Sunday, December 02, 2012

South Carolina 2: The Revolution

When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham and John Champneys. Previous entries can be found under “South Carolina” in the index at the right

This entry provides back ground on the American Revolution, which is necessary to understanding their lives in those years, at least if your knowledge of that war in South Carolina is as sketchy as mine. Maham lived among the Huguenots, Champneys in Charleston.

Weather: Last rain 11/10/12; 9:53 hours of daylight today.

Ever since our first freeze on October 8, temperatures here have been averaging ten degrees cooler than at high elevations. One morning this week, when it was 20F degrees on my front porch, it was 32 in Santa Fé and 42 in Los Alamos. I always thought cold was correlated with altitude, but it seems more primary rules of physics rule: cold air falls and warm air rises. At least, the fruit trees are getting their chilling hours, which botanists have determined fall between 32 and 45 degrees.

What’s still green: Juniper, red hot poker, yucca, Madonna lily, Japanese honeysuckle, Saint John’s wort, vinca, moss phlox, soapworts, sea pink, pink and yellow primroses, sweet pea, snapdragon, beardstongues, gypsum phacelia, pampas and needle.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot and sandbar willow branches.

What’s grey or blue: Snow-in-summer, pinks, Silver King artemisia leaves.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds.

Weekly update: The American Revolution, as I learned in high school, was a war fought by the united thirteen colonies against their British overseer to form a government whose legitimacy was derived from the voluntary agreement of its citizens.

We never thought of it as a war with Britain like that fought in 1812, nor did we see ourselves as rebels. We certainly never thought of it as a civil war fought between neighbors. In fact, it was all these things, and a revolution only after it had been won, the constitution ratified, and John Adams elected.

Like any war, people’s commitment to the cause varied by how deeply they were involved. For many on the northern frontier, it was simply an extension of the French and Indian wars, only this time the Indians were allies of the British. For people in Boston, whose livelihoods were threatened by British trade acts, the necessity to protest was greater.

South Carolina had been rebellious since it was founded, and settlers refused to accept the authority of the proprietors to establish the rules of governance. When the proprietors made grants to Huguenots to attract rent paying settlers, the people of Charles Town redefined political districts in the 1690's so they wouldn’t be represented in the House of Commons.

When the Board of Trade issued plans for inland townships in 1730, they were seen as frontier outposts whose existence would protect Charles Town from Indian attacks. When men moved into the farther frontier from Virginia and Pennsylvania in the 1740's, the people of Charles Town shrugged. The French and Indian war began in 1756 and they took the brunt of Cherokee attacks. Rice planters suffered from a decline in shipping.

The Board of Trade sent a relative of one of the original proprietors, John Colleton, Thomas Boone, in 1761 with orders to reduce the powers the colonial House of Commons had assumed when it threw off the proprietors in favor of the king in 1720. The next year, Boone dissolved the assembly. When the assembly reconvened, it refused to work. The Board of Trade censured Boone in 1764, which left control to his lieutenant, William Bull.

The Peace of Paris in 1763 ended the war with France, but increased conflicts with England, who needed to pay war debts and believed the colonies, who benefitted from eliminating the French in North America, should contribute. The Sugar Act of 1764 taxed luxuries, including indigo, but exempted rice. The Currency Act banned colonial currencies and the money supply shrank. Henry Laurens retired from the slave trade.

A new governor appeared in Charles Town in 1766, Charles Montague, but when people in the back country asked the colony to establish courts to punish the gangs that were raiding their settlements, they were ignored. Only when the frontiersmen organized themselves and began hunting down outlaws did the Commons take note of the usurpation of its authority by the Regulators who controlled the back country by 1768. They soon degenerated into vigilantes who provided cover for some to settle old scores with what Walter Edgar called “sadistic” violence. Montague had already left Bull in charge.

Britain passed the Navigation Acts in 1767 to limit colonial shipping, and seized one of Laurens’ ships the next year. Bull tried to suppress the regulators in 1768 and dissolved the assembly for supporting Boston protests. The assembly went on strike again in 1771, refusing to pass any legislation, effectively ending any semblance of organized government. In 1772 John Colleton, the great-grand-son of the original proprietor, sold his Mepkin plantation to Henry Laurens.

