Celebrating 17 years

Militia Laws of Carolina and Georgia

The Enlistment of the Black Population, 1663 – 1763


Their natural faculties are as good as ours. The Negroes made hardy soldiers. Their faithfulness in doing fatigue duties, or labor, their patient endurance of heat and cold, hunger and thirst, and their bold efficiency in battle made officers who frowned on them at first, learn that they were equal to any troops in the Army.1

----Colonel Alexander Hamilton


Benjamin Quarles, in his book The Negro in the Making of America, stated that “the role of the Negro in the making of America is generally neither well known nor correctly known,” and it is the job of the historian to make sure that blacks find their way on to the pages of history books.2 In undertaking this task historians must examine all relevant primary sources to insure that they can interpret the information in the context that it is written. Historians must also re-examine what has been previously written and published to make sure that it is neither incomplete nor distorted, and that is the intention of this paper.

African-American history can mark its beginnings as a topic in American History in the late 1950s, primarily because of the changes that came about during the struggle for civil rights. Since the 1950s many non-historically black college and universities began to develop courses to teach the role of African-Americans in American history. Scholars and researchers had also begun to examine the African-American and publish scholarly information to inform all citizens that American history is a history of all people.3

At about the same time that the changes to include African-American history in American history was unfolding, there was also a change coming in the field of military history. In the 1970s a "new" concept of military history began to emerge and this concept would change the way in which military history is taught and written. Military history, prior to the 1970s, concentrated more on tactical and strategic aspects of war, but the new concept intertwines the battles with the social and economic aspects of war. What this means for many historians is that they now can concentrate on a "comprehensive military history" that involves all "individuals and groups that make up the national security community."4 This concept of the "new military history" along with African-American history is the basis for this paper, which will concentrate on the militia laws that entitled African-Americans in the Georgia and the Carolinas from 1663 to 1763.

In 1663, a group of eight Proprietors received a Royal Charter from Charles II to the land south of Virginia, in which they settled and named Carolina. The boundaries of Carolina stretched from the Virginia border south to central Florida.5

Tobacco Farmers

The northern portion, which would be officially known as North Carolina in 1701, was settled mainly by small Virginia tobacco farmers seeking free lands as early as the 1650s. By 1663, at the time the Carolina charter was issued, the population of the Albermarle region was in excess of 500. Many historians assume that much of this population was white as it is not known for sure whether any of these first settlers brought any slaves with them or not.6 The southern portion of the colony, which would have become South Carolina, was settled mainly by people from Barbados and other English colonies.

The question of who would settle Carolina and what form of labor there would be, slavery or servants, was not a question that was asked for long. Just months after the Proprietors received their charter they issued a proposal that would set up a head right system in order to assist in the settlement of the colony, primarily the area that would become South Carolina. The proposal stated that,

To the Owner of every Negro-Man or Slave, brought thither to settle within the first year, twenty acres; and for every Woman-Negro or Slave, ten acres of Land; and all Men-Negro's or slaves after that time, and within the first five years, ten acres, and for every Woman-Negro or slave, five acres.7

Item number 110 in the Fundamental Constitution of Carolina, drawn up by John Locke in 1669, put the status of slavery in writing. It left no doubt about the servitude and obedience of slaves by stating that "Every freeman of Carolina, shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of whatever opinion or religion soever."8

Political and Social Differences

Slavery, however, took hold slowly in North Carolina, mainly because of the dangerous coast line and the lack of harbors. Thus, the large plantation systems that were used in Barbados, and were the vision of the Proprietors, were never able to develop fully. Because of this slow growth of slavery, in North Carolina slaves composed about 15 percent of the population in 1720 compared to over 70 percent of the population in South Carolina, the two regions grew in different directions. Even though the colonies officially split in 1701 there were political and social differences that had emerged as early as 1691 that made the two distinctive from the other.9

In 1732, James Oglethorpe received a charter from George II to establish a colony to the land south of South Carolina which was named Georgia. This colony was primarily designed as a military outpost against Spain but it also served as a haven for impoverished debtors. The Georgia Trustees, who had governmental control through the English Parliament, banned slavery in the colony because they believed that "Negroes would endanger the Province."10 The trustees were confirmed in their belief that insurrections of slaves would be more imminent in Georgia, "it being a frontier" and "whilst Augustine is in the hands of the Spaniards."11

Provocations towards changing Georgia's regulation of slavery came as early as 1742. These instigations came not only from the planters of South Carolina but also from Georgia farmers who complained that without the use of slaves they could not achieve economic stability. In 1749, the Trustees submitted a petition to Parliament that would repeal "The Act for rendering the Colony of Georgia more Defencible by prohibiting the importation and Use of black Slaves or Negroes into the same," and pass a law which would allow blacks to be admitted under "several Restrictions and Regulations."12

