In the beginning of the European colonial era, trade companies such as the East India Company were the most common method used to settle new land. This changed following Maryland’s Royal Grant in 1632, when King Charles I granted George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore proprietary rights to an area east of the Potomac River in exchange for a share of the income derived there. Going forward, proprietary colonies became the most common way to settle areas with British subjects. The land was licensed or granted to a proprietor who held expanse power. These powers were commonly written into the land charters giving the lord proprietor the power to create courts and laws, establish governing bodies and churches, and appoint all governing officials.
Each proprietary colony had a unique system of governance reflecting the geographic challenges of the area as well as the personality of the lord proprietor. The colonies of Maryland and New York, based off of English law and administration practices, were run effectively. However, other colonies such as Carolina were mismanaged. The colonies of West and East Jersey as well as Pennsylvania were distinct in their diversion from the traditional monarchial system that ruled most colonies of the time. This was due to the large number of Quakers in these areas who shared many views with the lords proprietary.
Effective governance of proprietary colonies relied on the appointment of a governor. The lord proprietor made the governor the head of the province’s military, judicial, and administrative functions. This was typically conducted using a commission established by the lord proprietor. The lord proprietor typically instructed the governor what to do. Only through these instructions could legislation be made.
In 1629, King Charles I granted Sir Robert Heath (the attorney general) the southern half of the English land in the New World between 36 degrees and 31 degrees north latitude from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The land was named “Province of Carolina” or land of Charles. Sir Robert’s attempts at settlement failed and in 1645, during the English Civil War, he was stripped of all of his possessions as a Royalist supporter of the King. In 1663, eight members of the English nobility received a charter from King Charles II to establish the colony of Carolina. The eight Lords Proprietors were:
- Duke of Albemarle(1608–1670)
- Earl of Clarendon(1609–1674)
- Baron Berkeley of Stratton(1602–1678)
- Earl of Craven(1608–1697)
- Sir George Carteret(c. 1610–1680)
- Sir William Berkeley(1605–1677)
- Sir John Colleton(1608–1666)
- Earl of Shaftesbury(1621–1683).
The Lords Proprietors were anxious to secure Carolina against Spanish attacks from Saint Augustine in Florida, and to do so, they needed to attract more colonists. The Lords Proprietors offered English settlers inducements consisting of religious toleration, political representation in an assembly that had power over public taxes, exemption from quitrents and large grants of land. The Lords allowed settlers of any religion, except atheists. The Lords also had a generous headright system whereby they granted one hundred and fifty acres of land to each member of a family. An indentured male servant who served his term received his freedom dues from his master and a grant of one hundred acres from the Lords Proprietors. In order to attract planters with capital to invest, the Lords Proprietors also gave the owner and master the one hundred and fifty acre headright for every slave imported to the Colony. These incentives drew 6,600 colonists to the colony by 1700 compared with only 1,500 in the Spanish colony of Florida. Carolina attracted English settlers, French Protestants (Huguenots) and other colonists from Barbados and the West Indies.
The first government in Carolina began in Albemarle County in 1664 when William Sayle was appointed as the governor. Proprietary authority was weaker near the Virginia border. The Lords Proprietors established a North Carolina with its own assembly and deputy governor. In 1712, the division of Carolina into North and South was completed with the elevation of the deputy governor to governor of North Carolina.
The Lords Proprietors failed to protect the settlers when enemies attacked or threatened the Colony. For example, during Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713), the colonists drove French and Spanish forces away from Charlestown. Again, between 1715 and 1718, the colonists defended themselves against attacks by the Yamasee Indians and pirates. During these times of conflict, the colonists received little or no help from the proprietors.
The elite group of settlers in Carolina, former West Indians known as the Goose Creek Men, grew increasingly frustrated with the Lords Proprietors because they meddled in politics but failed to defend the colony against Spanish and Native American attacks.
In 1719, the South Carolina assembly sent a petition to England requesting that the proprietors be replaced with Crown administration. King George I appointed royal governors for North and South Carolina, converting the colony’s status to that of a royal colony (England ruled the colony but allowed the people self-government). In 1729, the Crown bought out seven of the eight of the Lords Proprietors for £22,500, approximately the amount they had spent on the colony. The eighth proprietor, John Carteret, Lord Granville, refused to sell and retained title to the lands and quitrents in the northern third of North Carolina.