James Colleton

Governor of Charles Town 1686 to 1690

In the short space of four years, from 1682 till 1686, there were no less than five Governors; Joseph Morton, Joseph West, Richard Kyrle, Robert Quarry, and James Colleton.

James Colleton, colonial governor of South Carolina, was a brother of one of the Lord Proprietors (Sir John Colleton), was appointed governor with the rank of Landgrave, and endowed with 48,000 acres of land in 1686.

He was expected to assert the authority of the Lords Proprietors and secure the enforcement of laws in the Fundamental Constitutions that were blatantly disregarded by the colonists. The Commons House of Assembly, which had been elected before his arrival, refused to acknowledge the binding force of the Fundamental Constitutions.

Governor James Colleton thereupon excluded the members of the majority from the legislative halls, and these protested against any Acts that might be passed by the remaining members. In 1687, a new Commons House of Assembly was elected that was even less tractable.

Colleton endeavored to collect quit-rents on unimproved land as well as on cultivated fields. But, the Commons House of Assembly imprisoned the Secretary of the colony, seized the records, and defied the Governor and Lords Proprietors.

In 1689, Colleton, under pretext of threatened danger from the Spaniards or Indians, called out the militia and proclaimed martial law. Shortly after the English revolution the colonists rose against his despotism, and the Commons House of Assembly impeached and disfranchised Colleton, and banished him from the colony.

13 May 1687:
Lords Proprietors of Carolina to Governor James Colleton. We have agreed to grant Mr. John Price forty thousand acres of land on certain conditions herewith transmitted to you. Signed, Craven, Albemarle, Bath (for Lord Carteret), P. Colleton, John Archdale, Tho. Amy.

19 June 1688:
Warrant of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina to Governor James Colleton, for the grant of 12,000 acres to Doctor Chritopher Dominick, he having paid £600 for the same. A rent of one penny per acre to be reserved. Signed, Craven, Bath (for Lord Carteret), P. Colleton.

March 3, 1686/7:

We learn that a hundred and fifty-three Spaniards, Indians and Mulattos have fallen upon the outskirts of our settlement, and burnt and plundered seven houses. We hear that the reason of that, nothwithstanding, the King's commands and our repeated orders, the people of Carolina have received the pirates who have unjustly burned and robbed the houses of Spaniards.

Could any rational man doubt that the Spaniards would seek revenge, and would be justified in seeking it, if this be true? We have also been informed that a design was on foot in Carolina to take St. Augustine, which our Government was ready to countenance, being persuaded that they were justified by our clause permitting invaders to be pursued beyond the bounds of our province.

But that clause means only a pursuit in heat of victory, not granting of commissions and a deliberate invasion of the King of Spain's dominions. You will cause this explanation to be recorded. If the Spaniards invade you, defend yourselves, and by a brisk pursuit of them in the present heat of victory, give them cause to repent their attack.

If they or any other Christian nation injure you, let the proofs be transmitted to us, and we will apply to the King for reparation for damage done. But no rational man can suppose that the subjects of any prince can be permitted to make war upon any of his allies for the reparation of their private injuries, or for any other cause whatever, or that any such power was granted by our patent.

We have received copy of an Act of levy and impress men and arms for the defense of the Government in the preamble of which it is said that the Spaniards who invaded you were commissioned by the King of Spain. The name of so a great prince is thus mentioned on the information of a single mulatto and without your having seen any such commission, or sent to St. Augustine or Havana to ascertain if the Government knew anything of the invasion.

We have reason to believe that the King of Spain knew nothing of it, and we dissent to the Act and to all Acts and Orders made with a view to war with Spain. We see by the Minutes of Council that there was evidence that Mr. John Boone had not only helped the pirates Chapman and Holloway with victuals, but had taken and concealed part of their stolen goods, for which he was rightly expelled from the Grand Council.

But we hear since that he is again chosen, and is sitting in the Grand Council. This must not be chosen again and restored. You will put him out, and see that another is chosen in his place. We are sorry to see the proneness of the Parliament of Carolina to such proceedings, and hope that they will not occur again.

Bath (for Lord Carteret)
P. Colleton

Instructions to James Colleton, Governor of the Province of Carolina, South and West of Cape Fear

March 3, 1687

These include orders to arrest Governor Joseph Morton to answer the complaint against him of encouraging privateers; to arrest Robert Quarry if one Browne, whom he entertained, prove to be not a trader but a pirate; and several other more relating to the harbouring and abetting of pirates.

