French, Spanish, and English Colonization

At an unknown coastal site in the region that is now the Carolinas, what may have been the first European settlement in North America was founded (1526; not permanent) by an expedition under the Spanish explorer Lucas Vásquez de Ayllón. The Frenchman Jean Ribaut established (1562) a short-lived Huguenot settlement on Parris Island in Port Royal Sound, but French colonizing ambitions were thoroughly thwarted by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Spanish missions soon extended N from Florida almost to the site of present-day Charleston, and they remained until the arrival of the English.

Charles I asserted England’s claim as early as 1629 by granting the territory from lat. 36°N to lat. 31°N (later named Carolina for Charles I) to Sir Robert Heath, but since no settlements were made Heath’s charter was forfeited. In 1663, Charles II awarded the area to eight of his prominent supporters, the most active of whom was Anthony Ashley Cooper (Lord Ashley, later 1st earl of Shaftesbury).

The northern and southern sections of Carolina developed separately. The first permanent colony was established in 1670 at Albemarle Point under William Sayle. To govern it, John Locke and others wrote (at Lord Ashley’s behest) the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), which granted some popular rights but also retained feudal privileges and limitations. It was never ratified. The actual government consisted of a powerful council, half of which was appointed by the proprietors in England; a governor, also appointed by the proprietors; and a relatively weak assembly, elected by all freemen. In 1680 the colony moved across the river to Oyster Point, which was better suited for defense. There the colonists established their capital, called Charles Town (later Charleston), which was to become the chief center of culture and of wealth in the South.

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