Britain enacted the Tea Act in 1773, and Charles Town called a mass meeting to protest. Supporters harassed those who disagreed and banished slave trader William Wragg. According to Edgar, activists weren’t able to extort agreement from a back country that was more angry with the city than with the British.

By the time South Carolina sent five low country planters and lawyers to the Continental Congress in 1774, people were divided into competing groups that endure to this day. However, responses to the war didn’t follow those regional patterns. Instead, there were people in every community who were loyalists and some who enlisted, and a great many, as they had in Barbados during the English civil war, who simply didn’t wish to take sides. When neighbors disagreed, there followed the demands for loyalty oaths, confiscations and banishments for those who refused, similar to the punishments seen on the Caribbean island after Humphrey Waldron migrated there.

The war had little effect on Charles Town until the British, led by Henry Clinton, appeared in 1779. Then William Moultrie, aided by a spongy walled fort, successfully repulsed the troops, who took everything of value, enticed slaves to flee and destroyed the rest as they retreated, creating enemies as they moved.

When Clinton reappeared in 1780, some were still willing to surrender if the troops could be evacuated. However, Clinton couldn’t accept those terms, and when he took the city, there were new loyalty oaths to swear, and new demands men take up arms, this time against the rebels. Charles Cornwallis ordered the sequestration of the plantations of more than 100 men who refused, including Henry Laurens. 65 of those who had actively fought the British were deported to Saint Augustine, along with leaders like Thomas Heyward, David Ramsay and William Johnson.

In the back country, the British raised troops among local loyalists, who then helped attack their neighbors. Thomas Sumter was so angry when men, commanded by Banastre Tarleton, burned his new house, he roused his neighbors to attack. The rebels finally prevailed at King’s Mountain, in October 1780. Many of the defeated loyalists were from North Carolina.

As happens when war goes on too long and exacerbates existing civil conflicts, prisoners were mistreated, court martialed, then hung. After the war, there was no surviving political or economic order. Men refused to pay debts and attacked sheriffs and courts who tried to enforce payment. Outlaws reappeared to harass settlers and travelers. People demanded the General Assembly identify and punish any remaining loyalists with banishment and confiscation.

One of the few to protest such demands was an Irish born, Charleston lawyer, who served as a judge in the Scots-Irish Ninety Six district under the Articles of Confederation. Aedanus Burke warned they would give way “to malice, avarice, or revenge; commit more injustice and glaring partiality” than would some form of reconciliation.

To prove his point, the remaining property of the deceased Margaret Colleton, widow of the last John Colleton, was seized, divided into lots, and sold. William Moultrie was among the buyers.

By the time a meeting was held to ratify the constitution in 1788, people were so hostile to one another, Burke said “4/5 of the people” were against the document and the only reason it was ratified was chicanery by the Charleston elite.

Safety returned only after the economy revived with the adoption of cotton as a crop in the 1790's, more than fifty years after gangs first appeared in the back country. Eventually, angry men and women died, but not before a new generation came of age believing the war was fought to establish their belief an individual was not required to submit to any government.

Burke, Aedanus. On the constitution, letter to John Lamb, 23 June 1788, much quoted; on danger of revenge, An Address to the Freemen of South Carolina, quoted by Edgar.

Edgar, Walter. South Carolina: A History, 1998.

Smith, Henry A. M. “The Baronies of South Carolina,” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 7:1911.

Photographs: Hours are for the species, not the variety.
1. Lapins sweet cherry, rose family, 700-800, 1 December 2012.

2. Rome apple, rose family, 1000 hours, 1 December 2012.

3. Blenheim-Royal apricot, rose family, 500-600 hours, 1 December 2012.

4. Common lilac, olive family, 1050 hours, 29 November 2012.

5. Persian lilac, olive family, 1050 hours, 1 December 2012.

6. Bradford pear, rose family 900 hours, 29 November 2012.

7. Red delicious apple, rose family, 1000 hours, 29 November 2012.

8. Elberta peach, rose family, 800 hours, 29 November 2012.

9. Montmorency sour cherry, rose family, 700-800, 29 November 2012.

10. Lynwood Gold forsythia, olive family, 800 hours, 12 November 2012.

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