Celebrating 17 years

Militia Laws of Carolina and Georgia

The Enlistment of the Black Population, 1663 – 1763

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An act, in 1704, entitled "An Act for Raising and Enlisting such Slaves as shall be thought serviceable to this Province in Time of Alarms", was the first act passed by the General Assembly of South Carolina that defined how slaves should be enlisted into the colonial militia. By passing this law, South Carolina extended the area in which slaves could serve. They were no longer restricted to the Charles Town vicinity. The slaves, being "negroes, mullattos, or Indians", were to be listed by commanders and, after hearing from the owners as to why their slave or slaves should or should not be enlisted would then place those considered "trusty" on the militia roll. The owners were to provide their slaves with a "serviceable lance, hatchet or gun, with sufficient ammunition and hatchets" when the slaves reported to muster and during the period in which they were in public service. The act also stipulated that any owner, who refused to send his or her slave when summoned for muster, would be fined five pounds. The owner of any slave that was either maimed or killed would receive compensation28 but any injured slaves would not receive their freedom, as was the case with the 1703 act. What developed then was a militia that would be well prepared and properly manned in case of invasion, which, in the case of South Carolina, was a repeated event.

Two years later, however, the Spanish, with the help of the French, set sail to attack Charles Town. In the early hours of August 27, a black man ran through the streets of Charles Town with word that the Spanish had landed.29 It would seem odd that a slave or free black man brought word of the invasion, but in 1706 the South Carolina Assembly renewed the 1704 law that allowed "trusty slaves" to be enlisted. The law also allowed for slaves to be set free for good behavior or for killing one of the enemy. North Carolina also prepared its militia for possible attack in 1706 by stating that all free men from sixteen to sixty were required to organize as well as keep themselves supplied with ammunition and whenever an Indian outbreak should occur all me, slave as well as free, were to muster for military service.30

The Spanish, after being driven from South Carolina in 1706, did not give up on their attempt to conquer the English colony. In the spring of 1708, a report came out of Jamaica that the Spanish and French were once again going to attempt an invasion of Charles Town.31 This possible threat forced the South Carolina Assembly to pass another act for enlisting trusty slaves in April of the same year. The act encompassed much of what had been passed in the two previous acts but made one drastic change; it mandated how many slaves could be enlisted.

According to the act, slaves could not "exceed the number of white men under the command of each captain". 32 There are two possible explanations as to why this stipulation was added. The first is that the Assembly may have wanted to limit the number of owners who were sending their slaves to serve in their place. The other reason, which is probably more of what the Assembly intended, was to limit the number of slaves with weapons. From the beginning of the 1700s the slave population in South Carolina was rapidly surging past the number of whites in the colony (see Appendix Table I-III). Thomas Nairne, an Indian-trader politician in South Carolina, estimated the population of South Carolina in 1708 to be,

nine thousand five hundred and eighty souls of which there are thirteen (hundred) and sixty freemen, nine hundred free women, ...eighteen hundred Negro men slaves, eleven hundred Negro women slaves, ...twelve hundred Negro children slaves, ....33

It was this increase in the slave population that began to put fears of slave uprisings in the minds of the South Carolina residents.

The defense of the colony, however, was more important than the possibility of slave uprisings and militia officers were instructed to enlist the trustworthy slaves or be subject to a fine of five pounds. Thomas Nairne, who was preparing at the time for an invasion of Mobile in 1708, was instead instructed to help in the fortification of Charles Town. Along with Nairne's army of fifteen hundred Indians, was a "force of negro cattle-hunters"34 that were held in reserve to meet the Spanish invasion.35 Governor Nathanial Johnson issued the following report in 1708 on the condition of the South Carolina militia:

The whole number of the militia of this province is nine hundred and fifty fit to bear arms viz. two regiments of foot both making up sixteen companies fifty men one with another in a company to which must be added a like number of Negro men slaves, the capt. Of each company by an act of assembly being obliged to enlist traine up and bring into the field for each white one able slave armed with a un or lance for each man in his company....36

The manpower strength that South Carolina was able to raise was quite adequate, as the Spanish were never able to occupy Charles Town or remove the colonists from the colony.

