English settlers from Barbados brought with them the knowledge of the plantation system which was dependent on slave labor. They also brought their slaves



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English settlers from Barbados brought with them the knowledge of the plantation system which was dependent on slave labor. They also brought their slaves. Captives, chained together below decks for weeks on very crowded and unsanitary ships, were brought from West Africa. At first, enslaved Africans were brought to Barbados and then to Charleston, but eventually, the slaves were brought directly to Charleston. Slaves were valuable to the wealthy low country planters because they knew how to grow rice which became central to the plantation economy and wealth of South Carolina.

The institution of slavery came to dominate the culture of the low country and eventually the culture of all of South Carolina. African slaves also made significant contributions to the culture of South Carolina. The slave trade included slave auctions which were the primary way of selling the enslaved people who arrived on the ships from Africa. Slaves were inspected by potential buyers and sold to the highest bidder. The daily life of the enslaved people differed widely from plantation to plantation or house to house depending on the benevolence of the master. The daily life of slaves included hard work and long hours in the fields that benefited the plantation owner, not the worker. Despite their often brutal circumstances, the enslaved Africans tried to keep the traditions of their homeland and succeeded in many cases. Their ingenuity and desire to communicate with fellow slaves who spoke many different African tongues led to the development of a common language.The blending of African traditions led to the Gullah culture which has its own music, stories and art forms, such as sweetgrass basket weaving. The enslaved Africans also brought food and techniques of cooking food to our state. We enjoy okra, yams, hoppin’ john and other foods and the technique of frying food because of influences from Africa. Though mostly peaceful, enslaved Africans sometimes practiced acts of resistance against white authority. The effort to keep their African traditions alive was a silent statement of resistance. Enslaved people could also sabotage tools, work slowly, or in more drastic situations, run away or rebel. There were a few examples of violence such as the Stono Rebellion. This rebellion was quickly put down; participating slaves were executed and a new set of laws was passed in South Carolina to control slaves.


There are different social classes in every society. Historic events may impact these classes differently and so these classes may have different perspectives on historic events. One indicator of class differences is the daily lives and characteristics of the various classes of people in antebellum South Carolina. The elite were the wealthy, upper class, planter aristocracy who were land rich. The elite owned 20 or more slaves and attained their wealth from the cultivation and sale of the cash crops, cotton and rice. Although the elite had lived only along the coast in colonial times, by the antebellum period they lived in the midlands and the upstate as well. The children of the elite were often educated by private tutors or at private schools in South Carolina and abroad. The elite had greater political power and influence in the state because of their wealth and social standing and made laws that protected their interests, especially their interests in slavery.

The middle class were tradesmen, merchants, shopkeepers, physicians and attorneys, and could easily earn a living during prosperous economic times. They were most likely to live in cities and towns and had some political and social influence in their neighborhoods. They may have owned a few slaves to do household chores. Children of the middle class were taught to read and write and might pursue a profession like their fathers.

The lower class were unskilled and uneducated and often landless. Their job prospects were very limited. Those who could afford to hire them preferred to use slave labor. Often lower class people squatted on a piece of land and engaged in subsistence farming. Children of the lower class were uneducated as there were no public schools and their parents were also uneducated and needed the children to work. They had little social or political influence.

Independent farmers owned small farms which they worked themselves with the aid of family members. Some independent farmers owned a few slaves but worked side by side with them in the fields. The children of independent farmers might be educated at home. The majority of farming in the state, especially in the upstate, was done by independent farmers. As independent farmers were more successful in growing cash crops and became more prosperous, they bought more slaves and increased their social and political standing. Some even became members of the elite.

At the time of the Civil War not all white South Carolinians owned slaves. Free African Americans usually had a particular skill, such as carpentry, or a talent, such as music making. This skill led them to be hired out by their masters. Some were allowed to keep a portion of the money they earned from being hired out which they saved to buy their freedom. Others had been given their freedom by a master for some special deed or service, although this became much less likely (and illegal) after the slave revolt of the early 1830’s. Their skill or talent allowed them to earn a living in the towns or cities of the South. Others were independent farmers. Many stayed in the region because they had family members who were still enslaved. They worked to earn money to buy the freedom of wives and children. The children of freed African Americans might be taught to read and write at home but there were no public schools provided for them. Although free African Americans in the South had more economic opportunity than free African Americans who lived in the North because of their special skills, they did not have political or social equality with other Southerners. They had to pay a special tax and carry their freedom papers wherever they went. They lived in fear of being returned to slavery.

