The Southern Colonies
When Americans think about the Revolutionary War, which gave this country freedom from British rule, certain iconic images come to mind. The Boston Tea Party, for example, or Paul Revere’s ride. The battle of Bunker Hill outside of Boston. Washington crossing the Delaware River on a cold Christmas evening. Colonial Williamsburg, VA also played a huge role in the Revolution and has since been transformed into a major tourist attraction.
But there were thirteen colonies in America during this pivotal time, strung along the east coast, from Maine to Georgia. They were divided into the New England colonies, the middle colonies and the southern colonies. For the purposes of this posting, I’m going to focus on the three colonies at the southernmost portion of the country at the time–North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
First you must understand a bit about how North and South Carolina became settled. Of course, there’s the Lost Colony along the North Carolina shoreline. The first British colony was in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the late 1500s. Over 100 people settled there, a child, Virginia Dare, was born, becoming the first English person born in this new country. Due to dwindling food and supplies, several men from this new colony returned to England for supplies. By the time they returned, the colony and its residents had completely disappeared. Several theories have been devised over the years, but their whereabouts continue to remain a mystery to this day.
After this aborted effort to colonize the area south of Virginia, the area remained unsettled until 1653, when eight Virginians who were loyal to the crown and King Charles II were charged with the responsibility of developing the land into plantations to grow cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar cane and indigo dye to help feed the growing population in the northern colonies. This made sense, since the hilly, warmer climate made for a longer growing season than in the north. But it also required an increased labor pool. The mostly English men and women were drawn to the southern colonies because of the religious freedom allowed, which was different from England, and also different from the northern colonies, which were basically Puritans. However, plantations needed a lot more people to work the area, which set the stage for slave labor to be brought in and used.
Eventually, a power struggle between the eight men initially involved in these settlements caused a split to develop and two camps were formed, resulting in the formation of North Carolina in 1653, which at the time included part of what is now Tennessee and ten years later, South Carolina.
The British colony of Georgia received its charter much later, in 1732. Named for King George II, the colony was under the rule of British general James Oglethorpe.
The early years of Georgia were spent battling the Spanish, who had control of what is now Florida. Largely agriculturally based, Georgia depended heavily on slave labor, especially after the invention of the cotton gin. Georgia chose not to participate in the early stages of the Revolutionary War, not sending a representative to discuss the proposed Stamp Act of 1775, which was a protest against British taxation, or to participate in the first Continental Congress in 1774, which protested to punitive laws Britain forced on Massachusetts. They were the only colony to sit out the earliest rumblings of war.
Each of these southern colonies was controlled by the British and had a solid Loyalist base. But when news reached the southern colonies that colonists had been massacred in the battle of Concord and Lexington, it was time to take action. In Charlottetowne, NC, local patriots met through the night of May 19, 1775 to draft a set of resolves that outlined how they proposed to self govern. They declared the actions of the crown were not to be tolerated, and proclaimed independence, at least for Charlottetowne and Mecklenburg County. A young Charlottetowne tavern owner, Captain James Jack,
volunteered to carry the treasonous documents to Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was in session. If he had been confronted by Loyalists or British soldiers, he would have been immediately hung. Risking his very life, he made the arduous journey by horseback from Charlottetowne to Philadelphia, a distance of more than 500 miles. Mecklenburg County’s declaration of independence from the harsh British rule was recorded into the record of the Congress, and the course of North Carolina’s involvement in the war effort was set into motion.
Hearing of the battle at Lexington and Concord was the tipping point for South Carolina, as well. Tired of taxation without representation, patriots began boycotting and merchant who carried British goods. Even though the general population was about fifty percent Loyalist and fifty percent patriot, the surge of independence grew stronger as the British army attacked innocent people. Under the command of General Nathanial Greene,
the Continental Army forced the British and remaining loyalists to retreat to Charles Town and eventually evacuate South Carolina altogether, on December, 14, 1782. Patriotism came from a variety of different areas, and one young lady played at pivotal role in aiding General Greene. The story of Emily Geiger will be told in a subsequent article, since she deserves her own space.
Georgia was the most loyal of the thirteen colonies to British rule and most content to remain subjects of the crown. The battle of Lexington and Concord changed the thinking of some of Georgia’s residents. A small band of patriots stormed a British magazine in Savannah, stealing rifles and gunpowder before going after the Royal Governor, James Wright, who escaped aboard a British ship in the harbor. With Savannah being held by the patriots, the royal government was done away with and patriot Lyman Hall was sent to the Second Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence.
While most of the early battles of the Revolutionary War took place in the northern colonies, by the second half of the war, the British had changed their plans of attack, focusing more on the south, where Loyalist support remained strongest. Savannah once again came under the rule of the British and James Wright was once again installed as Governor. The battle between the Loyalist and patriot factions lasted until the war’s end.
Becky Lower’s current work in progress (WIP) takes place during the Revolutionary War, so she spends most mornings in the year 1775 and takes delight in finding new-to-her individuals whose bravery helped shape this nation. Visit her blog to find out the latest progress at: http:www.beckylowerauthor.blogspot.com