The Settlement of the Back Country

"The Settlement of the Back Country"

The following excerpt is from Ramsay's History of South Carolina from Its First Settlement in 1670 to the year 1808, Volume 1, by David Ramsay, M.D. (Preface dated "Charleston, December 31st, 1808"), Published in 1858, by W.J. Duffie, Newberry, S.C. Reprinted in 1959, by the The Reprint Company, Spartanburg, S.C.

Chapter IV -- The Settlement of the Back Country

Settlements as early as 1736 had partially progressed westward, from the sea coast, about eighty or ninety miles. [fn. 1] Between 1750 and 1760 two or three germs of settlements were planted 200 miles from Charlestown by emigrants from Pennsylvania and Virginia, who had advanced from north to south and in front of the eastern settlers.

Between the sea-coast settlements, and those to the westward, a considerable tract of country was for several years left in the undisturbed possession of the aborigines. These and several other circumstances, sanctioned an early distinction between the upper and lower country of South Carolina. In 1750, Colonel Clark emigrated from Virginia and settled on Pacotet river. In the course of six years he was joined by eight or ten families from Pennsylvania, all of whom settled on or near Fair Forest creek, or the three forks of Tyger river. These constituted the whole white population of that part of the province in 1755. In that year Braddock was defeated; and the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, were exposed to so much danger from the French at Fort Duquesne on the Ohio, and the Indians attached to them, that their inhabitants were strongly inclined to move southwardly. In the same year Governor Glen made a treaty with the Cherokee Indians, by which much of what is now called the upper country was ceded to the King of Great Britain. Both events allured settlers to the western parts of South Carolina.

In the year 1756 Patrick Calhoun, with four families of his friends, settled on Long Cane in Abbeville. On his arrival there were only two families of white settlers, one named Gowdy the other Edwards, in that southwestern extremity of the upper country. The progress of settlement which commenced in or about 1750, was so very slow, for five years, that in the beginning of 1756, the whole number of families scarcely exceeded twenty. In that and the three following years, there was a great influx of inhabitants from the middle provinces. Carolina, though nominally at war, really enjoyed all the blessings of peace, while hostilities raged in the northern and middle provinces, and their frontiers were drenched in blood shed by the savage allies of France. The recent settlers in the upper country of Carolina, who had fled from Indian massacres in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, in the three years that followed Braddock's defeat, found that in the year 1759 they were involved in calamities similar to those from which they had escaped. The reduction of Fort Duquesne in 1758 gave the blessings of peace to the middle provinces, but entailed the miseries of war [fn. 2] on South Carolina. The origin of Cherokee hostilities in 1759, has been explained in the last chapter. It is here only necessary to observe that its operations in that, and the two or three following years, stunted the growth of the upper country. Several flourishing settlements were broke up. Some took to Forts, others abandoned the country, and no new settlers would venture into it. These calamities were done away by the peace of Paris in 1763, and from that period the settlements recommenced with increasing vigor. The influx of inhabitants was greater than ever, and the population was advanced with gigantic strides. Unalloyed good is not the lot of man. The war was ended, but the consequences of it continued. It had tainted the principles of many of the inhabitants, so as to endanger the peace and happiness of society. When settlements were broke up, industry was at an end. The prospects of reaping were so faint, that few had the resolution to sow. Those who took up their residence in Forts had nothing to do. Idleness is the parent of every vice. When they sallied out they found much property left behind by others who had quitted their homes. To make use of such derelict articles did not appear to them in the odious colors of theft. Cattle were killed - horses were sold - household furniture, and plantation tools were taken into possession in violation of private rights. The wrongdoers lived easily at the expense of the absentees, and acquired such vicious habits that when the war was over they despised labor and became pests of society. To steal was easier than to work. The former was carried on extensively, and the latter rarely attempted. Among all kinds of theft none was so easy in execution, so difficult in detection, and at the same time so injurious in its consequences, as horse-stealing. On the labors of that useful animal, the cultivators of the soil depended for raising the provisions necessary for their support. A horse when grazing is as easily caught by a thief, as by his owner; and will as readily carry the one as the other to a distance where he might be sold or exchanged, to the serious injury of an helpless family. Practices of this kind became common, and were carried on by system and in concert with associates living remote from each other. The industrious part of the community were oppressed, and the support of their families endangered.

