South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXII
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS IN THE MID-EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

Health and Mortality. --Smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria, and malaria broke out with frequent violence during the colonial period; but the high death rate is not so much a part of South Carolina history as an illustration for the general medical conditions of the times. The infant mortality recorded in old graveyards, church registers, and family records is appalling. Diphtheria was a frightful scourge, "the sore throat" sometimes sweeping away almost all the children of a family. All sorts of bacterial diseases worked havoc in an age that was ignorant of cause, and therefore of prevention. In time the planters learned there was a causal connection between residence on plantations in summer and malaria and invented many fanciful theories, which were believed until the guilt was fixed on the mosquito a few decades ago.

Christian Work among the Slaves. --From about 1710, when the number of Negro slaves began greatly to exceed the number of whites, apprehension of these "internal enemies" was frequently expressed. Lieutenant-Governor Broughton warned in 1737 that "our negroes are very numerous and more dreadful to our safety than any Spanish invaders. I am also sending for some Cherokee Indians to come down to the settlements to be an awe to the negroes."

The standing tragedy of Southern life was already disclosed. Men saw the peril they were creating for themselves and their posterity, but were morally unable to take the obvious course for permanent wellbeing. Only a society of philosophers could have resisted the temptation, and they probably only if legislating for some society other than their own. The immediate gain to the planter outweighed the permanent interests of the State, as is the custom when the class receiving the benefit holds the power.

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts made the Christianizing of the slaves an active aim. All but a few masters at first opposed religious instruction, lest making the slave a Christian brother might tend toward manumission. Other objections were that religion injured him as a laborer or involved danger of insurrection by facilitating assemblies. In 1724, Alexander Skene, his wife, and his sister

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