South Carolina and the African Slave Trade


Understanding Slavery


Lives of 18th Century Blacks


African Slave Trade and SC


Growth of South Carolina's Slave Population


South Carolina's slave population compared to other states





Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801-1865


History of Slavery in South Carolina


First arrival

Spanish explorer Ayllon brings a few enslaved Africans to the South Carolina coast. The attempt to build a colony fails. Before the survivors leave, some Africans may have escaped and then intermarried with native Americans in the area.



A group of about 100 English settlers and at least one enslaved African create the first permanent colony near present-day Charleston. Soon after the governor brings a family of enslaved Africans, known only as John Senior, John Junior, and Elizabeth, to the colony. In the following years enslaved Africans help establish the first colony in many ways, building homes and performing such tasks as the cooking, sewing and gardening required on plantations and in towns. They also use their African-learned cattle raising and driving skills--they are the first American cowboys. Around one in three of the early settlers are African.


Rice Culture

Seed rice arrives in Charleston as a gift from a sea captain whose boat was under repair. Efforts by the English to grow rice fail. Enslaved Africans, who grew rice in Africa, show the English how to grow rice in wet areas--the rice culture, which creates great wealth for the colony, begins.


Population growth

The growth of indigo and cotton requires more and more labor, which leads to the importation of more and more enslaved Africans. By 1708 the numbers of whites and blacks in South Carolina are equal at about 4,000 each, according to British census figures. For most of the next two centuries (except a brief period between 1790 and 1820) blacks will outnumber whites in the state.




About 20,000 enslaved Africans are brought to the state. Enslaved people resist in a wide range of ways, from acting lazy or stupid or breaking tools in order to minimize the work that is being forced upon them, to theft, running away, and even individual violent resistance.


The Stono Rebellion

Although enslaved people have periodically fought back, this is the first large-scale rebellion. Roughly 100 enslaved Africans, led by "Jemmy," capture firearms about 20 miles south of Charles Town, and attempt to rally more people to join them. They plan to fight their way to St. Augustine where the Spanish promise freedom. They accidentally run in to a group of whites led by the Lt. Governor of the state, who alerts white authorities before the group has time to grow into an overwhelming force. The revolt is forcefully put down and some sixty of the rebels are executed.


Slave Codes

In reaction to the Stono Rebellion, the legislature passes slave codes which forbid travel without written permission, group meetings without the presence of whites, raising their own food, possessing money, learning to read, and the use of drums, horns, and other "loud instruments," that might be used by enslaved Africans to communicate with each other.


The Brown Fellowship Society is formed

It is one of many self-help groups formed by free African-Americans to help with education, burial costs, and support of widows and orphans of members. Others include the Human Brotherhood and the Unity and Friendship Society. The Brown Fellowship Society reflects the prejudice of the day, restricting its membership to those who are racially mixed and whose skin color is brown rather than black.



Restrictions are placed on free African-Americans

South Carolina passes a law requiring all free African-Americans between the ages of 16 and 50 to pay a yearly "head tax" of $2.00, a significant sum of money in that day. This is but one of a number of laws that make life very difficult for the relatively few African-Americans who are free. In 1790 they number only 1,801 of the 109,000 African-Americans who live in the state.


Cotton Gin

Invention of the cotton gin makes the growing of cotton profitable in non-coastal areas where only cotton with a lot of seeds in the bolls will grow. This greatly increases the need for labor and once again increases the number of enslaved Africans brought to the state.


The Minors Moralist Society founded

A purely charitable organization founded by free African-Americans for the purpose of caring for free African-American orphans.



Tom Molyneux, who had won his freedom in Georgetown as a reward for his boxing skills, following eight straight wins, boxes against the world heavyweight champion in England. He loses this match when he hits his head on the ring post and fractures his skull. No other major boxing matches take place between blacks and whites until 1891.


Camden Revolt

Few records exist about this revolt, but it is stopped before it really takes place. Local enslaved Africans are plotting a violent revolt in order to take revenge upon those who had enslaved them.



AME Church

Morris Brown, wealthy free African-American, starts an AME church in Charleston. The church is closed forcibly after the Vesey Rebellion.


Edgefield Pottery

During the early 1800s, a number of enslaved people become famous for their beautiful and useful pottery made in this area. The most famous is known as Dave the Potter. Scholars estimate that some 140 potters were plying their craft in this area during this period.


Denmark Vesey Rebellion

Led by Denmark Vesey, an African-Methodist church founder and former enslaved person who had bought his freedom, the rebellion is well-planned and widespread. It involves about 9,000 people. However, two house servants tell their masters before the planned date. Vesey and about 100 others are arrested. Vesey refuses to reveal any names, and he and thirty-three others are hanged.


The Georgetown Conspiracy

Details are sketchy, but a plot is uncovered and at least 20 enslaved people are arrested. Written documents suggest that many were hanged.


