In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section South Carolina

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • The American Revolution

Atlantic History South Carolina
James Piecuch
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0268


The Carolina colony was chartered by England’s King Charles II in 1663, and the first settlers arrived in the vicinity of present-day Charleston in 1670. Many came from Barbados and sought to replicate the slavery-based plantation system with which they were familiar. They found rice to be a suitable crop, and as rice plantations thrived, wealthy planters came to dominate the colony’s economy and legislature. In 1719 the Carolina colony was divided and South Carolina became a separate colony. Proprietary government ended and the colony came under royal control. South Carolina was closely connected with the Atlantic World through immigration, trade, and kinship ties. Immigrants from Europe, the West Indies, and the northern colonies gave South Carolina the most diverse European population of any North American colony. The majority of the population, however, consisted of enslaved Africans, and there was also a substantial Native American presence until the end of the American Revolution. Important issues in the historiography of South Carolina include the colony’s relationship to the West Indies, particularly the extent of the latter region’s influence on South Carolina’s development; South Carolina’s influence on other mainland colonies; and relations between South Carolina and Native Americans, a topic that received little attention until the 1990s, and one that merits further examination. Slavery is another important, and a more thoroughly examined, theme, and includes aspects such as the contributions of Africans to rice cultivation, the persistence of African culture among slaves, and slave revolts and resistance. The development of the colony’s plantation system and the concurrent rise of the wealthy lowcountry planters to political dominance in South Carolina are two other important and interrelated topics. There is some debate over the extent to which the planter elite maintained its political dominance over the small farmers who made up the majority of the state’s white population amid the democratizing trends of the Jeffersonian and Jacksonian eras. South Carolina’s strained relationship with the federal government during the first half of the 19th century is another important issue, and the consensus among historians is that the state’s policies were shaped by the desire to preserve slavery, which led eventually to South Carolina’s secession and the Civil War. After the war, social changes caused by the emancipation of slaves, along with the physical devastation and economic difficulties resulting from the conflict, shifted the focus of South Carolinians toward domestic issues.

General Overviews

Several works cover broad spans of South Carolina history. Some focus on specific eras, while others span several periods of the state’s history. Edgar 1998 provides the greatest breadth of coverage, from the colonial era through the late 20th century. Coverage of the post-Reconstruction decades is often thin, but Edgar 1992 devotes necessary attention to most of that period, so that these two volumes together provide a thorough examination of South Carolina history. Alleyne and Fraser 1988 focuses on the links between Barbados and colonial South Carolina, and explores the persistence of Barbadian influence. Weir 1983 provides broad coverage of the colonial era, with the bulk of its emphasis on political issues, while Klein 1990 likewise addresses largely political matters from the late colonial era through the first decades of the American republic, with an emphasis on the importance of slavery in linking the backcountry with the lowcountry. The lowcountry economy is the subject of Coclanis 1989, a study that begins with the colony’s founding and continues into the early 20th century, tracing the transition from an agricultural system based on slave labor to a more diversified economy in which manufacturing played an increased role. Graham and Moore 1994 focuses on state politics from the early years of the American republic into the late 20th century, and notes the importance of social and economic issues on the state’s political culture. Online primary and secondary sources that cover the full range of South Carolina’s history supplement all of these works and are available through the Avery Research Center Digital Collections, the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program, the South Carolina Digital Library, the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, the South Carolina Historical Society, and the University of South Carolina Libraries Digital Collections.

  • Alleyne, Warren, and Henry Fraser. The Barbados-Carolina Connection. London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1988.

    Discusses the connections between South Carolina and Barbados. In addition to the links established when many Barbadians settled in the newly founded colony, the authors present evidence of other ties, such as architecture and peculiarities of language.

  • Avery Research Center Digital Collections.

    This site includes documents, oral histories, photographs, artifacts, and examples of South Carolina’s material culture and art.

  • Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program.

    Emphasizing the connections between the South Carolina lowcountry and the larger Atlantic World, this collection includes a broad range of primary and secondary material covering topics such as the Civil War, African American history, and the history of the state’s Jewish community.

  • Coclanis, Peter A. The Shadow of a Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1670–1920. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

    Analyzes the factors that led to South Carolina’s economic growth, beginning with the success of rice production in the colonial era, the decline of the rice industry as a result of competition from other regions, and subsequent economic changes in the state.

  • Edgar, Walter B. South Carolina in the Modern Age. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992.

    Provides an overview of South Carolina history from the Progressive Era in the late 19th century through the Depression, New Deal, and the changes brought about by the civil rights movement and the economic transformation away from agriculture.

  • Edgar, Walter B. South Carolina: A History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

    A comprehensive narrative of the history of South Carolina from its founding in 1670 to the late 20th century. Reflecting the existing historiography, the bulk of this work focuses on the colonial period through Reconstruction, although Edgar provides solid if less detailed coverage of the state’s later history.

  • Graham, Cole Blease, Jr., and William V. Moore. South Carolina Politics and Government. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

    Examines the continuity of the state’s political culture from its roots in the early national period and its adjustments to the challenges posed by economic and social change in the modern era. The volume also devotes considerable attention to South Carolina’s political institutions.

  • Klein, Rachel N. Unification of a Slave State: The Rise of the Planter Class in the South Carolina Backcountry, 1760–1808. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

    Argues that colonial-era divisions between small farmers in the South Carolina backcountry and wealthy planters in the lowcountry, though never eliminated, were largely overcome by the two groups’ shared commitment to slavery.

  • Lowcountry Digital History Initiative.

    Focusing on the history of the lowcountry region, digitized materials range from biographical information to business records and photographs.

  • South Carolina Digital Library.

    Consisting of over 200,000 digitized items from more than forty South Carolina libraries, museums, and archives, this collection includes both primary and secondary sources covering numerous aspects of the state’s history.

  • South Carolina Historical Society.

    Digitized materials include personal journals, collections of family documents, and oral histories.

  • University of South Carolina Libraries Digital Collections.

    A broad array of documents, books, photographs, maps, and films representing all periods of South Carolina history are included in the collection.

  • Weir, Robert M. Colonial South Carolina: A History. Millwood, NY: KTO, 1983.

    Weir analyzes the many important issues of the colonial era, including the transition from proprietary to royal government, the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans, the rising power of the colonial legislature, and tensions between the wealthy lowcountry planters and small farmers in the backcountry.

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