The Settling of the South Carolina Back Country

Before 1730, the Carolina back country was virtually deserted, except for a handful of hunters and Indian traders. In the middle country, which lay east of the sandhills, there were a few small frontier garrisons.

Some of these garrison inhabitants became the first permanent white settlers when the South Carolina Council began its active settlement programs in 1730. As their number slowly increased, some Indian tribes such as the Catawbas generally stayed peaceful. But the Cherokees were to resist the encroachment with sporadic hostility for years.

The South Carolina Council had a particular reason for wishing to promote settlement of the interior. The low country, or eastern, portion of the colony had become an area of large plantations with a rapidly expanding base of slave labor. By 1720, the slave population outnumbered the white by almost two to one. By the end of the decade, the ratio was three to one. The principal objective of the Council’s settlement acts for the next two decades was to achieve a balance in the colony’s population.

Several modes of encouraging settlement were considered. The one which was finally implemented by the Council in 1730 involved the laying out of ten large township areas throughout the colony between 1733 and 1759. The Council then offered incentives “for the Encouragement of poor Protestants to become Settlers and Inhabitant’s.”

The settlers who came to take advantage of the incentives in the Act of Settlement were granted land free of rent for the first year and free of taxes for ten years, implements for cultivating it, and for every five persons a cow, a calf, and a breeding sow. They were given provisions and sent directly to the new township areas. Once settled, they were promptly organized for military service; several of the townships were laid out on or near old fort sites.

The earliest arrivals were predominantly Swiss. Then in 1737, immigration from Europe fell sharply for a decade because the program was insufficiently funded and bounties were not paid as incentives. According to the South Carolina scholar Robert L. Meriwether, “few Germans and no Scotch Irish came until after 1748.”

From then until 1766, several thousand Germans arrived through the port of Charleston as bounty settlers. Ludwig Bottner’s name was not among the passengers listed during those years. By 1765, Meriwether estimated, between 7,500 and 8,000 Germans and German Swiss had arrived in South Carolina.  About two thirds of these came through the port of Charleston and only one third by land from other provinces.

Meanwhile, in the late 1750’s, the few settlers in the back country began to be joined by thousands of Germans and Scotch Irish who were making their way down the Great Wagon Road from western Pennsylvania. This most heavily traveled thoroughfare in the American colonies had inched its way, decade by decade, down through Virginia and North Carolina. Thus, the great migration out of western Pennsylvania which had begun in the 1730’s reached South Carolina in 1760 when the road was extended beyond its terminus in upper North Carolina to reach as far south as Fredericksburg township (now Camden).

From that time on, the back country population swelled incredibly, as it received each year many thousands of settlers who were migrating southward. From 7,000 in 1759 and 10,000 in 1765, the back country population soared to more than 82,000 only a decade later.

The Virginians and Scotch Irish settled principally in the upper part of the back country near the North Carolina border. The Germans settled in large numbers in the fork between the Saluda and Broad Rivers not far north of Saxe Gotha. This area came to be known as the Dutch Fork (probably as a mispronunciation of “Deutsch Volk,” which meant “German Folk”).

For most of these arriving hordes, the land continued to be distributed by the system of head rights established by the Council in connection with its township settlement programs, though with some fees and taxes charged and without the bounties paid to settlers arriving directly from Europe. The head of each household was still entitled to 100 acres, plus 50 acres for each dependent.

The changes in the patterns of immigration – predominantly through the port of Charleston prior to 1760 with settlement in the middle country, and overwhelmingly via the Great Wagon road after that time with settlement in the back country – will become significant when we make our deductions about the time and mode of Ludwig’s own arrival.

The Settlers

The early German and German Swiss immigrants who came in response to the 1730 Act of Settlement were established on the south side of the Congaree River, an important waterway which bisected the colony. Along its southern edge ran the Cherokee Path, the obvious route for the Charleston arrivals who were sent to the townships of Amelia, Orangeburg, and Saxe Gotha.

Although growth was slow at first, these three townships all became solidly established. By 1739, they had organized a combined militia. And by 1746, the governor of the colony reported that Orangeburg, Amelia, Saxe Gotha, and Fredericksburg (now Camden) were settled “chiefly with German Protestants, who begin now to thrive.”  (Only Orangeburg and Camden have survived as towns in the modern sense of the word.)