The Christian Benevolent Society

The Christian Benevolent Society is formed by free African-Americans to provide for the poor.


Fugitive Slave Law

This law, passed by Congress as part of a compromise to keep the nation together, is designed to help southern whites recapture enslaved people who flee to the northern "free" states. However, the law does not work very well because of abolitionists such as Robert Purvis. Born in Charleston to an enslaved mother and a white father, he is lucky in that his wealthy father sends him to school in the North. He settles in Philadelphia and helps organize the American Anti-Slavery Society and raises money for the underground railway.




Sea Islands

Union forces take control of the Sea Islands. Enslaved African-Americans flee to the area where Union troops consider blacks to be free because they are the "contraband of war." That is, they were the property of the enemy which is forfeited. Formal freedom comes more than a year later with the Emancipation Proclamation.


1862 (May 12)
Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls sails The Planter through Confederate lines and delivers it and its cargo to Union forces off the South Carolina coast. He volunteers to help the Union Navy guide its ships through the dangerous South Carolina coastal waters for the rest of the war.


Penn School

Two Northern Quakers create the Penn School on St. Helens Island after the Union captures the area and thousands of former enslaved people flee to safety there. The school survives as the Penn Center, serving as a conference center for the civil rights movement and a center for self-help and historical preservation today. The First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers is formed. African-Americans in the Sea Islands area volunteer for the first black unit to fight in the war as part of a Union experiment. The unit proves to be a great success. Throughout the war over 5,400 South Carolina African-Americans serve in the Union Army. They are a small but important part of the 200,000 African-Americans from all over America who serve in the Union Army and fight in over 400 different engagements.



The Atlantic Monthly publishes a collection of African-American spiritual hymns collected by Charlotte Forten, a free African-American from the North who comes to live and teach on St. Helena Island.


New Constitution and Black Codes

Following the war, white South Carolinians rewrite the state constitution in order to return to the union. They restrict the right to vote and elect an all-white legislature that then passes the "Black Codes," which restrict rights of the newly freed people. Congress responds by passing the Reconstruction Acts, which require that the state rewrite the Constitution. African-Americans participate under federal military supervision.



The Howard School

The Howard School is opened in Columbia. This is the only public school to serve African-Americans in Columbia until 1916. It serves all grades.

An African-American teacher, Francis Cardozo, founds the Avery Normal Institute in Charleston, a comprehensive school. No longer a school today, it exists as the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture.


New Constitution

A convention of 48 whites and 76 blacks meet and write a very progressive constitution that includes representation based on population, a complete bill of rights, protection of a married woman's property rights, a homestead exemption, and a right to a public education.

A northern missionary, Martha Schofield, founds the Schofield Normal and Industrial School in Aiken. It later becomes a public high school for African-Americans and finally an integrated middle school.

State Senator and presidential elector B.F. Randolph is murdered by radical whites in Abbeville County.




Joseph Rainey

Joseph Rainey becomes the first African-American in South Carolina to become a U.S. Representative in Congress. He is followed by seven others before African-Americans are driven out of elected office: Robert C. DeLarge, Robert Brown Elliott, Richard H. Cain, Alonzo Ransier, Robert Smalls, Thomas E. Miller, and George W. Murray.

The South Carolina Land Commission is created by the new legislature. Though troubled by corruption, the commission does sell farms to about 14,000 African-Americans.

The legislature grants a charter that creates Claflin College in Orangeburg.

Black and white workers form the Longshoreman's Protective Union Association. The Union is relatively successful until 1890 when whites break away to form their own separate group. After that the union declines.


Public Education

The state legislature, with African-Americans in control, passes a law to create a state-wide public school system. Although insufficient funds are available, this is the first such effort in the history of the state.

The self-sufficient farming community of Promised Land is formed on land in Greenwood County bought from the S.C. Land Commission. Residents survive by avoiding the cotton based crop lien system and instead grow the food they need and avoid contact with whites during the difficult decades after Reconstruction.



James Webster Smith

James Webster Smith of Columbia becomes the first African-American to enter West Point. He survives the vows of silence taken by other cadets, having to drill alone, eating after all the other cadets, being screamed at by instructors until 1874 when he is failed on an oral exam that is given to him in secret by a hostile philosophy professor and is dismissed from the academy. In 1996 President Clinton awarded him his West Point Commission posthumously.

November. Alonzo J. Ransier becomes the first African-American elected Lt. Governor. He is followed by Richard H. Gleaves in 1872.


Benedict Institute

With much support from African-American Baptists all over the state, the American Baptist Home Mission Society creates Benedict Institute, which later evolves into Benedict College.

The AME church founds Payne Institute in Abbeville, which in 1880 is moved to Columbia and becomes what is today Allen University.


