A jaunt to the Carolinas
By the time you read this, we’ll be home from a two-week trip by car to South Carolina, North Carolina and Washington, D.C.
We visited friends in Charleston, S.C., son Matt in Raleigh, N.C., and a cousin and her husband in Washington. A 14-day trip that includes paying for only three nights in motels is my kind of journey.
We had visited all three cities before, and they’re all enjoyable cities to revisit.
Charleston is on the South Carolina coast — our hosts there have rented a condo unit on the beach just north of the city, and we stayed with them for four nights. Temperatures were a little below normal during our stay, but a couple of days were in the high 60s, and we were able to walk the beach and stroll through downtown with light jackets.
South Carolina was created in 1663 as “Carolina,” a proprietary colony of Great Britain, rather than a crown colony. That means it belonged to individuals rather than to Britain itself.
The individuals were eight men who had helped Charles II successfully ascend to the British throne in 1660, and by so doing restored royalty to Britain. Charles II gave them Carolina.
Oliver Cromwell served as Protector of the nation from 1648 to 1660. Cromwell had taken control of Britain after he saw to it that Charles I was beheaded to end Britain’s version of a Civil War. (Lincoln went easier on Jefferson Davis.)
So the eight men became owners of what is now both North Carolina and South Carolina.
It was even larger back then, since the grant from Charles II stated that the colony would stretch to the western extremity of British territory. That didn’t happen, of course, but it was still a very generous gift.
North Carolina split off from Carolina in 1719, the year the eight proprietors gave up their right to the land and the two colonies became crown colonies instead.
For decades after the American Civil War in the 1860s, South Carolina was one of the nation’s very poorest states, devastated by the war itself and the resulting destruction of its agricultural economy.
In recent years, tourism and manufacturing have replaced agriculture as spearheads of the state’s economy, and South Carolina is doing much better in that department.
South Carolina has a history of rebellion.
As a colony, it rebelled against England. As a state, it opposed federal laws from the 1820s on, and then rebelled against the United States as the first state to secede in 1861.
After the Civil War, its whites opposed federal Reconstruction. Its whites fought the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of the mid-1960s, and its voters continue to oppose a broad swath of federal legislation to this day.
Charleston rose to dominance as the main colonial seaport of the South. Its economy back then was based on rice and indigo, crops in great demand as a foodstuff and a source of dye for English clothmakers respectively.
Rice, especially back then, was highly labor-intensive.
The colony’s first wealthy planters enslaved local Native Americans to work the paddies, but the whites had brought European diseases with them, which took a heavy toll on the natives.
In addition, Indians knew the territory and could hide out when they escaped. Even so, South Carolina in early days exported some 50,000 Indian slaves to destinations from Boston to Barbados.
But African slaves before long replaced local natives as plantation workers in South Carolina and elsewhere in the colonies, and Charleston became a primary slave trade center of the South.
Rice cultivation was particularly grueling work for field hands.
The rice plantations were carved out of swaths of tidal marshes along the state’s rivers, with earthen bulwarks piled up as walls. Mosquito-infested, they were death traps, and injuries and wild animals, including alligators, were ever-present dangers. Slave replacement rates ran high for rice production.
During the Civil War, General Sherman’s Union troops were particularly destructive throughout South Carolina because of the state’s leading role in secession.
But Sherman spared Charleston to a certain extent, because that’s where his own headquarters were located after he marched through Georgia and turned northward, and he was very fond of the city’s beauty.
Therefore, Charleston today retains much of its antebellum architectural charm, and with its semitropical climate, it’s a magnet for tourists, like us.
Restaurants on every downtown block feature cuisine like low country boil (a seafood stew with corn and okra), oysters in various forms, shrimp and grits, fresh fish, corn bread, collard greens, hush puppies and other local favorites.
We savored everything we tried.
After the first day there, I vowed to begin a weight-loss program — but not until we returned home. I guess I should start it soon, or sometime.