Robert Johnson

Governor of South Carolina Province 1717 to 1719

Royal Governor of South Carolina 1729 to 1735

Robert, Johnson was born in 1682 and he died in Charleston, South Carolina, May 5, 1735. He was the son of General Sir Nathaniel Johnson, governor of South Carolina from 1702 to 1708, who left his son a considerable estate.

On 30 April, 1717, he was commissioned governor by Lord Carteret, at a time when the disaffection of the colony toward the lords proprietors was rapidly developing into rebellion. One of his first orders was to equip a ship to act against the pirates that were than infesting the coast, and he commanded in person in a victorious engagement with them off the bar of Charleston.

The struggle between the Lords Proprietors and the commons house of assembly culminated in the convention of 1719, of which Arthur Middleton was president. This convention established a revolutionary government, and requested Robert Johnson to assume the executive in the name of the land, which he declined to do, asserting the rights of the Lords Proprietors.

The convention thereupon elected James Moore, and asserted their power by military force.

In 1731, Robert Johnson was appointed royal governor, and came from England to take possession of this office. Governor Johnson aided General Oglethorpe and the first settlers of Georgia by giving them food and escort, and during his term the settlement of Purrysbury, by the Swiss under Colonel Peter Purry, was made. The general assembly erected a monument to his memory in St. Philip's church, Charleston.

Robert Johnson (1682 - 1735) was South Carolina's governor under both the Lords Proprietors and the British Crown. Appointed governor by the Crown in 1730, his "township scheme" was an attempt to establish frontier settlements that would provide a buffer zone between the coastal settlements and the danger from attack by Native Americans, Spanish and French forces. Additionally, the recruitment of white immigrants was to balance out the increasing importation of African slaves.
Soon afterwards the proprietors gave great offense to the colonists by vetoing a number of popular laws which had been enacted by the assembly. The most important was one changing the method of election for the members of the assembly, so that instead of being chosen altogether at Charles Town they should be elected by the voters in the various districts of the province.

This veto seemed to be intended to secure the continued domination of a little group of politicians in Charleston, and led finally to armed resistance. In 1719 the colonists assembled in arms and called upon their governor, Robert Johnson, to renounce the proprietors and assume the government in the name of the crown. This Johnson loyally refused to do. He was, therefore, set aside and Moore elected governor in his place, with the understanding that he was to hold office for the king.

Governor Charles Craven was succeeded by Robert Johnson, a son of the former governor, and during his administration a revolution occurred in South Carolina which changed the government from a proprietary to a royal one. The remote causes of this change may be found in the desire of the people for a simple and inexpensive government responsible only to the crown, and not to be subjected to the caprices, avarice, and inefficiency of a Board of Control composed of private individuals, intent only upon personal gain.

The immediate and ostensible cause was the refusal of the proprietors to pay any portion of the debt incurred by the Yamassee Indian war so promptly suppressed by Governor Craven; and the severity with which they enforced the collection of rents. The people looked to the crown for relief, aid, and protection.

A scheme for a revolution was secretly planned, and on the twenty-eighth of November, 1719, Governor Johnson was deposed. The people proceeded to elect James Moore governor. The militia, on whom Johnson looked for aid, were against him, and finding himself entirely unsupported, he withdrew to his plantation. Moore was proclaimed governor of the province in the king's name, and royal authority was established.