S.C. Agricultural College

The state legislature creates the S.C. Agricultural College and Mechanics Institute near Orangeburg, which later grows into S.C. State.


University of South Carolina

The first African-American enters the University of South Carolina. All white students and faculty leave, but the school remains open with the help of white faculty from the North. After Reconstruction USC is reopened as an all-white school.


The Hamburg Massacre

The Hamburg Massacre takes place near Aiken in a battle between Democratic private para-military groups and the African-American state militia. After forcefully disarming the militia unit, whites execute five of their prisoners.

November. Fraud, violence, and intimidation enable white Democrats to claim a victory, to try and take control of state government after the election, and to begin to dismantle Reconstruction.




S.C. Election

Both parties claim to have won the election, and for several months the state has two governors and two sitting legislatures. The withdrawal of federal troops in April spells doom for the Republicans, who cannot match the firepower of the Democrats, led by Governor Wade Hampton.

Knowing that whites will soon force him off the bench, State Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Jasper Wright resigns from the court.


Liberian Emigration

About 200 African-Americans from South Carolina, following the advice of Reverend Richard H. Cain, a member of Congress from South Carolina and a newspaper publisher, emigrate to Liberia. Despite Cain's call for a million people to go, few others do.


Sea Island News

P.B. Morris founds a newspaper for African-Americans, the Sea Island News, later replaced by the New South after his death in 1891.



As conditions worsen in the state following the end of Reconstruction, about 20,000 African-Americans leave the state, many moving west as the frontier opens to opportunity. Out-migration accelerates after the turn of the century.


Bettis Academy

Reverend Alexander Bettis, a former enslaved person, creates the Bettis Academy in Trenton in Edgefield County to teach basic academic skills and trades and crafts.


Eight Ballot Box Law

White Democrats use the Eight Ballot Box law to disenfranchise African-American voters and pass laws to allow white registrars to strike African-Americans from the voting registration lists.


Clarissa Thompson

Columbia native Clarissa Thompson has her book Treading the Winepress: A Mountain of Misfortune, published as a serial in a Boston newspaper, making her the first female African-American from South Carolina to have her work published.



Arthur MacBeth

Arthur MacBeth opens a photographic studio in Charleston, winning many awards for his pioneering work.


Mather Academy

The United Methodist Church founds the Mather Academy in Camden, the only African-American secondary school to be accredited during this period.


The Colored Farmers' Alliance

The Colored Farmers' Alliance reaches a membership of 30,000 members in South Carolina and prints its own newspaper. However, a failed strike effort by cotton pickers a year later marks the decline of this self-help group.


The Jenkins Orphanage

The Jenkins Orphanage is begun in Charleston by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, the only orphanage for African-Americans in the state. The band formed by Jenkins to help support the enterprise becomes famous, makes European tours, and produces many professional musicians.


State Constitution Rewrite

Governor Ben Tillman leads a state constitutional convention to rewrite the state constitution to eliminate virtually all African-American influence in state politics. Six African-American politicians attend the convention (Robert Smalls, Thomas Miller, William Whipper, James Wigg, Isaiah Reed, and Robert Anderson) and speak out against the proceedings but are outvoted.


African-American Voting

African-Americans, now comprising about sixty percent of the population, are relegated to less than five percent of the voters in South Carolina.



Denmark Industrial School

Elizabeth Evelyn Wright and Jessie Dorsey open the Denmark Industrial School, which later becomes Vorhees Industrial School and then Vorhees College, one of many examples of African-American self-help in education.


Battle of San Juan Hill

Battle of San Juan Hill, in which two African-American Cavalry units, the Ninth and Tenth, which include South Carolinians, help take the hill. According to some reports, they may have saved Teddy Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" from defeat.


African-American Owned Businesses

The number of African-American owned general stores, the business centers in the communities across the rural state, reaches nearly 500, about ten times the number in 1880.

African-Americans own or operate more than half the farms in the state, but these are smaller farms, comprising only twenty-seven percent of the farmland in the state. However these farms are relatively productive, producing thirty-nine per cent of agricultural output.

The Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association, begun by A.E. Hampton about a decade earlier, is holding county fairs all over the state to improve farmer education and self-sufficiency.

Simon Brown moves to Society Hill to work on the family farm of young William Faulkner. As an adult, Faulkner remembers Brown's stories about Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and publishes them under the title The Days When Animals Talked. These tales preserved some of the trickster stories told by enslaved people.


The Exodus

An estimated half million African-Americans leave the state, mainly for northern cities during WWI and WWII when industrial opportunities are the greatest.



African American Libraries
See: African American Resources>Humanities>Libraries

African American Museums
See: African American Resources>Humanities>Museums

African American Research Centers
See: African American Resources>Humanities>Research Centers

African American Universities & Colleges
See: African American Resources>Education > African American Universities & Colleges

American Slavery>Slave Records
See: African American Resources>History>American Slavery>Slave Records



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