Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

"An Encourager of Industry": Samuel Eveleigh and His Influence on the Southeastern Indian Trade

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

"An Encourager of Industry": Samuel Eveleigh and His Influence on the Southeastern Indian Trade

Article excerpt

MERCHANT SAMUEL EVELEIGH PLAYED AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN colonial South Carolina, and because of his assets and contacts, he became a powerful force in Charlestown economics. When James Oglethorpe founded Georgia in February 1733, it seemed only natural that Eveleigh would consider extending his sphere of influence southward into the new colony. His interest sparked concern among his colleagues in Charlestown, who worried what effects this shift might have on the Indian trade throughout the Southeast, and excitement among entrepreneurs in Savannah, who saw his attention as an indication of excellent financial prospects. Elisha Dobree, an aspiring tradesman, declared Eveleigh to be "a Pubk'ck Spirit[,] a good Nature & an Encourager of Industry," and he looked forward to the application of these characteristics to Georgia.1 Eveleigh opened negotiations with the Trustees, the overseas administrators of the new colony, to relocate his base of operations to Savannah, but ultimately, he chose to remain in Charlestown. His decision resulted in significant consequences for both colonies in terms of their commerce with the Indians. In addition to his command over the Indian trade, Eveleigh was a man ahead of his time. He had great plans and ideas for exploiting Georgia's resources, but could not implement them because of the Trustees' disapproval. Had he been a member of the next generation and able to move into Georgia after the fall of the Trustees, perhaps he would have joined the ranks of the great planters like Jonathan Bryan. Instead, he remained a merchant, kept his base in Charlestown, and helped that city become the dominant port of the Lower South, laying the financial foundation upon which future planters could build their empires.

Eveleigh made a name for himself in the early eighteenth century as a leading merchant of Charlestown and acquired his reputation through his dealings in the deerskin trade. In South Carolina's initial years, plantation owners along major rivers dabbled in commerce with the Indians more because of its convenience than its status. Since Indians traveled rivers to bring deerskins to Charlestown, planters could act as middlemen and earn extra money to invest in their plantations. As game moved further inland, more specialized entrepreneurs joined the business, and as competition increased, planters concentrated their efforts on their agricultural endeavors, leaving the Indian trade to professional brokers. This split between planters and merchants did not occur smoothly or quickly, however, since both groups were looking to make a profit and advance their personal agendas. The two clashed in the political arena, where they competed for colonial authority and economic control, as well as in the social scene, where they strove to become the elite. In fact, the two factions supported each other and had more in common than they would have liked to admit. Merchants accumulated wealth in hopes of purchasing land and becoming part of the landed gentry, while planters usually had some mercantile background and needed the products and services thatmerchantsprovided. Both were vital to theCharlestown economy and wanted to exert their influence over it in their favor.2

Imperial difficulties contributed to this political and social instability as well. As South Carolinians became more invested - physically and economically - in the region, they sought political autonomy and chafed under the rule of the Lords Proprietors. These English administrators attempted to increase their authority over their colonial subjects, but to no avail. Events like the Yamasee War only exacerbated existing problems and led to the overthrow of the Lords Proprietors and the implementation of several different regimes in the colonists' quest to create a stable government. In the aftermath of these political struggles, South Carolinians looked to expand their investments and hoped to enjoy an era of peace and prosperity. …

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