Some of South Carolina’s roots lie in the English Civil War.
Our school books simplify that war by saying it was fought between the Puritan Roundheads and the Anglican and Catholic Cavaliers, the men of Massachusetts versus the planters of Virginia and Maryland. As with most wars, the conflicts were more complex. The west of England, centered on the port and merchants of Bristol, was competing with the upcoming merchants of London on the eastern shore. Parliament was jockeying to maintain its privileges against a monarch who believed he had absolute power. The House of Lords, representing inherited landed money, was under siege by the House of Commons which represented the merchants and new wealth. The Scots, Irish and Welch were still protesting union.
Many credit John Colleton with suggesting the settlement of Carolina to Anthony Ashley-Cooper, a Londoner with investments in Barbados. However, his background did not automatically qualify him for such reward from the Stuarts. His family had risen to the status of gentlemen in Exeter, the center of the Devon woolen industry in southwestern England. His father, Peter, was high sheriff in 1618; his sister Elizabeth married Hugh Crocker who became mayor.
When war came in 1642, mercantile and industrial Exeter supported Parliament against the king. Royalist forces laid siege to the town in August, and forced men like Colleton and Croker to retire. Colleton apparently lost his rights to income from his estates in Cornwall in the ensuing months.
When John Berkeley asked him to raise and arm a private army to support the dominant royalist force in the region, he agreed. They apparently fought at the Battle of Stratton in May of 1643 which Berkeley won for Charles I. Parliament won the war in 1645, although Exeter remained royalist country until Thomas Fairfax defeated Berkeley in 1646.
Colleton next appears in the public record in 1648 asking to have the income from his estates reinstated. Meanwhile, Charles was still fomenting rebellion and new fighting broke out soon after Colleton received his dispensation in March. In August he must not have been considered a rebel because he was granted permission to go to Calais.
After Charles was executed in 1649, supporters of his son regrouped in exile and had the younger Charles issue demands for recognition of his succession from the colonies. Massachusetts refused, but Virginia, where Berkeley’s brother William was governor, agreed. Barbados chose to stay as neutral as possible to protect its trade with both London and Amsterdam.
Disgruntled and impoverished soldiers from the royalist army fled to the colonies, including Barbados where Humphrey Walrond refused to accept neutrality and forced the governor to pledge to Charles in 1850. It was in this year John Berkeley says he ran into Colleton in Holland.
Oliver Cromwell sent a fleet to blockade Barbados in 1651. In 1652, a compromise was signed with now Colonel Colleton supporting Cromwell’s admiral, George Ayscue, who then appointed Daniel Searle governor. Soon after, Charles sent Francis Willougby as his governor of the island.
Colleton, in fact, was an ally of Thomas Modyford, who had arrived in Barbados in 1647. Modyford had been a mayor of Exeter and George Monck refers to both Modyford and Colleton as cousins in a 1663 letter to Willoughby. Both joined the subsequent plots to overthrow Searle.
The royalist cause was not a simple one, when men like Walrond squabbled with men like Modyford. After the restoration of the Stuarts many had to rearrange their biographies to emphasize when they had supported the ultimate winners. John Berkeley did the rehabilitation for Colleton in 1660 when he wrote a letter that became the model for all the heroic biographies that followed our civil war some 200 years later.
Berkeley said Colleton had sacrificed his fortune to support the royalist cause in the English civil war, left the country for the Caribbean after Charles I was executed in 1649 to avoid taking an oath, and continued to scheme for his son’s return from exile. He even introduces the now contemporary euphemism used to denigrate civil war in Ireland as mere “troubles.”
However, while Berkely would like to have used Colleton to remind Charles of his own service, he hedged his language with “to the best of my knowledge” in case reports surfaced that suggest Colleton was not quite as steadfast as proclaimed.
Berkeley knew the myth of loyalty was more important than the reality, and that personal self-interest was best wrapped in that myth. When he lobbied for the Carolina grant, he gave us both a colony and a narrative legitimizing disobedience.
Berkeley’s letter to Charles II as reproduced by William Betham in The Baronetage of England, 1802.
These are humbly to certify to your sacred Majesty, THAT John Colleton, some time of Exeter, Esq. engaged for your majesty’s royal father, in the beginning of his troubles, raised and commanded a regiment under me, consisting of 1100 men, well armed, without any charge to his then majesty, or compulsion of his people, which was very costly to him, he never receiving any pay or free quarter, to my knowledge, and the soldiers very little either; that he furnished moneys and arms, to a good value, when he was driven from his habitations and estate, in Cornewal, before the Battle of Stratton, for which I am confident he hath not had satisfaction; that he being chosen a commissioner by the county of Exon, for the carrying on of the service of your Majesty’s royal father, in the associated counties of the west, did therin good service.
That he did, at several other times, procure and lend moneys, and procure and furnish good store of armes and ammunition, when his majesty’s affairs were in great straits, and gave credit, and staid long for considerable sums yet unpaid, of many of them, whereby a good sum must de due to him. That he suffered much by your majesty’s enemies, by being of your part, I believe to the value of above sixty thousand pounds, and he was well contented to stay for his disbursements, and bore his sufferings cheerfully, proposing to himself no other satisfaction, that I could perceive, than your majesty’s restoration. That after your majesty’s exile, he was ever active and helpful to your majesty’s agents, in England, in his person, and with his purse, which I my self know to be true, and have been informed thereof by divers others.
That he forsook England, for many years, to avoid the oaths, subscriptions, &tc, imposed upon your subjects, by your enemies, destructive of your majesty’s interest, as I found him, in Holland, in the year 1650, and returned not until your majesty’s restoration.
That he hath kept his loyalty unspotted, to the last, as far as I can be informed, or understand.
I am sure he hath done your majesty, faithful and good service many ways, and all this, in order to his duty and allegiance, without any respect to reward or gain, that I can perceive by him.
19th of Xth, 1660
“Letter from George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, to Francis Lord Willoughby,” 31 August 1663, reproduced on University of North Carolina docsouth website, mentions the cousinships.