Chapter 9 – Society: The Social Aggregate

Colonial-Slave-Market1Chapter 9, Society: The Social Aggregate, describes the social climate of colonial South Carolina in terms of religion, ethnicity, economy, class hierarchies, and violence.  These areas are discussed in light of the differences between the backcountry and the lowcountry of early South Carolina.  Once having outlined the distinctions between the two regions, Weir ultimately concludes that the two are not all that dissimilar after all despite what many tend to believe.

The chapter opens with Weir recounting the “heterogenous population” of colonial South Carolina, with African Americans far outnumbering their white counterparts in the early days of the colony (205).  He explains that it looked more like a “negro country” with the number of whites totaling only 6,000 at the end of the seventeenth century.  Weir suggests several reasons for the delay in white population growth, including unhealthy environments in the New World and a lack of resistance in the colonists to prevalent diseases.  He also cites the initial imbalance of the sexes, with men far outnumbering women, and high rates of infant mortality that did not subside until whites began settling in the more healthy inlands away from “Charles Town and the swamps of the lowcountry,” as viable reasons for the slow increase in white populations (Weir 207).  By the mid 1700s, however, there had been a gradual increase in whites, followed by a “massive influx in the Revolutionary era” driven by the desire to escape war in the middle states during the 1770s and the prospect of land and opportunity in the Carolinas during the 1780s (Weir 206).

Prior to any influx in white settlers, local officials attempted to lure immigrants into the Carolinas with various land grants, the most SCsuccessful of which being the “township scheme” of the early 1730s (Weir 207).  Governor Robert Johnson established “eleven townships to be located about sixty miles inland on major rivers from the Waccamaw south to the Altamaha” (Weir 208).  Of this, twenty thousand acres were reserved for immigrants who would settle beside one another, each family receiving “a lot as well we fifty acres of outlying land for each member” in addition to tools, food, transportation, and a waive of all surveying costs (Weir 208).  Though the townships aided in population growth, it did not create nearly the flood of immigrants that would come during the Revolutionary era.

Weir then devotes several pages to the demographic composition of colonial South Carolina, including both ethnic and religious statistics, ultimately concluding that, “the backcountry differed from the low” (210).  The early Carolinas appears to have been a melting-pot of sorts with “63.3 percent of the population [being] of non-English stock,” and the highest proportions being of Scottish and French descent (Weir 209).  The larger minority groups tended to settle in the backcountry while in the lowcountry, “more than 80 percent of the whites may have been of English stock” (209).  Religiously speaking, “the dissenters constituted the overwhelming majority of the backcountry” while the Anglicans predominated in the low (Weir 210).

According to Weir, the economic and material status of the backcountry and the lowcountry seem to have been similarly as diverse.  The backcountry mostly consisted of farmlands with a few plantations and large planters, and was relatively homogenous economically. Though harmonious materially, both the back and lowcountry suffered in ethnic integration as “religious differences frequently reinforced ethnic divisions, while the pursuit of traditional activities…helped to perpetuate a sense of group distinctiveness and solidarity” (Weir 211).  These differences persisted within religious groups such as Presbyterians and Anglicans as well.  At this time people in the backcountry began to fall victim to outlaw gang violence, to which they responded by creating vigilante groups that would regulate the outlaws and maintain the values of their civilized society.  In response to the backcountry vigilante groups, the lowcountry initiated the Regulatory movement, which was “an attempt to ‘civilize’ the backcountry” (Weir 213).  Regulators helped to educate 1711_crisp_detaillowcountry elite about the “hinterlands of its own province” and marked the emergence of “sectionalism,” which would come to be a lasting feature of South Carolina and proof that the low and backcountry were not nearly as different as once believed (Weir 213).  Additionally, Weir concludes the chapter explaining that, “throughout the colonial period random acts of violence in the lowcountry matched anything the backcountry could produce,” citing the differences between crimes against person and crimes against property, ultimately noting the legal systems that governed backs and whites differently in colonial Carolina (224).

Next Weir discusses the wealth of South Carolina, and the fact that the lowcountry was much richer than the back with the majority of the wealth lying with a very small minority.  However, this wealth was only relative, and paled greatly in comparison to the riches of England.  Weir explains that South Carolina did, however, hold a great sense of possibility for many, allowing for an “upward mobility” that “occurred at all levels,” suggesting that anyone could rise to an elite status (218).  He also mentions the education provided to many of the wealthier citizens, which could potentially lead to a rather snobby attitude of superiority.

The final major aspect of colonial South Carolina that Weir discusses in this chapter is what he describes as the, “increasingly irenic spirit in religious matters ” that Carolinians exhibited (221).  Quoting Lieutenant Governor Bull he explains that, “he ‘charitably’ hoped that ‘every sect of Christians will find their way to the Kingdom of heaven,’ although for political reasons he believed, ‘the Church of England [to be] the best adapted to the Kingdom of England'” (221).  This more amiable outlook on religion wore on throughout the eighteenth century within the Carolinas, and fostered a symbiotic relationship between the church and the dissenters that aided in the maintenance of social order.  Though the British greatly criticized the settlers’ attitude toward religion, it reinforced the position of the gentry, provided relief for the poor, and helped to establish a system of crime and punishment, all of which functioned to preserve social stability (Weir 222).

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