Although they have their own political pasts, the Carolinas and Georgia began life as one British colony and, in many other respects, they have a common history. Their settlement by Europeans during the 17th and 18th centuries gave the three states a similar character, which has lasted to this day.
One Big Colony Becomes Three -- When the first English settlers arrived, they found the region inhabited by bands of American Indians, many of them part of the greater Iroquois and Sioux families. Some native tribes cooperated with the settlers; others were hostile. Whatever their reactions to the newcomers, Indian tribes were decimated by European diseases, and the whites pushed the survivors off their land, either through trumped-up sales or by force. Only the Cherokees, an Iroquoian people in the southern Appalachians, have survived as an organized Indian nation.
The tribes in what is today South Carolina were the first to encounter the Europeans, in 1520, when a Spanish caravelle explored St. Helena Sound. Six years later, Lucas Vázquez Ayllón tried to establish a Spanish colony, first near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina and later on Winyah Bay, but disease, bad weather, and the Indians put an end to it after only a year.
In search of gold rather than colonies, Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto explored the area's interior in 1540, crossing from Georgia through South Carolina to the mountains of western North Carolina. French Huguenots arrived in 1563 and built Fort Charles at South Carolina's Port Royal Sound, but they pulled up stakes when fire destroyed their supplies. A Spanish contingent from Florida came to the same site in 1566 and built Fort San Filipe; they stayed 20 years but abandoned the colony when English buccaneer Sir Francis Drake raided St. Augustine.
A Colony Lost -- England fared no better in its first attempt to establish a colony. In 1584, Walter Raleigh, a soldier and courtier to Queen Elizabeth I, sent an expedition to search out a suitable site. The expedition returned with glorious tales of an island named Roanoke -- inside what we know as North Carolina's Outer Banks -- and with two Indians named Manteo and Wanchese. A year later, Raleigh sent Manteo, Wanchese, and 108 Englishmen to colonize Roanoke Island. Rather than planting crops, they spent much of their time searching for gold and a passage to the Pacific Ocean. When Sir Francis Drake fortuitously showed up within the year, they hitched a ride with him back to England.
In June 1587, Raleigh's second attempt at colonization -- this time with about 120 men, women, and children -- arrived at Roanoke Island under the leadership of John White. It was too late in the year to plant crops, and White left for England at the end of August to secure fresh stores. War was on with Spain, however, preventing White's return. When he did sail back 3 years later, he found only the word Croatoan -- the name of a nearby Indian tribe -- carved on a tree. The settlers had disappeared. Among them was White's granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first child born in America of English parents. Not a trace of the legendary "Lost Colony" was ever found.
The Lords Proprietors Get Theirs -- The English had better luck at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. By the mid-1600s, tobacco farmers had drifted south into the Albemarle Sound region of northeastern North Carolina, around Elizabeth City and Edenton. They were the first permanent European settlers in the Carolinas and Georgia.
But real colonization began after the restoration of King Charles II in England. In 1663, strapped for funds and owing financial and political debts to those who had supported his return to the throne, King Charles granted to eight Lords Proprietors all of North America between 31 degrees and 36 degrees North latitude -- that's all of the Carolinas and Georgia. The grant was later extended north to 36 1/2 degrees, to make sure that the Albemarle Sound area wasn't in Virginia, and south to 29 degrees. This southern extension infuriated the Spanish because it encompassed nearly half of their colony in Florida.
The proprietors named their possession Carolina, in the king's honor. You'll see these men's names throughout the Carolinas: George Monck, duke of Albemarle; Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon; William Craven, earl of Craven; brothers Lord John Berkeley and Sir William Berkeley (the latter was then governor of Virginia); Sir George Carteret; Anthony Ashley-Cooper, later the first earl of Shaftesbury; and Sir John Colleton.
The proprietors soon recruited rice farmers from Barbados, who arrived on the banks of South Carolina's Ashley River in 1670. Within a decade, they had established Charles Town. With slaves producing bumper rice and indigo crops, and with one of the colonies' finest natural harbors, South Carolina soon became the wealthiest of England's American colonies. Charles Town (its name was changed to Charleston in 1783) was America's busiest port until well into the 19th century.
The proprietors appointed a colonial governor to sit in Charles Town, with authority to appoint a deputy for northern Carolina. The great distances involved made this plan unworkable, so in 1710, Edward Hyde (a cousin of Queen Anne, who was then on the throne) was named governor of the north. This arrangement lasted until the proprietors sold their possession to the British crown in 1729, whereupon North and South Carolina became separate British colonies.
