; Eola Willis, The Charleston Stage in the 18"h Century (New York: B. Blum, 1968);
Mary Julia Curtis, "The Early Charleston Stage: 1703-1798," Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana
University 1968; Bowes, Culture of Early Charleston, 115-130; Tobias, ed., "Charles
Town in 1764," 68; Charles Caleb Cotton to "My Dear Mother," June 3, 1799, in Julien
Dwight Martin, ed., "The Letters of Charles Caleb Cotton, 1798-1802," South Carolina
Historical Magazine 51 (October 1950): 217; James H. Easterby, History of the St.
Andrew's Society of Charleston. South Carolina. 1729-1929 (Charleston SC: Walker,
Evans, and Cogswell, 1929); Randy J. Sparks, "Gentlemen's Sport: Horse Racing in
Antebellum Charleston," South Carolina Historical Magazine 93 (January 1992): 15-30,
4John Wesley Brinsfield, Religion and Politics in Colonial South Carolina (Easley
SC: Southern Historical Press, 1983); S. Charles Bolton, Southern Anglicanism: The
Church of England in Colonial South Carolina (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1982);
Rev. Philip G. Clarke, Anglicanism in South Carolina (Easley SC: Southern Historical
Press, 1976); George C. Rogers Jr., Church and State in Eighteenth Century South
Carolina (Charleston SC: Dalcho Historical Society, 1959).
while King Street housed the Quaker meeting. The city's growing Jewish population
established the Beth Elohim Synagogue in 1749."
Wealthy merchants, planters, and lawyers governed the city through the Commons
House of Assembly until 1783, and during the colonial period none but planters,
merchants, or lawyers ever sat in this body. By 1765, the Commons House had become
the most powerful branch of government in the colony. The delegates jealously guarded
their rights against all royal encroachments.46 The Commons House set all general
property and income taxes, export duties, import duties on slaves, and appointed all tax
collectors as well as the colony's treasurer, who answered only to the lower house.47
Though some historians have suggested that the planter-dominated assembly neglected
45Arthur H. Hirsch, The Huguenots of Colonial South Carolina (Hamden CT: Archon
Books, 1962); Anna Wells Rutledge, "The Second St. Philip's, Charleston, 1710-1835,"
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 18 (October 1959): 112-114; George
W. Williams, St. Michael's, Charleston. 1751-1951 (Columbia SC: University of South
Carolina Press, 1951); George N. Edwards, A History of the Independent or
Coneregational Church of Charleston. South Carolina (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1947);
Leah Townsend, South Carolina Baptists. 1670-1805 (Florence SC: The Florence
Printing Co., 1935); Edward McCrady, "Historical Sketch of St. Philip's Church,"
Yearbook. City of Charleston. 1897 (Charleston SC, 1897), 319-374; George Howe,
History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, 2 vols. (Columbia SC: Duffie and
Chapman, 1870), 1:305-563; James William Hagy, This Happy Land: The Jews of
Colonial and Antebellum Charleston (Tuscaloosa AL: University of Alabama Press,
46On this point see M. Eugene Sirmans, Colonial South Carolina: A Political History,
1663-1763 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1966), and Jack P.
Greene, The Ouest for Power: The Lower Houses of Assembly in the Southern Royal
Colonies. 1689-1776 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1963). The
other branches of government were the governor, appointed by the crown, and the
council, also appointive, which acted as the upper house of the legislature.
47Rogers, Charleston in the Age of the Pincknevs, 19-20.
urban development, the Commons House spent a great deal of time attending to the city's
needs. 48 In 1767 alone the legislature passed legislation regulating the port and harbor,
made plans to construct a new Exchange, Custom House, and hospital, extended existing
streets while laying out new ones, investigated the conditions of the city's poor, and
encouraged Charleston's trade with neighboring colonies by lifting duties on naval stores
imported from those colonies. In addition, legislators mediated a dispute between
merchants and owners of wharves, extended Meeting Street north to George Street, and
built a bridge over the creek near Craven's Bastion at the north end of the Bay.49
The Commons House passed all laws pertaining to the city, though the day-to-day
governance of the city fell to various commissioners elected annually on Easter Monday.
Voting requirements remained unchanged since 1721. All free white Christian males
over 21 years of age who had lived in South Carolina for at least a year, owned at least
fifty acres of land, or paid twenty shillings a year in taxes could vote.50 Voters elected
city commissioners for the two urban parishes, St. Philip's, created in 1704, and St.
Michael's, formed in 1751 out of the southern half of the city, below Broad Street.
Churchwardens, usually merchants, oversaw the maintenance of the city's poor.
48According to Blaine Brownell and David Goldfield, the planter "urban consciousness
consisted of plotting an escape from Charleston before the first mosquitoes and after the
last party. Associational activity probably consisted of dipping snuff at the St. Cecilia's
Society." Blaine Brownell and David Goldfield, "Southern Urban History," in Brownell
and Goldfield, City in Southern History, 8-9.
49Henry Laurens to James Grant, March 23, 1767, Laurens Papers, 5:237-238.
S"Thomas Cooper and David J. McCord, eds., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina,
10 vols. (Columbia, SC: A.S. Johnston, 1838-1841), 3:135-140.
Firemasters, also generally merchants, ensured that residents kept buckets and ladders
near at hand and inspected buildings for potential hazards. Packers, mostly master
coopers, inspected the packing of exports on the city wharves. Wood measurers,
primarily artisans, safeguarded the city against exorbitant rates for wood and coal. The
commissioners of markets and the workhouse collected fees for market stalls, enforced
sanitary regulations, and also oversaw the workhouse, where the city housed sick folk,
criminals, indigents, and runaway slaves. Finally, the commissioners of roads supervised
the paving and cleaning of streets and set prices for haulage. Voters generally elected
both merchants and artisans as market, workhouse, and road commissioners.'
The artisans who served without pay in these positions represented the "middling
sorts," below the governing elite.52 Though politically mute for most of the colonial
""The Government of the City of Charleston, 1682-1882," Yearbook. City of
Charleston, 1881 (Charleston SC: News and Courier Book Presses, 1881), 325-377.
Protestant Episcopal Church, St. Philip's, Charleston, Records, 1732-1910, WPA
Transcript, 1939, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia,
copied from the original in the possession of St. Philip's Church, Charleston; Rogers,
Charleston in the Age of the Pincknevs, 20-21.
"Artisans are defined as laborers who performed skilled work with their hands, and
the term is used interchangeably with "mechanic" and "craftsman" throughout this study.
The term does not include unskilled laborers. For the term "middling sorts," see note
three above and especially Blumin, "'Middling sorts' in the Eighteenth-Century City,"
chapter two in Emergence of the Middle Class, 17-65. The best works on Charleston
artisans are Mary Catherine Ferrari, "Artisans of the South: A Comparative Study of
Norfolk, Charleston and Alexandria, 1763-1800," Ph.D. dissertation, College of William
and Mary, 1992; Richard Walsh, Charleston's Sons of Liberty: A Study of the Artisans.
1763-1789 (Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1959). For recent
scholarship on both Southern and urban artisans, see Johanna Miller Lewis, Artisans in
the North Carolina Backcountry (Lexington KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1995);
Howard B. Rock, Paul A. Gilje, and Robert Asher, eds., American Artisans: Crafting
Social Identity. 1750-1850 (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995);
Ronald Schultz, The Republic of Labor: Philadelphia Artisans and the Politics of Class.
period, these workers nevertheless asserted themselves through their craftsmanship, and
the fruits of their labors could be seen, heard, and smelled throughout the city. These
craftsmen and women catered to the needs of the merchant-planter community, provided
food and drink in the city, brewed beer, baked bread, butchered meat, designed and built
lavish homes, painted houses, portraits, and coats of arms, fashioned clothes, furniture,
shoes, watches, wigs, coaches, silver, jewelry, tanned hides, repaired guns, built ships,
and packed staple crops to be shipped out for export. The exact number of Charleston's
artisans in 1765 is unknown, but artisans comprised 25 percent of Charleston households
in 1790. Between 1764 and 1807, nearly 2,500 artisans worked in the city.53
As the city's middling rank, artisans labored in the gray area between the
merchant-planter oligarchy and the large black population. Skilled white artisans
complained bitterly about the competition they faced from black labor, but many white
1720-1830 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Paul A. Gilje and Howard Rock,
eds., Keepers of the Revolution: New Yorkers at Work in the Early Republic (Ithaca NY:
Cornell University Press, 1992); Billy G. Smith, The "Lower Sort": Philadelphia's
Laborine People. 1750-1800 (Ithaca NY: Comell University Press, 1990); Paul Gilje, The
Road to Mobocracy: Popular Disorder in New York City. 1763-1834 (Chapel Hill NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 1987); Sharon V. Salinger, "To Serve Well and
Faithfully": Labor and Indentured Servants in Pennsylvania. 1682-1800 (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1987); Steven Rosswurm, Arms, Country, and Class: The
Philadelphia Militia and the "Lower Sort" Durine the American Revolution (New
Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987); Charles G. Steffen, The Mechanics of
Baltimore: Workers and Politics in the Age of Revolution. 1763-1812 (Urbana IL:
University of Illinois Press, 1984); Nash, Urban Crucible; Howard B. Rock, Artisans of
the New Republic: The Tradesmen of New York City in the Age of Jefferson (New York:
New York University Press, 1979); Dirk Hoerder, Crowd Action in Revolutionary
Massachusetts, 1765-1800 (New York: Academic Press, 1977), Foner, Tom Paine and
Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); Olton, Artisans For
"Ferrari, "Artisans of the South," 17.
artisans invested in slaves because of the scarcity of free labor in the city. Recent
scholarship suggests that 81 percent of all artisans between 1764 and 1780 owned at least
one slave, though they possessed only 11 percent of inventoried wealth.54 British
mercantilism also worked against artisanal interest. Charleston craftsmen could not
compete with their counterparts in London nor did the city's elite encourage them to do
so. Opulent planters demanded the finest craftsmanship the mother country had to offer,
and the city's merchants eagerly imported English-made goods, all the while depriving
domestic artisans of customers and profits. Royal officials even required Carolina
governors to verify the subordinate position of American manufacturing. After a
thorough search of the public records, William Bull assured the Board of Trade in 1768
that no public assistance had ever been given to encourage manufactures. He noted that
while many backcountry homes kept looms to weave cloth for their own families, the
government gave public assistance only to agricultural improvements. "Attempts to
establish [manufactures] here," he wrote, "can never succeed to any degree, where there
is so much room to employ labor in agriculture and trade with more profit."55
Artisans thus welcomed and encouraged non-importation of British goods when
disputes over colonial taxation erupted in the latter half of the 1760s, and in some
measure they indeed acted as the "advanced guard of rebellion."56 The Revolutionary
"William Bull to Hillsborough, November 30, 1770, SCBPRO 32:404.
5Richard Walsh, "The Charleston Mechanics: A Brief Study, 1760-1776," South
Carolina Historical Magazine 60 (1959): 123-144.
movement offered artisans the opportunity to eliminate or at least curb the economic
hegemony of their overseas competition, and in 1769 Charleston's mechanics demanded
and received equal representation on the committee that enforced compliance with the
colonial boycott. The artisanal community had always been shut out of provincial
politics, but the Revolution would shatter the chains of deference that had kept them so
long in silence.57
The third rank of Charleston society consisted of common laborers and the city's
poor. Though unskilled workers often found employment on Charleston's wharves and
with skilled artisans, they faced unending competition from the city's ubiquitous slaves.
While Charleston's elite grew wealthier during the 1760s and 1770s, the growing number
of urban poor taxed the limits of the city's institutions of relief, as they did in
contemporary Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.5 The Rev. Robert Smith of St.
"Most of the artisans owned property, and many could therefore vote under the
suffrage requirements of the act of 1721. Many also sat on Grand Juries and could
therefore voice their complaints through that vehicle. But no artisan ever served in the
Commons House of Assembly.
