Proprietary Government, Ramsay's History pp 19-26 - Steven J. Coker
Subject: Proprietary Government, Ramsay's History pp 19-26
From: Steven J. Coker
Date: July 25, 1998


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.   
Volume I, CHAPTER II, pp 19-26

Proprietary Government, 
From its Commencement in 1670, till its Abolition in 1719.

It might have been expected that these adventurers, who were all embarked on
the same design, would be animated by one spirit and zealous to maintain
harmony and peace among themselves; for they had all the same hardships to
encounter, and the same enemies to fear; yet the reverse took place. The most
numerous party in the country were dissenters from the established Church of
England. A number of cavaliers having received ample grants of lands, brought
over their families and effects and also settled in Carolina. The cavaliers
were highly favored by the proprietors, and respected as men of honor, loyalty
and fidelity. They met with great encouragement, and were generally preferred
to offices of trust and authority. The puritans, on the other hand, viewed
them with jealous eyes; and having suffered from them in England, could not
bear to see the smallest atom of power committed to them in Carolina. Hence
the seeds of strife and division which had been imported into the colony,
began not only to spring, but to grow rank. No common dangers nor difficulties
could obliterate the prejudices and animosities which the first settlers had
contracted in England. The odious terms or distinction which had prevailed in
the mother country, were revived and propagated among the people of the infant
colony. While one party was attached to the Church of England the other, which
had fled from the rigor of ecclesiastical power, was jealous above all things
of their religious liberties and could bear no encroachment on them. The same
scenes of debate and contention which had taken place in England, for some
time before and after the restoration of Charles the Second, were acted over
again on the little theatre of Carolina; but without bloodshed or legal

Another source of difficulty arose to government from the different manners of
the colonists. Several of the first emigrants, unaccustomed to rural labors
and frugal simplicity, were pampered citizens; whose wants luxury had
increased and rendered impatient of fatigue. By such, the sober lives and
rigid morals of the puritans were made the objects of ridicule. The puritans
on the other hand, exasperated against their scorners, violently opposed their
influence among the people. Hence arose difficulties in framing laws - in
distributing justice - and in maintaining public order. Governor West was at
no small pains to restrain these dissentions; but having a Council composed of
cavaliers, was unable to calm the tumult. In spite of his authority the
puritans and cavaliers continued to insult and oppose each other. In
consequence of their fierce contentions, the colony was distracted with
domestic differences, and poorly prepared for defence against external
enemies. Disputes between the proprietors and settlers, were also of an early

In most measures for the immediate support of the colony, they for some time
cordially concurred; but this was of short duration. The same scenes which for
more than 5000 years had taken place in the Old World, began to open in this
settlement of the new. Those who govern and those who are governed, think they
can never gain too much on each other. The existence of a court and country
party, results from the nature of man; and is found more or less in every

The first contest between the proprietors and the settlers, was respecting
advances for the encouragement of the settlers. The former for some time
gratuitously supplied the latter with provisions, clothes, and farming
utensils. The proprietors afterwards annually sent out similar supplies to be
exchanged with the colonists for the productions of their labor, or sold to
them at a small advance on the original cost. After expending upwards of
18,000 sterling, in this manner, for the encouragement of the settlement,
they wished to hold their hands and to leave the settlers to depend on their
own exertions. The difficulties attendant on the first stage of cultivation
furnished the inhabitants with apologies for soliciting a continuation of the
customary supplies, and a farther extension of time to pay for them. The
economy of the proprietors and the necessities of the settlers, could not
easily be compromised. The one thought they had already done too much; the
other that they had not received enough. To the latter, requesting a supply of
cattle to be sent out to them, the proprietors replied, as a reason for their
refusal, "That they wished not to encourage graziers but planters."

It is from this epoch that we may date the prosperity of Carolina; because she
was then taught a lesson, which it is of the greatest importance for every
individual and every state to know, "That she must altogether depend on her
own exertions."

Two parties arose; one in support of the prerogative and authority of the
proprietors, the other in defence of the rights and liberties of the people.
The former contended that the laws received from England respecting
government, ought to be implicitly observed. The latter kept in view their
local circumstances, and maintained that the free men of the colony were under
obligations to observe them only so far as they were consistent with the
interests of individuals, and the prosperity of the settlement. In this
situation, no governor could long support his power among a number of bold
adventurers, who were impatient of every restraint which had the least
tendency to obstruct their favorite views. Whenever he attempted to interpose
his feeble authority, they insulted his person and complained of his
administration till he was removed from office.