Convicts & Catholics Need Not Apply -- Partially to create a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and flourishing South Carolina, the British crown in 1731 granted a charter to a group of investors, headed by Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, to establish a colony in the southern part of the original Lords Proprietors grant.
Oglethorpe's utopian goal was to create a microcosm of England -- but without landownership, slaves, hard liquor, and Catholicism. Contrary to popular belief, he did not recruit convicts for this enterprise; instead, he sought industrious tradesmen, small-business owners, and laborers with promises of free passage, land to farm, and supplies. The first of the settlers arrived in the new colony of Georgia in 1732.
Without slaves (and also without liquor, some wags say), the settlers had a rough go of it initially. Only after Georgia's first African slaves arrived in 1750 did rice, indigo, and cotton make the colony economically viable. As in South Carolina, the owners of the large plantations dotting the coastal plain grew rich, as did their merchant friends in the ports of Charles Town and Savannah.
Up Country, Low Country -- The rich Easterners of the Carolinas and Georgia looked down on the poor, non-slave-owning farmers who settled the inland hills. In South Carolina, these farmers were called Up Country folk by the Low Country folk. In Georgia, the coastal crowd pejoratively referred to their country cousins as "crackers" -- from the practice of cracking corn to make meal.
Beginning in the 1730s, another type of settler arrived in the Piedmont area of all three colonies: Scots-Irish, Germans, and other Europeans who migrated overland from Pennsylvania by way of the great valleys of Virginia. Most of them were self-sufficient yeoman farmers. They had no use for slaves and even less for the rich folks down along the coast who didn't work with their hands. Instead of Anglican churches, they worshiped at Presbyterian, Quaker, and Moravian churches.
Although Piedmont industrial growth reversed the economic situation beginning in the 1880s, and more recent migration from other states has changed the equation somewhat, this division has survived to a large extent.
Giving Cornwallis Fits -- People in the Carolinas and Georgia had mixed feelings about independence from Great Britain. Being largely of Scots-Irish or other European origins, the hill folk weren't particularly enamored of the English crown, but they also hesitated to endorse a war. Down in the lowlands, the rich planters and merchants saw themselves as being English, but they also chafed at the British import and export taxes, which hurt their businesses.
There were enough go-for-it patriots around, however, to throw things toward the side of freedom. To protest the English tax on tea, the women of Edenton, North Carolina, held a tea party in 1774 and promised never again to brew leaves from England. In 1775, a group of revolutionaries met in Charlotte and passed the Mecklenburg Resolves, declaring themselves to be independent of Britain. The same year, a group of patriots tarred and feathered British Loyalists in Charleston, and shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill in Massachusetts, patriots captured Fort Charlotte in South Carolina. In 1776, delegates from all three colonies endorsed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia.
When the British attacked Charleston in 1776, Revolutionary soldiers quickly built Fort Moultrie at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. They used palmetto logs, which proved to be impervious to cannon fire. The fort held out for 4 years, and the palmetto became the new state's symbol.
Lord Cornwallis, the British commander, decided in 1780 to launch a Southern strategy against George Washington's Continental army. His plan was to take Charleston; march overland through the Carolinas, picking up Loyalist volunteers as he went; and attack George Washington in Virginia. It took him 14 battles to finally capture Charleston, but Francis Marion (nicknamed "the Swamp Fox") escaped into the Low Country marshes and organized a series of successful guerrilla raids on the British forces.
The support of Loyalist hill folk, which Cornwallis had counted on, disappeared when his forces massacred a group of rebels trying to surrender near Lancaster, South Carolina. The locals then pitched in with the patriots to defeat the British army at the Battle of Kings Mountain, near Gaffney. Cornwallis was forced to send half his men back to Charleston, significantly weakening his forces.
Despite the defeat, Cornwallis marched north and captured Charlotte, where a 14-pound nugget had been discovered a year earlier, fueling America's first gold rush. Cornwallis found more patriots than gold, causing him to call the town a "hornet's nest."
Cornwallis advanced through North Carolina to meet defeat at Washington's hands at Yorktown in 1781. The troops he had sent back to Charleston held out for a year, but they evacuated when Gen. Nathanael Greene's army advanced to within 14 miles of the city. Charleston was the last British-held city south of Canada.