SsFor the wealth and poverty of the city, see Barbara L. Bellows, Benevolence Among
Slaveholders: Assisting the Poor in Charleston. 1670-1860 (Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana
State University Press, 1993); Walter J. Fraser Jr., "The City Elite, 'Disorder,' and the
Poor Children of Pre-Revolutionary Charleston," South Carolina Historical Magazine 84
(July 1983): 167-179; William G. Bentley, "Wealth in Colonial South Carolina," Ph.D.
dissertation, Georgia State University, 1977; Waterhouse, "South Carolina's Colonial
Elite." On the poor in the urban North, see James A. Henretta, "Economic Development
and Social Structure in Colonial Boston," William and Mary Quarterly 22 (January 1965):
75-92; Raymond Mohl, "Poverty in Early America, A Reappraisal: The Case of
Eighteenth Century New York City," New York History 50 (1969): 5-27; Allan Kulikoff,
"The Progress of Inequality in Revolutionary Boston," William and Mary Ouarterly 28
(July 1971): 376-411; Gary B. Nash, "Urban Wealth and Poverty in Pre-Revolutionary
America," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 6 (Spring 1976): 545-584; John K.
Alexander, Render Them Submissive: Responses to Poverty in Philadelphia. 1760-1800
Philip's parish (which oversaw the care of the poor) requested the use of soldier's
barracks in 1766 to relieve the overcrowded workhouse, which also served as ajail.
Smith complained about the inhuman policy of housing violent prisoners with "the poor
and sick, who may be, and often are, pious and well disposed persons."59 While exported
staple crops continued to enrich city planters and merchants, wealth became increasingly
concentrated between 1757 and 1762 due to the Seven Years War.60 Consequently, tax
rates to support increasingly ineffective institutions rose as well. Poor rates soared in the
1760s and 1770s, rising from 3,000 in 1755 to 6,500 in 1765 to 14,000 in 1775.61
Alarmed legislators investigated and blamed the problem on vestry and church wardens
who failed to return the poor to their home parishes. In addition, they found that many
arriving immigrants bound for the backcountry simply remained in town.62 Grand Juries
frequently complained about the rising numbers of the destitute and continually requested
(Amherst MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980).
"Minutes of Vestry meeting, December 7, 1766, St. Philips Records, 44-45.
60James Harold Easterby, "Public Poor Relief in Colonial Charleston: A Report to the
Commons House of Assembly About the Year 1767," South Carolina Historical
Magazine 42 (April 1941): 84-86; Fraser, "The City Elite, 'Disorder,' and the Poor
Children of Pre-Revolutionary Charleston," 167-179. On the concentration of wealth, see
Bentley, "Wealth Distribution in Colonial South Carolina." For similar results of the
Seven Years War in the urban North, especially post-war depression and greater
concentration of wealth, see Nash, Urban Crucible, 147-183. Nash, p. 157, found that "in
all the seaport towns the greatest hardships imposed by the post-1760 slump fell upon the
61Easterby, "Public Poor Relief," 84-86; St. Philips Records, 135.
62Easterby, "Public Poor Relief," 84-86; Fraser, "The City Elite."
laws to prevent the poor from entering town from "all parts of this and many neighboring
provinces" and further increasing the tax rate.63
Slaves, of course, occupied the bottom rung of Charleston society. The city had
the largest black population of any city on mainland British North America during the
Revolutionary period [see Table 1-5]. Blacks comprised half of the city's residents in
1765 and 61 percent of the entire colony. Despite persistent white fears of a growing
black population, the percentage of slaves in the city's population remained steady
between 1760 and 1810, ranging from 51 to 54 percent [see Table 1-6]. The "black
majority" in the lowcountry as a whole between 1775 and 1810 varied from 73 to 84
percent of the total population [see Table 1-7].64 The city served as a major port of entry
for slave traders in the American colonies, and Charleston merchants imported almost
42,000 slaves between 1760 and 1774.65 In 1765 alone 106 cargoes entered the port with
63See South Carolina Gazette, January 25, 1770, February 22, 1773.
"On the growth of the black majority in colonial South Carolina, see Russell L.
Menard, "Slave Demography in the Lowcountry, 1670-1740: From Frontier Society to
Plantation Regime," South Carolina Historical Magazine 96 (October 1995): 280-303;
Wood, Black Majority; Wood, "More Like a Negro Country': Demographic Patterns in
Colonial South Carolina, 1700-1740," in Stanley L. Engerman and Eugene D. Genovese,
eds., Race and Slavery in the Western Hemisphere: Ouantitative Studies (Princeton NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1975), 131-171; Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, "The Slave Labor
Problem in the Charleston District," Political Science Quarterly 22 (September 1907):
65Historical Statistics of the United States, 2:1173; Walter Minchinton, "A Comment
on 'The Slave Trade to Colonial South Carolina: A Profile,'" South Carolina Historical
Magazine 95 (January 1994): 47-57; David Richardson, "The British Slave Trade to
Colonial South Carolina," Slavery and Abolition 12 (1991): 157-163; Robert M. Weir,
Colonial South Carolina: A History (Millwood NY: KTO Press, 1983), 178; Daniel C.
Littlefield, Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina
(Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); W. Robert Higgins,
a total of 6,520 slaves [see Table 1-8]." One Charleston visitor insisted that "he had been
mistakenly taken by his guide to Africa."67
White and black intermingled constantly in a city where 8,000 people occupied
the space of a few square miles and residential segregation was unknown. It seemed to a
visiting Frenchman in 1777 that "one will meet seven or eight coloured men on the street
for every European that he encounters."6 Slaves could be found throughout the city,
working on ships and wharves, driving coaches, cooking and waiting tables, hired out and
apprenticed to artisans, working illegally for themselves in competition with white
artisans, and serving as common laborers. Timothy Ford, a New Jersey native visiting
after the Revolution asserted that "in this country a person can no more act or move
without an attending servant than a planet without its satellites." "I have seen tradesmen,"
he wrote, "go through the city followed by a negro carrying their tools--barbers who are
"Charleston: Terminus and Entrep6t of the Colonial Slave Trade," in Martin L. Kilson
and Robert I. Rothberg, eds., The African Diaspora: Interpretive Essays (Cambridge MA:
Harvard University Press, 1976), 114-131; Higgins, "Charles Town Merchants and
Factors Dealing in the External Negro Trade, 1735-1775," South Carolina Historical
Magazine 65 (October 1964): 205-217; Elizabeth Donnan, "The Slave Trade into South
Carolina Before the Revolution," American Historical Review 33 (July 1928): 804-828.
66Historical Statistics of the United States, 2:1173, 1168. Of the slaves imported in
1765, 68 percent came from Africa, 31 percent from the Caribbean. See also Peter H.
Wood, "The Changing Population of the Colonial South: An Overview by Race and
Region, 1685-1790," in Peter H. Wood et al., eds., Powhatan's Mantle: Indians in the
Colonial Southeast (Lincoln NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), 35-103; W. Robert
Higgins, "The Geographical Origins of Negro Slaves in Colonial South Carolina," South
Atlantic Quarterly 70 (Winter 1971): 34-47.
7South Carolina Gazette, August 27, 1772.
6Elmer Douglas Johnson, trans., "A Frenchman Visits Charleston in 1777," South
Carolina Historical Magazine 52 (April 1951): 92.
supported in idleness and ease by their negroes who do the business, and in fact many of
the mechanics bear nothing more of their trade than the name."" Elite Charlestonians
might resent the rising numbers of poor whites, but they complained most frequently
about the behavior of their slaves. They protested that slaves sold in the city's markets,
hired their own time, congregated in large numbers, frequented taverns, cursed and swore
in the city streets, refused to work, dressed inappropriately, gambled, and always seemed
to behave in an insolent manner. One inhabitant wondered if "the laws of this province
extend to the punishment of vices in Negroes?" Greater economic opportunity and less
white supervision combined to give urban slaves more autonomy than their rural
counterparts, and many whites considered Charleston's slaves more "rude, unmannerly,
insolent, and shameless" than country slaves.70
Charleston's large slave population kept whites constantly on edge. Lieutenant
Governor William Bull maintained in 1770 that "the state of slavery is as comfortable in
this province as such a state can be," but anxious planters feared that the lure of freedom
6Joseph W. Bamwell, ed., "Diary of Timothy Ford," South Carolina Historical
Magazine 13 (July 1912): 142.
7South Carolina Gazette, August 27, 1772. See Loren Schweninger, "Slave
Independence and Enterprise in South Carolina, 1780-1865," South Carolina Historical
Magazine 93 (April 1992): 101-125; Philip D. Morgan, "Black Life in Eighteenth-
Century Charleston," Perspectives in American History New Series 1 (1984): 187-232;
Morgan, "Black Society in the Lowcountry, 1760-1810," in Ira Berlin and Ronald
Hoffman, eds., Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution (Urbana IL:
University of Illinois Press, 1983), 83-142; Morgan, "Work and Culture: The Task
System and the World of Lowcountry Blacks, 1700 to 1880," William and Mary
Quarterly 39 (October 1982): 563-599; Claudia Dale Goldin, Urban Slavery in the
American South. 1820-1860: A Quantitative History (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1976); Richard C. Wade, Slavery in the Cities: The South. 1820-1860 (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1964).
would "raise ideas in [slaves] of an interest opposite to their masters."71 South Carolina
had weathered the Stono Rebellion of 1739, but fears of another, more widespread,
uprising always bubbled beneath the surface.72 In December 1765, rumors spread through
Charleston of an impending slave revolt during the Christmas season, traditionally an
extended holiday for slaves. Provincial authorities quickly called out the militia, while
Lt. Governor Bull brought down forty-seven Catawba Indians from the backcountry to
hunt down and kill the supposed rebels." Henry Laurens described the scene in
Charleston: "Patrols were riding day and night for 10 to 14 days in most bitter weather
and here in town all were soldiers in arms for more than a week." This uprising--like so
many others--failed to materialize, and Laurens noted wryly that the whole affair ended
with the "banishment of one fellow, not because he was guilty or instigator of
insurrection, but because some of his judges said that in the general course of his life he
had been a sad dog, and perhaps it was necessary to save appearances.""74 This incident is
suggestive of the tensions and fears created in a city with a population half slave. Despite
7William Bull to Hillsborough, November 30, 1770, SCBPRO 32:382, Committee
Report on Boundary Between South and North Carolina, inclosure, Board of Trade
Journal, SCBPRO 32:143.
7See here especially Wood, Black Majority, 308-326, and Knepper, "Political
Structure of Colonial South Carolina," 36-38.
7William Bull to Board of Trade, December 17, 1765, January 25, 1766, SCBPRO
30:300-301, 31:18-21; Bull Jr., Oligarchs in Colonial and Revolutionary Charleston, 122.
74Henry Laurens to John Lewis Gervais, January 29, 1766, Papers of Henry Laurens,
white assertions that mutual bonds of affection existed between happy slaves and kindly
masters, the slightest rumors of unrest could set off widespread panic.
Timothy Ford described an incident which gives great insight into the intimate
links between slavery and status in South Carolina. While returning to town after visiting
a local plantation, Ford and his friends stopped for a picnic beside the road. At some
distance off, a man appeared on horseback, and the locals all commented upon the fine
cut of his clothes and his expert horsemanship. "As we were all surveying and querying
who he should be," Ford wrote, "one of the company finished the enquiry by saying 'he
cannot be a gentleman for he is riding without servants."' Soon, however, two slaves on
horseback emerged from the woods, and the stranger "regained his lost honours, and it
was agreed on all sides that he is a gentleman."7 The New Jersey native found the whole
scene baffling. Ford simply could not fathom how ownership of other human beings
could define rank and status in society. A later visitor echoed similar thoughts: "It is
strange that men should value themselves most upon what they ought to be most ashamed
of."7 Slaves did not simply represent another form of labor. Their overwhelming
presence in both the city and countryside was inextricably linked with the way white
South Carolinians created their own identity. In the years to come whites would view any
challenge to the institution, from any quarter whatsoever, as a direct threat to the social
and economic system that formed the very heart of their society.
"Barnwell, "Diary of Timothy Ford," 189-190.
7H. Roy Merrens, "A View of Coastal South Carolina in 1778: The Journal of
Ebenezer Hazard," South Carolina Historical Magazine 73 (October 1972): 190.
