Sir John Yeamans

First (and only) Governor of Clarendon County 1665 to 1667

Governor of Charles Town 1672 to 1674

Sir John Yeamans was the third leader to govern Charles Town from April 19, 1672 to August of 1674, when he died. Several sources assert he was in Barbados when he died, but many other sources assert he was still in Charles Town at the time of his death.

Sir John Yeamans, Governor of South Carolina, was born in Bristol, England in February of 1611 and he died in South Carolina in August of 1674. He was the son of a cavalier, and, not being in good circumstances, emigrated to Barbados and became a planter.

In 1663, several residents of that island, not being satisfied with their condition, and desiring to establish a colony of their own, sent a vessel to examine the country extending from the 36th degree of north latitude to the river San Mateo, which had already been erected into a territory in London under the name of Carolana. The report being favorable, the planters purchased from the local Indians a tract of land thirty-two miles square on the Cape Fear River (named the Clarendon River at that time), and begged the Lord Proprietors for a confirmation of the purchase and a separate charter of government.

Not all their request was granted, but Sir John Yeaman was appointed their governor, with a jurisdiction that extended from Cape Fear to San Marco. A new county was established and named Clarendon. In the autumn of 1665 he arrived from Barbados with a group of emigrants and founded a town on the south bank of Cape Fear River that proved so utter a failure that even its site is now in dispute. [Website Author's Note - the location is NOT in dispute. Archeological digs have been concluded with fairly accurate locations of several foundations and remnants of chimneys.]

Yet the settlement flourished for a time, and exported boards, staves, and shingles to the parent colony. Emigration increased, and in 1666 the plantation is said to have contained over 800 souls. Yeamans seems to have managed affairs satisfactorily, but after a time he returned to the West Indies.

In the copy of the original Fundamental Constitutions given them before leaving London, John Lock, Sir John Yeamans, and James Carteret were created Landgraves.

In 1671, the colony was increased by Dutch emigrants from New York and others from Holland, and by the arrival of Sir John Yeaman from Barbados with African slaves. The first governor, William Sayles soon sunk under the climate and the hardships to which all the settlers were exposed, and Sir John Yeamans was appointed his successor. But, the Executive Council elected Joseph West as governor while Sir John Yeamans was in route to Carolina, so he had to wait to be the third governor of the new "colony in the south."

He proved, however, to be "a sordid calculator," bent only on acquiring a fortune. He encouraged expense, and enriched himself, but without gaining the respect of his peers. The Lord Proprietors complained that "it must be a bad soil" if industrious men could not get a living out of it. In 1674, Sir John Yeamans died while Governor of Charles Town.

1665. Proprietary commission to Sir John Yeamans, governor of Clarendon County: North Carolina Records, i. 97.

1665. Proprietary instructions to Sir John Yeamans, governor, and to the council of Clarendon County: North Carolina Records, i. 95

[from Sir William Berkeley's papers contained in the NC State Archives.]

1665 A colony from Barbados under Sir John Yeamans settled Charles Town, Clarendon (now Brunswick) County. Abandoned, 1667.
The first settlements in North Carolina that were destined to survive were made by Virginians in 1653 on the banks of the Chowan and Roanoke rivers, in a district called Albemarle (named for one of the Lords Proprietors, George Monck, the Duke of Albemarle).

A few years later men from New England made a settlement, which they soon abandoned, on the Cape Fear River.

In 1665, Sir John Yeamans, an English nobleman of broken fortunes, came from Barbados with a company of planters and joined the few New Englanders who had remained on the Cape Fear River. This was called Clarendon county.

In 1664, Albemarle County was created & William Drummond of Virginia became the first governor. In 1665 the county of Clarendon at Cape Fear was established with Sir John Yeamans as governor of the new county.
In October 1665, Sir John Yeamans and a group of colonists established a settlement in the area now know as Cape Fear. It was located slightly down-river from present-day Wilmington, NC, and on a branch or creek on the western side of the Cape fear River [Town Creek]. As many as 800 colonists may have been drawn to Charles Town, as it was known.

