Essential Facts About the South Carolina Colony

Engraving of the fortified settlement of Charleston, South Carolina, 1673

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The South Carolina Colony was founded by the British in 1663 and was one of the 13 original colonies. It was founded by eight nobles with a Royal Charter from King Charles II and was part of the group of Southern Colonies, along with North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Maryland. South Carolina became one of the wealthiest early colonies largely due to exports of cotton, rice, tobacco, and indigo dye. Much of the colony's economy was dependent upon the stolen labor of enslaved people that supported large land operations similar to plantations.  

Early Settlement

The British were not the first to attempt to colonize land in South Carolina. In the middle of the 16th century, first the French and then the Spanish tried to establish settlements on the coastal land. The French settlement of Charlsefort, now Parris Island, was established by French soldiers in 1562, but the effort lasted less than a year. In 1566, the Spanish established the settlement of Santa Elena in a nearby location. This lasted about 10 years before it was abandoned, following attacks by local Indigenous peoples. While the town was later rebuilt, the Spanish devoted more resources to settlements in Florida, leaving the South Carolina coast ripe for the picking by British settlers. The English established Albemarle Point in 1670 and moved the colony to Charles Town (now Charleston) in 1680.

Slavery and the South Carolina Economy

Many of the early settlers of South Carolina came from the island of Barbados, in the Caribbean, bringing with them the plantation system common in the West Indies colonies. Under this system, large areas of land were privately owned, and most of the farm labor was completed by enslaved people. South Carolina landowners initially claimed enslaved people as property through trade with the West Indies, but once Charles Town was established as a major port, they were brought directly from Africa. The great demand for labor under the plantation system created a significant population of enslaved people in South Carolina. By the 1700s, their population nearly doubled the white population, according to many estimates. 

South Carolina's captive enslaved people were not limited to people of African descent. It was also one of the few colonies to claim enslaved Indigenous peoples. In this case, they were not imported into South Carolina but rather exported to the British West Indies and other British colonies. This trade began in about 1680 and continued for nearly four decades until the Yamasee War led to peace negotiations that helped end the activity. 

North and South Carolina

The South Carolina and North Carolina colonies originally were part of one colony called the Carolina Colony. The colony was set up as a proprietary settlement and governed by a group known as Carolina's Lord's Proprietors. But unrest with the Indigenous population and fear of rebellion from enslaved people led white settlers to seek protection from the English crown. As a result, it became a royal colony in 1729 and was divided into South Carolina and North Carolina.