Charleston's reaction to the Stamp Act, though labeled "cautious" and
"conservative" by some historians, certainly frightened contemporary royal officials and
the city's elite and upset traditional notions of political participation, deference, and
social order.77 "Some negroes mimicked their betters in crying out 'liberty,'" while angry
crowds threatened to pull down the homes of royal officials and forced their way into
Henry Laurens' home to search for stamped papers.78 The "official" elite reaction was, of
course, much more subdued. Merchants, lawyers, and planters disagreed among
themselves over a proper response to the Stamp Act, particularly after violence followed
resistance in Northern ports.79 Henry Laurens thought such uprisings disgraceful and
urged Carolina authorities to prevent any "apings and mockery of those infamous
inglorious feats." While Laurens did not support the Stamp Act, he felt that only a
decent, respectful representation would bring about redress. "The Act must be executed
and indeed a suspension of it while it is in force would prove our ruin and destruction,"
he cautioned. Conversely, attorney Richard Hutson blasted Charlestonians as indifferent
while applauding the "laudable example of the northern provinces in endeavoring to repel
7See in particular Raymond G. Starr, "The Conservative Revolution: South Carolina
Public Affairs, 1775-1790," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1964, and Maurice
Crouse, "Cautious Rebellion: South Carolina's Opposition to the Stamp Act," South
Carolina Historical Magazine 73 (April 1972): 59-71.
78Henry Laurens to John Lewis Gervais, January 29, 1766, Laurens Papers, 5:53-54.
79See Nash, Urban Crucible, 184-199; Edmund S. and Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp
Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, New rev. ed., (London: Collier Books, 1962), 187-
the manifest encroachments on their liberty.""8 In July the Commons House responded
favorably to Massachusetts' invitation to send representatives to a Stamp Act Congress in
New York the following October. The assembly elected Thomas Lynch, Christopher
Gadsden, and John Rutledge, all established members of Charleston's elite. Rutledge
practiced law in Charleston and invested heavily in land, obtaining over 30,000 acres by
1775. Lynch owned three plantations and a townhouse in Charleston and invested as
part-owner of three trading vessels. Gadsden, of course, was one of the city's most
Meanwhile, as the Stamp Act Congress deliberated in New York, the stamped
paper arrived in Charleston on Friday, October 18, 1765, with the act set to take effect on
November 1. Local Sons of Liberty, comprised primarily of artisans and mechanics,
moved swiftly to resist British policy. The following morning two effigies of a stamp
collector appeared hanging from a twenty-foot gallows at the corner of Broad and Church
streets, near Dillon's Tavern, in the center of town. Onlookers passed by all day to see the
figures with "LIBERTY and no STAMP ACT" printed on them, while the muffled bells
of St. Michael's tolled mournfully. That same evening Stamp Act protesters cut the
figures down, placed them in a wagon, and moved down Bay Street toward Tradd Street
s"Henry Laurens to Joseph Brown, October 11, 1765, Laurens Papers, 5:25; Richard
Hutson to Joel Benedict, October 30, 1765, Richard Hutson Letterbook, South Carolina
Historical Society, Charleston. Hutson was the first intendant (mayor) of incorporated
Charleston in 1783.
"South Carolina Gazette, August 10, 1765; David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina:
A Short History. 1520-1948 (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1961),
231; Edgar and Bailey, Biogranhical Directory, 2:259-260, 420-421, 577-578.
and the home of stamp inspector George Saxby, followed by a crowd estimated at two
thousand. Cooler heads barely restrained the crowd from demolishing the house, and
after searching the grounds and breaking the windows the procession moved on to the
City Green. There the protesters set the effigies on fire and solemnly buried "American
Liberty" in a mock funeral as the flames rose into the night sky. 82
Five days later, on Wednesday, October 23, rumors circulated that the stamps had
been brought into town and placed in Henry Laurens' home in Ansonborough, a suburb
just north of Charleston.83 Laurens had opposed earlier street demonstrations, and that
evening at midnight a crowd of protesters awakened Laurens by pounding violently on his
front door. The startled merchant assured the crowd that he had no stamped paper, and
Laurens, as a member of the gentry, expected to be taken at his word. Instead, the crowd
"Wallace, South Carolina, 231; South Carolina Gazette, October 31, 1765. Similar
protests had taken place previously in Boston on August 14, and in Newport on August
27-29, 1765. See Peter D. G. Thomas, "The Stamp Act Crisis and Its Repercussions,
Including the Quartering Act Controversy," in Jack P. Greene and J. R. Pole, eds., The
Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing,
1991), 117. These Stamp Act demonstrations of street theater and ritual protest were
played out repeatedly in colonial capitals and have recently been called by David
Waldstreicher "the first and most important example of celebration and mourning as loyal
protest." Such protests were performed in the name of English tradition, and its guardian,
the king. "With the king on their side, the lower classes could take the rhetorical high
ground, even against the king's men." Only later, after the Declaration of Independence
and the rejection of England, were colonial grievances thrust upon the King himself.
David Waldstreicher, "Rites of Rebellion, Rites of Assent: Celebrations, Print Culture,
and the Origins of American Nationalism," Journal of American History 82 (June 1995):
43, 47. See also David Waldstreicher, "The Making of American Nationalism:
Celebrations and Political Culture, 1776-1820." Ph.D. dissertation., Yale University,
"Laurens' home was on the comer of what is now Laurens Street and East Bay. It was
destroyed in 1916.
demanded entrance to his house; Laurens, fearing for his and his pregnant wife's safety,
obeyed. After the crowd had searched the house in vain, the insurgents remained in
Laurens's front parlor and demanded that he swear that he did not know the location of
the stamps. When Laurens refused the crowd threatened him with violence. The standoff
continued for over an hour before the dissidents finally gave up and left. As they did,
"they praised me highly and insisted upon giving me three cheers and then retired with
God bless your honor, Good night Colonel, We hope the poor lady will do well."84
During the ordeal Laurens recognized several of his accusers despite their disguises, and
he called many of them by name. But despite words of bravery, the intrusion left Laurens
shaken and stunned."8 Such an overt and direct threat to private property, social order,
and political deference could not go unchallenged and Laurens complained directly to the
lieutenant governor. Bull responded by calling a Council meeting, advising captains in
port to keep their sailors aboard ship at night and announced to the public that he had
lodged the stamped papers in Fort Johnson in Charleston Harbor. Bull privately fumed
that "the artifices of some busy spirits" had poisoned "the minds of men with the
principles imbibed and propagated from Boston and Rhode Island.""6
84Henry Laurens to Joseph Brown, October 28, 1765, Laurens Papers, 5:29-32; South
Carolina Gazette. October 31, 1765.
"Ten years later, when James Laurens, the child his wife was carrying that night, died
after an accident in London, Laurens told his son John that "he was marked for
misfortune before his birth." Henry to John Laurens, January 4, 1776, Laurens Papers,
86Godbold and Woody, Gadsden and the American Revolution, 58.
The following Monday Bull and other elite leaders witnessed more street theater.
Stamp inspector George Saxby and stamp distributor Caleb Lloyd, having spent two days
virtually imprisoned in the fort, came up to town to face a multitude of protesters
threatening to tear them to pieces. The trembling pair pleaded that they would do nothing
until Parliament had addressed colonial grievances, and the assembled throng roared its
approval. The harbor rang with cheers, clanging bells, and cannon fire, and the crowd
escorted the stamp officials first to Dillon's Tavern and later to their own homes. Saxby
and Lloyd meekly explained to London that their lives and property had been repeatedly
threatened, and they had acted only to prevent "murder and the destruction of the town."87
Opposition to the Stamp Act eventually closed down the South's busiest port.
Trading came to a halt, and as crops went unsold, money grew scarce and debts went
unpaid. Though ships kept arriving they could not leave, and more and more sailors
crowded into town. Charleston faced an explosive situation, and merchants pleaded with
their London agents to lobby for repeal. Lt. Governor Bull, at the center of the storm,
received enormous pressure from various groups to open the port without stamped paper,
as Virginia and other colonies had done. Eventually Bull acquiesced. He simply declared
stamped paper unavailable, opened the port, and tensions gradually eased.88 On May 3,
1766, unofficial news arrived that American resolve had been rewarded and that
Parliament had repealed the act. Christopher Gadsden nearly fainted when he heard the
8South Carolina Gazette, October 31, 1765; George Saxby and Caleb Lloyd to
William Bull, October 29, 1765, SCBPRO 30:279-280; Morgan and Morgan, Stamp Act
"See Bull Jr., Oligarchs in Colonial and Revolutionary Charleston, 108-135.
report, and according to one witness "joy, jollity and mirth" reigned throughout the port.
Official confirmation coincided with the traditional celebration of the king's birthday in
June."9 Bells rang throughout the city while ships in the harbor displayed their colors and
fired cannon. The city's militia regiment, artillery company, and a new company of light
infantry all assembled on the parade ground for review by Lt. Governor Bull. Later that
evening, Bull hosted a dinner at Dillon's Tavern, attended by both houses of the
legislature, local clergy, and all civil and military officers. Fireworks ended the festive
day, and royal officials could rest assured that "the inhabitants of this province are a loyal
and a grateful people.""
The Stamp Act crisis had passed, but it exposed dangerous fault lines in the city's
social and political facade. From the early 1750s through the early 1770s, Charleston's
population doubled, with poor white inhabitants increasing at the fastest rate. The Stamp
Act crisis simply accelerated existing social trends. The collapse of business swelled the
ranks of the poor, and made a bad situation even worse. Institutions designed for poor
relief, insufficient before the crisis, had been completely overwhelmed by December
1766. Runaway slaves, disorderly sailors, and the poor all crowded into the workhouse.
89Robert Raper to Greenwood and Higginson, London, October 28, 1765, and Raper to
John Colleton, November 8, 1765, Robert Raper Letterbook, South Carolina Historical
Society; William Bull to Henry Seymour Conway, February 6, 1766, SCBPRO 31:22-26;
Crouse, "Cautious Rebellion," 68; Peter Manigault to Thomas Gadsden, May 14, 1766,
Peter Manigault Letterbook, South Carolina Historical Society; South Carolina Gazette,
June 9, 1766.
9"South Carolina Gazette, June 8, 1765; Peter Manigault to Charles Garth, July 4,
1766, Peter Manigault Letterbook, South Carolina Historical Society. Garth was South
Carolina's agent in London.
As poor tax rates increased, city fathers desperately sought ways to control a population
that appeared to be growing dangerously out of control."
The Stamp Act crisis also gave vent to backcountry grievances against lowcountry
arrogance and Charleston hegemony. South Carolina's backcountry, despite a growing
population, elected only four of forty-eight assemblymen in the Commons House.
Charleston alone had six representatives. The backcountry also lacked efficient and
adequate law enforcement and educational institutions. Charleston leaders and
lowcountry legislators in the assembly acknowledged the lack of courts, jails, sheriffs,
and schools, but resisted spending their tax money on backcountry improvements.
Hence, when coastal leaders denounced the Stamp Act as British "oppression," the
backcountry exploded in anger. Charles Woodmason, an upcountry clergyman and
popular spokesman, sneered that "while these provincials were roaring out against the
Stamp Act and impositions, they were rioting in Luxury and Extravagance." Woodmason
ridiculed the hypocrisy of "men who bounce and make such noise about Liberty! Liberty!
Freedom! Property! Rights! Privileges! while they ride, oppress, distress and keep under
the lowest subjection half of the inhabitants.""9 For those who cared to see them, the
Stamp Act crisis exposed the first signs of conflicts that would rage on for years.
"Minutes of Vestry Meeting, December 7, 1766, St. Philip's Records, South
Caroliniana Library; Easterby, "Public Poor Relief in Colonial Charleston," 83-86;
Fraser, "City Elite, 'Disorder,' and the Poor Children of Pre-Revolutionary Charleston,"
92Robert H. Woody, "Christopher Gadsden and the Stamp Act," Proceedings of the
South Carolina Historical Association, 1937, 9.