The regulations stipulated that in order to prevent slaves from running to Spanish Florida there must be one indentured white servant to oversee every 4 slaves in ownership. Owners were also not to "lend or let out" their slaves. Slaves were not to work on Sundays, and the owners were not permitted to "exercise an unlimited Power over them."13 Despite these somewhat stringent regulations by 1750, South Carolinians and other settlers to the Georgia region imported a labor force that contributed to almost 18 percent of the population.14

A Strong Military

Trying to develop a labor system, which eventually led to the establishment of slavery, was not the only issue that confronted the early settlers. While the English were colonizing the eastern part of North America (1689 - 1783) from present day Maine to Georgia, the French were extending their claims over Canada, Louisiana and the Ohio Valley, on the backside of the English colonies. Since the colonists were too far away from England to receive the military support necessary to protect themselves from possible attacks from the Native Americans or other European powers, they had to develop a strong military system. This system began during the colonial period when each of the colonies depended on a strong militia to help in the defense of its settlements.

It cannot be denied that the advent of slavery brought economic salvation to the Southern colonies but with that economic stability also came the possibility of greater manpower in the event of an attack from Native Americans or other European powers. It is clear, however, that the Africans were not purchased so that their owner could train them to shoot straight, follow military orders, and march in a straight line. They were purchased for their labor.

Slavery was not always considered to be a positive part of the community. At times of lengthy wars or battles, many white colonists were afraid to leave their communities for fear of slave uprisings.15 In South Carolina, men were recruited to patrol the slave communities and apprehend vagrant blacks.

France and England were on opposite sides in four of the wars fought in Europe between 1689 and 1763 and Spain was allied with France during the last three of these. Each of these European conflicts also had a counterpart war that took place between British, French and Spanish colonists in America. European history and American history refer to these wars by different names. The War of the League of Augsburg (1689-97) was known as King William's War in America; the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13) as Queen Anne's War; the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) as King George's War, and finally the Seven Year's War (1756-63) as the French and Indian War. One of the major factors involved in all of these wars was the control over the North American continent, especially as it related to trade. These wars were also coupled by Indian warfare all along the frontiers as each country tried to use the Indian people to their advantage.

English Military Tradition

Indian wars, however, are what plagued all of the colonies during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. For the combat of Indian warfare though, the colonial governments did not find it necessary to form professional armies and instead relied on the English tradition of the militia. Each colony enacted laws that required all able-bodied males from sixteen to sixty years of age to appear for military training. Every member of the militia had to appear for training a certain number of days each year, provide himself with a gun, and was also to be prepared at all times in case of invasion or insurrection. One exception to this was Pennsylvania, who did not require compulsory militia service until 1755 because of its strong Quaker influence.

Since each colony maintained its own separate military establishment, the militia developed into a local institution, governed either by the county or town, under the direction of the militia laws for that colony. Militias were also closely integrated with the social and economic structure of colonial society. With the development of the militia also came the question of who would be allowed to serve.

In North America, however, this was not a question that was easy to answer. Because many other countries were trying to grasp a part of the new continent, the English colonists had to rely on their own communal populations for protection. The population, however, was socially divided into Red, White and Black, which would make filling the muster rolls a difficult task. With many of the militias by the mid eighteenth century evolving into "social clubs" rather than military units, there tended to be an unwillingness to enlist those peoples of lower classes, especially blacks, even though they were probably more willing to fight.16

The settlers who came to the Carolina region from Barbados were not new to the idea of arming their most trustworthy slaves and the Assemblies of all three colonies acknowledged this acceptance in their militia laws. South Carolina, with the largest population of slaves, used their slaves in a larger capacity than any of the three. For South Carolina, though, this was not a decision of choice but rather a decision of necessity. With the slave population nearly twice as large as the white population throughout its colonial period, the white settlers could not afford to have their slaves unarmed in the event of a war. Georgia, after allowing the establishment of slavery, and North Carolina did not arm their slave populations until after there was an outbreak of hostilities.

The development of a militia in North and South Carolina was implemented by the Charter of 1663. Charles II had granted the Proprietors the right "to levy, muster and train all sorts of men," for the defense of the colony.17 The Proprietors, in 1667, relinquished to the Governor of Albemarle County the authority to divide the settlers into companies and to train them in the arts of war.18 The Fundamental Constitution of 1669 also allowed for the legal establishment of a militia by stating that, "all inhabitants and freemen of Carolina, above seventeen years of age, and under sixty, shall be bound to bear arms, and serve as soldiers whenever the grand council shall find it necessary".19 The Carolina militia also made no distinction between class or race and in the early years of colonization the white settlers had little fears of arming slaves or free blacks.