Enslaved African Americans were an unpaid labor source who were bought and sold and considered the property of their white masters. Slaves were allowed few personal freedoms and had to carry a pass issued by their master to travel from one plantation to another. Many enslaved African Americans were born and died on the same plantation where they lived in one- room slave cabins under the strict supervision of their masters. Others were sold upon the death of their masters, when they were disobedient or when the master needed extra cash. Families were divided by such sales. Slaves, including women and children worked from sun-up to sun-down in the fields or in the master’s house. They were not paid but were given a few clothes and

limited amounts of food by the master. It was illegal for slaves and their children to learn to read and write because such knowledge might allow them to escape their masters. Slaves who disobeyed the rules or tried to escape were punished, sometimes severely.
The geography of South Carolina, including the climate, soil conditions, and topography supported growing cotton. The institution of slavery and the plantation system were originally established by the early English settlers who brought the institution with them from Barbados. Slavery was also supported by the social class system of South Carolina. The elite class who controlled the government encouraged the practice of slavery in order to support their lifestyle, economic situation and social and political position.

After the Revolutionary War, Northern states passed laws to gradually free their slaves; however, the plantation owning political elite in South Carolina did not support such laws. The institution of slavery became stronger as a result of the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney [1793]. By making it easier to pick the seed from the short boll cotton, the cotton gin made cotton a profitable cash crop for all parts of South Carolina. The cotton gin led to the expansion of slavery. Planters soon increased profits by increasing the production of cotton which required more slave labor to plant, chop (hoe) and pick the cotton. Planters bought additional slaves and were less likely to free any of their slaves, continuing the cycle of exploitation of African Americans. As the cultivation of cotton grew, cotton became increasingly important to the economy of South Carolina and South Carolinians became increasingly dependent on slave labor. Many smaller independent farmers, because of increased profits due to the cotton gin,

also became slave owners. Like the larger plantations, they too became dependent on the slaves to keep up the increased production of cotton on their farms. More slaves equaled more money, regardless of the size of the farm. As a result of the increased production of cotton, cotton farmers sought more land farther west and the institution of slavery was spread with the cultivation of new cotton fields.
South Carolina's agricultural economy became dependent on slave labor as a result of the introduction of the institution of slavery by the English settlers who came from Barbados and was later intensified by the invention of the cotton gin. As a result, the southern way of life was well established and defended by the elite class who profited greatly from the use of slaves. Cotton brought prosperity to the state.

The purpose of the abolitionist movement was to outlaw slavery throughout the United States. Abolitionism was seen by South Carolinians as a threat to their way of life. Abolitionists spoke out against slavery in speeches and newspapers. South Carolina refused to allow abolitionist newspapers to be mailed into the state. South Carolinians feared that abolitionists would foster slave revolts and were, therefore, not welcome in the state. South Carolinians who spoke out against slavery were often vilified and not accepted by society. Some abolitionists, such as the Grimke sisters, were forced to leave South Carolina. Abolitionists also provided resting places for escaping slaves along the Underground Railroad. However, this means of escape was not very effective in South Carolina because the state was too far from the border with the North and even farther from Canada. Escaped slaves often continued their journey all the way to Canada because they were not safe from recapture in the North. The abolitionist movement was effective in South Carolina only in making slave owners more determined to defend the right to own slaves. Most Northerners were not abolitionists.


Slavery was accepted by almost all South Carolinians as their way of life, even though many South Carolinians did not own slaves. Slavery was defended by the middle class, who hoped one day to be like the elites and by lower class whites who, at the very least, felt superior to the enslaved African American.

As a result of the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States [November 1860], a Secession Convention was held in Columbia, then moved to Charleston [December, 1860]. Almost all members of the convention voted to secede, or no longer be part of the United States. They signed the Ordinances of Secession. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, even before Lincoln was sworn in as president. Soon other states joined South Carolina and formed a new country, the Confederate States of America. They wrote a constitution and elected a president, Jefferson Davis. [January, 1861]

The Confederacy began to form an army and to take over forts and other property located in the South that belonged to the national government. The Confederate government ordered the Union soldiers to leave Fort Sumter, located in Charleston harbor. The United States army refused to obey the orders of the Confederate States of America. President Lincoln would not recognize the Confederate split from the Union

and sent supplies to the federal troops at Fort Sumter. Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter before the supply ships could arrive. The bombardment continued until the Union troops surrendered. Federal troops were allowed to leave peacefully but the Civil War had begun.

President Lincoln and the Union army prepared for war. So did the Confederate States of America. South Carolina depended on the export of cotton in exchange for imports of much needed war supplies from Europe so the United States Navy blockaded the port of Charleston. The Union blockade brought great hardship to the people of South Carolina because they could not get needed food and supplies. Determined to break the blockade, the Confederacy developed the first submarines near the end of the war. The Confederate ship, The Hunley, was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship. However, The Hunley itself sank and was not effective in breaking the Union blockade of the port of Charleston. Most of the fighting in the Civil War took place outside of South Carolina. However, the war came to the state when the Union forces took over Port Royal near Hilton Head and tried to take Charleston for over a year.

