Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808

Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808

Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808

Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760-1808

Synopsis

This book describes the turbulent transformation of South Carolina from a colony rent by sectional conflict into a state dominated by the South's most unified and politically powerful planter leadership. Rachel Klein unravels the sources of conflict and growing unity, showing how a deep commitment to slavery enabled leaders from both low- and backcountry to define the terms of political and ideological compromise.

The spread of cotton into the backcountry, often invoked as the reason for South Carolina's political unification, actually concluded a complex struggle for power and legitimacy. Beginning with the Regulator Uprising of the 1760s, Klein demonstrates how backcountry leaders both gained authority among yeoman constituents and assumed a powerful role within state government. By defining slavery as the natural extension of familial inequality, backcountry ministers strengthened the planter class. At the same time, evangelical religion, like the backcountry's dominant political language, expressed yet contained the persisting tensions between planters and yeomen.

Klein weaves social, political, and religious history into a formidable account of planter class formation and southern frontier development.

Excerpt

In March 1769 a group of armed men marched more than one hundred miles from the western backcountry of South Carolina to the coastal parish of Prince William to elect their leader, Patrick Calhoun, to the colonial assembly. the men, who were protesting their region’s lack of representation in the colonial government, undoubtedly followed the old Indian trading path that linked the rolling hills of their piedmont settlement to the coastal plain, or lowcountry. They chose Prince William, as the most accessible coastal parish that allowed frontiersmen to vote. Calhoun, a deputy surveyor and justice of the peace, was already in the process of accumulating the approximately thirty-one slaves that he held at the end of his life, but most of the men who traveled with him must have been nonslaveholders. Many of Calhoun’s followers, having migrated to the South Carolina frontier from Virginia and North Carolina, were probably surprised by the dramatic changes they observed as they approached the luxuriant swamplands of the coastal parishes. From a settlement of small farms and few slaves, they entered a region dominated by wealthy rice and indigo planters and characterized by a substantial slave majority.

Although Calhoun’s men succeeded in electing their leader to the assembly, it took another forty years for the backcountry’s fledgling leadership to win for itself an acceptable system of apportionment in South Carolina’s

1. [John C. Calhoun], Life of John C. Calhoun: Presenting a Condensed History of Political Events from 1811 to 1843 (New York, 1843), 4; Walter B. Edgar et al., eds., Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives (Columbia, S.C., 1974-1984), ii, 133–135; U.S., Bureau of the Census, Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1790: South Carolina (Washington, D.C., 1908). For a discussion of Patrick Calhoun’s early backcountry settlement and his activities as a surveyor, see Robert L. Meriwether, The Expansion of South Carolina, 1729– 1765 (Kingsport, Tenn., 1940), 133–135, 146, 252–253.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.