These difficulties were increased from an inefficient system of government. If the thieves were caught, they could not be brought to trial nearer than Charlestown. Till the year 1770, there were no courts of justice held beyond the limits of the capital. The only legal authority in this infancy of the back country was that of justices of the peace, authorized by the Governor, who always resided near the sea coast. With his scanty means of information, to select proper persons for that office was no easy matter. The greatest villians had generally the most money, and often the most friends. Instead of exerting their authority to suppress horse-stealing and other crimes, some of these justices were sharers in the profit of this infamous business. Before such it was difficult to procure the commitment of criminals. If the proofs of their guilt were too strong to be evaded, the expense of transporting them to Charlestown was great; the chances of their escape many. When brought to trial, the non-attendance of witnesses from a distance of two hundred miles, and other circumstances were so improved by lawyers to whom the horse thieves were both able and willing to give large fees, that prosecutions, though for real crimes, seldom terminated in conviction. The inhabitants groaned under these frustrations of justice. Despairing of redress in a legal channel, they took the law in their own hands. In the year 1764 Thomas Woodward, Joseph Kirkland, Barnaby Pope, and others of the best and most orderly inhabitants, held a consultation on what was best to be done. They drew up an instrument of writing which they and their associates generally subscribed. In it they bound themselves to make a common cause in immediately pursuing and arresting all horse thieves and other criminals. Such when caught were tried in a summary way by the neighbors, and if found guilty, were sentenced to receive a number of stripes on their bare backs, more or less in proportion to their misdeeds. They were then advised to leave the neighborhood and informed that if they returned, their punishment would be doubled. This mode of proceeding was called regulation, and its authors and friends regulators.

