Beauty. Jonas and Margaret Lynch sailed from Ireland to the Carolina coast sometime before 1675, the year their son Thomas was born. Watching from the ship, they could have shared with the first Carolina settlers of April 1670 that fair sight of the New World:
- To the west was an ocean of leaves, glorious and lush in the varied but lively landscape of spring vegetation. The lower branches of cypress and oak were bent by the weight of trumpet vines, their summits towering above the endless expanses of marshland and oyster banks. But it was the appearance of the boundless forests . . . that spoke of grandeur. (1)
They must have hoped for refuge from that Old World of interminable wars. Jonas was granted several hundred acres of land on which to farm, build a home, and start a family. They called that land Blessing.
Violence. Jonas and Margaret may have known little about the Lowcountry’s bloody history. In the 1500s, Spanish and French expeditions had massacred each other’s settlers there. Indian tribes had befriended both and warred with both, with much bloodshed. After the Spanish had settled in Florida, Sir Francis Drake had burned St. Augustine.
For the new settlers after 1670, the violence lingered. Native Americans tribes helped the English at first but then sickened from English infectious diseases. Some of the multiple tribes launched frequent raids against English settlements. The city of Charleston became a walled and heavily fortified town. In 1702-06 Charleston attacked the Spanish in Florida, and the Spanish retaliated. Charleston did not feel safe enough to dismantle its walls until 1717, a quarter century after Margaret and Jonas Lynch had died in 1683 and 1691.
Beauty, Success. Even in this hard frontier environment, Thomas Lynch’s parents managed to accumulate a small inheritance for their son. Thomas was their only child to live through adulthood—one sibling, a brother (Johnson), seems to have died in his twenties. Thomas invested his inheritance in rice cultivation. By experimenting with higher yields, he prospered and grew rich. He came to own seven plantations, some on the fertile bank of the Santee River. Rice production in Carolina reached more than 1.5 million pounds by 1710, when Lynch was 35 years old.
Thomas constructed his own dwelling house in 1713, not on the Santee but on the east bank of the Wando River. Placed on a vast tract of land, with orchards and fields next to virgin forest, his new home was made of halved cypress timbers. Archeological records suggest it was an English hall-and-parlor house, modest in size but fit for entertaining the elite, with rich furnishings and a well-appointed kitchen. (2) Thomas was able to inhabit the beautiful landscape his parents had envisioned.
Violence. All this wealth came from people Thomas Lynch—my 8th great-grandfather—had enslaved by force. His first slaves were probably Native Americans. As a young captain in the local militia, charged to protect the plantations from raids, he could capture Native Americans—for defense purposes—and then either sell them to the West Indies (e. g. Barbados) or make them his own slaves. He and his fellow militiamen would likely have followed this practice.
Thomas Lynch soon learned to buy his slaves from rice-growing regions of West Africa, to use their expertise on his plantations. Peter Wood, in Black Majority, paints a benign scene:
- When New World slaves planted rice in the spring by pressing a hole with the heel and covering the seeds with the foot, the motion used was demonstrably similar to that employed in West Africa. In summer, when Carolina blacks moved through the rice ﬁelds in a row, hoeing in unison to work songs, the pattern of cultivation was not one imposed by European owners but rather one retained from West African forebears.
- Even more unique to rice slavery was the “task system.” Rice slaves negotiated with their overseer through a “driver” slave. Once the driver and overseer agreed on a reasonable amount of work for a given week, the slaves set out on the task. After completing the work, any remaining time belonged to the slaves. During this period, they were free to work their own gardens, ﬁsh, and some even hunted wild game – though hunting was very rare. In contrast, cotton plantations employed the “gang system” with no concept of free time.
This idyllic description does not convince me that these African slaves were all right with being enslaved. Hardly. And Lynch’s popular rice-growing methods required increasing numbers of slaves. The slaves on his plantations grew into the hundreds. By the mid-1700s, two-thirds of the people in South Carolina (3) were African slaves. Following the pattern in Barbados, slaves were in the majority.
These numbers mean to me that most of the people in Thomas Lynch’s world were desperately unhappy. Thomas Lynch and his fellow planters must have realized the violence inherent in this situation, for they customarily carried loaded guns to church.
Sickness on the Plantations. African slaves on the rice plantations were thought to be constitutionally suited to toil in the heat, unlike whites. Being “Barbadosed” to cultivate sugar, I recall, was considered a death sentence by heat, labor, and disease.. I wonder about the mortality rates in these locations, for blacks as well as whites. I have not yet searched them.
Among my own ancestors, I’ve noticed many early deaths in both Carolina and Barbados. Thomas Lynch’s brother died in his twenties. His first wife, Mary Fenwick, seems to have died in childbirth, and her daughter lived only five years. Two of Lynch’s children by his second wife, Sabrina Vanderhorst, died in infancy. Theophilus and Elizabeth Patey, whose children were born in Barbados, saw only 3 out of 8 children live to adulthood.
Beauty and Peace: An Interval. From their marriage in 1720 until his death in 1738, Thomas and Sabrina Lynch appear to have lived in relative peace, without wars or raids or uprisings. Though they lost two children in infancy, they were able to plan a future for their son Thomas II, born in 1727. They prepared a beautiful plantation house for him on the Santee River. The construction of their son’s house, from 1733-1740, bridged the year of the father’s death. Thomas II was the longest-lived of their three surviving children.
Brackets of Violence. The peaceful period enjoyed by Thomas and Sabrina was framed by violent events.
In 1715, before Sabrina and Thomas were married, the Yamasee tribe launched a fierce attack on the plantations. The settlers fled to Charleston. It took many months for the militia to hunt down the Yamasee and kill them all.
In 1739, the year after Thomas died, the Stono Rebellion terrified the settlers. Thomas Lynch II would have been 12 years old then. Sabrina would have been 39.
The Rebellion began on Sunday, September 9, when 20 African slaves marched on the road southward from the Stono River, carrying a flag with the single word “Liberty!” They were headed to Spanish Florida, where they could attain their freedom. They gathered recruits and weapons along the way, until they numbered 80 men. They burned plantations and killed 20-25 white people. The next day the militia caught the slaves at the Edisto River and killed 44 of them. “The colonists mounted the decapitated heads of the rebels on stakes along major roadways to serve as warning for other slaves who might consider revolt.”
This rebellion was a prelude to later slave uprisings, and ultimately to the Civil War in the next century.
But first, Thomas Lynch II and Thomas Lynch III would become famous figures in the colonists’ struggle for independence from Britain. See next week’s post.
(1) M. Patrick Hendrix, Down and Dirty: Archaeology of the South Carolina Lowcountry. Charleston: The History Press, 2006. 56.
(2) Hendrix, 54-79.
(3) North Carolina and South Carolina were made separate colonies in 1729.