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The Grim Years: Settling South Carolina, 1670 - 1720

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Morden, Robert (d. 1703), Bookseller; Binneman, Walter, Engraver Daniel, R. (Richard), Cartographer
NY Public Library
A map of ye English Empire in ye continent of America : viz Virginia, Maryland, Carolina, New York, New Iarsey, New England, Pennsilvania

In his book, The Grim Years: Settling South Carolina, 1670-1720 (2020, University of SC Press), Dr. John Navin explains how eight English aristocrats, the Lords Proprietors, came to possess the vast Carolina land grant and then enacted elaborate plans to recruit and control colonists as part of a grand moneymaking scheme. In his conversation with Walter Edgar, Navin tells of a cadre of men who rose to political and economic prominence, while ordinary colonists, enslaved Africans, and indigenous groups became trapped in a web of violence and oppression.

But those plans went awry, and the mainstays of the economy became hog and cattle ranching, lumber products, naval stores, deerskin exports, and the calamitous Indian slave trade. The settlers' relentless pursuit of wealth set the colony on a path toward prosperity but also toward a fatal dependency on slave labor. Rice would produce immense fortunes in South Carolina, but not during the colony's first fifty years. Religious and political turmoil instigated by settlers from Barbados eventually led to a total rejection of proprietary authority.

Threatened by the Native Americans they exploited, by the Africans they enslaved, and by their French and Spanish rivals, white South Carolinians lived in continual fear. For some it was the price they paid for financial success. But for most there were no riches, and the possibility of a sudden, violent death was overshadowed by the misery of their day-to-day existence.

- Originally broadcast 05/14/21 -

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.