The American Revolution presented both enormous challenges and unprecedented
opportunities for all Charlestonians. As members of the city's elite gathered in Dillon's
Tavern to celebrate the King's birthday and the repeal of the Stamp Act on that summer
evening in 1766, few could have imagined that the Stamp Act crisis had thrust all ranks
of Charleston society upon the brink of enormous changes. Yet, as Gordon S. Wood has
recently written, when eighteenth-century Americans set out to change their governments,
they changed their society as well." Once down the road of rebellion, the elite found to
their horror that everything that gave their world stability and identity had come under
assault. The city's plain mechanics and industrial artisans may have worked with their
hands rather than their minds, but during the coming years they would take to the streets
and raise their voices in protest against British mercantilism, elite economic policy, and
time-honored notions of aristocratic dominance. Ultimately they rejected deferential
politics altogether and embraced political equality and self-interested democracy.
Religious dissenters attacked the established church. Backcountrymen, not content to
simply condemn lowcountry hypocrisy, would demand a more egalitarian government
and the removal of the capital to a centralized, "plebeian," location. Finally, and perhaps
most ominously, a chorus of rising voices from both within and without the region
challenged white South Carolinians' right to own other human beings. The Revolution in
Charleston was not "cautious" or "conservative." In fact, it forever altered not only the
9Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1992), 5.
relationships that bound Carolinians together, but also the city's position of unchallenged
dominance in the colony and region.
Population of American Cities, 1760-1810
1760 1775 1790 1800 1810
Philadelphia 23,750 40,000 42,520 41,220 53,722
New York 18,000 25,000 33,131 60,489 96,373
Boston 15,631 16,000 18,038 24,937 34,322
Charleston 8,598 12,000 16,359 20,473 24,711
Baltimore 5,934 13,503 26,514 46,555
Sources: Carl Bridenbaugh, Urban Life in America. 1743-1776. 216-217; Philip D.
Morgan, "Black Life in Eighteenth-Century Charleston," Perspectives in American
History New Series 1 (1984): 188; Everett S. Lee and Michael Lalli, "Population," in
David T. Gilchrist, ed., The Growth of Seaport Cities, 34-35; First, Second, and Third
Federal Population Censuses.
Number and Tonnage of Ships Outward and Inward Bound, For Boston,
New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, 1768-1772
Boston 612 33,695
New York 480 23,566
Philadelphia 641 36,944
Charleston 429 31,551
Boston 549 31,983
New York 462 21,847
Philadelphia 528 34,970
Charleston 448 34,449
828 37,045 800 36,965
787 26,859 612 26,653
678 40,871 769 47,292
433 31,147 451 29,976
Source: Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States. Colonial Times
to 1970, 2 vols., 2:1180-1181.
Rice Exported From Charleston, 1765-1789 (barrels)
Barrels Pounds % Total Rice Exports
1765 107,292 65,710,575 86%
1766 74,031 48,396,600 80%
1767 104,125 63,465,150 86%
1768 125,538 77,284,200 85%
1769 115,582 73,078,950 83%
1770 131,805 83,708,625 83%
1771 125,151 81,755,100 80%
1772 104,821 69,218,625 80%
1773 126,940 81,476,325 82%
1774 118,482 76,265,700 82%
1783 24,255 12,733,875 N/A
1784 61,974 32,536,350 N/A
1785 63,732 33,459,300 N/A
1786 66,557 34,942,425 N/A
1787 65,195 34,227,375 N/A
1788 82,400 43,260,000 N/A
1789 100,000 52,500,000 N/A
Source: Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States. Colonial Times
to 1970, 2 vols., 2:1192.
Note: Number of pounds per barrel varied from year to year, but from 1765-1774
averaged 525 pounds. The pounds for 1783-1789 are not provided by the Bureau of the
Census, but have been calculated using the average for 1765-1774.
Indigo Exported From South Carolina, 1765-1788 (lbs.)
Source: Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States. Colonial Times
to 1970, 2 vols., 2:1189.
Note: Between 1768-1773, Charleston exported 92.2 percent of all indigo exported from
South Carolina. The totals for 1783-1788 are for Charleston only.
Black Population of North American Cities, 1760s-1810
Sources: Gary B. Nash, "Forging Freedom: The Emancipation Experience in the
Northern Seaport Cities, 1775-1820," in Ira Berlin and Ronald Hoffman, eds., Slavery
and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution, 5; William Bull to Hillsborough,
November 30, 1770, in Transcripts of Records in the British Public Record Office,
32:387-388, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia; First,
Second, and Third Federal Population Censuses.
Population of Charleston, 1760-1810
Sources: Philip D. Morgan, "Black Life in Eighteenth-Century Charleston," Perspectives
in American History New Series 1 (1984): 188; First, Second, and Third Federal
Population of Lowcountry South Carolina, 1775-1810
Sources: Stella H. Sutherland, Population Distribution in Colonial America (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1936), 240; First, Second, and Third Federal Population
Note: The Lowcountry consists in 1790 of Charleston District, Beaufort District, and
Georgetown District; for 1800 also Colleton District, Marion District; for 1810 also
Horry District, Williamsburg District.
Slaves Imported Into Charleston, 1765-1775
Source: Bureau of the Census,
to 1970, 2 vols., 2:1173-1174.
Historical Statistics of the United States. Colonial Times
Note: During 1766-1768 South Carolina prohibited the external slave trade. A total of 9
slaves and 5 cargoes entered the port during those years.
"THE MANY-HEADED POWER OF THE PEOPLE":
"Excuse me for seeming to compare you to unbroke asses, upon whose backs it is
extremely difficult to lay the first sack. Remember now or never, more sacks, more sacks
are coming, if once you receive this."
"Home Spun Free-Man," 1766
"The present struggle will either insure happiness and freedom or miserable slavery to
this continent. Our all is at stake, and upon the behavior of this day hangs the fate of
"Vox Populi," 1774
"You-think the people in England are acting madly, I am sure we may safely compare
notes with them in this country. I am ready to cry out, a pox on both their houses, we are
all mad, all wrong."
Henry Laurens, 1775
Between 1766 and 1775 a series of overlapping crises propelled Charleston
toward social, political, and economic revolution and armed rebellion against the Crown.
If South Carolina's colonial elite prided themselves on "the harmony we were famous
for,"' the events of the late 1760s and early 1770s must have seemed like a nightmare.
The debate over the proper response to British policy shattered the cohesion of
'See Robert M. Weir, "'The Harmony We Were Famous For': An Interpretation of Pre-
Revolutionary South Carolina Politics," in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds.,
Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1983), 421-446. (Originally published in William and Mary Quarterly 26
(October 1969): 473-501.)
Charleston's traditional leaders and turned resistance into revolution as the city's
middling ranks seized the opportunity to make unprecedented challenges to elite
authority. Charleston's artisans, like their counterparts in Boston, Philadelphia, and New
York, asserted their economic self-interest and adamantly supported non-importation in
defiance of conservative merchants. As the epicenter of resistance in South Carolina,
Charleston's urban milieu accelerated the transition from deferential elite politics to self-
interested democracy. The recognition of self-interest in American politics emerged as
one of the most radical political innovations of the American Revolution, for it
challenged traditional notions about communalism, political deference, and economic
This interpretation is supported by most of the recent scholarship on the
Revolution in the urban North but contradicts the prevailing interpretations of the
Revolution in South Carolina. Gary B. Nash found that in the urban North the
Revolution accelerated existing demographic and economic trends and turned resistance
into a "dual revolution," replacing vertical with horizontal divisions.' Similarly, Charles
F. Olton argues that Philadelphia's artisans exchanged "shy deference" for an increasingly
active role in city politics after 1765. Artisans protected their economic self-interest by
actively supporting non-importation of British goods, and merchant intransigence led
them to organize in associations to air their political and economic grievances. They
2Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 1992), 245-247, 252-259.
3Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: The Northern Seaports and the Origins of the
American Revolution Abr. ed. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).
sought not social revolution but political inclusiveness, which they had accomplished, he
wrote, by 1777. This growing artisan assertiveness, Olton argued, emerged as "one of the
most striking events in the history of Philadelphia in the eighteenth century."' Edward
Countryman uncovered analogous behavior among artisans in Revolutionary New York,
who took to the streets to assert their demands and "stretched the fabric of New York
until it rent even while they helped to do the same thing to the British empire." The
Revolution brought great changes to the city, and Countryman finds that by 1790 New
York society had been transformed.' Charles G. Steffen and Dirk Hoerder found that
artisan agitation in Baltimore and Boston produced similar results in those cities.6
Conversely, Mary Catherine Ferrari, a student of Southern urban artisans, asserts that
during the non-importation movement of the late 1760s Charleston's artisans "neither
challenged the traditional ruling powers nor did they attain cohesion among themselves."7
4Charles F. Olton, Artisans For Independence: Philadelphia Mechanics and the
American Revolution (Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 1975), 33-34, 39-40, 52,
5Edward Countryman, A People In Revolution: The American Revolution and
Political Society in New York. 1760-1790 (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1981), 36-45, 59. See also Howard B. Rock, Artisans of the New Republic: The
Tradesmen of New York City in the Age of Jefferson (New York: New York University
Press, 1979). Rock found that the political gains that New York's artisans made in the
Jeffersonian era had their roots in the Revolution.
6Charles G. Steffen, The Mechanics of Baltimore: Workers and Politics in the Age of
Revolution. 1763-1812 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984); Dirk Hoerder, Crowd
Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts. 1765-1800 (New York: Academic Press, 1977).
7Mary Catherine Ferrari, "Artisans of the South: A Comparative Study of Norfolk,
Charleston, and Alexandria, 1763-1800." Ph.D. dissertation, College of William and
Mary, 1992, 92.
Similarly, David Chesnutt argues that "by the end of 1769 all sides had been placated,
[and] stability had been restored to assembly politics."8 Robert M. Weir believes that the
non-importation movement altered elite conceptions of South Carolina's relationship with
London but did not disrupt the ties between the city's various factions. Indeed, most
historians of Revolutionary South Carolina concur in the notion of the Revolution as a
conservative elite revolt that produced little social, political, or economic instability.
According to Weir, Revolutionary changes proved to be "weak and ephemeral."9
sDavid Chesnutt, "'Greedy Party Work': The South Carolina Election of 1768," in
Patricia U. Bonomi, ed., Party and Political Opposition in Revolutionary America
(Tarrytown NY: Sleepy Hollow Press, 1980), 86.
9Robert M. Weir, Colonial South Carolina: A History (Millwood NY: KTO Press,
1983), 306, 342. Weir earlier wrote that "the political culture of the eighteenth century
persisted into the nineteenth in South Carolina with relatively little modification." Weir,
"'The Harmony We Were Famous For,'" 444. Similarly, George Winston Lane Jr. writes
that "once lowcountry families caught their breaths after restoring plantations and
businesses to order, they would have noticed remarkably little change from the war."
Lane Jr., "The Middletons of Eighteenth-Century South Carolina: A Colonial Dynasty,
1678-1787," Ph.D. dissertation, Emory University, 1990, 715. John C. Meleney argues
that "neither in South Carolina nor elsewhere in Revolutionary America did the
commitment to virtuous republicanism imply rejection of a hierarchical political structure
in which men of demonstrated merit would hold the requisite authority to govern. With
independence won, the patriot rebels in the lowcountry became, overnight, the
metropolitan establishment responsible for the management of political affairs and the
preservation of both liberty and order.., the Revolution was not a great divide. Only the
terms of reference changed, as one source of authority was lopped off and another
substituted in its place." Meleney, The Public Life of Aedanus Burke: Revolutionary
Republican in Post-Revolutionary South Carolina (Columbia SC: University of South
Carolina Press, 1989), 278, 281. Richard Brent Clow came to a similar conclusion in his
biography of Edward Rutledge. See Clow, "Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, 1749-
1800: Unproclaimed Statesman," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Georgia, 1976,
especially 200. Eva B. Poythress maintains that throughout the conflict leadership
remained firmly in the hands of traditional leaders. "The same men who opened the
breach ... continued in government through the war." Many members of the
conservative elite such as Laurens, the Rutledges, the Pinckneys, and the Middletons
"nurtured the Revolution in its earliest phases and saw it through to its conclusion. The
This chapter explores how the enormously disruptive events of 1766-1775
shattered the stable world of Charleston's elite and turned resistance into radical
revolution. By September 1775 the economic, political, and social stability of the
prospering, growing metropolis of 1765 had been replaced by "division, riot, anarchy, and
confusion." The Continental Association closed the harbor to both imports and exports.