Towards the end of the war, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman led his troops across Georgia and South Carolina in an effort to split the Confederacy and finally bring an end to the war by using the tactic of total war. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia left behind a trail of destruction of burned and looted farms and plantations. Sherman continued the march through South Carolina from Savannah to Columbia. The city of Columbia burned and Sherman’s troops headed north to the North Carolina border. The purpose of Sherman’s march was to destroy available supplies and anything important to the economy in an effort to end the war and to convince the civilian population to end the war.

All classes of people suffered as a result of the war. Food, cloth and needles and thread to make clothing, and other basic necessities were in short supply because Southerners imported these goods when they exported their cotton crop. The Union blockade successfully blocked this trade. However, each group of people was affected in different ways.

Some elite plantation owners volunteered to serve in the Confederate army. However, they were not required to serve by the Confederate government because they had to supervise their slaves. This led to the charge that it was a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” The elite lost much of their wealth as a result of the war. They were not able to export their cotton because of the blockade. When the advancing Union army freed the slaves, confiscated food and livestock and burned buildings, the elite lost much of their property. Many had loaned money to the Confederate government and invested in it by buying bonds using their Confederate currency. Confederate bonds and currency became worthless when the South lost the war. Despite these losses of property, the elite continued to have social status and influence among the white population of South Carolina during and after the war.

Independent farmers, and middle and lower class men volunteered or were drafted into the Confederate army. They spent days in army camps drilling to prepare for battle. Carrying everything they might need, they marched from battle to battle at the command of their officers. In battle, many lost their lives or were gravely wounded.

Others died of disease in crowded camps or prisons. Soldiers suffered from loneliness, weather, hunger and fatigue. Many, however, found camaraderie with their fellow soldiers.

The middle class also lost money and suffered property damage as a result of the war. Women of all classes were left at home to tend to businesses and farms. This became increasingly difficult as food, cloth and other goods were in short supply and as some slaves ran away or were freed by the advancing Union army. As supplies fell, rising prices affected poor families more than wealthy ones. Women also served as nurses at wayside hospitals. They grieved for sons, brothers and husbands lost in the war. Because of the high number of casualties, many women continued to run farms and businesses in the generation after the war.

Most African American slaves continued to work on plantations during the war. Some, close to the battle front, fled to Union lines. Eventually some African Americans were allowed to join the Union army and fight for their freedom in segregated units. Slaves were also used by the Confederate army to build fortifications. African Americans suffered from lack of food, just as did others throughout South Carolina. They were liberated as the Union army reached their vicinity.

During the war, racial tensions increased as whites feared that slaves would rise up in rebellion. This led to the “20 slave rule” that exempted owners of 20 or more slaves from serving in the Confederate army. As slaves were liberated by the Union army, many left their plantation homes to search for family members who had been sold away or to experience freedom. Destitute, without food or shelter except that provided by the Freedman’s Bureau, most eventually returned to the vicinity of their original plantation homes. In the post-war period, whites tried to continue to control the freedmen through the Black Codes. African Americans, protected by amendments to the Constitution and by the national government, wanted to exercise the full rights of American citizenship. This led to increased tension between former slaves and former slave owners.

The plantation system collapsed as a result of the loss of slave labor because of the freeing of the slaves through the war and the 13th Amendment. However, the agricultural, cotton economy of pre-war South Carolina survived because of the development of the system of sharecropping. There was no cash available to pay wages for farm workers so the sharecropping system was developed to make use of the available free African American labor force. The landowner provided acreage, seed and equipment such as hoes and plows, and the freedman provided the labor in exchange for a portion, or share, of the crop that was produced. This mutually beneficial arrangement allowed the freedman some control over his labor and provided manpower for the land owner. As time went on, however, the system mired the sharecropper, whether white or African American, in poverty and indebtedness. As a result of the war, there was massive destruction of cities, towns, factories, and railroads. A fire in Charleston in 1861 and the bombardment of the city left it in ruins. The burning of Columbia as a result of Sherman’s March left the capital city and many towns along Sherman’s route destroyed. The few factories that were in the South had converted to war production, but the money paid by the Confederate government was worthless

once the war ended so they went out of business. Some factories had been destroyed. Railroads and bridges had been destroyed by both armies to prevent the enemy from using them to transport soldiers and supplies. Confederate money was worthless and so was not available to finance rebuilding, pay taxes, or pay workers. There was also a shortage of men due to heavy war casualties. It is important that students understand that the purpose of Reconstruction was not to rebuild the destroyed economic infrastructure of the South, but rather to reconstruct the political Union. The United States government did not then think that it was the responsibility of national government to rebuild the South’s economy. That was the responsibility of states and individuals.