Bath (for Lord Carteret)
P. Colleton

October 10 1687

...we have received yours of 23 December and 26 February, and approve of your having stopped the invasion of St. Augustine. We are pleased with your care for the defense of the province from any future attack of the Spaniards... You do well in your resolution to seize all privateers, and you must not fail to enforce the law against those that correspond with them or supply them with arms and ammunition, for we have hints that such things are done by some in Carolina.

Bath (for Lord Carteret)
P. Colleton

March 3, 1686/7 - John Boone is expelled from the Executive Council of Governor James Colleton for "conspiring with pirates" -- the result of a political fight. He remained a successful businessman in Charles Town until his death in 1711.
In 1686, James Colleton, a brother of one of the Lords Proprietors, was appointed governor, in the hope that he would be able to reconcile the colonists to the proprietary authority, to which they had for a long time been averse. But his arbitrary conduct drove the people to open resistance. The public records were seized, the colonial secretary was imprisoned, the governor defied, and in 1690 he was banished from the colony.
There is debate over how rice came to be cultivated in the lowcountry. What isn't debated is that, by 1690, growers were producing it in large quantities. In that year the colonists, dissatisfied with Governor James Colleton, petitioned that they pay their taxes in commodities. On September 26, 1691, the General Assembly of South Carolina ratified the proposal in an act that allowed Carolinians to pay their taxes in rice, as well as other goods.
Although the other Lords Proprietors agreed that it was best to suspend Seth Sothel from any governmental functions during "these dangerous tymes," that worthy fled to Charles Town. Arriving there in 1690, he discovered the southern colony in a turmoil and greatly exercised by the actions of James Colleton (brother of Sir Peter Colleton), who had been sent out as governor in 1686.

Sothel managed to build himself a political clique of several hundred persons and by virtue of his status as one of the Lords Proprietor, summoned a Parliament, banished Colleton, and proclaimed himself governor of the Ashley River settlement.

He seems to have absorbed some wisdom and prudence from his experiences in Albemarle, for it is generally conceded that his administration in what was to become South Carolina shortly had much to recommend it. He served as governor until 1692, when Philip Ludwell, appointed Governor by the Lords Proprietors, arrived in Charles Town.

In 1686 came James Colleton as colonial governor. He began his administration with an attempt to establish the Grand Model. The Commons House of Assembly resisted his authority, and the people were embittered against him. The quit-rents came due; payment was refused, and the colony was in a state of rebellion.

In order to divert attention from himself, Colleton published a proclamation setting forth the danger of a pretended invasion by the Indians and Spaniards. The militia was called out and the province declared under martial law. It was all in vain. The people were only exasperated by the arbitrary proceedings of the governor. Tidings came that King James II had been driven from the throne of England - replaced by William of Orange.

The governors who preceded James Colleton had been provincials themselves, or men who identified themselves quite fully with the colonists. Colleton, though he had been a resident in Barbados, was the first who failed conspicuously in this respect.

His failure, however, is partly to be accounted for by the attitude which he found it necessary to assume toward the already-planned expedition against St. Augustine. As England and Spain were then at peace, Gov. Colleton felt compelled to forbid the expedition, though the colonists considered that their honor demanded its prosecution. The governor thereupon threatened to hang any who persisted in it, and by this means forced its abandonment. In their chagrin some of the colonists later attributed his course of action to the desire for "a little filthy lucre" which might accrue from Spanish trade.

James Colleton was a man of resolution, capable of arbitrary measures and made bold by his consciousness of the support of the Lords Proprietors. Through him they made one more effort to procure an acceptance of the Fundamental Constitutions. In the Assemblies of 1686 and 1687 a committee undertook the task of proposing such changes as would make them acceptable, but their report soon became so voluminous that it was laid aside.

Then Colleton, "in some passion," produced a letter from the Lords Proprietors in which, apparently because of their desire to secure the acceptance of the revision of the Fundamental Constitutions in1682, they repudiated the edition of 1669 as an imperfect copy. The elected members of the Commons House of Assembly then unanimously declared that the government should be directed solely according to the royal charter. They even went so far as to deny to the Executive Council the right of initiative.