With all commerce at a halt, courts closed, money grew scarce, and debts went unpaid.
political elite was both supported and spurred to greater action by the mechanics of the
city and the more liberal elements of the backcountry, but ultimate direction and authority
lay always with the traditional leadership." Poythress, "Revolution By Committee: An
Administrative History of the Extralegal Committees in South Carolina, 1774-1776,"
Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, 1975, 340-341. Gordon Roy Denboer
asserts that "by early assuming leadership of the opposition to British policies in the early
1760s and continuing that opposition as each new crisis occurred up to mid-1776, the
colony's political leaders greatly minimized the chances that they would be upset in an
internal revolution." Denboer, "The Early Revolutionary Movement in South Carolina,
1773-1776," M.A. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1969, 144. Marvin R. Zahniser wrote
that "to a remarkable degree the low-country gentry retained control of the government in
South Carolina after the Revolutionary War. In the political sphere, it sometimes seemed
that the war had never taken place." Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pincknev: Founding
Father (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1967), 101. Raymond Starr
proposed that "because of the conservative leadership, the aim of the revolutionary
movement was to protect the rights of British citizens and to prevent anarchy, not to
establish a new social and political order," and that "the Revolution had freed South
Carolina from British control within the state without producing an internal revolution."
Starr, "The Conservative Revolution: South Carolina Public Affairs, 1775-1790," Ph.D.
dissertation, University of Texas, 1964, 285, 288. His findings agreed with George C.
Rogers Jr., Evolution of a Federalist: William Loughton Smith of Charleston (1758-1812)
(Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1962), 36. Frederick P. Bowes
argued that in 1776 the Charleston aristocracy "threw off the one remaining trammel to its
power and stood supreme over the life and government of South Carolina." Bowes, The
Culture of Early Charleston (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina, 1942), 115.
Jerome J. Nadelhaft argued for a limited political revolution in South Carolina that
brought increased representation to the backcountry and the rise of democratic rhetoric.
The war "made necessary the enlistment of widespread support and gave new people
experience and confidence." Nadelhaft, The Disorders of War: The Revolution in South
Carolina (Orono Me: University of Maine at Orono Press, 1981), 105-124, 216.
Armed men in rebellion to the Crown roamed the streets, non-legal bodies governed the
city and province, and Charlestonians hastily constructed defenses against an imminent
British Naval bombardment and invasion."0 It all seemed unimaginable in 1766.
The repeal of the Stamp Act set off wild celebrations in Charleston in the spring
of 1766. When news of the repeal arrived on May 3, 1766, "joy, jollity, and mirth"
reigned, according to Commons House speaker Peter Manigault." Charlestonians
celebrated with banquets, bells, and fireworks. Almost no one noticed the Declaratory
Act accompanying the good news, which asserted Parliament's right to legislate for the
colonies "in all cases whatsoever." The Commons House of Assembly, certain that the
repeal marked a great moment in South Carolina history, commissioned a statue of
William Pitt, "the Great Commoner" who had championed American liberty, to be
erected in the center of town at the intersection of Broad and Meeting streets." But even
'oAlexander Innes to Earl of Dartmouth, June 10, 1775, in B.D. Bargar, ed., "Charles
Town Loyalism in 1775: The Secret Reports of Alexander Innes." South Carolina
Historical Magazine 63 (1962): 134; Henry Laurens to John Laurens, July 2, 1775,
"Letters from Henry Laurens to His Son John," South Carolina Historical Magazine 5
(January 1904): 12; Henry Laurens to John Laurens, September 18, 1775, in Philip M.
Hamer et al., eds., The Papers of Henry Laurens, 14 vols. to date (Columbia SC:
University of South Carolina Press, 1968-), 10:396-397; South Carolina and American
General Gazette, September 1, 1775.
"Peter Manigault to Thomas Gadsden, May 14, 1766, Peter Manigault Letterbook,
South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston.
"The statue was raised on Thursday, July 5, 1770. See South Carolina Gazette, July 5,
1770, and D.E. Huger Smith, "Wilton's Statue of Pitt," South Carolina Historical
Magazine 15 (January 1914): 18-38. The statue's pedestal is now in Washington Park
behind City Hall, and the statue itself, minus an arm, is now in the Charleston Museum.
the most ardent foes of the Stamp Act could not imagine how quickly these celebrations
would fade into memory, to be overshadowed by the darker events of the next ten years.
The repeal of the Stamp Act had opened up the harbor, and the city bustled with
activity after the long cessation of trade. The new royal governor, Lord Charles Greville
Montagu, arrived in Charleston on June 11, 1766." He entered a flourishing, growing
city, and despite the upheaval of the next decade, Charleston continued to expand as a
regional center of trade and commerce. Nevertheless, the Southern metropolis did not
lack significant social, political, and economic problems. The number of the city's poor
rose alarmingly during the late 1760s, particularly as the Stamp Act crisis closed the
harbor, and poor tax rates increased accordingly.14 Simultaneously, overzealous revenue
officers began harassing Charleston merchants in an effort to enforce the letter as well as
the spirit of the Navigation Laws. Royal customs officials seized several coasting
schooners owned by Henry Laurens, and his subsequent legal troubles in the Court of
Vice Admiralty exposed the problem of corruption in the colonial administration.15 In
"South Carolina and American General Gazette, June 13, 1766.
"This problem is discussed in chapter one, but see also Barbara L. Bellows,
Benevolence Among Slaveholders: Assisting the Poor in Charleston. 1670-1860 (Baton
Rouge LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1993); Walter J. Fraser Jr., "The City Elite,
'Disorder,' and the Poor Children of Pre-Revolutionary Charleston," South Carolina
Historical Magazine 84 (July 1983): 167-179.
"See David Duncan Wallace, The Life of Henry Laurens (New York: G.P. Putnam's
Sons, 1915), 137-149; Warner Oland Moore Jr., "Henry Laurens: A Charleston Merchant
in the Eighteenth Century, 1747-1771," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Alabama, 1974,
267-289; Robert M. Calhoon and Robert M. Weir, "'The Scandalous History of Sir
Egerton Leigh,'" William and Mary Ouarterly 26 (January 1969): 53-62; Weir, "A Most
Important Epocha:" The Coming of the Revolution in South Carolina (Columbia SC:
University of South Carolina Press, 1970), 25-28. See also Neil R. Stout, "Charleston vs.
addition to social and economic problems, Charlestonians faced a storm of political
protest from backcountrymen demanding adequate judicial and educational institutions,
as well as more proportionate representation in the legislature. The populous region
elected only four of the forty-eight members of the Commons House of Assembly and
suffered from a lack of schools, jails, and law enforcement officials. The Assembly
partially placated backcountry dissidents by passing the Circuit Court Act of July 1769,
but only after the bloodshed and violence of the Regulator movement." Meanwhile, the
dispute over schools and especially backcountry representation remained contentious and
divisive issues for several decades to come.
As one historian has noted, the Stamp Act crisis of 1765-1766 created "a political
squall line that would eventually spawn larger storms."" At the height of the furor in
1766, "Home Spun Free-Man" compared his fellow South Carolinians to "unbroke asses"
and warned that "more sacks, more sacks are coming" if they did not resist ministerial
the Royal Navy, 1767," South Carolina Historical Magazine 93 (July/October 1992): 196-
201. John Hancock had similar problems in Boston. See Oliver M. Dickerson, The
Navigation Acts and the American Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1951), 231-250.
"On the Regulator movement, see Richard Maxwell Brown, The South Carolina
Regulators (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1963); Rachel N. Klein,
Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina
Backcountry. 1760-1808 (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 47-
77; Klein, "Ordering the Backcountry: The South Carolina Regulation," William and
Mary Quarterly 38 (1981): 661-680.
"Robert M. Weir, "'Liberty and Property, and No Stamps': South Carolina and the
Stamp Act Crisis," Ph.D. dissertation, Western Reserve University, 1966, 354.
encroachments." Indeed, Charlestonians violently resisted implementation of the act as
their counterparts did in the urban North." Despite colonial resistance, or perhaps
because of it, "more sacks" followed anyway. Parliament passed the Townshend Acts on
June 29, 1767, taxing all glass, lead, paint, and tea imported into America effective
November 20, 1767. The Ministry intended for the acts to raise 40,000 a year in the
colonies, with the revenue earmarked for colonial defense and administration. American
dissenters charged that Parliament in fact designed the acts to demonstrate its supremacy
over colonial legislatures and to make royal officials financially independent of provincial
legislatures. The news reached Charleston via Boston on August 21, 1767.20 I
November, word arrived that Boston had resolved not to import any taxable goods. On
February 11, 1768, the Massachusetts House sent out a circular letter to the other
provincial assemblies urging joint action in opposing the Townshend Acts. When
Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard demanded that the House rescind the letter,
ninety-two members refused. Bernard retaliated by proroguing and then dissolving the
House.21 Secretary of State Hillsborough, determined to prevent a continental
"South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, February 25, 1766.
"For the events of October 1765, see chapter one, and Weir, "'Liberty and Property,'"
20Weir, Colonial South Carolina, 301-302; South Carolina and American General
Gazette, August 21, 1767.
2'Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina Under the Royal Government
1719-1776 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1899), 596-602.
Townshend Duties assembly analogous to the Stamp Act Congress, ordered colonial
governors to prevent their respective legislatures from considering the letter.
The election of 1768 marked the first time Charleston's artisans participated in the
political process. With the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly scheduled to
meet in November 1768, Governor Montague called elections for October 4 and 5.
Determined to make their voices heard in the debate over the Townshend Duties,
Charleston's artisans held an unprecedented meeting at the Liberty Tree in Isaac Mazyck's
pasture on Saturday, October 1, to choose a slate of candidates for the election.22 The
artisans had been active in social organizations in Charleston but until the Stamp Act
crisis had been relatively silent regarding politics.23 Opposition to the Townshend Duties
presented Charleston craftsmen with the opportunity to strike a significant blow against
the British mercantile system, which they believed prevented them from any chance of
real prosperity. Charleston's craftsmen could not compete with their counterparts in
Britain nor did the elite encourage them to do so. Charleston's merchants grew wealthy
providing Carolina planters with the finest British manufactured goods, depriving
Charleston artisans of both profits and customers. Artisanal dissent against the
Townshend Acts therefore both promoted mechanic economic self-interest and
2As in chapter one, artisans are defined as laborers who performed skilled work with
their hands, and the term is used interchangeably with "mechanic" and "craftsman"
throughout this study. The term does not include unskilled laborers.
23The artisans founded the Fellowship Society on April 4, 1762, as a benevolent
society. See Fellowship Society Papers, microfilm, South Caroliniana Library, University
of South Carolina, Columbia. In the spring of 1768 the artisans sponsored a horse race
and a cock fight. Ferrari, "Artisans of the South," 45.
denounced elite support for British manufacturing. The artisans adopted a pragmatic
approach, however. Rather than supporting a cohort of artisans with little chance of
winning the election, they wisely chose elite candidates perceived as being friendly to
their cause. The meeting nominated five merchant-planters and one mechanic. Three of
the candidates represented the top echelon of Charleston society: Christopher Gadsden,
Benjamin Dart, and Thomas Smith of Broad Street, all successful merchant-planters.
Gadsden had emerged as the leading spokesman for the city's tradesmen during the Stamp
Act crisis. Dart had served as commissioner of the streets, workhouse, and markets, and
in addition to his trading business owned a plantation on the Ashley River. Smith had
retired from business when he inherited Broom Hall plantation in St. James Goose Creek
Parish. The other three candidates, though successful, held lesser prestige. Slave trader
Thomas Savage owned 200 acres in Berkeley County and a Charleston townhouse.