Reconstruction was a period of time after the end of the Civil War when the federal government protected the rights of newly freed slaves. It ended when the antebellum political elites regained control of the government and the freedmen were no longer protected. Reconstruction was not the process of rebuilding the Southern economy or its infrastructure, but of reconstructing southern society and government so that African Americans could have a role as free citizens and the southern states could be fully involved again in the national government. Lincoln and the national government never recognized that South Carolina had seceded from the Union. The first Reconstruction plan proposed by President Lincoln did not work because Confederate leaders were still in power and they did not protect the rights of newly freed slaves. Although South Carolina ratified the 13th amendment granting slaves their freedom, South Carolina leaders also passed Black Codes, laws that restricted the rights of the freed slaves so that they were free in name only.

So, the second Reconstruction plan was passed by Congress, brought federal military intervention to the state and stripped the power from the former Confederate leaders. South Carolina was forced to ratify the 14th amendment, which recognized the right of African Americans to be treated as citizens of the United States. The state also had to write a new state constitution that recognized these rights. Many African Americans were elected to serve in the convention that wrote the new constitution and later served in the state legislature. Congress later also passed another amendment which guaranteed African Americans the right to vote [15th amendment]. The South Carolina elite resented this national interference and the political role that African Americans could now play in state government. South Carolina whites called anyone who cooperated with the state government, a government in which African Americans were now allowed to participate, a ‘scalawag.’ They called northerners who came South as missionaries or for economic opportunity ‘carpetbaggers.’ South Carolina whites accused these people of trying to take advantage of the plight of the state

after the war. Although some may have been corrupt, many so-called carpetbaggers and scalawags made significant positive contributions to the state.

Racial tensions increased as African Americans gained rights and opportunities. Many whites refused to participate in state government so long as African Americans were able to vote and hold office. Some South Carolinians resented the freedmen and tried to intimidate them by burning their homes and churches so that they would not vote or exercise their rights. The Ku Klux Klan was active in South Carolina, particularly in the upcountry. Some African Americans and their white supporters were killed by the KKK. Although the national government sent troops to control the KKK and protect the freedmen, they were not able to eliminate the Klan.

The new state constitution required the establishment of the public education system. This was a positive result of Reconstruction for former slaves and poor whites who did not have access to education before the Civil War. However, public education intensified racial tensions because whites did not want to go to school with African Americans. Two separate school systems were therefore created. These segregated schools were not equal.

Economic changes after the war were slow to take hold. Fertile land and a suitable climate for agriculture meant that cotton would continue to be a dominant crop. Sharecroppers provided the labor. However, farmers were soon caught in a cycle of debt and poverty. Although the infrastructure was not immediately repaired, commerce continued. By the end of the century, entrepreneurs began to build textile mills in the state. The availability of natural resources, such as swift flowing rivers, impacted the state’s recovery. Textile mills used water power to run the machines that turned cotton into cloth.

Which of the following was an effect of slavery in South Carolina?




  1. people volunteered to work on plantations

  2. Gullah culture

  3. people learned how to grow rice

  4. English settlers left South Carolina

How were independent farmers and enslaved African Americans different?




  1. Slaves were not free.

  2. A small farm owner plenty to eat.

  3. The farmer didn’t have to work for anyone else.

  4. Slaves were always together with their families..

Which of the following was an effect of the invention of the cotton gin?




  1. more slaves were freed

  2. less cotton was grown

  3. expansion of slavery

  4. small farmers became more poor

Which idea is a reason for South Carolina’s secession from the Union?




  1. South Carolina did not want to allow newspapers from other states to be read by its people.

  2. Too many slaves were escaping to the North and Canada.

  3. South Carolinians were afraid that the newly elected president’s ideas would free the slaves.

  4. South Carolina wanted the United States to expand to the west but Lincoln did not agree.

Which of the following statements explains the purpose of Sherman’s March?




  1. The purpose of Sherman’s March was to make the Confederacy more united.

  2. The purpose of Sherman’s March was to trick the Union army into thinking the Confederacy had given up.

  3. The purpose of Sherman’s March was to trick the Union army and allow the Confederate army to launch a surprise attack.

  4. The purpose of Sherman’s March was to destroy available supplies in an effort to end the war and convince the people to end the war.

Which statement describes the hardships the elite class suffered as a result of the Civil War?




  1. The elite were drafted into the Confederate army.

  2. The elite died of disease in crowded camps and prisons.

  3. The elite lost much of their wealth.

  4. The elite lost most of their property to the Union army

Many freed slaves became ___________ after the Civil War.




  1. teachers

  2. pirates

  3. plantation owners

  4. sharecroppers


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