During the administration of Francis Nicholson, the successor of Moore, and that of Arthur Middleton, acting governor, little of political importance occurred in relation to the colony, except the legal disputes in England concerning the rights of the proprietors. These were finally settled in 1729, by a royal purchase of both colonies from the proprietors, and during that year North and South Carolina became separate royal provinces. [Lossing - 1850]

Charles Town leaders and residents grew increasingly intolerant of the raiding and plundering of the pirates of the early 1700s. The embarrassing blockade of the port which Blackbeard performed in May of 1718 and the terrorizing of Charles Vane a while later were so infuriating that Governor Robert Johnson dispatched Colonel William Rhett in the ships Henry and the Sea Nymph to deal with the criminals once and for all.
The shipbuilding industry in South Carolina got off to a slow start. In 1708, Governor Nathaniel Johnson reported to the Board of Trade in London that "There are not above ten or twelve sail of ships or other vessells belonging to this province about half of which number only were built here besides a ship or sloop now on the stocks near launching." In 1719, his son, Governor Robert Johnson, reported that "Wee are come to no great matter of [ship]building here for want of persons who undertake it tho no country in the world is [as] plentifully supplyed with timber for that purpose and [so] well stored with convenient rivers . . ." He notes that of the twenty or so vessels belonging to the port, "some" were built here.
In 1730, Royal Governor Robert Johnson devised the Township Plan to attract white settlers to the Upcountry. He hoped they would protect the frontier from Indians and discourage slave uprisings.

Johnson planned ten 20,000-acre townships. Each was to have a town where settlers lived. Farms were outside the town limits. To attract settlers, the colony offered 50 acres of land for every family member. It also waived settlers' quit-rents, or land taxes, for ten years and provided a food and equipment bounty, or allowance, for two years. The immigrants were known as bounty settlers.

The system was moderately successful in the 1730's and 40's. During the first decade, the townships attracted about 2,500 settlers, mainly from Germany, Switzerland, and the British Isles. Of the nine townships settled, Orangeburg and Williamsburg townships were the most successful.

Problems increased after 1739. Prospective immigrants discovered that the colonial assembly sometimes suspended the bounty and that life in the back country was difficult. During the 1740's, the townships attracted fewer settlers. Only after the French and Indian War ended in 1763 did the Upcountry attract the settlers Johnson had hoped for thirty years before.

Orangeburg was settled in 1735 by 250 Swiss immigrants. By 1760, it had nearly 800 residents. Leaders of the colony hoped its citizens would grow much-needed wheat and corn. Within a few years of its settlement, Orangeburg became a valuable source of food for Charleston.

Saxe Gotha, a precursor of Columbia, was one of nine townships put in place by Gov. Robert Johnson in 1731. Saxe Gotha was laid out near Old Fort Congaree, a 1718-1722 trading post on the west bank of the Congaree River. By 1735 Swiss and German immigrants were living in Saxe Gotha, and by 1740 there were mills, stores and farms. Because that side of the Congaree is low-lying and subject to flooding, Saxe Gotha was abandoned by the turn of the century as residents moved to higher ground.
Purry was nothing if not persistent, and, in 1729, the Lords Proprietors finally relinquished control of the South Carolina colony to the Crown. This greatly improved the political and financial opportunities for Purry's scheme. Purry's plan fit perfectly into the highest priority instructions from the king's ministers to the first royal governor of South Carolina, Robert Johnson.

One of the principal reasons for the crown's interest in acquiring South Carolina was to defend British imperial interests in America and particularly to counter the entrenched Spanish in Florida and the encircling French in Louisiana. Governor Johnson was instructed to establish "townships" on the South Carolina frontier and settle them with European protestants. Governor Johnson's "Township Plan" grew not only out of Purry's memorial to the duke of Newcastle, but also out of the "Barnwell Plan" of 1721.

1733 - After almost two months at sea, James Oglethorpe and Georgia's first 114 colonists sailed into Charles Town harbor aboard the ship Anne. Upon arriving, Oglethorpe went ashore, where he was warmly welcomed by South Carolina governor Robert Johnson and the speaker of the Commons House of Assembly.
1735 - When Governor Robert Johnson died in 1735, South Carolina held its first state funeral. Two companies of militias served as an honor guard, royal councillors were his pallbearers and members of the Commons House were official mourners. Johnson was interred near the alter of St. Philip's Church.
Issued in 1731, this proclamation was one of the first documents printed in South Carolina. It explains how people could apply for land grants.

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