Shared from the 4/19/2020 Post & Courier eEdition

Early days of Charles Town could drive a settler to drink

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of occasional columns recounting Charleston’s history in honor of its 350th anniversary.



A display at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site depicts how the first settlement in what would become Charleston looked like shortly after the first English settlers arrived at what was then called Albemarle Point near Old Towne Creek on the Ashley River.



In the beginning, it wasn’t exactly a holy city.

Two months after the colonists arrived at Albemarle Point, Gov. William Sayle sent an urgent request to Lord Ashley Cooper, leader of the Lords Proprietors.

They needed a preacher.

In that June 1670 letter, Sayle noted that his people wereshorton provisions, but had sent the Carolina to Virginia for supplies. He had no doubt they’d soon be fine. “But there is one thing that lyes very heavy upon us,” the governor wrote, “the want of a Godly and orthodox minist’r.” All of the settlers — including old Gov. Sayle, who wasn’t in the best shape — had pitched in to lay out streets and build the houses they would need to survive the subtropical summer. They also hurried along construction of the settlement’s fortified walls after the Kiawah suggested some of the other neighboring tribes were mildly cannibalistic.

During the hectic construction of those first months, Sayle had discovered many of these settlers were not exactly spiritual … at least not by his definition. The people who’d boarded the ship in England (and later joined the expedition in Barbados) were more like adventurers, or at least moderately ambitious commoners.

He was horrified to find many of them didn’t observe the Sabbath regularly, and occasionally committed other unspecified “abuses.” And they all imbibed quite liberally, sometimes even while on the job.

As Capt. Joseph West later noted, they “were so much addicted to Rum, that they will do little but whilst the bottle is at their nose.”

Sayle should’ve suspected as much when he learned the Carolina had carried 15 tons of beer in its hold. But then, he had only joined the expedition — and inadvertently became the Carolina colony’s first governor — at the last second, and quite by accident.

The Lords Proprietors had originally chosen Sir John Yeamans of Barbados as their governor, and he sailed with the group as far as Bermuda. But he’d had second thoughts and persuaded the settlers to accept Sayle, a resident of Bermuda, as his replacement.

Sayle, nearly 80 at the time, wasn’t a perfect fit. Although he enthusiastically encouraged the settlers to persevere that first year, Edward Mc-Crady noted in “The History of South Carolina Under the Proprietary Government, 1670-1719” that the governor wasn’t especially beloved.

One of the settlers anonymously considered Sayle “a Puritan and nonconformist, whose religious bigotry, advanced age and failing health promised badly for the discharge of the task before him.” Even if that take on the governor’scharacterwasn’tentirely accurate,thepredictionwas.By late September Sayle had fallen so ill he hurriedly composed his will.

He managed to hang on until the following March when, just before he expired, Sayle nominated Capt. West to take his place. The small council that had been set up to govern the colony accepted West without question.

Lord Ashley had been unable to hire the specific Bermuda minister Sayle requested, even after the Lords Proprietors offered him 500 acres of land and a salary of 40 pounds per year. At that point, no one was sure the settlement would last that long.

The colonists, however, knew they’d found a special place. One of them told the Lords Proprietors that, if properly cultivated, their new home would become a second paradise. And that fall Florence O’Sullivan sent an update to Lord Ashley, reporting that they were all subsisting happily on a diet of deer, turkey, rabbit and fish.

O’Sullivan said the area surrounding Albemarle Point was a wonderland of hardwood trees and winding rivers, and the ground had proven perfect to grow everything they’d planted in it — including corn, cotton and tobacco.

“Wee expect from yor honor a ship from England w more people,” O’Sullivan wrote. “You wold doe well to grant free passage to passengers for some small tyme for many would be willing to come yet are not able to pay their passage.”

O’Sullivan had only one request for the Lords. He asked that they send a lawyer “to end controversies amongst us.” He didn’t say whether all that alcohol had anything to do with said squabbles.

He did, however, subtly remind Lord Ashley to recruit someone from the Church of England to emigrate on the next boat.

They still didn’t have a preacher.

Reach Brian Hicks at

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