A mere two years before the Treaty of Utrecht was signed to end the War of the Spanish Succession, the Yamassee Indians in South Carolina rose up to fight over their loss of land. As early as 1707, the South Carolina legislature had allowed for the Yamassees to occupy and reside in the area of land between the Combahee and Savannah rivers. By 1712, however, the Indians began to feel the encroachment by white settlers. While the settlers did not try to occupy the lands owned by the Yamassee, this forced South Carolina to send a party to negotiate a peace settlement.37

The Yamassees, however, did not want a peace that meant white settlement; they wanted their land and were willing to fight for it. In 1715, the Yamassees attacked the settlers around Beaufort causing the South Carolina General Assembly to call out the militia. Governor Charles Crave informed the Proprietors in London that there were not a sufficient number of white men in the colony to mount a successful campaign and it was necessary to enlist slaves into the militia.38

Slaves, however, would not be enough to combat the Yamassees and South Carolina was forced to make a plea to Virginia to send troops. Virginia agreed, but stipulated that for "every man they suffered to come" South Carolina had to provide "an able Negro woman which should continue there and make good all the time each man should be absent". South Carolina was also to provide thirty pounds per month for every Virginia man in service. Nearly a year after the Virginia soldiers were in South Carolina, the South Carolina Assembly refused to send any "Negroe women" but instead offered fifty pounds per man per month. This infuriated Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood and he considered South Carolina in breach of contract and demanded that all of his soldiers be returned and that South Carolina pay a fine. South Carolina refused to pay and instead returned all of those soldiers who were willing to be returned, but acknowledged the help of all the good men that helped return their planters to their homes,39 no doubt some of this praise was also given to their slave population.

The Yamassees War is considered by most historians to be the only conflict in which blacks had played such a major role. Within days of the outbreak, Reverend Francis Le Jau, who chronicled much of the war, reported that "good parties of Men, White, Indians, and Negroes" had arrived at Goose Creek to fight the Yamassee. On August twenty-second, Le Jau writes that George Chicken, Captain of the Goose-Creek Company, had attacked the Indians to the North with a group of "70 white men & about 40 negroes and Indians". The attack was so successful that the Indians had not returned from the north.40 By summer's end Governor Craven had appointed James Moore to be in charge of the colonial militia, an army which consisted of "600 whites and 400 Negroes". 41 By 1719, when peace was finally made with the Yamassees, the General Assembly was able to reflect on the efforts put forth by the slaves who had fought valiantly in the militia. The General Assembly again allowed for the assistance of "trusty male slaves from sixteen to sixty years of age . . . who shall upon good service or by maiming the enemy receive his freedom".42

During the next two decades South Carolina was free from any major battles or wars. Because of this, slaves, as well as freemen, were not provided with any opportunities to enlist into the militia.43 This all changed, however, in 1739 when the Spanish were once again challenging the colonists in South Carolina. The General Assembly authorized militia officers to enlist trustworthy slaves and stated that "Negroes and slaves have behaved themselves with faithfulness and courage and demonstrated that in some instances faith and trust may be put in them." Slaves, however, were not to be armed until after an alarm or invasion and then they were to receive gun and proper amounts of ammunition. As with previous acts governing slave enlistment, this act too would allow slaves to receive freedom for good behavior.44

Many slaves, however, were not willing to risk their lives in combat in order to receive their freedom. They instead decided to endanger their lives by trying to escape to Spanish Florida. In 1738, the Governor of St. Augustine proclaimed that any slave who would escape from the English would receive their freedom once on Spanish soil. The temptation of freedom was soon taken by a group of about twenty slaves in September of 1739 at Stono, South Carolina. The incident, which became known as the Stono Rebellion, left nearly twenty whites and forty-four blacks dead and caused some localized destruction. The slaves had raided a warehouse in Stono and armed themselves with guns and ammunition in order to make the passage to Florida. The rebellion failed and those that were not killed in the fighting were returned to the plantations from which they escaped for execution.45

The rebellion, however, made many of the white colonists fear the possibilities of more uprisings and question whether or not slaves should be allowed to carry weapons in the militia. In 1739, though, when General James Oglethorpe wanted to raise a force to attack the Spanish in Florida, he proposed that 1,000 blacks be enlisted, of which 800 would be laborers and 200 would be armed. The South Carolina General Assembly authorized the raising of the black troops but stipulated that each slave was to be paid 10 pounds per month and the owner was to take all the risk. Later, because of the insurrection at Stono, the Assembly decided that "the law for encouraging armed Negroes, and for making them useful for the defense of the province should be speedily revised". 46 Any revisions, though, would have to wait, as another war was lurking on the horizon.

