Proprietor, governor. Born in England in 1642, Archdale was a son of London merchant Thomas Archdale and Mary Nevill. Little is known of his early years, although he possessed an estate in Buckinghamshire and was brought into the Quaker movement in the 1670s. In 1673 he married Ann Cary, a widow, and they had four children. Archdale also helped raise her son, Thomas Cary, who later became a governor of North Carolina.
Archdale was introduced to colonial America by his brother-in-law, Fernando Gorges, who held a claim on the proprietorship of Maine. Arriving in New England in 1664, Archdale spent a year overseeing Gorges’s interests. In 1681 Archdale purchased a share in the Carolina proprietorship in trust for his son Thomas Archdale. From 1683 to 1686 he presided as governor of North Carolina when Seth Sothel was absent from the province. In August 1694 Archdale was chosen by his fellow proprietors as governor of the Carolinas, and he arrived in Charleston the following year.
Archdale arrived with broad discretion from the proprietors to settle the factionalism that had crippled earlier efforts to govern South Carolina. In the spirit of reconciliation, Archdale met with leaders from both the antiproprietary and proprietary parties, reorganized the council, and treated the Indians with great kindness. However, his refusal to offer concessions on land, taxation, and self- rule created an impasse similar to that experienced by earlier governors. To make headway, he was obliged to exceed his instructions. With England at war with France, Archdale capitalized on local Francophobia and excluded French Huguenots from the Commons House of Assembly. He also simplified land grant procedures, allowing each grant a rent-free period of five years. Furthermore, quitrents prior to 1695 were forgiven and fees could now be paid in produce, rather than hard money. More importantly, laws passed by the Commons House of Assembly and proprietary deputies in Carolina could not be repealed by London without the consent of the assembly, unless it involved a question of royal prerogative or enumerated proprietary rights. These provisions became known as Archdale’s Laws, and although never ratified by the proprietors, they essentially remained in effect for two decades. Having pacified the assembly, Archdale succeeded in passing a spate of legislation, including South Carolina’s first comprehensive slave law.
Archdale left for England in 1696, appointing his cousin Joseph Blake as deputy governor. The province was quiet, but the matter of control that had divided the colony since the 1680s was not yet settled. Archdale’s healing administration proved only a temporary calm in the turbulent politics of the proprietary era. Archdale never returned to Carolina. He sold his proprietary share to Joseph Blake in 1696, possibly because Lord Craven was unhappy with the concessions that Archdale granted the colony. In 1705 Archdale bought a second share, and after three years, he gave it to his daughter. His exact date of death is unknown, but Archdale was buried on July 4, 1717, at High Wycombe Church in Buckinghamshire, England.
Hood, Henry. The Public Career of John Archdale, 1642–1717. Greensboro: North Carolina Friends Society, 1976.
McCrady, Edward. The History of South Carolina under the Proprietary Government, 1670–1719. New York: Macmillan, 1897.
Sirmans, M. Eugene. Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663– 1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.
Weeks, Stephen B. “John Archdale, and Some of His Descendants.” Magazine of American History 29 (February 1893): 157–62.