Yeamans, however, spent only a short time there before returning to his home in Barbados. With little support from England, this second Carolina colony began to disband, many dispersing over land to Virginia, as reported by a leader, Vassall, in his letter from Nansemond, in Virginia, dated 1667. They also dispersed by sea, some to Boston and New England, and others simply went back to their Caribbean homes.

William Hilton, Jr. was again sent to explore the region, this time by men from the British colony of Barbados. He entered the Cape Fear River in October 1663 and left in December, evidently just before the New Englanders arrived.

John Vassall of Barbados financed and led the first permanent settlers to the Lower Cape Fear, landing in May 1664, and by November had established Charles Town, twenty miles upstream on the west bank of the Charles River (Clarendon River, later renamed the Cape Fear River). Vassall had not reached a satisfactory agreement with the Lords Proprietors. Instead they signed an agreement in January 1665 with William Yeamans of Port Royal.

Sir John Yeamans was appointed "governor of our County of Clarendon neare southerly ..." In October, Sir John stopped at Charles Town on his way to Port Royal and found the colonists in desperate need of supplies. A ship sent to Virginia to relieve this need was wrecked on the return trip. Sir John Yeamans left in December and never returned. War with the Indians and the indifference of the Lords Proprietors led to the migration of settlers out of the Cape Fear area and by the end of 1667 the site was deserted.

[Author's note - what most historians seem to leave out is the fact that in August 1667 there was a gigantic hurricane that virtually wiped out the new settlement of Charles Town in what is present-day Brunswick County. This big hurricane was the "straw that broke the camel's back," so to speak, and it reinforced the settlers' decision - it was time to leave this gawd-forsaken place and head back home.]

As soon as the Concessions and Agreement were issued, Sir John Yeamans was appointed governor at Cape Fear, with jurisdiction also over all the southern part of the province. In the fall of 1665, he landed at Cape Fear a body of colonists from Barbados, and possibly some from others of the West India islands.

Yeamans himself soon returned to Barbados and did not visit the colony again, except possibly in the summer of 1666, when there is some evidence that he convened an Assembly at Cape Fear. But the shipping, both on the first voyage and in the later voyages, suffered greatly from the storms and shoals along the coast.

A voyage of discovery commanded by Robert Sanford, the secretary and register of the colony, revealed anew the attractiveness of the coasts as far south as Port Royal. This probably strengthened a desire, already existing in the minds of the settlers who had come under the lead of Yeamans, to remove to some place farther south.

Though in 1666, the colony is said to have numbered eight hundred settlers, and was apparently on the road to permanence, dissensions existed from the start. They arose from the presence among the colonists of representatives of the New England interest, of those Barbadians who had negotiated with the proprietors in 1663, as well as the larger body of Barbadians who had secured the Concessions.

The older elements complained of the provisions in the Concessions which related to the allotment of land. They declared that these regulations not only interfered with their antecedent rights in the soil, but that the existence of so much waste and swampy land made an unidecimal division of the whole by lot to appear unjust.

An appeal on the subject was sent to the Lords Proprietors, which Yeamans neither disapproved nor openly and expressly supported. The opposition charged him and his party with lack of interest in Cape Fear and with the desire to remove to the south.

Under these conditions, and with practically unanimous consent, the colony was abandoned in 1667, the colonists withdrawing to Albemarle, Virginia, and New England. By this event Clarendon county, the middle region, was left vacant, and the first and decisive step was taken toward the separation of Carolina into two distinct provinces.

In November 1669, Sir John Yeamans, was a powerful friend of the Lords Proprietors, and held a blank warrant for the Governorship of the Carolina Colony. When his first ship was sunk at Barbados, he leased another ship, the Three Brothers, to join the original troupe heading to Port Royal (in present-day South Carolina).

In late November, the Carolina, the Port Royal, and the Three Brothers, left Barbados for the coast of America, but were caught in storms again near the island of Nevis and were separated from each other. The Port Royal was wrecked in the Bahamas by the storms. Both the Carolina and the Three Brothers were battered, but eventually made port in Bermuda. Somehow, some of those aboard the Port Royal were able to find passage to the island of Bermuda and rejoin their fellow colonists.