In 1740, with the outbreak of King George's War, General Oglethorpe found himself too close to his Spanish neighbors. Since the Royal Army was being concentrated on Europe there was very little help that could be provided to Oglethorpe, so he had to turn to his neighbors to the North. Oglethorpe asked the South Carolina Assembly for troops and money to help him in his endeavor to attack St. Augustine. The General Assembly voted to give Oglethorpe "120,000 pounds and 8 Companies of foot consisting of 60 men each, one Troop of Rangers 49 men, and 400 negroes for pioneers with 160 white men to guard and coerce them".47 By May, Oglethorpe's army was prepared to set out against St. Augustine. After a thirty-eight day siege on St. Augustine proved fruitless, however, Oglethorpe was forced to retreat. The treaty that ended the war in 1748 still left the boundaries between Georgia and Florida undeclared which meant that Georgia would still have to fear a possible Spanish attack.

The 1740s also saw English colonial penetration into the Ohio Valley and the establishment of their first outpost, which challenged the French's interests. This encroachment forced the French to attempt to block any further English expansion into the Ohio Valley by building new forts and turning some Native Americans against their English allies. With the threat of war hanging on the horizon, many colonial governments began to organize and prepare their militias.

North Carolina, whose militia had not been used in the field for the actual defense of the colony since the end of the Tuscarora War, passed an Act in 1746 which required "all the Freemen and Servants age Sixteen to Sixty" to enlist in the militia. The passage of this act was done primarily for the purpose of military preparedness, as many in North Carolina did not want to repeat what had happened with the Tuscarora Indians in 1711.48 Earlier, in 1730, the Proprietors instructed the North Carolina Governor, George Burrington, to prepare and train "all Planters and Christian Servants" so that they may be ready for the defense of the colony. The Governor was also to find the best possible means "to facilitate and encourage the conversion of Negroes and Indians to the Christian religion",49 which meant that "converted" slaves would be eligible for militia duty.

The South Carolina General Assembly in the "Act for the Better Regulating of the Militia" in 1747, and also in the renewal acts of 1753 and 1759,50 stated that they chose to enlist the most trustworthy slaves in the colony because,

it hath been found by experience that several negroes and other slaves have, in times of war, behaved themselves with great faitfulness and courage . . . that trust and confidence may be reposed in them.51

Commanding officers, however, were instructed not to compromise their companies of more than one-third slaves and that those slaves were recruited out of Charles Town were not to exceed one-half of the total slave population.52 The General Assembly did this not only to keep a large number of slaves from being armed, but also to make sure that there was a labor force large enough not to hinder the production of goods.

What also appeared in this act, which had not been included in any previous acts, was what a slave would actually receive for good behavior or for killing one of the enemy. The General Assembly entitled those of good conduct to receive not only exemption from all personal service and labor but also for the rest of their life "a livery coat and pair of breeches made of good red negro cloth, turned up with blue, and a black hat and a pair of black shoes".53 According to Kenneth Porter, Negroes on the Southern Frontier, 1670-1763, the Georgia Assembly attempted to reward its slaves with the same kind of outfit as that of South Carolina. Porter, however, makes the statement that had the slaves been given the clothes at enlistment rather than as a reward it may have helped in recruitment.54 This most certainly would have been true if slaves were given a choice as to whether or not they wanted to enlist, instead of being impressed as was usually the case.

At the beginning of the French and Indian War there was a limited danger to Georgia. Even though no fighting took place in Georgia during this conflict, the colony was always prepared in case of an invasion. The war took its greatest toll on the Georgia economy, which was unable to fully develop until 1760 but would thrive until the outbreak of the American Revolution.

