Morton, Joseph, Sr.

ca. 1630–1688

Unfortunately, these expectations—and Governor Morton—ran afoul of the Goose Creek Men, who regarded the prospect of substantial numbers of new European arrivals as a threat to their control of the South Carolina political scene and the Indian trade. To counter the actions of the proprietors, the Goose Creek Men objected to the 1682 Fundamental Constitutions on the grounds that both the proprietors and the colonists had ratified the original 1669 version at the time of the colony’s founding

Governor. Born around 1630 in Wells, Somerset, England, Morton married Elinor Blake(?), with whom he had four children. A prominent Dissenter, Morton traveled to South Carolina as part of the migration of a relatively substantial number of English Dissenters to the colony. He was made governor and landgrave in 1682. The arrival of these English settlers, in conjunction with that of Huguenots and a planned Scottish settlement at Port Royal, gave rise to the belief, both in the colony and among the proprietors, that an orderly colonization and government might finally be established in South Carolina. To further this effort, the proprietors, in response to Scottish initiatives, revised the Fundamental Constitutions to encourage migration of Dissenters to the colony.

Unfortunately, these expectations–and Governor Morton–ran afoul of the Goose Creek Men, who regarded the prospect of substantial numbers of new European arrivals as a threat to their control of the South Carolina political scene and the Indian trade. To counter the actions of the proprietors, the Goose Creek Men objected to the 1682 Fundamental Constitutions on the grounds that both the proprietors and the colonists had ratified the original 1669 version at the time of the colony’s founding. Thus, they contended, the proprietors could not change the document without the consent of the South Carolina parliament. The Fundamental Constitutions, the argument continued, had to be unalterable. Otherwise, the colony would be subject to every proprietary whim.

Morton, to the amazement of the proprietors, proved unable to counter this argument. The Fundamental Constitutions remained dormant while plots in Britain against the government delayed migration plans. Morton tried to compel the Commons House of Assembly (which was controlled by the Goose Creek Men) to ratify the document, but twelve members refused. When Morton tried to exclude them from their places, the legislators objected to his high-handedness and reiterated the Goose Creek argument that the 1669 Fundamental Constitutions were unalterable without their consent. The resulting stalemate forced the dissolution of the Carolina parliament and left the constitutions unratified.

Morton further lost favor with the proprietors when he failed to stamp out the Indian slave trade or to chill the warm welcome that pirates had come to find in Carolina. The proprietors replaced Morton with Sir Richard Kyrle in June 1684. Kyrle, though, died shortly after arriving in the province. Morton, as the senior landgrave in the province, then returned to the governor’s office on an interim basis from 1685 until 1686.

During this time the vanguard of a promising Scottish colony settled at Stuart’s Town near Port Royal. The leader of this group, Lord Cardross, entertained hopes, briefly successful, of trading with neighboring Indians as well as building mines in the west. Morton and other prominent Carolinians welcomed the newcomers. But Cardross’s intentions ran contrary to the interests of the Goose Creek Men, who grew alarmed at the success of the Scots in attracting their Indian trading partners to Stuart’s Town, especially the Yamassees. This faction retaliated with a warrant for Cardross’s arrest on charges of harassing an English trader and renewed their objections to the Fundamental Constitutions. Then, on August 17, 1686, the Spanish sacked Stuart’s Town and plundered the coastal plantations of Morton and his supporter Paul Grimball, carrying slaves and property back to St. Augustine. They returned to finish the job in December. An indignant Morton joined the call of the Goose Creek faction in preparing a revenge attack on Florida in November 1687. Only the declaration of martial law by the new governor, James Colleton, prevented the planned reprisal that would have disrupted the shaky peace then existing between Spain and England.

The collapse of this planned assault seems to have marked the end of Morton’s public life. Colleton came to the colony with instructions to attack piracy and also to investigate the suspicion that Morton tolerated trade with pirates. The former governor, though, seems to have avoided any punishment, or perhaps his age or infirmity stopped the inquiry. Morton apparently died around January 1688, and his will was probated in November of the same year. His son Joseph Morton, Jr., became a vocal leader of the Dissenters in South Carolina politics in the early eighteenth century.

Salley, A. S., Jr. “Governor Joseph Morton and Some of His Descendants.” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 5 (April 1904): 108–16.

Sirmans, M. Eugene. Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663– 1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.

Valley, Seabrook Wilkinson. “The Parentage of Governor Morton.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 74 (July 1973): 164–69.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Morton, Joseph, Sr.
  • Coverage ca. 1630–1688
  • Author
  • Keywords Governor, ran afoul of the Goose Creek Men, became a vocal leader of the Dissenters in South Carolina politics in the early eighteenth century
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 10, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 20, 2016
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