Thomas Smith Sr. had been a Charleston merchant since the 1730s. Only Hopkin Price
had been a mechanic. Price, a former tanner and cobbler, had acquired property in town
and a small plantation on the Ashley River. He had served in the Commons House since
1760, representing various country parishes, but had never represented Charleston. The
artisans considered but passed over attorney-planter Charles Pinckney, and merchant-
planters Henry Laurens, John Lloyd, and John Ward.24
24South Carolina Gazette, October 3, 1768; South Carolina Gazette and Country
Journal, October 4, 1768; Chesnutt, '"Greedy Party Work,'" 76-77; Walter B. Edgar et al.,
eds., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, 5 vols.
(Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1974-1992), 2:183-184, 540-541,
596-597, 641-643. David Duncan Wallace describes the artisan's meeting as a "primary."
Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, 154.
Charleston voters elected Gadsden, Dart, and Savage, half of the artisan slate.
Henry Laurens--one of the candidates rejected by the artisans--won election by a margin
large enough to allow him to relinquish twenty of his votes to Charles Pinckney in order
to prevent former artisan Hopkin Price from winning election. Laurens lampooned
Gadsden's meeting with the artisans as a "grand barbacu given by a grand simpleton," and
he sneered at the idea of having to campaign for votes. "I walk on in the old road," he
told Governor James Grant of East Florida, and he explained that he released votes to
Charles Pinckney "to keep out a person who was thought unqualified to represent Charles
Town."25 Presumably former artisans could represent country parishes but not the grand
The artisans erred in choosing merchants to represent their interests, however.
Predictably, city merchants met the Massachusetts call for a colony-wide boycott of
British goods with "silent neglect."26 The Stamp Act crisis had been disastrous for
commerce, and merchants resisted cutting off all business with London. Indeed, a three-
year ban on slave importations would end in 1769, and Charleston traders anticipated a
brisk business with planters eager to buy human cargo.27 Most merchants agreed that
"South Carolina Gazette, October 10, 1768; Laurens to James Grant, October 1,
December 22, 1768, Papers of Henry Laurens, 6:117-120, 231-234.
26William Bull to Hillsborough, October 18, 1768, in Transcripts of Records in the
British Public Record Office Relating to South Carolina, 1663-1782, 36 volumes, 32:56-
57, Records Deposited With the Secretary, Records of the Secretary of State, South
Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia (hereafter cited as SCBPRO).
"See Henry Laurens to Ross and Mill, December 24, 1768, Papers of Henry Laurens,
6:240-241: "The planters are full of money, and their rice commands money wherefore
'tis probable that the sales of slaves will be very advantageous at this market.".
South Carolina should resist the Townshend Acts, but many felt that a closed port would
be the least desirable option. Nevertheless, Lieutenant Governor William Bull reported to
Secretary Hillsborough that many Charlestonians supported the "political principles now
prevailing in Boston." Even if Charleston's merchants did not personally favor non-
importation, clearly most of the colonies favored some form of resistance to the latest
scheme of Parliamentary taxation. Members of the Commons House, however,
disagreed over the proper response. Bull prorogued the Assembly until November 14,
1768, hoping that the absent Governor Montagu might return so that he could preside
over the brewing controversy.28 When Montagu returned he warned the House--referring
of course to the Massachusetts circular--to ignore any letter it received which might have
"the smallest tendency to sedition, or by promoting an unwarrantable combination, to
inflame the minds of the people." The Commons House, sensing an executive
encroachment on its privileges, assured the Governor that it had received nothing of the
kind, and all twenty-six members present promptly endorsed the Massachusetts letter. A
furious Montagu immediately dissolved the Assembly, complaining to his superiors in
London that all of his efforts to prevent the Commons from endorsing the letter had been
28Bull to Hillsborough, October 18, October 23, 1768, SCBPRO 32:56-59.
29South Carolina Gazette, November 24, 1768; South Carolina Gazette and Country
Journal, November 29, 1768; Lord Charles Montagu to Hillsborough, November 21,
1768, SCBPRO 32:61. The twenty-six members are listed in South Carolina and
American General Gazette, November 25, 1768.
Though the elite in the Assembly might agree to endorse the Massachusetts
circular, they could reach no consensus on non-importation. The issue divided merchants
and planters and exposed jealousies and tensions between various ranks of Charleston
society. By early 1769, a majority of planters and artisans favored non-importation.
When the Assembly lifted a three-year ban on the foreign slave trade in January 1769, one
planter urged city merchants to send the transports back to Britain. When thousands of
slaves crowded London docks and threatened to overrun the city, he said, royal officials
would have no choice but to grant American demands. In the meantime, artisans--joined
by a few planters--aggressively encouraged their fellow citizens to forego the luxuries of
a corrupt empire and purchase only home manufactures. By February their efforts had
borne fruit as artisans and planters resolved to boycott most British goods and slaves and
to begin manufacturing their own clothes. Many merchants simply ignored the informal
resolves and continued doing business as usual. By summer angry planters threatened to
boycott any trader who continued to import merchandise and slaves from Britain. In late
June the planters formalized their earlier resolves, signing an agreement not to purchase
"any manufactures of Great Britain" and at the urging of the artisans added that they
would cease to purchase slaves after January 1, 1770.30 The debate over resistance to
British policy divided the merchant-planter oligarchy, and artisans seized the opportunity
to voice their political and economic demands. Planters wishing to protect the Commons
0South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, February 7, 1769; South Carolina
Gazette, February 2, June 1, June 29, July 6, 1769.
House against the encroachments of Parliament and artisans eager to strike an economic
blow against British competitors formed an uneasy and pragmatic alliance.
By July 1769 two equally disagreeable options confronted Charleston's merchants.
They could continue to import and face the wrath of the community or cut off all trade
and face disaster. Seeking a compromise, they proposed to postpone non-importation for
one year, until January 1, 1771, to cancel all outstanding orders, and to ban all slave
importations during 1770. The artisans howled in protest over the omission of
encouraging home manufactures and promptly rejected the merchant's proposal. At this
point one exasperated merchant complained publicly that the mercantile community's
choice amounted to "sign or be ruined." He argued that the nearly self-sufficient planters
and artisans actually stood to profit by non-importation. Planters could expect to profit
when prices rose for existing slaves, staple crops could continue to be exported, and
artisans could expect a booming business with British competition removed. Merchants
did not mind sacrificing to attain common goals, he wrote, but no one could expect them
to bear a greater burden than other groups.3 Finally, the various factions reached a
compromise agreement on July 22, 1769, banning most imports of manufactured goods
and slaves. Anyone failing to sign after one month faced public condemnation and
boycott. When the merchants appointed a committee of thirteen to enforce the
association, the planters and artisans did likewise, forming one General Committee of
39.32 The forging of a non-importation agreement had consumed over six months and had
"South Carolina Gazette, July 13, 1769.
32Ibid., July 27, 1769.
seriously divided planters and merchants. But for the first time, Charleston's artisans had
obtained a measure of political equality, though admittedly only in an extra-legal body.
Nevertheless, it represented a significant step.
The non-importation movement in Charleston, and in the American colonies in
general, obtained only moderate success. In October 1769 Peter Manigault reported that
only thirty-one merchants had refused to sign the association, but many probably
endorsed the agreement from fear of communal retaliation rather than conviction." The
jealousies and tensions exposed during the debate over the terms of the agreement
continued during the boycott itself. The existing evidence indicates that the committee
randomly enforced the agreement, and Charlestonians made charges and countercharges
in the local press that some merchants received preferential treatment. Many merchants
continued to receive goods from Britain that had been ordered long before signing the
agreement and thus saw no reason why they could not land and sell those goods.
Disagreement erupted when the committee allowed some merchants, but not others, to do
so. The committee did not allow Alexander Gillon, for instance, to sell wine ordered in
May 1769 which did not arrive until January 1770.34 Likewise, the committee warned
Charlestonians to boycott Ann and Benjamin Mathews and advertised them as violators
of the agreement on May 31, 1770. Ann Mathews charged that the goods had been
ordered before she had signed the agreement, but that John Edwards, a member of the
"Peter Manigault to Ralph Izard, October 4, 1769, Peter Manigault Letterbook, South
Carolina Historical Society; William Bull to Hillsborough, September 25, 1769, March 6,
1770, SCBPRO 32:103-104, 199-204.
"South Carolina Gazette, February 1, 1770.
General Committee, had received cargoes under the same conditions and had been
allowed to sell them. Her pleas fell upon deaf ears, and Benjamin Mathews, facing
economic disaster, begged the Committee and the community for forgiveness.3
Some members of the elite objected to the prominent role played by artisans and
mechanics in enforcing the boycott. William Henry Drayton lampooned the notion that
tradesmen could sit in judgment of their betters. Scion of a wealthy and prestigious
Carolina family, Drayton attended Oxford and had been elected to the Commons House
in 1765 at age twenty-three.36 Unlike many of his contemporaries, he chose to defend the
royal prerogative in the late 1760s. In September 1769 he lashed out at the General
Committee for publishing his name as a non-subscriber by ridiculing the "profanum
vulgus." Drayton maintained that he would never take orders from a mechanic, and he
questioned why other members of the educated elite would willingly associate with "men
who never were in a way to study, or to advise upon any points, but rules how to cut up a
beast in the market to the best advantage, to cobble an old shoe in the neatest manner, or
to build a necessary house." Though he respected artisans he thought that "nature never
intended that such men should be profound politicians or able statesmen.""7 Many other
"Ibid., June 7, October 4, 1770. See also Leila Sellers, Charleston Business On The
Eve of The American Revolution (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press,
"See J. Russell Snapp, "William Henry Drayton: The Making of A Conservative
Revolutionary," Journal of Southern History 57 (November 1991): 637-658; William M.
Dabney and Marion Dargan, William Henry Dravton and The American Revolution
(Albuquerque NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1962); Edgar, Biographical
37South Carolina Gazette, September 21, 1769.
merchants and planters undoubtedly shared Drayton's views but for the sake of unanimity
The "unlettered" and "uneducated" target of Drayton's diatribe responded with
biting sarcasm. The artisans' rebuttal rejected deference with a vengeance. They begged
forgiveness for using plain language, they wrote, "for it cannot be expected they should
know how to convey their thoughts in the polite and courtly manner of such a well-bred
gentleman." The proud craftsmen happily made their living by manual labor and
considered themselves "the most useful people in the community." Every man could not
expect to be so fortunate as to either marry wealth or to inherit it as Drayton had done.
Certainly he had not earned his money himself, nor, they insisted, was he capable of
doing so. The artisans argued that despite Drayton's education, he would be helpless if
forced to earn bread, clothing, or shelter with his own hands. He might "hire himself as a
packhorseman in the Indian trade, serve some mechanic as a labourer, or if he behaved
himself well, he might drive a cart or dray about the streets of Charles Town." In short,
the artisans argued that they represented an indispensable part of the community, as
important in that sense as any man of inherited wealth, and stood equal to the planters'
and merchants' with regard "to love for their country. "3 Drayton nor any other member
of the elite ever responded, but the exchange reveals the social and political tensions that
the non-importation movement had brought to the surface. Undoubtedly other planters
and merchants viewed the artisanal response with suspicion, and many must have
"Ibid., October 5, 1769.
wondered if perhaps something more important than political supremacy over Parliament
was at stake.
Parliament repealed all of the Townshend Duties except the tax on tea on April
12, 1770, and unified American resolve began to crumble shortly thereafter. The
merchants of Albany, New York, and Providence and Newport, Rhode Island, abandoned
non-importation in May. New York followed in July, Philadelphia in September, and
finally Boston in October. Charlestonians reacted bitterly to this "base desertion," and
determined to continue rigid enforcement until all of the duties had been repealed.39 "At
present we stand single in adhering to our resolutions," Henry Laurens wrote, "but I am
afraid we shall not have virtue enough to continue much longer."40 Indeed, by December
many Charlestonians realized that they could not stand alone, and at a mass meeting
presided over by Laurens on December 13, 1770, the community abandoned non-
importation with the singular exception of tea. Many bitterly resented the Northern
colonies, and some talked of banning all trade with them but in the end decided against
harming Northern "landlords, farmers, and mechanics" because of Northern merchant
The non-importation movement reduced Charleston's imports from Great Britain
by 56 percent from 1769 to 1770, and importation of slaves alone fell by 65 percent. The
"Peter Manigault to Daniel Blake, October 19, 1770, Peter Manigault Letterbook,
South Carolina Historical Society; South Carolina Gazette, October 9, 1770.