In January of 1670, in Bermuda, Yeamans changed his mind, and decided to return to Barbados. He filled in the name of William Sayles, the 80-year old former Governor of Bermuda, on the blank warrant, making Sayles the first governor of the new colony, and leaves the expedition.

The pioneers eventually settled at Charles Town on the Ashley River. John Locke, Sir John Yeamans, and James Carteret were created Landgraves. Yeamans would have become governor, but he is listed as the third governor only because he did not arrive with the original settlers. He arrived several months later, and the 80 year-old governor William Sayles he appointed in his absence had died. After deposing Sayle's successor, Joseph West, he became governor.

On 19 April 1672, Sir John Yeamans was elevated to governor in compliance with the Lords Proprietors commission of the preceding December.

In 1671, Dutch emigrants arrived from New York and others from Holland, and Sir John Yeamans arrived from Barbados with 200 African slaves, the first that were landed in any numbers on the North American continent. He imported the slaves to grab the largest plantation, qualifying for an additional 100 acres for each slave.

Sir John Yeamans was not a good governor. He proved to be "a sordid calculator," bent only on acquiring a fortune. He only enriched himself, exporting food during a shortage. In 1674, Yeamans was removed from office and he died in August 1674.

Sir John Yeamans, who had ruled a small colony with prudence and moderation, became insolent, unjust, and tyrannical, when he governed people by whom he had not been chosen. He was vitiated by prosperity; wherefore the Lords Proprietors, in consequence of numerous complaints, removed him from the government in 1674.

St. Nicholas Abbey was built in the 1650s.
It is one of only three Jacobean-style houses
left in the western hemisphere,
two here in Barbados and one
in Virginia, called Bacon's Castle.
Sir John Yeamans, South Carolina's third Governor
in the 1670s, once owned this plantation.

Round House has stood on the corner at the foot of the big hill in Bathsheba [Barbados] for over 200 years. John (later Sir John) Yeamans had it built before he shot Colonel Benjamin Berringer and fled to Carolina. The exact details of the whole affair are a bit vague but it is clear that Yeamans had an affair with Colonel Benjamin Berringers' wife Margaret, and the rest, as they say, is history.

It's about an hour horse ride from Bathsheba to the Abbey, in St Peter where the Berringers lived. Yeaman rode there quite often from the Round House. He went by day to organize workers with his friend and business partner Colin Berringer. Berringer and Yeamans were real estate speculators and planters. They were clearing the densely wooded area of Cherry Tree Hill, with the idea of selling land to the new arrivals who were coming to Barbados. The land was fertile and ideal for agriculture besides being close to Bathsheba and the spectacular view of Cherry Tree Hill. At dinners, the Berringers and John Yeamans talked of dreams, life, ambition, the military, adventure, and power.

The Berringers loved his visits, but to Mrs. Berringer, John Yeamans was a savior. She was lost in long, lonely days in a rambling mansion, tucked away in a wilderness of mahogany trees, far away from like minds and interest. Her husband did not understand her loneliness. He was content with his life, the business, the military reserves, the plantation and the stately home. Their home was a magnificent Jacobean mansion that Banjamin had built and decorated with taste. It was built in the classic style complete with four chimneys. Outside, the lawn stretched 100 feet to the great garden wall. Oleander, hibiscus, Ixora and tropical flowers grew, almost wild, in the formal beds. Royal palms lined the long drive. They were an established family living in luxury.

The plantation was manned by black slaves and a few white men who had come to Barbados as indentured laborers. Sugarcane, which was introduced to Barbados in the 1630's, was very labor intensive and in the early days indentured laborers were recruited from England. They agreed to work for seven years without pay in exchange for their passage and keep. But this was not enough, young English men were kidnapped and they along with convicted criminals were shipped to Barbados. Some like Henry Morgan escaped the tyranny of this system and lived as buccaneers, raiding Spanish galleons as they carted cargo between Europe and the New world. Later white labor was replaced with African slaves from Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

Margaret Berringer felt lost and alone. She was uncomfortable with the workers and the slaves. One white worker, a foreman, had been a convicted criminal. He was crude and frightening. Often she stayed indoors just to avoid his stare and uncouth manner. "I am a prisoner in paradise," she thought.