North Carolina, even though they had passed a stronger militia act in 1746, found their militia, again, too weak to mount a defensive effort in case of an invasion. This can be attributed to the western expansion of the colony, which was beginning to push closer to "hostile" Indians and French settlements. This uncontrolled migration increased the area of land that needed to be protected but North Carolina had too few troops prepared to protect it. By 1754, Governor Dobbs, was authorized to recruit forces for the protection of the western frontier. Slaves and servants were allowed to be enlisted into the militia because of the 1746 militia act, which required their service.55

While the French and Indian War was still waging in Virginia and along the Ohio Valley, the Cherokees, which were located in the present day southwest corner of North Carolina and the northwest corner of South Carolina, attacked a force of the British army and began what is referred to as the Cherokee War. The Cherokees had attacked the English because of a treaty that had been signed with the French which stated,

The English having declared War against the French for no other reason than that the French want to protect the red Man, . . . Cherokees ought to look upon the English as their Enemies; . . . who propose to build forts on the Territories . . . and to make Slaves of them, their Women and Children as well as their Old Men.56

Troops from South Carolina were used to defend against this menace, along with troops from North Carolina and Virginia. It can be assumed that blacks were a part of these troops, especially since both North and South Carolina allowed for their enlistments.

At the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, which also ended the Cherokee War, France was no longer considered to be a threat to the southern frontier. The Spanish, who were allies of the French, would also not be a threat as they relinquished their control over Florida and ceded it to England. Georgia would acquire jurisdiction over Florida along with the other South Carolinians who had an interest in the land.

Prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, there was a relative calm along the southern borders. Because of this neither Georgia nor South Carolina made any changes to their militia laws. North Carolina, however, in 1766, authorized that "all freemen and servants" within the province, between sixteen and sixty years of age "shall compose the militia". North Carolina, with the smallest percentage of slaves in the southern colonies, obviously believed in their black population and wanted to keep them as part of their militia force.57

It has been made evident through this study that African-Americans, both free and slave, were used by southern colonies to help in their defense. What has usually been shown as a small footnote in both African-American and American history is clearly worthy of more than that.

Table 1: Estimated White Population of the Southern Colonies, 1680-178058

Colony 1680 1700 1720 1740 1760 1780
Virginia 40,596 42,170 61,198 120,440 199,156 317,422
North Carolina 5,220 10.305 18,270 40,760 76,888 179,133
South Carolina 1,000 3,296 5,048 15,000 36,740 83,000
Georgia -- -- -- 2,021 6,000 35,240

Table 2: Estimated Black Population of the Southern Colonies, 1680-178059

Colony 1680 1700 1720 1740 1760 1780
Virginia 3,000 16,390 26,559 60,000 140,570 220,582
North Carolina 210 415 3,000 11,000 33,554 91,000
South Carolina 200 2,444 12,000 30,000 57,334 97,000
Georgia -- -- -- -- 3,578 20,831

Table 3: Estimates of Blacks as a Percentage of the Population, 1680-178060

Colony 1680 1700 1720 1740 1760 1780
Virginia 7 28 30 33 41 41
North Carolina 4 4 14 21 30 34
South Carolina 17 43 70 67 61 54
Georgia -- -- -- -- 37 37



