Letter from Charleston, S.C. – Colony of a colony | Henry S. Fraser

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Gas lamp wisteria on battery charleston south carolina (Credit: Caribbean360/Bigstock)

Sir Henry S. Fraser

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday April 20, 2015 – Last week, in celebrating International Day for Monuments and Sites, I wrote a bit about our sister city Charleston (“the Holy City”) in South Carolina – to which we’re so closely connected. We can learn so much from our Charleston cousins. I’m just enjoying my eighth visit to this fascinating city – America’s favourite place – and each time I come I wish I could spend a month. One day, perhaps!

This visit was sponsored and coordinated through the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor and the Barbados and Carolinas Legacy Foundation. Of course I “sang for my supper” with a lecture at the College of Charleston and a seminar on the legacy, and the opportunities for furthering future friendships and partnerships. My lecture was titled “People, Pirates, Places and Partnerships”, and it focused on some of the HIStory and HERstories of mutual interest. Here are some summaries of some of them!

Professor George Rogers, the distinguished historian of South Carolina, described South Carolina as the colony of a colony. And the mother colony was Barbados. This came about because of the phenomenal financial success of the early sugar industry in Barbados, leading to a rush of emigrants from Britain in the 1650s – people of all social classes, looking for opportunities. It was rather like the gold rush in the Wild West in the 19th century. And the man whose vision led to the settling of the Carolinas was Sir John Colleton.

Sir John was a Royalist supporter of the embattled King Charles the First, who lost his head. Many Royalists fled to Barbados to avoid losing theirs, or, like Richard Ligon, to avoid debtors’ prison because of putting their money with their mouth in supporting the king. Colleton bought The Ridges, North of Speightstown, (subsequently known as Colleton) sight unseen, and later Colleton in St. John. His descendant, the late Alan Godsal was the brain behind the elegant Cobblers Cove Hotel in Speightstown.

Sir John had four sons. This created a challenge for their useful occupation, and the overcrowding of the island with immigrants with no chance of acquiring land led him to propose the settling of the mainland, to be named Carolina after King Charles the Second, “and all that land as far as the Pacific”! After several explorations – one led by Captain Hilton and one by Sir John Yeamans, Charlestown was eventually settled in 1670 after a harrowing odyssey, with three ships, ship wrecks, changes in plans, settling at Charlestown Landaing, and finally relocation from the original Charlestown Landing to the present site of Charleston

The controversial Sir John Yeamans – who allegedly procured the poisoning of his partner Benjamin Berringer, builder of St. Nicholas Abbey, and married his wife – was made a “Landgrave” and seized the governorship of the new colony. But his rascality apparently continued and he was overthrown. I refer to him as the JR of Carolina, after the amoral anti-hero of the TV drama Dallas!
Rhoda Green, our Honorary Consul in Charleston, arranged a visit for our party to Yeamans Hall, which is now a luxurious golf club.

But an even greater Barbadian rascal with a Charleston connection is the gentleman pirate of Barbados, Stede Bonnet. Bonnet was the son of a planter, born in the house where I live – Upton was formerly Bonnets, or Upper Bonnets. He was married with four children and was a Justice of the Peace, but to everyone’s surprise he bought a ship, named it the Revenge, and off he went a-pirating! In a book on pirates written in the 18th century it was suggested that he went a–pirating because of marital disharmony, and there was a cartoon with a “wife” hurling plates at him! But my friend the historian Bobby Morris theorises that he was in league with unscrupulous local merchants, may have been seeking revenge against Barbadians in Charleston, and may have brought booty back to Barbados …who knows?

He was quite successful, raiding nearly 20 ships in his short career of a year and a half. He teamed up with Blackbeard at one point, but Blackbeard then double crossed him. He was eventually captured and imprisoned in Charleston, escaped, perhaps with the help of the Barbadian provost-marshall, recaptured, convicted in a dramatic trial, and hung in Charleston. He is memorialised with a large stone monument in Battery Park.

There are many places in Charleston and the surrounding “low country” connected with Barbados, and one of the most interesting connections is the architectures. Plantation house architecture is remarkably similar to that of Barbados, but their iconic “single house” is said to have been taken from here to there. The term single house was used by the historian Richard Ligon, in his book A Short and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (1657) for a house that was but a single room wide. The early houses of Charleston were long and narrow, on narrow plots, and absolutely uniform in being a single room wide, originally on two stories, but later three, with three rooms on each floor. Many such houses in Speightstown have been lost, but the prototype is the Arlington House Museum.

There are several spectacular places close to Charleston that are closely connected with Barbados, especially Drayton Hall, Magnolia Gardens and Middleton Place. Magnolia was the plantation of Thomas Drayton, who emigrated from Barbados in 1680. On my first visit to Drayton Hall in 1986 I met Richmond Bowen, who proudly traced his descent as the 8th generation from a slave who came to Charleston with Thomas Drayton – clearly a Bowen from St. Lucy!

Drayton Hall is an extraordinary mansion, built in the 1740s. It is the first and most spectacular Palladian house in the USA, and is a “Must visit”. Magnolia Gardens, next door, is the most spectacular “romantic” garden in the USA, classed with Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon as attractions .- it receives more than 700,000 visitors a year. And even more spectacular is Middleton Place, the first landscaped garden in North America.

This was the home of Arthur Middleton, son of Edward and nephew of Arthur Middleton of Barbados, and who was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. What is especially intriguing today is the wonderful way that the Trustees have developed the plantation yard to preserve the traditional arts and crafts of pottery, blacksmith shop, barrel making (cooperage), weaving and husbandry. Guinea fowls and Guinea hogs complete the stableyard.And Eliza’s House tells the story of a 94 year old freedwoman and the story of the African-American heritage of Middleton Place. This has been a major focus of the work of the trustees in showing Middleton Place and its history.

Rhoda Green’s energy as Honorary Consul has created the Barbados and Carolinas Legacy Foundation, which is working with the South Carolinas National Heritage Corridor to further the education, appreciation and development of the Barbados Carolina connection. (To be continued)

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henry-fraser-150Sir Henry Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website:  profhenryfraser.com