In 1664, the Lords Proprietors established the three original counties of the entire colony of Carolina - Albemarle County, Clarendon County, and Craven County. None of these original three counties were ever actually surveyed with firm boundaries. In essence, they were merely an ambiguous geographic description for the convenience of the Lords Proprietors.
Soon after William Hilton, Jr. explored the Cape Fear River in 1663 and brought back positive news of the area's potential, a small group of New Englanders established a colony a short distance up the Cape Fear River. They purchased a tract of land from the Indians on Old Town Creek, about half way between what later became the towns of Brunswick and Wilmington, and planted a settlement there.
At that time, the Virginians looked upon them as rivals, for the latter claimed a right to the soil, having settled prior to the grant to Clarendon and his associates, the eight (8) Lords Proprietors. Difficulties arose. A compromise was proposed, but the New Englanders were already dissatisfied with their location. The colony did not prosper; the Indians lifted the hatchet against them, and in less than three months the settlement was abandoned.
A little more than one year later, in 1664, several planters from Barbados purchased of the Indians a tract of land, thirty-two miles square, near the abandoned New Englander settlement. They asked of the Lords Proprietors a confirmation of their purchase, and a separate charter of government. All was not granted, yet liberal concessions were made. Sir John Yeamans, the son of a cavalier, and then a Barbados planter, was, at the solicitation of the purchasers, appointed their governor. His jurisdiction was from Cape Fear to the San Mateo (the territory now included in South Carolina and Georgia), and it was called Clarendon County.
John Vassall of Barbados financed and led the first permanent settlers to the lower Cape Fear, landing in May of 1664, and by November had established the first Charles Town, twenty miles upstream on the west bank of the Charles River (Clarendon River soon, later named the Cape Fear River). Vassall had not reached a satisfactory agreement with the Lords Proprietors. Instead they signed an agreement in January of 1665 with William Yeamans of Port Royal.
Sir John Yeamans, William's father, was appointed "governor of our Country of Clarendon neare southerly ..."
On November 14, 1664, the Lords Proprietors appointed Robert Samford as Secretary and Registrar of Clarendon County. On November 24, 1664, the Lords Proprietors appointed John Vassall as Surveyor of Clarendon County. Finally, on January 11, 1664/5, the Lords Proprietors commissioned Sir John Yeamans as Governor of Clarendon County.
By 1666, the first Charles Town was a thriving community with over 800 settlers within the thirty-two square miles, all fairly close to the town and the Cape Fear River, along Town Creek.
In October of 1666, Sir John Yeamans stopped at Charles Town on his way to Port Royal and found the colonists in desperate need of supplies. He sent a ship to Virginia to relieve this need, but it was wrecked on the return trip. Sir John left in December of 1666 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.
Further settlement was not attempted for fifty years because of the closing of the Carolina land office by the Lords Proprietors, the hostility of the Cape Fear Indians, and the presence of so many pirates.
What most historians do not point out is the fact that in August of 1667 there was a major hurricane that hit the entire East Coast. It severely damaged all the structures of the first Charles Town, and this was the "straw that broke the camel's back" - the settlers had had enough, so they loaded up and left - most returning to Barbados, some going to the Albemarle region, and some going on to Virginia.
Clarendon County ceased to exist at this point in time, never to be resurrected in the colony of North Carolina.
Click Here to see the approximate boundaries of the original Clarendon County.
Soon after the issue of the first charter to the Lords Proprietors in 1663, negotiations were opened with them by two groups or associations of would-be colonists. One of these consisted of New Englanders who, in connection with certain adventurers resident in England, had already been concerned in a temporary settlement near Cape Fear, and wished, under conditions agreed upon with the Lords Proprietors, to establish a permanent colony on or near that part of the coast.
The others were colonists from Barbados who had sent an explorer to the Carolina coast, and desired to remove thither if satisfactory conditions could be obtained from the Lords Proprietors. Peter Colleton - a brother of one of the Lords Proprietor - and Thomas Modyford were interested in this plan, while both the Barbadians and the New Englanders seem to have employed Henry Vassall as an agent in England.