In the short space of four years, from 1682 till 1686, there were no less than
five Governors; Joseph Morton, Joseph West, Richard Kirle, Robert Quarry and
James Colleton. The last named, who was a landgrave, and brother to one of the
proprietors, as well as Governor, determined to exert his authority in
compelling the people to pay up their arrears of quit-rents; which, though
very trifling, were burdensome, as not one acre out of a thousand, for which
quit-rents were demanded, had hitherto yielded any profit. For this purpose,
Governor Colleton wrote to the proprietors, requesting them to appoint such
deputies as he knew to be most favorably disposed towards their government,
and would most readily assist him in the execution of his office. Hence the
interest of the proprietors and that of the people, were placed in opposite
scales. The more rigorously the Governor exerted his authority, the more
turbulent and riotous the people became. The little community was turned into
a scene of confusion.

Landgrave Colleton, mortified at the loss of power, was not a little puzzled
in determining what step to take. Gentle means, he perceived, would be vain
and ineffectual. One expedient was suggested, which he and his council
flattered themselves might induce the people, through fear, to return to his
standard and support the person who alone had authority to punish mutiny and
sedition. This was to proclaim martial law, and try to maintain by force of
arms the proprietary jurisdiction. Accordingly, without letting the people
into his secret, he caused the militia to be drawn up as if some danger had
threatened the country, and publicly proclaimed martial law at their head. His
design, when discovered, served only to exasperate. The members of assembly
met, and taking this measure under their deliberation, resolved that it was an
encroachment upon their liberties, and an unwarrantable exertion of power, at
a time when the colony was in no danger. The Governor insisted on the articles
of war, and tried to carry the martial law into execution; but the
disaffection was too general to admit of such a remedy. In the year 1690, at a
meeting of the representatives, a bill was brought in and passed for disabling
landgrave James Colleton from holding any office or exercising any authority,
civil or military, within the province. So exasperated were they against him
that nothing less than banishment could appease them; and therefore they gave
notice to him that in a limited time he must depart from the colony.

During these public commotions, Seth Sothell, pretending to be a proprietor by
virtue of some regulations lately made in England, usurped the government of
the colony. At first, the people seemed disposed to acknowledge his authority;
but afterwards, finding him to be void of every principle of honor and
honesty, they abandoned him. Such was the insatiable avarice of this usurper,
that his popularity was of small duration. Every restraint of common justice
and equity was trampled upon by him, and oppression extended her iron rod over
the distracted colony. The fair traders from Barbadoes and Bermuda, were
seized as pirates, by order of this Governor, and confined until such fees as
he was pleased to enact, were paid. Bribes from felons and traitors, were
accepted to favor their escape. Plantations were forcibly taken into
possession, upon pretences the most frivolous; planters were compelled to give
bonds for large sums of money to procure from him liberty to remain in
possession of their property. These, and many more acts of the like atrocious
nature, were committed by this rapacious Governor during the short time of his
administration. At length the people, weary of his impositions and extortions,
agreed to take him by force and ship him off for England. Then he humbly
begged of them liberty to remain in the country, promising to submit his
conduct to the trial of the assembly at their first meeting. When the assembly
met, thirteen different charges were brought against him, and all supported by
the strongest evidence; upon which, being found guilty, they compelled him to
relinquish the government and country for ever. An account of his infamous
conduct was drawn up and sent to the proprietors, which filled them with
astonishment and indignation. He was ordered to England to answer the
accusations brought against him, and was informed that his refusal would be
taken as a further evidence and confirmation of his guilt. The law for
disabling landgrave James Colleton from holding any authority, civil or
military, in Carolina, was repealed; and strict orders were sent out to the
grand council to support the power and prerogative of the proprietors. But, to
compose the minds of the people, they declared their detestation of such
unwarrantable and wanton oppression, and protested that no Governor should
ever be permitted to grow rich on their ruins.

Hitherto South Carolina had been a scene of contention and misery. The
fundamental constitution, which the proprietors thought the most excellent
form of government upon earth, was disregarded. The Governors were either ill
qualified for their office, or the instructions given them were injudicious.
The inhabitants, far from living in friendship and harmony among themselves,
had also been turbulent and ungovernable. The proprietary government was weak,
unstable, and little respected. It did not excite a sufficient interest for
its own support. The title of landgraves were more burthensome than
profitable; especially as they were only joined with large tracts of land,
which, from the want of laborers, lay uncultivated. The money arising from the
sale of lands and the quit-rents, was inconsiderable - hard to be collected,
and by no means equal to the support of government. The proprietors were
unwilling to involve their English estates for the improvement of American
property; and, on the whole, their government was ill supported.

