History: Goose Creek leads up to the American Revolution

  • Thursday, February 6, 2014

Leading up to the American Revolutionary War, Goose Creek was the most opulent and wealthy Charleston neighborhood. Its citizens were known for being rebellious.

Exports during the frontier and colonial period, circa 1745, included rice, pitch, tar, turpentine, skins, corn, beef and pork.

The early settlers and geography of Goose Creek played a role in the American Revolutionary War.

Goose Creek Mayor Michel Heitzler detailed this and other aspects of local history during his History in Our Own Backyard lecture series held at city hall in the fall.

“It’s literally in your own backyard,” Heitzler told the audience. “If you tell me where you live I might be able to tell you exactly what happened there.”

William Rhett, a merchant, sea captain, militia officer and speaker of the Commons House of Assembly, warned against the Goose Creek men 50 years before the revolution.

He cautioned an imperial official that unless the revolution was, “Croped [sic] in Bud and example made of some of them they will sett [sic] up for themselves against his majesty as well as the Proprietors.”

Residents diversified by wealth, status, occupation and interests resulting in mixed loyalties.

William Bull and Lord William Campbell had strong royal connections. Bull was the second to last royal governor who owned and resided at Button Hall Plantation. Campbell was the last royal governor. He married Sarah Izard and was a Goose Creek landowner.

The British empire offered many advantages. Goose Creek was the wealthiest Charleston neighborhood mostly due to the success of the British mercantile system that provided markets and bounties for rice, indigo, and naval stores.

“You could sell every grain of rice in every British colony,” Heitzler said. “Rice was unpopular at first, but has a good shelf life – it lasts forever.”

Goose Creek planters depended on British markets and made huge fortunes within the empire, but some planters invested in northern interests and identified with northern protests against taxation, Heitzler said.

Some planters were planter-merchants who were locally annoyed by the navigation acts and taxes and some Goose Creekers personally identified with the artisans and merchants who led the protests in Charleston.

Leading up to the rebellion, some planters became exceedingly wealthly. Some landowners were absentee and had overseers and slaves remain at their plantations.

Goose Creek reached its zenith of wealth and showed signs of decline due to soil exhaustion and malaria.

A small middle class of wheelwrights, furniture makers and shoe makers emerged in Goose Creek. They began to sympathize with the rebellious north while planters remained loyal.

England’s debt after the French and Indian War was the equivalent of about 19 billion British pounds in today’s currency, according to Heitzler. England starting taxing America, but the north felt these “navigation acts” more.

The 1770 Boston Massacre and the 1773 Boston Tea Party served as propaganda. Tea-laden ships were permitted to dock in Charleston but their cargo was consigned to a warehouse where it remained for three years until it was sold by patriots to help finance the revolution.

William Johnson and Rawlin Lowndes were Goose Creek planters who resisted the British.

As tensions heated, Goose Creekers resisted and formed a Provisional Congress in 1774 made up of: Thomas Smith Sr. of Yeamans Hall Plantation, Benjamin Singleton of Foxbank Plantation, John Parker of the Hayes Plantation, Benjamin Smith of Howe Hall Plantation, John Izard of the Elms Plantation and John Wright of Wassamassaw Plantation.

“One-third of Americans wanted to the English to get out,” Heitzler said. “One-third didn’t. One-third couldn’t care less.”

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