Governor. Yeamans was born in Bristol, England, in 1611, a younger son of John Yeamans, a brewer. A Royalist soldier, Yeamans rose to the rank of colonel during the English Civil War (1642–51). In 1650 he joined other Royalists in immigrating to Barbados, where he became a large landowner, judge, and member of council. Yeamans’s first wife, a daughter of a Mr. Limp, apparently died in Barbados in the late 1650s. Yeamans once held some land in Barbados in partnership with Benjamin Berringer. Before Berringer died under suspicious circumstances in January 1661, his wife Margaret Forster Berringer transferred her affections to Yeamans. The Barbadian Assembly was among those who thought that Yeamans had hired someone to murder Berringer. Yeamans married the new widow ten weeks later.
Eight English noblemen acquired Carolina as a proprietary colony in 1663. Soon thereafter Yeamans’s eldest son, William, negotiated with the new proprietors to establish a Barbadian settlement there. The proprietors named John Yeamans governor of the projected settlement and arranged his elevation to the lesser aristocracy as a baronet. Sir John led the Barbadians to Cape Fear in 1665 but did not stay there long. The settlement was abandoned in 1667. When Anthony Ashley Cooper, who later became the first earl of Shaftesbury, convinced the other proprietors to send settlers from England in 1669, Yeamans was given the choice of becoming governor or naming another to lead the new settlement. Although he initially joined the settlers, he changed his mind and named for that task an aged Bermudan, William Sayle, who died a year later.
The proprietors’ Fundamental Constitutions for their colony established a hereditary aristocracy of landgraves and cassiques and provided that the senior resident landgrave should become governor in the event of a vacancy. They named Yeamans as the third landgrave of Carolina in April 1671. When Yeamans belatedly came to South Carolina in the summer of that year, he claimed the office of governor. Interim governor Joseph West and the Grand Council initially rejected his claim, but they accepted Yeamans as governor when a proprietary commission arrived in April 1672.
The Grand Council had earlier opposed Yeamans’s appointment with the argument that he had abandoned both the Cape Fear and South Carolina settlements to pursue his own interests. They noted that he departed the latter after a storm near Bermuda left it in “bleeding condition”—a result of the fact that the struggling colony was still dependent on imported provisions. In the slightly more than two years that he was governor, Yeamans sold food at inflated prices for his own profit. At the time he died, proprietary orders removing him from office were on their way across the Atlantic.
Yeamans died between August 3, when he was present at a meeting of the Grand Council, and August 14, 1674, when that body elected Joseph West as his temporary replacement. In addition to his second wife, Margaret, who returned to Barbados and remarried, Yeamans’s will named eight children.
Campbell, P[eter] F. Some Early Barbadian History. St. Michael, Barbados: by the author, 1993.
Cheves, Langdon, ed. The Shaftesbury Papers and Other Records Relating to Carolina and the First Settlement on Ashley River prior to the Year 1676. 1897. Reprint, Charleston, S.C.: Tempus, 2000.