Another source of controversy between the proprietors and the people, was the
case of the French refugees. Many of these, exiled from their own country
towards the close of the 17th century, had settled in the province;
particularly in Craven county.* They were an orderly, industrious, religious
people. Several brought property with them which enabled them to buy land, and
settle with greater advantages than many of the poorer English emigrants.
While they were busy in clearing and cultivating their lands, the English
settlers began to revive national antipathies against them and to consider the
French as aliens and foreigners, legally entitled to none of the privileges
and advantages of natural born subjects. The proprietors took part with the
refugees, and instructed their Governor, Philip Ludwell, who, in 1692, had
been appointed the successor of Seth Sothell, to allow the French settled in
Craven county, the same privileges and liberties with the English colonists;
but the people carried their jealousy so far, that at the next election for
members to serve in the Assembly, Craven county, in which the French refugees
lived, was not allowed a single representative. At this period, the Assembly
of South Carolina consisted of twenty members, all chosen in Charlestown.

A further cause of dissention respected the trial of pirates. The proprietors,
mortified, at the inefficacy of the laws in bringing these enemies of mankind
to justice, instructed Governor Lee to change the form of drawing juries; and
required that all pirates should be tried and punished by the laws of England,
made for the suppression of piracy; but this innovation in the laws of the
colony, was opposed by the people.

There subsisted a constant struggle between the inhabitants and the officers
of the proprietors. The former claimed great exemptions on account of their
indigent circumstances. The latter were anxious to discharge the duties of
their trust, and to comply with the instructions of their superiors. When
quit-rents were demanded, some refused payment; others had nothing to offer.
When actions were brought for their recovery, the planters murmured and were
discontented at the terms of holding their lands. The fees of the Courts and
Sheriffs were such that, in all actions of small value they exceeded the debt.
To remedy this inconvenience, the Assembly made a law for empowering Justices
of the Peace to hear, and finally to determine all causes not exceeding forty
shillings sterling. This was agreeable to the people, but not to the officers
of justice. Governor Ludwell proposed to the Assembly to consider of a new
form of a deed for holding lands, by which he encroached on the prerogative of
the proprietors, incurred their displeasure, and was soon after removed from
the government.

To find another man equally well qualified for the trust, was a matter of no
small difficulty. Thomas Smith, being in high estimation for his wisdom and
probity, was deemed to be the most proper person to succeed Ludwell.
Accordingly, a patent was sent out creating him a landgrave;** and, together
with it, a commission investing him with the government of the colony. Mr.
Ludwell returned to Virginia, happily relieved from a troublesome office; and
landgrave Smith, in the year 1693, under all possible advantages, entered on
it. He was previously acquainted with the state of the colony, and with the
tempers and dispositions of the leading men in it. He knew that the interests
of the proprietors, and the prosperity of the settlement, were inseparably
connected. He was disposed to allow the people, struggling under many
hardships, every indulgence consistent with the duties of his trust.

The government of the province still remained in a confused and turbulent
state. Complaints from every quarter were made to the Governor, who was
neither able to quiet the minds of the people nor to afford them the relief
they wanted. The French refugees were uneasy that there was no provincial law
to secure their estates to the heirs of their body, or the next of kin; and
feared that on the demise of the present possessors, their lands would escheat
to the proprietors and their children become beggars. The English colonists,
also, perplexed the Governor with their complaints of hardships and
grievances. At last, landgrave Smith wrote to the proprietors that he
despaired of ever uniting the people in interest and affection - that he and
many more, weary of the fluctuating state of public affairs, had resolved to
leave the province; and that he was convinced nothing would bring the settlers
to a state of tranquility and harmony, unless they sent out one of the
proprietors with full powers to redress grievances, and settle differences in
their colony.

* South Carolina. soon after its first settlement, was divided into four
counties, Berkeley, Craven, Colleton and Carteret. Berkeley county filled the
space round the capital; Craven to the northward; and Colleton contained Port
Royal, and the islands in its vicinity, to the distance of thirty miles.
Carteret lay to the southwest. 

** This patent, dated May 13th, 1691, after reciting the authority of the
proprietors to constitute titles and honors in the province; and to prefer men
of merit, and to adorn such with titles and honors; and also stating the
fundamental constitutions by which it was established - "that there should be
landgraves and cassiques, who should be perpetual and hereditary nobles and
peers of the province; and that Thomas Smith, a person of singular merit,
would be very serviceable by his great prudence and industry;" proceeds to
constitute him landgrave, together with four baronies of 12,000 acres of land
each: and it farther declares, "that the said title and four baronies should
for ever descend to his heirs, on paying an annual rent of a penny, lawful
money of England, for each acre."
   If the proprietary government had continued, the title, honors, emoluments
and lands derived from this patent, would now be possessed by Thomas Smith,
son of Henry, who is the lineal heir of the original Thomas Smith. Such have
been the changes which, in the course of a little more than a century, have
taken place, that this is the only known instance in which any one of Mr.
Locke's Carolina nobility can trace back his pedigree to the original founder.

[To be continued....]

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