Governor. Craven was born in England on May 6, 1682. He was a younger son of Sir William Craven, one of the original Lords Proprietors of Carolina, and his wife, Lady Margaret Clapham. Sir William died in 1697, and his eldest son inherited his titles and the proprietary share of Carolina. Charles Craven secured the appointment of deputy governor of Carolina in February 1711 and arrived in the colony in March 1712. He had one of the longest tenures of any proprietary-era governor, and despite political conflict and the outbreak of the Yamassee War in 1715, his was considered one of the most successful terms of office.
Craven worked constructively with a fractious Commons House of Assembly and was able to secure the passage of important legislation. He accomplished this by respecting the privileges and prerogatives of the Commons House instead of quarreling with it over issues of precedent and procedure. In his first message as governor, Craven pledged not to interfere with liberty of conscience, a welcome change from the oppressive Church of England’s authority that had been a hallmark of Governor Nathaniel Johnson’s term. Among Craven’s successes were the reception act of 1712 which established English common and statute law in Carolina, election laws that briefly imposed order on Carolina’s chaotic political processes, and legislation to reform Indian trade and to encourage immigration.
Despite his efforts to secure peace with regional Indian tribes, Craven ended up leading the colonists and allied Indian tribes in the first year of the most devastating Indian conflict ever to strike South Carolina. The Yamassee War broke out on April 15, 1715, and for almost a year threatened the survival of the English settlement of Carolina. The Yamassee and other regional tribes, including the Creeks, Catawbas, Shawnee, and others, banded together to drive the Carolinians into the sea. Craven commanded Carolina troops from the outbreak of the war until he departed the colony in April 1716. A fanciful depiction of Craven in battle with the Yamassee appeared in Peter Schenck’s encyclopedia, published in the Netherlands in 1716.
Despite his successes as governor and his leadership in the Yamassee War, Craven clashed with the Lords Proprietors. Political enemies in Carolina, Nicholas Trott and Sir William Rhett, reported to the proprietors that Craven had not promoted their interests. In response to Craven’s perceived betrayal, the proprietors gave Nicholas Trott extraordinary powers over legislation in the province. A member of the Grand Council and chief justice as well, Trott secured a de facto veto over all legislation. This direct challenge to Craven’s authority was one he could not accept. The Commons House supported Craven with resolutions and statements to the proprietors during early 1715, only a month before the outbreak of the Yamassee War. On February 9, 1715, Craven informed the Commons House of his intention to resign and return to England to defend his actions in person. Before he could leave, the Yamassee War broke out and Craven postponed his departure to lead the defense of the province. Political unrest grew in the Commons House in reaction to the proprietors’ unwillingness to assist the province during the conflict. On August 24, 1715, the Commons House drafted a petition to King George I, asking that the crown take over the province and extend imperial protection. Craven refused to endorse the petition because it was a direct attack on the proprietors. Despite his refusal, the Commons House sent the petition to England. Craven’s loyalty to the proprietors, in the face of their actions against him, was deemed evidence of his character. By April 1716 the war situation was sufficiently stabilized for him to embark for England.
Craven left the province in April 1716 and appointed Robert Daniel to serve during his absence. He never returned to South Carolina. From his arrival in 1712 to his departure in 1716, Craven had sustained a congenial working relationship with the Commons House. The need for cooperation to survive the Yamassee War naturally forced governor and Commons House to put aside political quarrels, but the degree of cooperation had surpassed bare necessity. Political bonds forged among Commons House members revealed that unity of purpose could be achieved in South Carolina. That unity of purpose revealed itself three years later when the province revolted against the Lords Proprietors and established a royal government. Craven died on December 26, 1754, in Berkshire, England.
Moore, John Alexander. “Royalizing South Carolina: The Revolution of 1719 and the Evolution of Early South Carolina Government.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1991.
Sirmans, M. Eugene. Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663–1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.