The horse thieves, their associates, and other criminals, who, from causes already mentioned, were numerous, made a counter common cause in supporting themselves against these regulators. Most of the inhabitants favored one or other of these parties. The one justified their proceedings on the score of necessity and substantial, though irregular justice; the other alleged the rights of British subjects to a legal trial by a court and jury. Though the former meant well, yet justice is of so delicate a nature that form as well as substance must be regarded. It is therefore probable, that in some cases, the proceedings of the regulators may have so far partaken of the infirmities of human nature, as to furnish real grounds of complaint against them. Their adversaries made such high colored representations of their conduct, that the civil authority interposed. Lord Charles Greville Montague, Governor of the province, adopted measures for their suppression. With this view he conferred a high commission on a man named Scouil, whose conduct, character and standing in society, had rendered him in the opinion of his neighbors, and especially of the regulators, very unfit for the office. As if the country had been in rebellion, Scouil erected something which was intended to be a royal standard; and afterwards called upon the regulators to answer for their transgressions of the law. In addition to many other acts of severity, he arrested two of their number and sent them under a guard to Charlestown, where they were imprisoned. The regulators and the Scouilites contending for the superiority, were arranged under their leaders and formed camps in opposition to each other. A civil war was on the point of commencing; both were armed and prepared for the last extremity. Each party was ready to return a fire from their adversaries, but both dreaded the odium of beginning hostilities. Instead thereof, a flag was sent from one to the other -- a capitulation ensued, in which both agreed to break up their camps, go home and respectively petition the Governor for a redress of their grievances. This was done and eventuated in the circuit court law, passed in the year 1769. The establishment of courts of justice at Ninety-Six, now Cambridge, at Orangeburgh, and Camden, removed that necessity which was an apology for the proceedings of the regulators. These gloried in having obtained their ends for bringing criminals to justice. Their exertions henceforward took a different direction; they applied to law and ceased to regulate. In less than two years they brought thirty-two horse thieves to trial, condemnation and punishment, under the authority of the new and adjacent circuit courts. The cause of justice triumphed, and a wholesome exertion of judicial authority re-established order. The country enjoyed peace and prosperity for the five following years. At the end of that period new scenes of distress, connected with the revolution, opened on the inhabitants. The animosities between these parties continued to rankle in their hearts, but were not called into action until the year 1775. When the revolution commenced, the actors in these late scenes of contention took opposite sides; and the names of Scouilites and regulators were insensibly exchanged for the appellation of tories and whigs, or the friends of the old and new order of things. Many of the former were called Scouilites, and probably had co-operated with Scouil in opposing the regulators; but the name was applied to others as a term of reproach on the alleged similarity of their principles as being both abettors of royal government, in opposition to the struggles of the people for justice and liberty. The tories or Scouilites, for the opposers of revolutionary measures were called by both names, insisted that the King had laid no new burdens or taxes on the people, and that therefore their opposition to royal government was groundless. The act, as it respected Carolina, was true; but the conclusion drawn from it did not follow. No new burdens had been laid on the inhabitants of the province, but the most grievous had been laid on Massachusetts, in pursuance of principles which equally applied to Carolina, and struck at the foundation of all her boasted rights. This train of reasoning was too refined for selfish individuals who had not energy enough to encounter a present evil to obtain a future good. Respectable well-informed persons were sent by the council of safety to explain the nature of the controversy to these misjudging people, and to induce their co-operation with their fellow-citizens in the common cause of American liberty. Partial success followed their explanations, and a treaty of neutrality was granted to the disaffected. But the old grudge still subsisted, and they continued to thwart the measures of Congress. The friends of the revolution marched in army into their settlements. Opposition was subdued with little or no bloodshed, and a temporary calm succeeded. But many of the disheartened royalists abandoned their plantations and went either to the province of Florida, or among the Indians. In both cases they were tools in the hands of the British, and ready to co-operate with them against their countrymen who favored revolutionary measures. They lent their aid to a project for attacking the western settlements of South Carolina, at the moment Charlestown was to be invaded by a powerful fleet and army. They performed their part. Under the direction of Britain, and in concert with Indians, dressed and painted like them, they began to murder the white settlers nearly on the same day Sullivan's Island was attacked by the British. Measures of discrimination had been proposed among themselves to restrain the Indians from disturbing the tories, but they were unavailing. Both classes of white people fell by a common massacre. The repulse of the British in their attack on fort Moultrie, disconcerted the tories and Indians, and gave the whigs leisure to chastise them both. This was done with spirit and effect by an army commanded by Colonel Williamson. A calm succeeded for three or four years, but guards were kept on the frontiers and the inhabitants lived in terror; for they were apprehensive of a renewed attack. After the fall of Charlestown in 1780, everything was reversed. The British, the tories and Indians, had the upper hand. Robbery, desolation and murder, became common and continued till the revolutionary war was ended. Many were killed -- several fled -- the country was filled with widows and orphans, and adult male population was sensibly diminished.

