The Devastating Impact of European Colonization on Indian Land in South Carolina

The arrival of Europeans in South Carolina and across the United States had a devastating impact on the indigenous population. The tribes were weakened by European diseases, such as smallpox, to which they had no immunity. This type of colonization, known as “settler colonialism”, sought to replace the original population of the territory with a new settler society. English colonists first arrived in what is now North Carolina in 1585 to start the failed Roanoke colony, but permanent settlement did not begin until the late 17th century.

Native peoples contributed to the early survival of the colonists by teaching them how to search for food, clear the land, and select and care for crops. However, their culture of welcome clashed with the culture of conquest, robbery and subjugation, and their sovereignty and autonomy were immediately threatened. For the next 300 years, European colonists and colonialists used systemic violence, terror, false promises, and a foreign legal system to claim native lands. This was done under the guise of the Doctrine of Discovery, a unilateral decree of international law issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 that classified indigenous peoples as subhuman because they were not Christian and treated their lands as unoccupied and available to be taken.

In the early colonial period, treaties were sometimes signed or symbolic payments were made for the use or purchase of land from native peoples. But predominantly, direct robbery was used to control colonial land. In 1663, King Charles II decreed that all native peoples' lands between 31 and 36 degrees of latitude (an area that stretches from the current southern border of Georgia to the northern border of North Carolina) be seized by the British Empire. Eighty years later, King George II granted the Earl of Granville the upper half of what is now North Carolina.

This area contained what is now Durham County and included 26,000 square miles that stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to an undefined western boundary. Private ownership of land had not existed before in the Americas; but it became the cornerstone of law and a necessary prerequisite for generational wealth, privilege, and power. Land grants were issued to English colonists which granted them ownership over parcels of land stolen from native peoples. With this legal document, all resources on this land became private property. The colonists in Durham County mainly came from England, Scotland and Germany. When they arrived they cleared the land and began to farm on rich but unknown terrain.

Soil was the main asset of this land and colonists exploited its natural fertility without a skill set or cultural framework for sustainable management. Most colonists were small-scale farmers or landlords who grew food and basic products for survival, bartering, and limited market opportunities. The main reason for limited market opportunities was lack of roads on which to transport surplus crops. Crops grown included corn, wheat, cotton, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and tobacco. Farms were diversified businesses in which livestock played an integral role. Sheep were raised for their wool and meat; cattle for their milk, leather and meat; mules and horses to pull plows and wagons; pigs for pork, ham, bacon, lard and leather; all animals provided valuable manure.

In the initial phase of settlement land was rich and productive but due to dense rocky soils in Triassic Basin most natural lands lacked natural fertile layer after erosion of original deep layer. In mid-19th century constant reuse of soils without rest replacement fertilization crop rotation or erosion prevention resulted in decline in yields. When there was no new land left to clear average income began to decline making it difficult to live off land. The transformation and cultivation of land in North Carolina could not have taken place without agricultural work of enslaved West African inhabitants who were forcibly expelled from their homeland from 16th to 19th century. Working from dawn to dusk enslaved people provided free agricultural labor on stolen lands that were basis of economy and wealth. When Civil War began in 1861 nearly one in three people in what is now Durham County was enslaved about quarter white farmers legally owned enslaved people. Cameron Plantation located mainly in Durham County was largest in state. Context played important role in feeding enslaved person including size plantation number enslaved people access food sources availability kitchen garden or nearby woods. Enslaved people worked hard under harsh conditions with little rest or nourishment often going without breakfast when they went to field.

My mom belonged Tom Edward Gaskin was not half nourished cook breastfed babies while cooking so moms could work fields all moms did was put babies kitchen when they went field I heard Mom say they were going work without breakfast when she put baby kitchen she passed bucket drank garbage from long-mango pumpkin. Original Duke Homestead shown here was quite typical small 19th-century landowner farms Courtesy North Carolina Collection Durham County Libraries. Cameron plantation shown here relation Durham County was largest state Cameron family owned approximately 30000 acres land 900 enslaved people Courtesy Bull City 150.

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