“Landgrave” and “cassique” were titles given to the local nobility created by the Lords Proprietors in their plans for the settlement of Carolina. By their 1663 charter from King Charles II, the eight proprietors were endowed with virtually vice regal authority, considered appropriate for the governing of a remote extension of the empire. Their authority included granting titles to a provincial nobility, who would be vassals of the proprietors. Landgraves were to rank just below the Lords Proprietors, while cassiques were to rank below landgraves and constitute the lowest order of Carolina nobility. Landgrave was a German title, while cassique was based on cacique, a Spanish term for “Indian chief.”
According to the Fundamental Constitutions, Carolina was to be divided into counties of 480,000 acres each. In turn, each county would be divided into forty square tracts of 12,000 acres each. In each county eight tracts, called seigniories, were reserved for the Lords Proprietors (each of whom received one seigniory). An additional eight tracts, called baronies, were to be reserved for one landgrave (who received four baronies) and two cassiques (who received two baronies apiece). On their baronies, landgraves and cassiques would be granted the authority to conduct manorial courts and to have their estates worked by “leetmen” (indentured servants). The manorial courts were the means by which the landgraves and cassiques were to maintain order on their estates. Leetmen were to be voluntarily bound to an estate, similar to medieval serfs. But there is no record of there having been any manorial courts or leetmen in South Carolina. Rather, landgraves and cassiques became owners of large tracts of land, worked at first by white indentured servants and then overwhelmingly by African slaves.
At least twenty-six landgraves and thirteen cassiques were created by the Lords Proprietors, with rights to land totaling 1,364,000 acres. The vast majority of this land went unclaimed, however, with less than 200,000 acres actually granted. The last landgrave was created in 1718; the last cassique in 1715. Some baronies survived the proprietary era and were handed down through the descendants of South Carolina’s landgraves and cassiques. In 1686 the proprietors commissioned Nathaniel Johnson as a cassique. He acquired considerable lands along the Cooper River, and he served as governor in the early 1700s. The proprietors elevated him to landgrave in 1703. He received the estate known as the Seewee Barony, which passed to his son Robert, who also served as governor. The Johnson descendants conveyed the barony to Gabriel Manigault, whose family retained possession until 1870. The landgrave Edmund Bellinger obtained Tomotely Barony in what became Beaufort County. The Izard family owned the bulk of the barony until the Civil War.
While South Carolina never became the feudal society that the proprietors envisioned, it did become a colony of large, staple-producing plantations, which were owned by people who resembled the English country gentry. Landgraves and cassiques were part of the aristocratic ideal that characterized this colony and state, and their grants (and their titles) became part of the culture of the Carolina lowcountry.
Ackerman, Robert K. South Carolina Colonial Land Policies. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977.
Sirmans, M. Eugene. Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663–1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966. Smith, Henry A. M. “The Baronies of South Carolina.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine (January 1914): 3–17.
———. “The Baronies of South Carolina, Quenby and the Eastern Branch of Cooper River.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine (January 1917): 3–36.
———. “The Baronies of South Carolina, the Seewee Barony.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine (July 1911): 109–17.
Weir, Robert M. Colonial South Carolina: A History. 1983. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.