The Palmetto State
, the beautiful state
in which I grew up.
Geographically, the state is divided into three strips running parallel to one another and the Atlantic coast: the Low Country, the Midlands (aka the Sandhills), and the Up Country. The Cherokee and Catawba tribes were the major inhabitants of the area before European colonization. The coastal Low Country was the first part to be settled by Europeans, and the city of Charleston was one of the largest ports in the English colonies. Rice and indigo (the latter due to the efforts of Eliza Pinckney) were grown on plantations in the Low Country, and slaves were brought over from Africa to do the actual work in raising the crops. By the American Revolution, there were more African-Americans than European-Americans in the colony, and it was one of the richest of the thirteen fighting for independence. More battles with the British took place in South Carolina than any other of the new states: several around Charleston Harbor and others in the more sparsely settled north. Francis Marion, "the Swamp Fox," earned his nickname by outfoxing the Redcoats in this state. It became the 8th state on May 23, 1788.
After independence and the invention of Eli Whitney's cotton gin, cotton became a more profitable crop than indigo, but the slaves were still necessary for plantations. In 1796, the state capital was moved from Charleston to the newly founded Columbia in the center of the state because of pressure from residents of the interior. The Charleston "lowcountry elite" still retained a lot of political power, though. Plantation owners who did more trade by ship with Europe than with the rest of the U.S. grumbled over tariffs intended to protect fledgling Northern industries, and John C. Calhoun's theory of nullification made the state threaten to just ignore the tariff laws. The Nullfication Crisis passed, but South Carolina and the rest of the South continued to feel that state's rights were more important than federal authority. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, on December 20, 1860, and when Confederate troops fired on U.S. troops still sequestered in the base on Charleston harbor's Fort Sumter in April 1861, the American Civil War started.
The war devastated South Carolina even more than many Confederate states. More than 20% of the white male population died. General William Tecumseh Sherman burned Columbia in 1865 (I was told in South Carolina history classes that people from other cities had sent their valuables to Columbia, thinking that it would be ignored in favor of larger cities). Bronze stars still mark where cannonballs hit the State House. After the war, what land had not been burnt could not be tilled profitably on a large scale without slave labor. Small farms managed, but white farmers continued to do their best to keep the freed slaves "in their place."
Textile manufacturing and other industry helped revitalize the state's economy in the 20th century. Eventually, tourism on the coast (Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, etc.) and even the Interstate Highway System also added to the economic activity (South of the Border and less tacky places). The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s was fairly peaceful in South Carolina; segregation was ended without nearly as much violent resistance from whites as took place in some other Southern states. (This may have been because of the higher percentage of black residents of the state.) However, at one 1968 protest in Orangeburg, three black protesters were shot by police. Nonetheless, by 1970 black state legislators were being elected.
Hurricane Hugo hit the state in 1989 and caused a lot of damage -- mostly to the coastal area, but as far inland as the west side of Columbia my stepmother's house was damaged by a fallen tree from the storm. But the state did bounce back within a few years. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the 2001 population of the state as 4,063,011; 66.12% white, 27.5% black, 2.4% Hispanic, and less than 1% describing themselves as any other race.
Official Things of the State
- Mottoes: "Animis opibusque parati" (Prepared in mind and resources) and "Dum spiro spero" (While I breathe, I hope)
- Nickname: Palmetto State (somewhat obscure unofficial nickname: the Sandlapper state)
- Flower: Carolina yellow jessamine
- Bird: Carolina wren
- Song: "Carolina"
and craploads of past books and history classes.