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

By Erskine Clarke | Go to book overview

7
Institutional Developments "Our Southern Zion"

WHEN THE LAST British troops sailed from Charlestown in 1782 and peace finally came to the South Carolina low country, a new period began in the region's history. It lasted for more than eighty years until another invading army, this one victorious, marched through the land. Between 1782 and 1865, the Carolina low country, with Charleston as its center, rose starlike to a position of preeminent social, intellectual, and political influence throughout a rapidly expanding South. Charleston (in 1783 the name of the city was officially changed from Charlestown to Charleston), it was claimed, was the "capital of the South." Yet during this same period, the low country began to lose much of its earlier economic vitality. By the time the guns fired on Fort Sumter, Charleston was no longer the South's largest city. It had moved from the nation's fourth-largest metropolis in 1782 to its twenty-second in 1860. At the heart of this decline were the weaknesses of its economic structures, dominated by the production of rice with a slave labor force and the geographical limitations of a low and swampy region. Moreover, the white inhabitants of the low country, struggling to maintain their social order, felt increasingly alienated from the Union that South Carolinians had helped to create. Many watched with alarm as threatening forces slowly began to arise in parts of the North. Humming industries and humanitarian impulses at first challenged and then succeeded in overwhelming what Carolinians sometimes called "our own little world."1

That "little world" was largely shaped by the presence of African American slaves. They provided, as they had during the colonial period, the foundation for the region's economic life. Outside Charleston, they continued to constitute the vast majority of the population.2 This concentration of largely isolated slaves meant that the distinctive African American culture that had emerged during the colonial period would continue to develop in the low country.3 It also meant that the culture of whites would be profoundly influenced by its interaction with the numerically dominant African American population of the region. The ways in which whites organized their lives, understood their economic interests, and interpreted their religious beliefs were all inescapably

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