  1. Jesse J. Johnson, A Pictorial History of Black Servicemen, 1619-1970 (Hampton, VA: Hampton Institute, 1970), 59.
  2. Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Making of America (New York: Macmillan Co., 1987), 8.
  3. Thomas R. Frazier, ed. Afro-American History: Primary Sources (Chicago: The Dorsey Press, 1988), vii.
  4. David F. Trask, “The ‘New Military History’ and Army Historians,” The Army Historian 5 (Fall 1984): 7-8.
  5. Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina From 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1974), 13-14.
  6. Jeffrey J. Crow, Paul D. Escott, and Flora J. Hatley, A History of African Americans in North Carolina (Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1992), 1.
  7. Alexander S. Salley, Narratives of Early Carolina, 1650-1708 (New York: Scribner’s, 1911), 57-61; Wood, Black Majority, 16; and Wright, Colonial Era, 63.
  8. William L. Saunders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina (Raleigh: The State of North Carolina, 1886 – 1890), 1:204; and Wright, Colonial Era, 63.
  9. The year 1691, is considered to be the separation date of North and South Carolina because the Proprietors allowed Phillip Ludwell to appoint a deputy for North Carolina. The Proprietors had not wished this to be the end of the Carolinas and had hoped that the colony would once again be governed by a single Parliament in Charles Town and instead held their own Parliamentary meetings. In 1712, the Proprietors appointed Governors to North Carolina and thus allowed for the two colonies to officially separate. Robert M. Weir, Colonial South Carolina – A History (New York: KTO Press, 1983), 68n.
  10. Kenneth Coleman, The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia: Trustees’ Letter Book, 1738-1745 (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1985), 30:175.
  11. Ibid., 30:109, 285.
  12. Kenneth Coleman, The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia: Trustees’ Letter Book, 1742-1752 (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1986), 32:144.
  13. Ibid, 32:144-146.
  14. Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877, 26.
  15. Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), 355.
  16. John W. Shy, “A New Look at Colonial Militia,” William and Mary Quarterly. 3rd ser., 20 (April 1963): 175-85.
  17. Saunders, The Colonial Records of North Carolina, 1:31.
  18. Ibid., 1:112.
  19. Ibid., 1:205.
  20. South Carolina Historical Society, Collections, vol. 5, The Shaftesbury Papers (Charles Town: South Carolina Historical Society, 1897), 337; and A. S. Salley, Journal of the Grand Council of South Carolina, April 25, 1671-June 24, 1680 (Columbia, 1907), 31, 81.
  21. Ibid., 36-37.
  22. Weir, Colonial South Carolina, 67.
  23. Weir, Colonial South Carolina, 81.
  24. On March 1, 1701, the General Assembly passed an Act to raise the value of all gold and silver coins used in the province. The Act stipulated that all pieces of silver including “Spanish pieces of eight, Mexico, Seville, pillar, weighing 12 penny weight, made current at 5s.; Single Ryals (Royals) at 7.5d.; English Crowns, at 12 ryals; and French Crowns, at 10.5 ryals.” Thomas Cooper and David McCord, The Statutes at Large South Carolina (Columbia: A.S. Johnston, 1836-1841), 9:779. According to Thomas Nairne, in 1710 one Spanish Royal was still worth 7.5d. Jack P. Greene, ed., Selling a New World: Two South Carolina Promotional Pamphlets (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1875), 57. Based on this information, blacks without a trade were paid approximately 1 shilling and 4.25 pence, those with a trade 1 shilling and 7.5 pence nearly half the pay of their overseers. In English currency it takes twelve pence (d.) to equal on shilling (s.) and twenty shillings to equal one pound (**).
  25. Cooper and McCord, Statutes at Large, 7:31-32.
  26. Morris J. McGregor and Bernard Nalty, Blacks in the United States Armed Forces: Basic Documents (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 1977), 3-4.
  27. See Appendix Table 2 for the population of Blacks in South Carolina in 1700.
  28. Woodward, The Negro in the Military Service, 26-26d.
  29. W. Noel Sainsbury, Records in the British Public Record Office Relating to South Carolina, 1663-1782 (Atlanta and Columbia, 1928-47), 5:167. Wood, Black Majority, questions whether or not this person was placed on lookout or whether he was an early riser and a fast runner. It would seem, however, that with the passage of the 1704 Act which employed trustworthy slaves, that this particular person was probably a lookout, 125. Wood is correct in his assumption that the black man’s correct status is uncertain.