But during two sessions the Lords Proprietors' Deputies insisted on maintaining the initiative. Finally the Lords Proprietors ordered Governor James Colleton to call no more Assemblies without instruction from them, unless some very extraordinary occasion required it. Therefore no laws were passed, the temporary laws were allowed to expire, and by 1690 no statute was in force in the province.

Governor Colleton now undertook to govern the province alone, or with the aid of the appointed Deputies, who he knew would support him. His rigorous exaction of quit-rents, prohibition of any Indian trade, and punishment of discussion provoked an uprising. Paul Grimball, the Secretary, and a member of the Executive Council was imprisoned and all the records were seized.

On the inspired petition of a number of colonists and the advice of the Lords Proprietors' Deputies, and without calling the Commons House of Assembly, Governor Colleton now proclaimed martial law. But so strong was the feeling in opposition to him, that he did not dare to attempt its enforcement or to keep the civil courts closed. In fact, it was only through the people acting as a militia that martial law could be enforced, and they were well-nigh unanimous in opposition to it. Government all across the province had practically broken down, when Seth Sothel, the Lords Proprietor who had bought the share of the Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, arrived as a fugitive from the Albemarle settlement, being soundly outsted as its governor.

The Lords Proprietors had already abandoned James Colleton and had appointed Thomas Smith governor. He was one of the richest men in the province, and was soon after made Landgrave. But Sothel brought with him a certificate of the Lords Proprietors that, by virtue of the clause in the Fundamental Constitutions which provided that the oldest of the Lords Proprietors who happened to be resident in Carolina should be governor, he must be obeyed as such.

If the Fundamental Constitutions, so dear to the Lords Proprietors, were to be obeyed, Sothel's claim must be recognized. But Sothel actually arrived as a refugee from the Albemarle settlement, whence he had been banished for alleged rapacity and gross misgovernment. James Colleton and his adherents at once arrayed themselves against him.

The opponents of Colleton, led by Andrew Percival, by Muschamp, the king's collector of customs, and by others, supported Sothel in the hope thereby of escaping from the tyranny of Governor James Colleton. Seth Sothel assumed the governorship, removed the Lords Proprietors' Deputies who opposed him, and called an Assembly.

A violent conflict now ensued between the Sothel and Colleton factions. Sothel was publicly charged with treason, and the colonists were called upon to refuse obedience to his authority. But the Commons House of Assembly supported Sothel. He removed some of the Deputies and procured from the Commons House of Assembly Acts banishing Colleton and disqualifying Bull, Grimball, and Charles Colleton, who had recommended the proclamation of martial law, from holding office.

By an unprecedented assumption of authority the ex-governor (James Colleton) was required by an Act of the Commons House of Assembly to present himself for trial before the king's bench at Westminster. But, notwithstanding the arbitrary character of some of those measures, a considerable number of laws were passed by Sothel's Assembly which were of decided utility for the province.

They related to the militia and defense of the province in general, to the building of roads, to taxation and the regulation of trade, to the fees of the governor, while among them was one for the naturalization of French and Swiss Protestants among the colonists. However questionable had been his career in Albemarle, Sothel's conduct at Charles Town, so far as we know it, redounds to his credit.

But the Lords Proprietors, notwithstanding the provision of the Fundamental Constitutions, refused to recognize Sothel, though at first they did not go farther than to order him to come home and answer charges. This command he did not obey. All the Acts passed by his Assembly relating to officials, courts, and elections were soon disallowed by the Lords Proprietors.

This not only left the French and Swiss aliens as before, but defeated the efforts of James Colleton's opponents to punish him and his associates. After Sothel had been in office about thirteen months, 1690-1691, he was ordered to give place to Philip Ludwell, who was formerly Secretary of Virginia and an adherent of the previous Governor William Berkeley.

In the year 1690, at a meeting of the representatives, a bill was brought in and passed for disabling Landgrave James Colleton from holding any office or exercising any authority, civil or military, within the province. So exasperated were they against him that nothing less than banishment could appease them; and therefore they gave notice to him that in a limited time he must depart from the colony.

After Governor Seth Sothel was thrown out, the law for disabling Landgrave James Colleton from holding any authority, civil or military, in Carolina, was repealed; and strict orders were sent out to the Executive Council to support the power and prerogative of the Lords Proprietors.

But, to compose the minds of the people, they declared their detestation of such unwarrantable and wanton oppression, and protested that no governor should ever be permitted to grow rich on their ruins.

Click Here for information on the Executive Council under Governor James Colleton.
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