Margaret was an ambitious and determined woman who struggled with the prejudices of the day. Her father was Reverend John Forester, and her upbringing was strict and conservative. She felt she had always been a prisoner of some sort, hiding her emotions, pretending to be demure and lady like, to please her parents and live up to the expectations smothering her. She married Berringer because it was somehow expected. Women had no say, they were property, but to be fair Berringer was wealthy and powerful and the idea of living in his castle-like home was intriguing. The intrigue did not last. Cherry Tree Hill was a deserted forest where she remained hidden from everyone. Bridgetown was two and a half hours away by carriage; Speighstown was closer but people were moving to the south. They had few friends and no one just popped in as they did in Bridgetown.

Yeamans visits brought relief, laughter, and excitement. She laughed at his jokes and loved his keen sense of the world. He understood so much and he understood her. They talked sometimes with little need of words, sensing thoughts, emotions and intentions. It seemed that they had known each other forever, even when they first met. Secretly they walked in the woods. Sometimes they rode their horses to Bathsheba and strolled along the deserted beach at Cattlewash. They found pretexts to meet whenever they could.

Benjamin was an old fashioned man. Honor and respect were the foundations of his morality. He did not want to believe his wife was unfaithful but there were rumors. He overheard workers talking, he saw the secret in faces and was aware of the abrupt silence when he happened on plantation gossip. This was unusual, he connected it with Yeaman and his wife. One day as he walked through the grounds he saw Nyala, a leader amongst the slaves, alone crushing cane in the windmill grinder. "What do you know of the Missus and Mr. Yeamans," he asked point blank. "Some boys done see them together, he don't got no respect that Mr. Yeamans." Nyala never minced words.

Yeamans had become careless with his affections, and Colonel Berringer, a military man of honor, had only one recourse.

The duel was a spontaneous affair, arranged with the best British manners. "You know what this means, John. You can't be with another man's wife and not expect him to do something about it." "But, I love her," Yeamans replied. "These things happen, its not personal Benjamin". "All the same, no one makes a fool of me in my house and gets away with it, what will it be, pistols or sabers?" "Why not just a good punch up, old boy, there is no need for anything fatal, Benjamin." "Pistols then, and may the best man win."

Yeamans did not want to kill Colonel Benjamin but he did not want to die. In a duel you can shoot to kill, to maim, or miss. He was sure that Benjamin would aim to kill and that left no choice. From a distance the body is like a dartboard, aim for the middle and you have a chance of hitting somewhere. Miss and you will certainly be hit in the return volley. The two men stood back to back and on command walked the twenty paces away from each other. They turned together and fired.

Yeamans married Mrs.Berringer and moved into the Abbey shortly after they buried Benjamin. But, life was not easy. Friends and family turned against them. The 1660s were hard times for Barbados. There had been a locust plague in 1663 that destroyed crops across the island. A fire had burned Bridgetown to the ground and provisions were scarce. A major hurricane in 1667 blew down sheds and uprooted trees on the plantation and the drought of 1668 just about ruined them. The final blow came when the Barbados court ruled that the Abbey be returned to Berringer's children.

In 1669, the couple packed their bags and moved to Carolina. John Yeamans became a leading figure in founding the colony. He was appointed Governor after just three years. He died a few years later and Margaret, once again lost and alone, fell into the arms of a new man and remarried.

The two great homes of these men still stand as icons of a different age.

The Abbey now called St. Nicolas Abbey, was named after Berringer's grand-daughter who married George Nicholas. It is now a private home and a designated historic property that is open for public viewing on occasion. Yeamans legacy in Barbados ended with John. There were no more deaths from duels in Barbados. Round House, built of solid coral with walls that are several feet think, has survived its rugged environment. Today the Round House is a fine guesthouse and restaurant.


This story is based on fact, but the account in Campbell's History of Barbados indicates that Berringer was poisoned and not shot. Whichever the case, it is thought that Yeamans killed Berringer or had him killed so that he could inherit his estate and his wife. The estate was eventually sold to the Cumberbatch brothers for payment of back taxes.

Click Here for information on the Executive Council under Governor John Yeamans.
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