The arming of blacks was not a new adventure for many of those who settled the Carolina region. Those who had arrived from Barbados had probably armed their blacks at one time or another, as it was very common to do so in the seventeenth century. As early as 1672, Sir John Yeamans, who had just been restored to the title of governor and returned to Albemarle Point, left his plantation under the protection of an armed slave force because he feared a possible attack from the Spanish or Native Americans.20 In a meeting soon after Yeamans returned, the Grand Council ordered that all inhabitants were to report to "Charles Towne with their Armes and Ammunicion" except for those slaves who Yeamans had left for the protection of his plantation.21 Those slaves appear to have been the first blacks that were armed by the English for combat in South Carolina; they were not, however, be the last.

During King William's War the southern frontier remained relatively calm, since Spain was an ally of the English. Therefore the colonists in both North and South Carolina did not have to worry about a possible Spanish attack. The only real threat to the two colonies came when the French military captured an English island in the Caribbean, putting a fear in the colonists that they would be next.22

Hostilities were renewed in America with the outbreak of Queen Anne's War. For the southern colonies this meant a threat from the Spanish in Florida as they were allied with the French against England. South Carolina, being the closest to the Spanish, felt the brunt of their presence. While there were very few conflicts in Virginia and North Carolina these two colonies sent troops to protect and defend South Carolina.

Perhaps what the Carolinians feared most was the loss of trade due to the fact that the French were making their presence known in the southwest around the Mississippi River. In 1702, the colonists, in order to show their military strength to the French and Spanish, led an attack on a Spanish settlement in northwestern Florida called Apalache. The expedition, headed by James Moore, left the town in what Moore referred to as "so feeble and low a condition, that it can neither support St. Augustine nor . . . frighten us".23

As early as 1703 the General Assembly of South Carolina in an act entitled "An Act to prevent the Sea's further encroachment upon the Wharfe" allowed for slaves to be impressed into work for the good of the colony and the city of Charles Town. Under the direction of William Rhett, Commander of Fortification, slaves within a certain range of Charles Town could be forced to help in the building and repairing of fortifications, entrenchments and batteries, they would, however, also receive wages. Those slaves that possessed a certain trade, and were willing or wanted to work, would be paid three royals per diem.24 The owners of said slaves were to provide the "victuals" or provisions for their slaves and the colony would provide the tools, carts and horses. Rhett was also authorized to impress into service "white men" who would acts as overseers of the slaves. These people were possibly either indentured servants or young colonists without a trade and would be paid at a rate of two shillings six pence per diem,25 nearly twice as much as the black laborers.

The 1703 Act also allowed for the arming of slaves for the better protection of the city. The Assembly stated that the assistance of "trusty slaves" was necessary for the safety of the colony if, by chance, they were invaded by any of their enemies. The act allowed for slaves to be rewarded for their good service and if they were to "kill or take" any of the enemy during an actual invasion, which had to be witnessed by a white person, they would receive their freedom. The owner of such a freed slave would be compensated at a price considered fair by the public and the owner of any slave killed during an invasion would also receive compensation. Slaves that were wounded in service and were disabled to the degree that they could not serve their masters would also be set free and the master compensated. The act also made it lawful for slave owners to arm and equip their slaves in the same manner as other persons and to see that they appeared at musters and alarms.26 What came out of this legislation was a chance for slaves to demonstrate that they could be trusted with weapons and be trusted by their white owners. The General Assembly, however, believed in the black population 27 and over the next ten years they passed several acts that would acknowledge their involvement.

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  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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Greene, Jack P. ed., Selling a New World: Two South Carolina Promotional Pamphlets. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975)

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.

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Johnson, Jesse J. The Black Soldier, Documented 1619-1815: Missing Pages in United States History. Virginia: Hampton Institute, 1970.

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Lefler, Hugh T., and William S. Powell. Colonial North Carolina: A History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.

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Morton, Richard L. Colonial Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960.

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South Carolina Historical Society, Collections, vol. 5, The Shaftesbury Papers. Charles Town: South Carolina Historical Society, 1897.

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Wheeler, E. Milton. "Development and Organization of the North Carolina Militia." North Carolina Historical Review 41 (Summer 1964).

Wilkes, Laura Eliza. "Missing Pages in American History, Revealing the Services of Negroes in the Early Wars of the United States of America, 1641-1815." Chap. in The Negro Soldier: A Select Compilation. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1970.

Wood, Peter H. Black Majority, Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 Through the Stono Rebellion. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1974.

Woodward, Elon A. The Negro in the Military Service of the United States: A Compilation of Official Records, State Papers, Historical Extracts, etc. Relating to His Military Status and Service, from the date of his introduction into the British North American Colonies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1888. Microfilm, M858.

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