  30. Wilkes, “Missing Pages in American History”, 10.
  31. Verner Winslow Crane, The Southern Frontier, 1670-1732 (Philadelphia: The Seeman Press, 1929), 91.
  32. Cooper and McCord, Statutes at large, 7:349; and Woodward, The Negro in the Military Service, 26.
  33. H. Roy Merrens, ed. The Colonial South Carolina Scene: Contemporary Views, 1697-1774 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1977), 32. By this account there were approximately 2260 whites and 4100 slaves, nearly a 2 to 1 ratio.
  34. The term “cattle-hunter” was used to refer to those slaves who were in charge of the province of their master’s cattle. Kenneth W. Porter, “Negroes on the Southern Frontier,, 1670-1763,” Journal of Negro History 33 (1948), 54.
  35. Crane, The Southern Frontier, 91. Thomas Nairne describe the “Defence of the Colony in 1710:
    . . . our Laws oblige every Male Person from 16 to 60 Years of Age, to bear Arms, who are all under their Captains, Majors, and Colonels, by whom they are duly exercis’d once in two Months. . . . Every one among us is versed in Arms, from the Governor to the meanest Servant, and are all so far from thinking it below them, that most People take Delight in military Affairs, and think no body so fit to defend their Properties as themselves. . . . There are likewise enrolled in our Militia, a considerable Number of active, able, Negro Slaves; and the Law gives every one of those his freedom, who in time of an invasion, kills an Enemy; the Publik making Satisfaction to his Master for the Damage sustained by the Slave’s Manumission. Greene, Selling A New World, 52-53
  36. Merrens, The Colonial South Carolina Scene, 32-33; and Wood, Black Majority, 126.
  37. Weir, Colonial South Carolina, 83-85.
  38. Governor Craven estimated the white male population to be about 1500 and that they had enlisted approximately “two hundred stout negro men.” Sounders, Colonial Records of North Carolina, 2:178; and Craven, The Southern Frontier, 171.
  39. Saunders, Colonial Records of North Carolina, 2:203, 253-254.
  40. Frank J, Klingberg, ed. The Carolina Chronicle of Dr. Francis Le Jau, 1706-1717 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956), 155, 161. Le Jau also mentions in one of his letters “I must not forget to mention that the poor Negroe Men whom I had the Comfort to Baptize did behave themselves bravely & to Admiration upon all occasions.” Ibid., 165.
  41. Wood, Black Majority, 128; and Klingberg, The Carolina Chronicle, 176.
  42. Woodward, The Negro in the Military Service, 29.
  43. While not enlisting in the militia, in 1735, freemen and slaves were paid 50 for killing Tuscarora Indian and 60 for taking one alive. Restrictions on firearms possession and travel of slaves, however, prevented many from obtaining the bounties.
  44. Quarles, “The Colonial Militia and Negro Manpower,” 649.
  45. Fitzhugh McMaster, Soldiers and Uniforms: South Carolina Military Affairs, 1670-1775 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), 13.; and Wood, Black Majority, 308-326.
  46. J. Harold Easterby and Ruth S. Green, eds., The Colonial Records of South Carolina, 1st ser,: The Journal of the Commons House of Assembly, 1736-1750 (Columbia: Historical Commission of South Carolina, 1951-62), 2:175-178, 195, 309, 420.
  47. South Carolina Historical Society, Collections, vol. 4, Report of the Committee Appointed by the General Assembly of South Carolina in 1740, on the St. Augustin Expedition under General Oglethorpe (Charles Town: South Carolina Historical Society, 1887), 24-32.
  48. At the outbreak of the Tuscarora War in 1711 the North Carolina militia was unprepared in the event of an actual invasion. This lack of preparedness nearly devastated the colony and if aid had not arrived from South Carolina the North Carolina colonists would have been wiped out. E. Milton Wheeler, “Development and Organization of the North Carolina Militia”, North Carolina Historical Review 41 (Summer 1964), 308-318.
  49. Saunders, The Colonial Records of North Carolina, 3:90, 112.
  50. The 1747 act continued for five years, the 1753 act for two years and the 1759 act for five years.
  51. Woodward, The Negro in the Military Service, 36.
  52. Ibid., 36a-36b.
  53. Ibid., 36e.
  54. Porter, “Negroes on the Southern Frontier,” 55-56.
  55. Morton, Colonial Virginia, 2:524, 525.
  56. Lefler and Powell, Colonial North Carolina, 138-48.
  57. Woodward, The Negro in the Military Service, 1:46
  58. Greene, Settlements to Society, 238.
  59. Ibid., 239.
  60. Percentages are rounded to the nearest tenth. Percentages are based on the figures given in Table 1 and 2.


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