King Cotton & the "Peculiar Institution" -- Along with rice, indigo, and tobacco, cotton was important in the region's early history. But growing and picking the crop was backbreaking work in itself; and after the fiber balls were harvested, someone had to tediously pick out the seeds by hand. Thanks to the South's "peculiar institution," slaves did most of the work.
Most slaves were confined to the large coastal plantations during colonial times. Then, in 1793, Eli Whitney invented the mechanical cotton gin on a Savannah River plantation in Georgia. That meant a small farmer could buy a slave or two, plant his land with cotton, and not have to worry about extracting the seeds. Life in the South would never be the same.
With people in Great Britain and elsewhere beginning to prefer cotton garments to those made of wool and linen, the price of the fluffy white fibers went through the roof. More and more land was devoted to cotton, and production soared. By 1850, cotton accounted for two-thirds of American exports.
Threatening clouds began to gather during the 1830s, with the growth of the abolitionist movement in the North. Some abolitionists were moderates, advocating that slave owners be compensated for the value of their freed slaves. Others were extremists, such as newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison, who at one point advocated the secession of the North from the South.
John C. Calhoun & Nullification -- Secession wasn't a new idea, and soon its chief proponent would be a brilliant South Carolina lawyer named John C. Calhoun.
A chief spokesman for the Low Country planter class, Calhoun served as a U.S. senator, as secretary of war and secretary of state under President James Monroe, and as U.S. vice president under Andrew Jackson in 1828. As a senator, he joined with Kentuckian Henry Clay to advocate a system of national laws and the building of federal roads and canals to bind the states of the rapidly expanding new nation.
Beginning in 1816, Calhoun supported a series of tariffs designed to protect America's emerging industries from inexpensive manufactured goods imported from overseas. He and other South Carolinians reasoned that their state had both water power and cotton, so they could build textile mills to manufacture cloth rather than import it.
But mills in New England profited from the tariffs, which drove up the price of consumer goods. At the same time, expanding production depressed the price of Southern cotton. Compounding the problem, much of South Carolina's land became worn out from overplanting with a single crop, causing some of its best planters to move to the rich black soil of Alabama and Mississippi. Many South Carolinians believed that textile interests up North were getting rich at their expense, and they started blaming their problems on the federal government.
With the tariffs hurting his home state, and with the system of national laws that he had once advocated beginning to threaten slavery, Calhoun came up with the Doctrine of Nullification. According to this doctrine, because the U.S. Constitution was merely a contract among 13 sovereign nations, a single state could nullify laws passed by the federal government. By implication, any state was as free to secede from the Union as it was to join.
When Congress passed another, higher tariff in 1830, the South Carolina legislature declared it to be "null, void, and no law," and promised to secede from the Union if the federal government attempted to use force to collect the money. President Jackson declared that the Union could not be dissolved and threatened to use federal force. South Carolina raised a voluntary military force but backed off when Congress reduced the levy.
Nullification was unpopular up in North Carolina, although the Tarheels didn't like Jackson's threat to use force against a "sovereign" state. Down in Georgia, the state legislature said that it "abhorred" the doctrine, but it also proposed a convention of the Southern states.
Saying Goodbye to Old Glory -- The issue of secession next came up in 1849, when South Carolina objected to the admission of California as a nonslave state and called for a Southern convention, which met in Nashville, Tennessee, the following year. Congress prevented a showdown, however, by passing the Compromise of 1850, which admitted California as a free state but also enacted stringent fugitive-slave laws. The latter was a key point for Southerners, who wanted their escaped "property" to be returned, even from free states.
From the Southern slave-owning perspective, events in the North over the next decade were most unsettling -- especially the creation of the Republican Party in 1854. Two years later, this new antislavery party nominated John C. Fremont for president, and in 1858, it won a majority in Congress. One of the party's prominent members was Abraham Lincoln, a lanky Illinois congressman.
The Democrats held their 1860 national convention in Charleston, South Carolina. When the delegates refused to adopt a proslavery platform plank, the eight cotton states walked out. The split helped elect Lincoln, the Republican nominee.
South Carolina called a convention that adopted an Ordinance of Secession on December 20, and the convention sent delegations to the other Southern states to beseech them to do likewise.
Georgia wasted little time, seceding on January 19, 1861, but a majority of North Carolina voters rejected the idea. Only some 35,000 of the 1 million Tarheels owned slaves, and the rest weren't for what they saw as a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight." The North Carolinians didn't change their minds until April, when Lincoln requested that they send troops to fight against their neighbors.