From the first settlement of the upper country till the peace of 1783, a succession of disasters had stunted its growth. The years 1756, 1757 and 1758, were attended with no uncommon calamity. The same may be said of the years between 1770 and 1775, but with these exceptions; the upper country was for nearly twenty years of the first thirty of its existence kept in a constant state of disturbance either by the Indians or tories, and the contentions between regulators and Scouilites. Under all these disadvantages it grew astonishingly. Prior to the revolution it had received such an increase of inhabitants, as essentially contributed to the support of that bold measure; but since the year 1783, the improvement of that part of the State has exceeded all calculation. In the course of the revolutionary war the Cherokees, having taken part with the enemies of the State, were so completely defeated, that in 1777, they ceded to South Carolina all their lands to the eastward of the Unacaye mountains. In the year 1784 a land office was opened for the sale of this land. The price fixed was ten dollars per hundred acres, payable in debts due from the State. This low price, the fertility of the soil, and the healthiness of its climate, allured settlers to this newly acquired mountainous territory in such abundance that its population advanced with unexampled rapidity. The extent of the limits of South Carolina -- the increasing population both of its old and new western territory, has within the last twenty-five years elevated the upper country from a low condition to be the most influential portion of the State. The base of South Carolina on the sea coast below the falls of the rivers, when compared with its apex above the falls, is nearly as three to two; yet its principal strength rests with the smaller section. The latter increases in wealth, population and improvement of every kind, much more rapidly than the former. What the flat sea-coast has slowly attained to in 138 years, is now within the grasp of the hilly upper country; though very little more than half a century has passed since the first germs of civilized population were planted in its western woods.



[1] Two classes of people generally advanced in front of the regular settlers or cultivators of the soil. These were the owners of cowpens, and traders with the Indians. An uncultivated country covered with canes and natural grasses, possessed many advantages for raising stock. These were greatest where the settlements were least. Central spots in which cattle might be occasionally rallied, and so far domesticated as to prevent their running wild, were sought for and improved. These were often located in front of the settlements, and were called cowpens. They did not interfere with the pursuits of the natives, and therefore seldom gave offence; though they were sometimes observed with jealousy as the precursors of settlement.

Traders advanced without ceremony into the heart of Indian settlements. Speculative men have drawn comparisons between savage and civilized life, highly colored in favor of the former. Their theories have been acted upon ever since the discovery of America by individuals who, turning their backs upon civilized society, have voluntarily chosen a residence among the Indians. Of this description there were several who at an early day had settled among the Indians at a great distance from the white people. Anthony Park, one of the first settlers of the back country, who now lives in Newberry district, traveled in 1758 a few hundred miles among the Indians to the west of the Alleghany mountains. He found several white men, chiefly Scotch or Irish who said that they had lived as traders among the Indians twenty years; a few from forty to fifty, and one sixty years. One of these said that he had upwards of seventy children and grandchildren in the nation. If these accounts are correct, the oldest of these traders must have taken up his abode among the Indians 400 miles to the west of Charlestown before the close of the 17th century when the white population of Carolina scarcely extended twenty miles from the sea coast.

[2] A few facts attested by an eye witness will give some faint idea of the sufferings of the frontier settlers. A young man was shot through the body and through the thigh, one of his arms was broke, and he was scalped. A tomahawk was stuck into his head. The muscles of his neck were so far divided that his chin lodged on his breast, and several arrows were shot into his body. In this condition after he had extracted the arrows, he walked twenty miles before he could get any assistance. Another was found wounded in the woods where he had lain nine days without bread or water, incapable of helping or even of moving himself. An attempt was made to move him but he instantly expired. When settlements were attacked by Indians, some would escape. These would conceal or lose themselves in the woods. In this condition they have been known to wander two or three weeks, living on snakes and such articles of food as the woods afforded. Several who were scalped, and otherwise badly wounded, had the good fortune to recover; though they received no aid from regular physicians or surgeons. Women and children were oftener the subjects of these barbarities than men for the latter by resistance for the most part obtained the superior boon of being killed outright.



Ramsay's History of South Carolina from Its First Settlement in 1670 to the year 1808, by David Ramsay, M.D., Preface dated "Charleston, December 31st, 1808.

Published in 1858, by W.J. Duffie, Newberry, S.C.

Reprinted in 1959, by The Reprint Company, Spartanburg, S.C.

This transcription was generously donated by Steven J. Coker. For a transcription of Ramsay's History in its entirety, as well as other South Carolina history resources, please visit Steve's webpage, SCRoots, History Section.

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Last revised 18 October 1998