40Henry Laurens to Ross and Mill, October 31, 1770, Papers of Henry Laurens, 7:393-
41South Carolina Gazette, November 22, December 13, December 27, 1770.
British economy, however, could better withstand the loss of American trade in 1770 than
it could during the Stamp Act crisis of 1765-1766.42 Parliament repealed the Acts largely
because the taxes had failed to raise the desired revenue. There had been no
Parliamentary recognition of American rights. In the aftermath of the boycott, Charleston
planters and merchants resented their Northern urban counterparts and grew increasingly
suspicious of each other. Some merchants and factors had faced financial ruin because
planters exerted economic pressure by doing business with only those merchants who
joined their cause. Simultaneously, many planters begrudged the merchant's single-
minded devotion to economic self-preservation rather than protection of American rights.
The political, social, and economic stability that had so long characterized Charleston's
governing elite had shown distinct signs of splintering in the debate over how best to
respond to the threat of British taxation.4 When the elite rose to meet this challenge to
their authority and divided over the proper response, the artisans seized the opportunity to
make their own voices heard within the realm of urban political and economic life. These
first tentative steps alarmed the traditional elite, opening a door that many feared would
be impossible to close.
The Wilkes Fund dispute began in the midst of the debate over the response to the
Townshend Duties. Though the conflict did not involve all segments of Charleston
"Boston's imports fell by 48 percent, New York's by 85 percent, Philadelphia's by 70
percent over a two-year period. Sellers, Charleston Business, 217-218; Weir, Colonial
South Carolina, 305.
430n political stability, see Weir, "'The Harmony We Were Famous For."'
society, it is significant because it kept members of the Charleston elite in the Commons
House in confrontation with the Council, governor, and royal ministers throughout the
early 1770s while events remained quiet in other colonies. In that sense it became a
"bridge to Revolution," as Jack P. Greene described the conflict, between the events of
the late 1760s and the tea controversy of the mid-1770s.44 As the Commons House
quarreled over the most appropriate response to the Townshend Acts, Christopher
Gadsden laid a request before the Assembly from the Society of Gentlemen Supporters of
the Bill of Rights. The Society solicited funds from Americans to support British MP
John Wilkes in his legal and political battles with the King and his ministers. The
ministry had jailed Wilkes for contempt after lampooning George III in his newspaper,
The North Briton. His constituents had promptly reelected him, but the ministry refused
to allow him to sit.45 Many Americans believed Wilkes had waged a solitary battle in
England analogous to the colonial struggle. He had thus become a symbol of persecuted
political liberty and many considered him a hero. The Supporters of the Bill of Rights
had requested funds from all of the colonial assemblies, but only South Carolina
responded. On December 8, 1769, the Commons House appropriated 1,500 sterling to
the Society "for assisting in the support of the just and constitutional rights of America."46
44"Jack P. Greene, "Bridge to Revolution: The Wilkes Fund Controversy in South
Carolina, 1769-1775," Journal of Southern History 24 (February 1963): 19-52.
45See George Rud6, Wilkes and Liberty: A Political Study of 1763 to 1774 (London:
Oxford University Press, 1962), especially 17-36.
"South Carolina Gazette, December 8, 1769; South Carolina and American General
Gazette, December 13, 1769; Weir, Colonial South Carolina, 305; McCrady, History of
South Carolina, 1719-1776, 662.
Many members knew when they cast their vote that the measure would cause a firestorm
of controversy in both London and Charleston, and it did. Lieutenant Governor Bull
informed Secretary Hillsborough that he had been powerless to prevent the appropriation
because of the "great civil indulgences granted by the crown to encourage adventurers to
settle in America." In short, the colonial legislatures had grown quite powerful over the
years at the expense of other royal officials.47 The King and his ministers considered
Wilkes a personal enemy, and George II viewed the South Carolina gift to his defense as
highly insulting. Consequently, London sent an "Additional Instruction" to South
Carolina in April 1770 forbidding the passage of any money bills without the consent of
the royal governor and council.48 The instructions also demanded that the governor and
council veto any tax bill that attempted to replace the 1,500 taken out of the Treasury for
the original gift. Suddenly graver and more important issues were at stake than the token
sum to a political dissenter. Henceforth, the Commons House of Assembly---the elected
representatives of the people of South Carolina--could not appropriate tax money without
the consent of Crown-appointed placemen.
The dispute became known as the Wilkes Fund controversy and effectively put an
end to royal government in South Carolina five years before it disappeared in any other
colony. The Commons House refused to recognize the Additional Instruction and never
47Bull to Hillsborough, December 12, 1769, SCBPRO 32:133. On the expansion of
colonial legislative power, see Jack P. Greene, The Quest For Power: The Lower Houses
of Assembly in the Southern Royal Colonies. 1689-1776 (New York: W.W.
Norton, 1963) and M. Eugene Sirmans, Colonial South Carolina: A Political History.
1663-1763 (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1966).
48Board of Trade Instructions, April 3, 1770, SCBPRO 32:233-234.
passed a tax bill after 1769. The controversy revolved around two issues: the right of the
people's representatives to draw on the Treasury without the consent of royal officials and
the right of the crown-appointed Governor's Council to sit as an upper house of
Assembly.49 In hindsight, many members of the Commons regretted the appropriation
but refused to concede the principle at issue. Speaker Peter Manigault of the Commons
House grew weary of the dispute, complaining that "I hate to hear any mention of the Bill
of Rights and the money we threw away upon them. It was always against my opinion
and has been attended with very disagreeable consequences."50 Nevertheless, the
Commons House would not back down.5 By 1772, Governor Montagu had grown
thoroughly disgusted with the now-familiar routine. He would call for elections, and the
Commons would meet and pass a tax bill that included the 1,500. The Council would
then veto the bill and the Commons would refuse to reconsider. At that point the
governor would first prorogue and subsequently dissolve the Assembly, all without any
public business having been completed. Finally, in the fall of 1772, Governor Montagu
decided to call a meeting of the Assembly in Beaufort, seventy miles south of Charleston.
He reasoned that the most obstinate members resided in Charleston and could not afford
to be absent long from there. The remaining members, he hoped, would prove more
49Denboer, "Early Revolutionary Movement in South Carolina," 2; William Bull to
Hillsborough, September 8, 1770, SCBPRO 32:320; South Carolina Gazette, April 12,
September 13, 1770, April 9, 1772; Weir, "A Most Important Eoocha", 39-50; McCrady,
History of South Carolina. 1719-1776, 683-704.
50Manigault to Daniel Blake, October 19, 1770, Peter Manigault Letterbook, South
Carolina Historical Society.
S'See Bull to Dartmouth, March 10, 1774, SCBPRO 34:15-19.
compliant with royal demands." Montagu also believed that by threatening to move the
capital permanently to Beaufort he could frighten the Charleston members into giving up
the point of dispute in the Wilkes Fund controversy in order to keep the capital in
Charleston. Montagu blundered badly on all counts. In provincial minds, the royal
governor had issued a challenge to the colony's elite that they could not fail to meet.
The Assembly met in Beaufort on October 8, 1772, with thirty-seven of forty-
eight members present, a record number for the first day. Stunned by the large attendance
and unsure of his next move, Montagu kept the members waiting for two days and then
prorogued them back to Charleston.53 By now he had been warned by Secretary of State
Dartmouth that moving the legislature would be ill-advised and would only "increase that
ill humor which has already too unfortunately prevailed." When Montague informed
Dartmouth that he had in fact already called the Assembly to meet in Beaufort,
Dartmouth exploded, bitterly denouncing the Carolina governor for throwingn] new
difficulties in the way of an accommodation of the former subject of dispute."54 The
Commons House accused him of "a most unprecedented oppression and an unwarranted
abuse of the Royal Prerogative" and asked its agent in London to work toward Montagu's
"Lord Charles Montagu to Hillsborough, July 27, September 24, 1772, SCBPRO
33:166-168, 173-180; South Carolina Gazette, September 3, 1772; Alan D. Watson, "The
Beaufort Removal and the Revolutionary Impulse in South Carolina," South Carolina
Historical Magazine 84 (July 1983): 121-135.
53South Carolina Gazette, October 15, 1772; South Carolina Gazette and Country
Journal, October 13, 1772; Montagu to Hillsborough, October 20, 1772, SCBPRO
54Dartmouth to Montagu, September 27, 1772, January 6, 1773, SCBPRO 33:181-182,
removal. After several more skirmishes with the Commons and feeling besieged on all
sides, Montagu departed for London in March 1773 and subsequently resigned.s The
ministry eventually removed the Additional Instruction, but the Revolutionary events of
1774-1775 superseded the issue.
The Wilkes fund dispute and Montagu's attempt to move the capital fed the
growing colonial fears of corrupt and conspiratorial royal officials.56 The events
combined to stoke the fires of elite resistance in a colony where the more radicalized
elements of Charleston society had previously struggled against conservative
complacency and where traditional leaders generally refused to act until compelled by the
demands of the middling and lower ranks.
Shortly after Montagu sailed for London, word arrived in Charleston that local
merchants expected a shipment of tea that required payment of the dreaded tax in order to
be landed." Charlestonians once again divided over a proper course of action. One local
newspaper counseled that to land the tea would be a tacit admission of Parliament's right
to tax the colonies. Planter "Junius Brutus" warned of Parliament's sinister design to
"raise a revenue out of your pockets, against your consent, and to render assemblies of
"South Carolina Gazette, November 2, 1772, January 7, March 15, 1773.
56The best articulation of elite paranoia remains Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological
Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).
"For background on the colonial tea trade and the granting of a monopoly to the East
India Company, see Benjamin Woods Labaree, The Boston Tea Party (Boston:
Northeastern University Press, 1964), 3-14, 58-79.
your representatives totally useless."" Some called for united community opposition,
while others thought the merchants should voluntarily refuse to accept shipment.5
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, December 1, 1773, the London sailed into port carrying 257
chests of tea consigned to merchant Roger Smith and the firm of Leger and Greenwood.60
Handbills appeared throughout Charleston the next day inviting Charlestonians "without
exception, particularly the landholders" to assemble for a meeting at the Exchange the
This meeting marked the beginning of Revolutionary government in Charleston
and the first of the various extra-legal bodies that would govern the city, and by extension
the province, for the remainder of the royal period.62 According to the local press, "the
principal planters and landholders" joined with leading artisans to demand that merchants
stop importing tea.63 Local merchants boycotted the meeting, no doubt anticipating the
planter-artisan reaction. Not to be outflanked, the assembled planters and artisans
"South Carolina Gazette, November 29, 1773.
5Ibid., November 22, November 29, 1773.
6"Ibid., December 6, 1773; South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, December 7,
6South Carolina Gazette, December 6, 1773.
62Poythress, "Revolution By Committee," 27. The Wilkes fund controversy had
effectively paralyzed all legal government in the colony, creating a vacuum filled by
"South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, December 7, 1773; George C. Rogers
Jr., Rogers, "The Charleston Tea Party: The Significance of December 3, 1773," South
Carolina Historical Magazine 75 (July 1974): 153-168.
summoned Smith, Leger and Greenwood and informed them that landing the tea would
be unacceptable. Instead, they should return the tea immediately to Britain. The
merchants had little choice but to agree, and the assembled multitude responded with
"repeated thanks and loud shouts of applause."" The planters further proposed an
economic boycott against any merchant who continued importing tea, and the meeting
appointed a committee of five--three planters, one merchant, and one artisan--to gather
merchant signatures on an agreement pledging non-importation of tea." Despite the
compliance of over fifty merchants by the following afternoon, at least one planter
publicly voiced dissatisfaction that the merchants once again had to be coerced into
action." The merchants, meanwhile, openly resented the strong-arm tactics of the
mechanic-planter alliance. Consequently, Charleston's principal merchants gathered six
days later and organized the Charleston Chamber of Commerce to protect their interests.67
The Chamber elected John Savage, president, Miles Brewton, vice-president, David Deas,
treasurer, and John Hopton, secretary. Savage, Brewton, and Deas were prominent and
wealthy slavetraders. Hopton had served as a former clerk of Henry Laurens and entered
4South Carolina Gazette, December 6, 1773.