The ideas which the two bodies held concerning government and the relation in which they would like to stand toward the Lords Proprietors were not unlike. Both desired a grant of land within the province and a distinct status therein, thus reminding us of arrangements long before made by Gilbert and Raleigh, and later in some cases by the London Company and the New England council.
The Barbadians asked to be called the corporation of Barbadian adventurers, and wanted a county or "corporation" in which to settle. They also desired that the governor and the members of the council should be removable only by their official associates. On behalf of the New Englanders it was stated that they had ever enjoyed the benefits granted to corporations; and among those benefits were mentioned full liberty to choose their own governors, and make and confirm their laws, together with immunity from all except self-imposed taxes.
In addition to unfavorable reports which were in circulation about Cape Fear, it was said that the New Englanders would probably abandon the enterprise if they had none of the privileges just mentioned. The Barbadians stated that, as many of their number were "of good quallity" and were thus fit to manage the government, they expected "to have sole power of electing all delligates, Governors and officers, and making Lawes, and governing amongst themselves according to the tenor and Priviledges of the said Graunte or charter from his Majestie. . . ."
If such policy were pursued, the petitioners thought it would promote the settlement "of many other considerable corporations" within Carolina. Colleton and Modyford suggested that the Lords Proprietors appoint persons to treat with the petitioners, and bring them to accept the right to make by-laws only, and to elect such officials as, for example, the county of Exeter had, while general laws should be made by the inhabitants of the whole province of Carolina.
These suggestions, together with the design of the Lords Proprietors to secure colonists from all possible quarters, gave a decidedly liberal tone to the "declaration and proposals" which were issued in August of 1663. These had special reference to Cape Fear, and, so far as provisions relating to government were concerned, were not intended for the northern part of the province.
Besides the provisions concerning grants of land, with proprietary reserves and a quit-rent, the Lords Proprietors in this document agreed that the colonists should present to them, the names of thirteen persons from whom they would appoint one to be governor and six to be councillors. Both governor and councillors should hold for six years, and at the end of that time a new list of names should be submitted.
Provision was also made for freedom of conscience and for the election of an Assembly which should have the usual powers. But the New Englanders, as an association, did not take advantage of these proposals, though there is evidence that individuals from that section took up their residence in the settlement.
Before the Lords Proprietors had come to a definite agreement with the body of colonists from Barbados which first negotiated with them, a second group, led by Sir John Yeamans and his son Major William Yeamans, submitted conditions. These were accepted in 1665, and by Yeamans and his associates a settlement was founded at Cape Fear.
The reputation of the Barbadians as supporters of royal government against the Commonwealth naturally convinced the Lords Proprietors that such men would be safe custodians of power. In a suggestive letter written by the Lords Proprietors to the adventurers in January of 1665, they state that William Yeamans had been very careful of the latter's advantages, and by his ingenuity, "hath prevalyed with us to consent to more than severall people would have accepted from us." But of this the Lords Proprietors declared that they did not repent, because of the forwardness of the adventurers to settle near Cape Fear.
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 held 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 Registrar 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 the colony of 1666 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 Lords 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 of Carolina, was left vacant, and the first and decisive step was taken toward the separation of Carolina into two distinct provinces.
At this juncture, the Earl of Clarendon was driven from office and from public life in England, and the Earl of Shaftesbury, with the assistance of John Locke, became for a few years the most active member of the board of the Lords Proprietors. Shaftesbury's interest was chiefly directed toward the southern part of the province, and his efforts, together with those of Sir John Colleton and the Barbadian adventurers, resulted in the founding of the Ashley River settlements. Previous to this time the efforts of the Lords Proprietors to settle their province had not been especially successful. Notwithstanding liberal concessions, the Cape Fear settlement had proved a failure, and Albemarle County contained only a few hundred people at most.
The name Clarendon County would be resurrected in South Carolina after the American Revolution in 1785. A new county was established in the south-central part of the new state that year along with many other new counties. This county was abolished in 1800 when South Carolina once again reorganized, eliminating the "overarching Districts" that had been created in 1769 and subsequently modified during the next thirty-two years. In 1855, South Carolina once again re-established Clarendon County with boundaries similar to the original couny of 1785, and this county continues to this day. But, it is nowhere close to where the original Clarendon County was established in 1664.