The War of Northern Aggression -- The American Civil War (which many Southerners still call the War of Northern Aggression) began at 4:30am on April 15, 1861, when South Carolinian forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston's harbor. Lincoln immediately called for volunteers to put down the rebellion. Within a few months, federal troops occupied much of the coastal lowlands of the Carolinas and Georgia, leaving only the port cities of Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah in Confederate hands, albeit blockaded by the Union navy.
Except for a few skirmishes and the bombardment of Charleston in 1863, the Carolinas and Georgia escaped heavy fighting until May 1864, when Union general Ulysses S. Grant told Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to "get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources." Thus began Sherman's famous March to the Sea, the world's first modern example of total war waged against a civilian population.
Sherman fought his way south from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia, a key railroad junction, which the Confederates evacuated on September 1. Leaving Atlanta burning, he departed for the sea on October 17, cutting a 60-mile path of destruction across central and eastern Georgia. Despite Sherman's orders to the contrary, looting and pillaging were rampant, especially by hangers-on and newly freed slaves.
Sherman arrived at Savannah on December 10, in time to make the port city a Christmas present to Lincoln. (Fortunately, he did not burn the city.) In January 1865, he turned his war machine northward into South Carolina. He torched 80 square blocks of Columbia in February. Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston made several attempts to slow Sherman's advance. One such attempt was the Battle of Rivers Bridge, between Allendale and Erhardt, South Carolina, in February; the last was the Battle of Bentonville, near Durham in central North Carolina, in March. On April 26, 2 weeks after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, Johnston met Sherman at Durham and handed over his sword. The war was over.
The conflict was monstrously costly to the region -- particularly to North Carolina, which had joined the fray only reluctantly in the first place. Of the 125,000 Tarheels who served, 40,000 died in battle or of disease, more than from any other Southern state. Those who fought earned their "Tarheel" moniker because of their tenacious refusal to yield ground during battle.
Scalawags, Carpetbaggers & Jim Crow -- The Civil War survivors straggled home to face Reconstruction. At first, Confederate war veterans dominated the state legislatures in the Carolinas and Georgia. They enacted so-called Black Code laws, which gave some rights to the newly freed slaves but denied them the vote. This and other actions infuriated the radical Republicans who controlled the U.S. Congress and wanted to see the South punished for its rebellion. In 1867, Congress passed the Reconstruction Act, which gave blacks the right to vote and divided the South into five districts, each under a military governor who had near-dictatorial powers. Twenty thousand federal troops were sent to the South to enforce the act.
Recalcitrant white officials were removed from state office, and the ex-slaves helped elect Republican legislatures in all three states. Many blacks won seats for themselves. Despite doing some good work, these legislatures were corrupt and also enacted high taxes to pay for rebuilding and social programs, further alienating the struggling white population.
White Carolinians and Georgians also complained bitterly about "scalawags" (local whites who joined the Republican Party) and "carpetbaggers" (Northerners who came South looking to become wealthy landowners). The animosity led to the formation of two secret white organizations -- the Knights of the Camilla and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan -- that undertook terrorism to keep blacks from voting or exercising their other new rights. The former slaves also were disappointed with the radical Republicans when it became obvious that they wouldn't receive their promised "40 acres and a mule." Those who did vote began to cast their votes for their former masters.
All this set the stage for whites to regain control of North Carolina and Georgia in 1871. By January 1877, only South Carolina still had a carpetbagger regime, and when the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, withdrew federal troops from Charleston in April, former Confederate general Wade Hampton became governor. Reconstruction was over.
During the next 20 years, white governments enacted Jim Crow laws, which imposed poll taxes, literacy tests, and other requirements intended to prevent African Americans from voting. Whites flocked to the Democratic Party, which restricted its primaries -- tantamount to elections throughout the South -- to white voters. Blacks who did try to vote faced action from the Ku Klux Klan.
Racial segregation became a legal fact of life in the region, from public drinking fountains to public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court ratified the scheme in its 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, declaring "separate but equal" public schools to be constitutional. Black schools in the South were hardly equal, but they surely were separate.
Lintheads & Bright Leaf -- Economically, the Carolinas and Georgia changed drastically during the 1880s. With slaves turned into sharecroppers and tenant farmers, the region went back to growing cotton after the Civil War -- so much of it that the price dropped drastically. Taking advantage of the cheap raw material and free power provided by rushing rivers, enterprising industrialists soon built cotton mills throughout the Piedmont. Instead of scratching a living out of their hardscrabble land, the Piedmont's farmers flocked to the new factory jobs. These low-paid workers, who worked long hours and included many women and children, were derided as "lintheads." But at long last, the region had the textile industry that John C. Calhoun had dreamed of.