"The committee consisted of planters Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth
Pinckney, and Thomas Ferguson, merchant-planter Christopher Gadsden, and artisan
Daniel Cannon. Though a merchant, Gadsden did not represent the city's more
conservative faction of merchants. The fact that a committee had to be appointed to go
out and gather merchant signatures suggests that very few merchants attended the
"South Carolina Gazette, December 6, 1773.
67Ibid., December 13, 1773; Poythress, "Revolution By Committee," 30.
into partnership with Robert Powell in 1771.68 The planters and artisans responded by
holding separate meetings at Swallow's Tavern. The artisans, particularly upset over the
Chamber of Commerce and merchant intransigence, openly talked of forming their own
organization to oppose the Chamber.69 At yet another general meeting on December 17,
planters and artisans heatedly denounced the merchants who continued to import tea and
again resolved to prevent the landing of the tea aboard the London. Beyond that, the three
factions could not reach agreement on any general response.
In the meantime the deadline passed for paying the duty on the tea aboard the
London. Early on the morning of Wednesday, December 22, Lieutenant Governor Bull
ordered customs officials to unload the tea and secure it in the cellar beneath the
Exchange. Well aware of the community's mood, dockworkers labored at a feverish
pace. The tea had been safely deposited by the time most of the town awoke. Furious
and embarrassed Charlestonians argued that elite dissension had delayed cooperative
action and allowed Bull to outflank the committee and land the tea. The New York Sons
of Liberty expressed outrage that Charleston alone among the principal seaports permitted
tea to be landed and described the event as "an evil hour for America." They complained
that divisions between Charleston merchants and planters might possibly "delay the
6See the letter of introduction Laurens wrote for Hopton: Laurens to Browne, Searle
and Company, July 31, 1770, Papers of Henry Laurens, 7:313-314. Savage and Hopton
became Loyalists during the Revolution. Edgar, Biographical Directory, 2:95-97, 189-
190, 594-596; N. Louise Bailey, ed., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate.
1776-1985, 3 vols. (Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1986), 2:747-748.
6South Carolina Gazette, December 15, 1773; Poythress, "Revolution By Committee,"
repeal of the Revenue Act" and cause further divisions in other colonies.70 Factional
disagreement continued in Charleston, but Bull's actions spurred planters and mechanics
to create an executive "General Committee" designed to coordinate and direct resistance
to any further importation of tea. This "General Committee" could also call general
meetings of the people. On June 3, 1774, the Committee received news of the Boston
Port Bill.7' Britain had at last imposed an iron hand on the insubordinate colonies, and
Bull hoped the measure "would have some happy effect towards composing the
disturbances in this province." He had never been more mistaken.72
The news galvanized Charleston's planters and artisans into action. They now
made a conscious effort to broaden resistance from primarily local mass meetings to a
gathering with colony-wide representation, hoping that the country representatives would
counteract the conservative merchants of the city. Christopher Gadsden told Samuel
Adams in Boston that "members of the trading part have separated themselves from the
7South Carolina Gazette, December 27, 1773; South Carolina Gazette and Country
Journal, February 1, 1774. See also Bull to Dartmouth, December 24, 1773, SCBPRO
33:350-354. The South Carolina Gazette reported that "there never was an instance here
of so great a number of packages being taken out of any vessel, and thus disposed of in so
short a time."
7'Poythress, "Revolution By Committee," 35; Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, 201-
202; Ferrari, "Artisans of the South," 76; South Carolina Gazette Extraordinary, June 3,
1774. Parliament passed the Boston Port Bill on March 31, 1774, the first of the Coercive
Acts passed in reaction to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. It closed the port
of Boston to all shipping or trade except that involving military supplies and certain
cargos of food and fuel. The bill also stationed customs officials in Salem rather than
Boston, and closed the port until Boston reimbursed the East India Company for the tea
destroyed in the Tea Party. See Labaree, Boston Tea Party, 184-195.
72Bull to Dartmouth, July 31, 1774, SCBPRO 34:177-178.
general interest and neglected our public meetings."73 After Boston proposed an
American boycott of trade with Britain, Charleston's General Committee called for a
provincial meeting of citizens for July 6, 1774. The urban planter-artisan alliance hoped
to unite with country members in support of non-importation. Unyielding Charleston
merchants now ignored the General Meeting at their economic peril.74
The General Meeting of July 1774 represented a turning point in the
Revolutionary movement in Charleston. With the Commons House of Assembly
effectively paralyzed by the Wilkes Fund controversy, the government of the city and
colony shifted from legal to extra-legal bodies. Once firmly allied with the urban
planters, many of the city's principal merchants--particularly those in the Chamber of
Commerce--had by 1774 become a conservative faction of rear-guard defenders of the
status quo. The city's artisans and mechanics repeatedly opposed the merchants by
supporting measures, such as non-importation and home manufactures, designed to
promote artisanal self-interest. In the process factional interests--horizontal loyalties--
began to replace vertical ties as South Carolina's extra-legal governing bodies became
more inclusive and less deferential. The more liberal planters--led by Gadsden, Arthur
Middleton, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and William Henry Drayton--joined the city's
73Gadsden to Samuel Adams, May 23, 1774, in Richard Walsh, ed., The Writings of
Christopher Gadsden. 1746-1805 (Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press,
1966), 93. Gadsden told Adams that news of the Boston Port Bill "has raised our utmost
resentment and detestation and [I] hope will produce the desired effect of rousing us from
our supineness." Gadsden to Adams, June 5, 1774, Ibid., 94.
74McCrady, History of South Carolina. 1719-1776, 733; South Carolina Gazette, June
radical artisans.75 After the General Meeting of July 1774, however, many of Charleston's
elite who had previously resisted British policy aggressively became noticeably more
moderate and conservative with the growth of extra-legal government and increased
artisan and backcountry participation.76
The General Meeting gathered in Charleston for three tumultuous days in July
1774. Newspaper publisher Peter Timothy described it as "the largest body of the most
respectable inhabitants that had ever been seen together upon any public occasion here."'
Over one hundred members attended, and for the first time backcountry inhabitants
participated in government in significant numbers. Nevertheless, because every member
could vote, the Charleston factions could pack the meeting and carry any disputed point.
The meeting focused primarily on three issues: implementing non-importation, electing
five delegates to a Continental Congress to meet in Philadelphia in September, and the
debate over the extent of the powers granted to those delegates.78 The artisans, of course,
repeatedly clamored for immediate non-importation, with the merchants and the Chamber
"Drayton, who had attacked artisan participation in non-importation enforcement in
1769, had joined the Whig cause by 1774-1775. See Snapp, "William Henry Drayton";
Dabney and Dargan, William Henry Dravton and the American Revolution, 47-64.
76Henry Laurens wrote that "all agreed in one point that America is unjustly treated by
the Mother Country, but divided into parties and differing in sentiments upon the proper
means for obtaining a redress of grievances." Laurens to William Manning, January 4,
1775; see also Laurens to Richard Oswald, January 4, 1775, Papers of Henry Laurens,
10:19-23. See also Carl J. Vipperman, The Rise of Rawlins Lowndes. 1721-1800
(Columbia SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1978), 175-194.
7South Carolina Gazette, July 11, 1774.
7"Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, 202; Rogers, "Charleston Tea Party," 165;
McCrady, History of South Carolina. 1719-1776, 734-735.
of Commerce consistently opposed. On the first vote the assembly rejected both non-
importation and non-exportation (which the planters opposed), and the meeting agreed to
allow Congress to formulate any policy in that area. Merchants and artisans now turned
their focus upon electing congressional delegates favorably disposed to their respective
positions on non-importation. The Chamber of Commerce naturally favored more
conservative delegates who would oppose any schemes for non-importation. They
nominated planters Henry Middleton and Rawlins Lowndes, attorneys John Rutledge and
Charles Pinckney, and merchant and Chamber of Commerce officer Miles Brewton. The
artisans, led by Christopher Gadsden, accepted Middleton and Rutledge, and also
nominated Gadsden and two moderate planters, Thomas Lynch, and Edward Rutledge.79
The artisans flexed their political muscle for the first time when voting began for
congressional delegates. The merchants made a tactical blunder by marching their clerks
in a body to vote for the conservative delegation. Infuriated artisans responded by turning
out to vote in record numbers and succeeded in electing their chosen slate of delegates.
The election represented a significant step in the process of artisanal rejection of elite
deferential politics. Though artisans pragmatically nominated members of the moderate
elite as their candidates, they clearly would no longer quietly acquiesce to such blatant
political intimidation. Such altered artisanal behavior caused many of the Charleston
elite to back away from aggressive resistance to British policy.
79South Carolina Gazette. July 11, 1774; Poythress, "Revolution By Committee," 47-
53; McCrady, History of South Carolina 1719-1776, 741.
Finally, the General Meeting appointed a Committee of Ninety-nine--fifteen
merchants and fifteen artisans representing Charleston, and sixty-nine planters to
represent the countryside--to act as an executive body and committee of correspondence.
A quorum of twenty-one members could transact business; thus, Charleston's delegates
could heavily influence the Committee. On the last day of the meeting several of the
merchants voluntarily committed to non-importation until Carolina's delegates returned
When the meeting adjourned on July 8, 1774, Charleston's traditional leaders must
have contemplated the events of the preceding three days with a mixture of satisfaction
and fear. Certainly conservatives might have been relieved that non-importation had been
postponed, but the election for delegates to Congress must have frightened even the more
moderate members. Never had the city's artisans so openly opposed elite wishes, and
many of Charleston's traditional leaders must have recognized by mid-1774 that
resistance had taken them down a dangerous and unsure path. In resisting British policy
had they not unintentionally opened themselves up to internal revolution as well? The
Rev. John Bullman of St. Michael's Church undoubtedly voiced elite fears by vehemently
censuring artisan participation in government from the pulpit of his church. He lashed
out at the mechanic "who cannot perhaps govern his own household or pay the debts of
his own contracting," yet presumed to be "qualified to dictate how the state should be
governed." "Every silly clown and illiterate mechanic," he sneered, should "keep to his
80South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, July 12, 1774; South Carolina Gazette,
July 11, 1774; Enclosure of Bull to Dartmouth, August 3, 1774, SCBPRO 34:194;
Poythress, "Revolution By Committee," 52-53.
rank, and do his duty in his own station, without usurping undue authority over his
neighbor.""' The artisans responded that Bullman's tirade represented "civil and
ecclesiastical tyranny by denying the privilege of thinking and acting to the honest and
industrious mechanic."82 The vestry reprimanded Bullman for "entering upon politics in
the pulpit at this time." After he steadfastly refused to apologize a general meeting of
parishioners condemned his conduct by a vote of 42-33, and the vestry fired Bullman.
Nevertheless, seventy-four of his followers petitioned for his recall or at least another
meeting. The Vestry refused. Though forced eventually to leave the province, Bullman
had the support of many of his parishioners. Clearly many of the elite felt uncomfortable
about the expanding artisanal role in the extra-legal government. 8
The South Carolina delegates to the Continental Congress returned from
Philadelphia on Sunday, November 6, 1774, armed with the Continental Association.
The agreement would ban British imports on December 1, 1774, and all exports except
"Protestant Episcopal Church, St. Michael's, Charleston, Records, 1759-1824, WPA
transcripts, 97-99, South Caroliniana Library, copied from the original in the possession
of St. Michael's Church, Charleston.
"2South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, August 16, 1774.
"The vestrymen were planter-lawyers James Parson and Thomas Heyward, and
merchants Sir Edmund Head, Peter Leger (of the tea-importing firm of Leger and
Greenwood), Edward Blake, George Abbot Hall, and Robert William Powell. Only Head
and Powell became Loyalists. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House.
2:323-325, 508-509, 3:70-72, 296-298, 325-326, 429-430, 582.
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