Indian trader. Galphin was a native of county Tullamore, Ireland. The son of a linen weaver, he was the eldest of seven children and immigrated to the colony of South Carolina in 1737. By 1745 Galphin was serving as an Indian interpreter for the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly among the powerful Lower Creek Nation in the western region of the colony. As an interpreter, he not only conveyed messages between the Indians and the colonial government, but he also entertained influential Indian leaders on behalf of the colony. Galphin’s career as an Indian trader, merchant, land speculator, planter, public servant, and patriot aptly illustrates the level of financial success and influence that some frontier entrepreneurs achieved during the colonial period in South Carolina.
For much of the colonial period, the Indian trade, in which Native Americans bartered deerskins for European goods, was an important formative economic activity. Although many European settlers were involved in the deerskin trade, Galphin and a handful of other traders and merchants were extremely successful in this business and amassed considerable wealth and political influence. By the early 1740s, Galphin had established a trading post at Silver Bluff near New Windsor Township adjacent to the Savannah River (near the modern town of Jackson in Aiken County). Archaeological information indicates the trading post measured approximately 450 by 260 feet and was surrounded by a wooden palisade. The complex contained at least six structures, with a trading area in the south half of the enclosure and a residential area in the north portion of the post. Unlike many traders, Galphin maintained amicable trade relations with the Creek and Cherokee. He was respected by his Native American clients and traveled freely through their territories. At its height, Galphin’s trade influence extended south to the Gulf Coast and west to the Mississippi River.
The Indian trade at Silver Bluff began to diminish during the 1760s and the post catered mainly to the settlers that resided in New Windsor Township. By the 1770s, Galphin was devoting much of his time to developing Silver Bluff into a profitable plantation. He continued this activity until the Revolutionary War. During the war, Galphin was a patriot and was instrumental in maintaining neutrality among the Creek and Cherokee. In 1780 Silver Bluff was seized by Loyalists, but it was quickly recaptured by South Carolina militia under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Lee in 1781. Galphin died in December 1780 of unknown causes. When his estate was divided among his heirs, Galphin owned thousands of acres of land in South Carolina and Georgia, sixty-nine slaves, and three residences at Silver Bluff.
Hamer, Friedrich P. “Indian Traders, Land and Power: Comparative Study of George Galphin on the Southern Frontier and Three Northern Traders.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1976.
Morris, Michael. “George Galphin: Portrait of an Early South Carolina Entrepreneur.” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association (2002): 29–44.
Scurry, James D., J. Walter Joseph, and Fritz Hamer. Initial Archaeological Investigations at Silver Bluff Plantation, Aiken County, South Carolina. Columbia: South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, 1980.
Snapp, J. Russell. John Stuart and the Struggle for Empire on the Southern Frontier. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.