The Civil War ended for General Sherman's troops at Durham, the heart of North Carolina's tobacco-producing region, and the soldiers took home a taste for the smooth-tasting bright-leaf tobacco. The 1881 invention of the cigarette-rolling machine meant that cigarette factories soon dotted central North Carolina, making fortunes for men such as James B. Duke and R. J. Reynolds.
The Piedmont rivers also powered new furniture factories, especially in North Carolina and northern Georgia.
Sit-Ins at Lunch Counters -- For the first half of the 20th century, whites were firmly in control in the Carolinas and Georgia. The Democratic Party reigned supreme, and racial segregation was a way of life. For the most part, politics in the three states followed the old Low Country/Up Country split, but with the Piedmont's wealthy industrialists playing an increasingly important role.
From the beginning, the textile-mill owners fought any effort to unionize their predominately white workers, often threatening to replace them with blacks if they voted to join a union. In 1934, Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge went so far as to call out the state's National Guard to put down a strike. To this day, the Carolinas and Georgia are antiunion, "right to work" states.
The state legislatures tended to switch between progressive and conservative Democrats, often following hard-fought primary campaigns. The favorite progressive platform called for increased spending for public education. North Carolina built some 1,100 public schools between 1901 and 1904. But as late as 1942, conservative governor Talmadge of Georgia claimed that "education ain't never taught a man to plant cotton" (or to mill it, some would say). Accordingly, the three states lagged far behind the rest of the nation in education. (To their credit, however, the industrialists did contribute to the region's institutions of higher learning; tobacco interests turned little Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina, into prestigious Duke University.)
Even after the U.S. Supreme Court declared in its 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, division of the races continued. Nearly 10 years went by before the first black student enrolled in an integrated South Carolina public school.
But it all began to change with the advent of the civil rights movement. In 1960, black college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, held the first sit-in at a Woolworth's lunch counter. Unlike the violent scenes that erupted in Alabama and Mississippi, most civil rights demonstrations in the Carolinas and Georgia were peaceful. One exception was a 1962 rock-throwing incident in Albany, Georgia (a demonstration that set the precedent for the later protests of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Another occurred in 1968, when state police opened fire on black students at a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Although the Voting Rights Act was strenuously opposed by powerful U.S. senators Richard B. Russell of Georgia, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and Sam J. Ervin, Jr., of North Carolina, Congress enacted it in 1965. No other result of the civil rights movement has changed the South more. Today blacks represent several Carolina and Georgia districts in the U.S. House of Representatives, others hold many seats in the state legislatures, and African-American local officials number in the hundreds. And, of course, on January 20, 2009, Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States, took up occupancy in the White House.
In 1966, Georgia Democrats nominated for governor a man named Lester Maddox, who had waved an ax handle to keep civil rights protesters out of his whites-only Atlanta restaurant. His Republican opponent actually won a plurality, but the Democratic legislature put Maddox in office. Four years later, a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, courted Maddox's segregationist voters, but at his inauguration as governor in 1971, Jimmy Carter promised to end the racial divide. In 1976, Carter became the first Georgian, and the first Southerner since before the Civil War, to be elected president of the United States.
The 1980s and 1990s saw many changes in the region. High-tech modern industries set up shop, especially in the Raleigh-Durham area in North Carolina, along the I-85 corridor in South Carolina, and in the burgeoning Atlanta suburbs. With them came a migration of Northerners, many bringing Republican leanings that made the old one-party South a thing of the past. Today's Carolinas and Georgia are politically competitive, usually voting Republican in presidential elections but splitting their votes at the statehouse level.
Senator Strom Thurmond (1902-2003) died on June 26, 2003. The longest-serving senator in American history, Ol' Strom was completely senile at the end of a notorious political career. A racist, segregationist, and homophobe, he was also the master Southern politician and a war hero. His political legacy today rests on his reshaping of the Republican Party and reestablishing a two-party system in the Southeast.
Atlanta has long been a symbol of black success and a lure to African Americans. But surveys have shown that for the first time since the 1920s, the white percentage of the city's population is on the rise. The black population reached an all-time high of 61% in 1990, but by 2008, it had fallen to just 53%.
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