Our Southern Zion: A History of Calvinism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1690-1990

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

2
The Context The Colony of South Carolina

Historical Context: The Age of European Expansion

FORTY-FOUR YEARS before John Calvin arrived in Geneva, Columbus sailed out across the Western Sea, discovering what Amerigo Vespucci called "Mundus Novus," a New World, because, he said, "our ancestors had no knowledge of them." For the next four hundred years the dominant feature of world history would be the expansion of European civilization around the globe.1

The amazing Portuguese and Spanish led the way, taking their Roman Catholicism with them, as did later French explorers in their forest empire of New France. But by the seventeenth century, in northern Europe, rising new maritime nations--Holland and especially England--began to establish themselves as leading powers. Their Protestantism, deeply influenced by the Reformed tradition, would go with them in their remarkable empire building. Indeed, religious ideas and commitments would play no little part in providing the motivation and energy for Dutch and British expansion and colonization. In this way the spreading of the "Children of Geneva" to new lands across the oceans was both a part of a general European expansion and a reflection of their own restlessness and driving energy.2


Geographical Context: The Land

Along the southeast coast of North America stretched a section of land marked by marshes and sea islands, by tidal creeks and thick forests of ancient oaks and towering pines. In the north lay long white beaches, and in the center and southern end fine harbors formed at the confluence of slow-flowing rivers. This land, which in time would be called the coastal region of South Carolina, seemed to the first European explorers to offer rich opportunities for settlement. Yet for a variety of reasons, successful colonization was slow in coming and relatively late compared to many other coastal areas of the New World.

The sea islands, which dominated the southern two-thirds of the coast, were separated by tidal creeks and estuaries of surprising depth and width. Be

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