Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a serialized history of Charleston in honor of its 350th anniversary.
The Carolina‘s second landing at Albemarle Point would prove just as historic as its first — but for a far more infamous reason.
A month after their arrival, the colonists sent Henry Brayne and their ship to Virginia for some much-needed supplies. He returned three months later, on Aug. 22, 1670, and reported to Lord Ashley Cooper that, among other necessities, he had brought the settlers six head of cattle, three sheep, six geese, eight turkeys … and “one lusty negro man.” Whatever that means.
This is the first record of an enslaved African among the permanent settlers, but he was not alone for long. A month later, a ship from Barbados delivered three others. In September 1670, John Sr., Elizabeth and John Jr. — no surname — became the first enslaved people recorded by name in an American colony.
They would not, of course, be the last.
It was no surprise the Carolina colony established slavery in the New World. Many of its first inhabitants were immigrants from Barbados, where the practice had been adopted as an economic necessity when the costs of indentured servitude had threatened their profits decades earlier.
But there was more to it than that.
Several of the Lords Proprietors owned shares in a slave-trading company and actively encouraged their use among settlers. The Fundamental Constitutions, which provided the framework for the colony’s government and society, not only gave the settlers complete legal control over enslaved people — it offered between 70 and 100 acres of additional land per servant, depending on their age.
The upshot was the more enslaved people, the more land a settler was given to cultivate ... and profit from. It was a system that exponentially expanded the role of slave labor in the New World and, at that point, it was unique to Albemarle Point.
As Walter J. Fraser Jr. notes in “Charleston! Charleston!” it was “the only English settlement in North America where slaves were introduced virtually at the outset.”
To be sure, enslaved Africans had made brief appearances in Carolina before. In 1540, Hernando de Soto’s expedition through the area included some black enslaved people, and there may have been others at Santa Elena — the Spanish fort that survived for two decades on what is modern-day Parris Island.
But it was the Carolina colonists who introduced permanent African slavery to the New World, and it would endure for nearly two centuries.
Because the Lords Proprietors’ promise of land grants carried an expiration date, dozens of new settlers showed up before the end of the year. Some were from England, others came from New York. But most were from Barbados, and many brought more enslaved Africans.
By the dawn of 1671, the settlement’s population had grown to 200 — 170 whites and 30 enslaved people of African descent. Those slaves made up 15 percent of Albemarle Point’s citizens.
The colonists wouldn’t hold onto the original name of their town for long, however. By November 1670, Lord Ashley Cooper fretted that their business venture was not turning a profit quickly enough, and worried the king would lose interest if the settlement appeared unsuccessful.
In a letter to the colonists, he rather immodestly reminded them that Robert Sandford, the Lords Proprietors’ original expedition leader, had named the water in their front yard the Ashley River.
He also suggested they promptly follow suit and rename Albemarle Point “Charles Town” in honor of King Charles II. That, he hoped, would rekindle the monarch’s interest in the settlement.
The colonists would comply, although not until nearly a year later, on Sept. 1, 1671. In between, they endured what the Barbadians considered a harsh winter, but also welcomed a steady stream of colonists — and enslaved people — that gave the Lords Proprietors hope that their gamble would eventually pay dividends.
So, little more than a year after the first colonists arrived, Charles Town was born. More than a century would pass before the name was shortened to “Charleston,” and in that time the settlement’s name would become inextricably tied to the institution of slavery.
And both had the origins on a spit of land at Albemarle Point in the waning days of 1670.