By 1747, Saxe Gotha (near the site of present day Columbia) had perhaps 66 families, and some settlers had moved across the Congaree River to obtain good land on the north bank. Amelia Township (now Calhoun County) had perhaps 650 white settlers by 1757, with a militia totaling 138 men; the inhabitants were predominantly English and German.

Of the new back country settlers coming southward in the 1760’s, the Scotch Irish were the most numerous and the Palatine Germans were the next largest element. There were also Welsh, English, and Quakers. For the most part, these arrivals were already second generation colonists.

The individual characteristics of these groups were pronounced, the most dramatic contrasts being between the Scotch Irish and the Germans. In South Carolina., the Scotch Irish came off much poorer in the comparison. They were lazy farmers, drifted to drink (cultivating rye and barley for their whiskey), and careless homebuilders. Sometimes they did not bother to put up a fourth wall on their makeshift cabins; and they were even known in cold weather to pass the bottle around rather than to bestir themselves to look for wood for their fires.

In contrast, the thrift and industry of the Germans stood out. They were pacific, pious, temperate (brewing only malt from their barley), and known for their cooperative labor. Their language made them even more communal than other nationalities. They pulled the stumps from their land rather than plowing around them. They built sturdy cabins with fireplaces in the center. And they were acknowledged to be the superior farmers of all the settlers who came to South Carolina.

A vivid picture of some of these early settlers was left by an Anglican minister, Charles Woodmason, who kept a record of his work in the back country beginning in 1766. Actually, his circuit was the upper part of the colony, with Camden (Fredericksburg township) as his home base, so he did not encounter The hard working Germans and German Swiss in the townships below the Congaree River, who, it is to be hoped, would not have earned his scandalized comments.

On his first visit to Camden, the terminus for the Great Wagon Road, Woodmason wrote in September, 1766:

The People around, of abandon’d Morals, and profligate Principles – Rude – Ignorant – Void of Manners, Education or Good Breeding – No genteel or Polite Person among them – save Mr. Kershaw an English Merchant settled here.
The people are of all Sects and Denominations – a mix’d Medley from all Countries and the Off Scouring of America. . . .
Not a House to be hir’d – Nor even a single Room on all this River to be rented, fit to put my Head or Goods in – The People all new settlers, extremely poor – Live in Logg Cabins like Hogs – and their Living and Behaviour as rude or more so than the Savages. Extremely embarrassed how to subsist. Took up my Quarters in a Tavern – and exposed to the Rudeness of the Mobb. People continually drunk.

When he traveled to the north of Camden, Rev. Woodmason noted:

The land is good, and plowed to the summit, bringing Wheat, Rye, Indian Corn and all kind of Grain and Fruit Trees – This is (a) most delightful and healthy part of this Country – No Bogs, Marshes, swamps, Fogs, Insects to annoy you. lts but newly settled. But the People are already crowded together as thick as in England.

Unfortunately, the settlers whom Woodmason encountered in the north were the Scotch Irish, who invariably reduced him to near apoplexy. “A finer Body of Land is no where to be seen,” he wrote of the upper part of the colony, “But it is occupied by a Sett of the most lowest vilest Crew breathing – Scotch Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland.”

From a seemingly endless supply of criticism, he termed them “Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the Scum of the Earth and the Refuse of Mankind. . .” And it was no doubt their influence on that region that prompted the following gloomy prediction in his journal in August, 1768:

Now will come on their Season of Festivity and Drunkenness – The Stills will be soon at Work for to make Whisky and Peach Brandy – ln this Article, both Presbyterians and Episcopalians very charitably agree (Viz.), That of eating drunk.

Rev. Woodmason preached as far south as the High Hills of Santee in today’s Sumter County in the middle of the colony, where his observations were slightly more charitable:

Met here with some serious Christians. But the Generality very loose, dissolute, Idle People – Without either Religion or Goodness – The same may be said of the whole Body of the People in these Back Parts.

He did, however, develop a warm friendship with his host Colonel Richardson, “A Worthy sensible Gentleman and Pious Christian. . . . (I am) once more in a Christian family.”

A little over forty years later, the descendants of Colonel Richardson would play a dominant role in the county’s history. They would lead the great migration of more than 1,000 people from Sumter to the Mississippi Territory in 1810. And Ludwig’s son Jacob would be a part of it.

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