In order to advance their interests, the Goose Creek Men formed an opposition faction that for decades exerted considerable influence in Carolina affairs. They were united by common economic interests, such as the trade in Indian slaves and trafficking with pirates. They viewed the Lords Proprietors as political and economic threats to their prosperity and independence.
The Goose Creek Men were primarily English Barbadians who immigrated to South Carolina in the seventeenth century seeking land and economic advancement. In order to advance their interests, they formed an opposition faction that for decades exerted considerable influence in Carolina affairs. The shift from tobacco to sugar production in Barbados in the 1640s and 1650s resulted in a dramatic rise in profits and land prices on the island, which greatly reduced opportunities for all but the wealthiest planters. By 1660, servants who had completed their terms of indenture, small and “middling” planters, craftsmen, and younger sons of large planters left Barbados in large numbers. A few returned to England, but most made their way to other Caribbean Islands and the North American colonies. In Carolina, they first settled near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in 1665, then north of Charleston around Goose Creek in 1670. They brought with them proven agricultural and exploration skills, slaves, the parish system, the Anglican Church, and a fierce sense of independence and self-confidence.
The Goose Creek Men were united by common economic interests, such as the trade in Indian slaves and trafficking with pirates. Led by men such as Sir John Yeamans, Maurice Matthews, Robert Daniel, James Moore, James Moore, Jr., and Arthur Middleton, they viewed the Lords Proprietors as political and economic threats to their prosperity and independence. Frequently referred to as the Anti-Proprietary Party, the Goose Creek Men opposed the proprietors at every turn. Gaining control of the Commons House of Assembly, they refused to ratify the Fundamental Constitutions and managed to replace proprietary Governor Joseph West with one of their own, Sir John Yeamans. As a result, proprietary officials, notably Governors West and Joseph Morton, accepted the importance of working with the Goose Creek Men. William, Lord Craven, leader of the proprietors from 1681 to 1697, did not. Throughout the 1680s, the colony was embroiled in bitter factionalism, as Craven sought to defeat the Goose Creek opposition by strengthening South Carolina’s non-Anglican, or dissenter, majority. Craven also tried to intimidate his enemies by removing their leaders from office and denying access to the lucrative Indian trade. In 1686 he sent James Colleton, the brother of proprietor Sir Peter Colleton, to govern South Carolina and rein in the Goose Creek Men once and for all.
Colleton, though experienced, found himself no match for his opponents. They gained his confidence and then led him into a series of political mistakes before deserting him. When he compounded his error by declaring martial law, they undercut his support in the colony with charges of tyranny. Finally they deposed Colleton and in the 1690s established de facto control of the colony through the Commons House of Assembly, which they dominated.
Confrontations between the proprietors and the Goose Creek Men continued, with varying intensity, for another three decades. Proprietary supporters reestablished limited control between 1696 and 1700 before the Goose Creek Men reasserted themselves by championing the establishment of the Church of England. Seven years later, dissenters in the colony, unable to defeat their foes, agreed to cooperate with them. From 1707 to 1719, both sides worked to end proprietary government. The Revolution of 1719, headed by Arthur Middleton, guaranteed the supremacy of the Commons House, a long cherished Goose Creek objective. It was symbolic of the struggle that a Goose Creek man, James Moore, Jr., headed the transitional royal government from 1719 to 1721.
Dunn, Richard S. Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624–1713. 1972. Reprint, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Moore, Alexander. “Carolina Whigs: Colleton County Members of the South Carolina Commons House of Assembly, 1692–1720.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 1981.
Sirmans, M. Eugene. Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663– 1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.