Essential Facts About the South Carolina Colony

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

 Hulton Archive / Getty Images

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 the 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 slave labor 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 Native Americans. 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 provided by slaves. South Carolina landowners initially acquired slaves through trade with the West Indies, but once Charles Town was established as a major port, slaves were imported directly from Africa. The great demand for slave labor under the plantation system created a significant slave population in South Carolina. By the 1700s, the population of slaves nearly doubled the white population, according to many estimates. 

South Carolina's slave trade was not limited to African slaves. It was also one of the few colonies to engage in the trade of American Indian slaves. In this case, slaves 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 ​trade 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 native population and fear of slave rebellion led white settlers to seek protection from the English crown. As a result, the colony became a royal colony in 1729 and was divided into the colonies of South Carolina and North Carolina.