SC African Americans: 1525-1865

South Carolina SC Black History SC Slavery

America's First African Slaves Came to South Carolina

In August 1619, "20. and odd Negroes" were captured - twice - and carried to the coast of Virginia. Because of this, 2019 is remembered as the 400th anniversary of slavery in the United States. However, American abduction of men and women from Africa actually dates to November 1526. The location? South Carolina.

In September of that year, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a wealthy Spaniard come slave trader, arrived for the second time to the shores of what would become, more than two centuries later, South Carolina. Landing along the shores of the Pee Dee River, he established a nascent village, San Miguel de Gualdape. A month later, he was dead, and two months later, the African slaves he held captive revolted, effectively ending the settlement for the Spaniards.

In 1526, enslaved Africans were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina. Those Africans launched a rebellion in November of that year and effectively destroyed the Spanish settlers' ability to sustain the settlement, which they abandoned a year later. Nearly 100 years before Jamestown, African actors enabled American colonies to survive, and they were equally able to destroy European colonial ventures. (Smithsonian Magazine)

In June 1526, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, a wealthy Spanish official in the city of Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, founded a colony at or near the mouth of the Pee Dee River in eastern South Carolina. Six decades before Roanoke Island (1587), eight decades before Jamestown (1607), and almost a century before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock (1620), Ayllon began his North American dream. Over the next 350 years, a total of 10.7 million African-American slaves were shipped to our shores. (An additional 2 million African-American slaves died en route.)

A giant proportion of these slaves landed in Charleston, making South Carolina especially integral to the slave trade. When it came to buying and selling human beings, our state stood at the forefront, and whether we are white our black, our collective history is inextricably bound to the lives of the families who were shipped and split apart right here in our own markets.

Although some men and women did achieve freedom prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the vast majority remained enslaved. This guide will help you learn more about slavery in South Carolina, and it also explores the lives of freedmen and black sailors and soldiers prior to the Civil War.

SC Slaves | SC Freedmen | SC Soldiers, Sailors | Related SC Resources

SC Slaves

  • Buying and selling human beings - examines slave trade from the shores of Africa to the markets of Charleston, including capture, the Middle Passage, auctions and cost, and the separation of families

  • Everyday life - labor and living conditions ... describes work loads, accountability systems, rice cultivation, slave quarters, clothing, and diet

  • Everyday death - talks about the constant presence of disease and death in South Carolina's slave community ... also gives info about African-American cemeteries and burial traditions

  • In their own words - first-person narratives and histories of South Carolina slaves and ex-slaves

  • Black revolts
    Stono Rebellion - 1739 - the largest slave uprising in America prior to the Revolution - scroll down for additional resources
    Denmark Vessey's Conspiracy - 1822 - recounts details surrounding Vessey's plot to overtake Charleston ... includes terms of Gullah Jack's sentence and record of Monday Gell's confessions

  • South Carolina's slave population - includes breakdowns by year and explains the relationship between SC's high slave population and the lowcountry's unique suitability to rice culture ... also looks at our slave population compared to other Southern states

  • Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801-1865 - documenting the role slaves played in the early years of the college that became the University of South Carolina

  • White opinion - collection of online letters, diaries, and books written by nineteenth-century white South Carolinians documenting their attitudes toward slavery


  • What was a freedman? - meanings of the word "freedmen" before and after the Civil War

  • Free Persons of Color in Charleston, SC, before the Civil War - everything from where they worked to where they lived ... also explains how they obtained their freedom, the competition they faced from white laborers, and the increasing limits imposed on them by South Carolina's fearful white government

  • Mitchelville: Experiment in Freedom - begun on Hilton Head Island in 1862 as part of the Port Royal Experiment ... Mitchelville has been called "the place where freedom began" for South Carolina's Sea Island slaves

  • A freedman testifies - 1863 - Harry McMillan speaks about black people's lives in bondage and their aspirations in freedom - emphasizes their desire for land

  • The Freed Men of South Carolina - 1862 - conditions of Sea Island freedmen according to Port Royal Relief Committee's J. Miller M'Kim

  • Brown Fellowship Society - Charleston social club - established 1790 - renamed Century Fellowship Society in 1890 or 1892
    Additional info - explains the Society's role in securing a burial site (photograph) for its members as well as the subsequent desecration of this site (called Macphelah) by the Catholic Diocese ... also mentions the Society for Free Blacks of Dark Complexion (later called the Brotherly Society), a similar organization which established the Ephrath cemetery for people of pure African descent

  • Freedmen's Bureau Records - reports that include information on conditions, laws, land grants, and more

  • William Ellison, Jr. – Freedman and Slave Owner - some freed slaves in turn purchased slaves themselves - in fact, by 1860, sources say there were 171 black slaveholders in South Carolina - William Ellison, Jr. (born into slavery under the name of "April") was the largest of these slaveholders, owning 63 men, women, and children

Soldiers, Sailors

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