For three decades following the founding of Charleston in 1670, population growth in South Carolina was painfully slow. Settlement remained concentrated close to the capital along the Ashley, Cooper, and Edisto Rivers. As late as 1715, probably ninety percent of South Carolina’s population lived within thirty miles of Charleston. With the development of rice as a staple crop early in the eighteenth century, the importation of African slaves increased rapidly, giving South Carolina a black majority population by 1710. By 1730 African slaves outnumbered whites by a margin of two to one. For colonial officials and the minority white population, slave insurrections were a perpetual threat, as were attacks from the Spanish at St. Augustine and Indians on the frontier.
In an attempt to rectify South Carolina’s racial imbalance with mass white immigration and to provide a front line of defense against the Spanish and the Indians, Governor Robert Johnson suggested a “Scheem . . . for Settling Townships” in 1731. The plan involved the establishment of eleven townships sixty or more miles north and west of Charleston but south and east of the fall line. These townships were to be located on key South Carolina waterways and were to receive an initial grant of twenty thousand acres each, with all land six miles or less from the town reserved for future colonists. Each family of settlers was to be given fifty acres per family member and a town lot. Three hundred acres in each town were reserved for a commons, with additional acreage set aside for schools, churches, and public buildings. To finance the plan, which included equipment, seed, and provisions, the governor was authorized to make use of the colony’s sinking fund that was earmarked to retire paper money.
Backed by imperial authorities in England, in 1732 Governor Johnson began laying out the new settlements. Although his death in 1735, war, and colonial bickering delayed the project, thirteen towns were completed by 1765: Amelia on the Santee River, Boonesborough and Hillsborough on Long Cane Creek, Queensboro and Welsh Tract on the Pee Dee, Kingston on the Waccamaw, Londonborough on Hard Labor Creek, Purrysburg and New Windsor on the Savannah, Orangeburg on the Edisto, Fredricksburg on the Wateree, Saxe Gotha on the Congaree, and Williamsburg on the Black. Two townships, Purrysburg and Hillsborough, were French. German or mostly German townships included Amelia, Londonborough, Orangeburg, New Windsor, and Saxe Gotha. Welsh Tract and Queensboro were mostly Welsh, and Boonesborough, Kingston, and Williamsburg were predominantly Irish or Scots-Irish. Even though the colony tapped its sinking fund in support of the township plan, the amount was insufficient for the task. To complete the project, a tax was placed on imported slaves, a means that raised nearly £60,000 by 1775. According to one authority, “the aid to settlements . . . had no counterpart in any other English continental colony.”
Settlement, however, was slow. Many township sites were poorly laid out. Only Orangeburg and Williamsburg survived the Revolutionary War. Still, the project was considered a success. The township plan attracted between ten and fifteen thousand settlers from Europe or Virginia to South Carolina, where they became permanent assets and helped to populate both the Midlands and the upcountry.
Meriwether, Robert L. The Expansion of South Carolina, 1729–1765. Kingsport, Tenn.: Southern Publishers, 1940.
Sherman, Richard P. Robert Johnson: Proprietary & Royal Governor of South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1966.