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“It Will Require Much Time to Model the Manners and Morals of these Wild Peoples”: Charles Woodmason Visits the Carolina Backcountry, 1768

Charles Woodmason, a newly ordained Anglican minister, left the comforts of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1761 to travel for six years in the Carolina backcountry as an itinerant minister, seeking to bring the established church to areas where it had not taken hold. He also became a fierce partisan of the Regulator movement, a frontier rebellion attempting to obtain a greater voice and fairer claims for backcountry residents who resented the monopolization of power by the coastal leaders. Although Woodmason was hostile toward the colony’s elite for their lack of concern over the political and especially religious life of the frontier, the British migrant held traditional beliefs about morality and social order. He was appalled by the immoral and irreligious behavior rampant on the frontier, as he made clear in this selection from his journal of 1768.

Tuesday August 16. In Consequence of a Promise made, set off this Morning with a Guide for Flatt Creek—Here I found a vast Body of People assembled—Such a Medley! such a mixed Multitude of all Classes and Complexions I never saw. I baptized about 20 Children and Married 4 Couple—Most of these People had never before seen a Minister, or heard the Lords Prayer, Service or Sermon in their Days. I was a Great Curiosity to them—And they were as great Oddities to me. After Service they went to Revelling Drinking Singing Dancing and Whoring—and most of the Company were drunk before I quitted the Spot—They were as rude in their Manners as the Common Savages, and hardly a degree removed from them. Their Dresses almost as loose and Naked as the Indians, and differing in Nothing save Complexion—I could not conceive from whence this vast Body could swarm—But this Country contains ten times the Number of Persons beyond my Apprehension.——[total] Miles 2606

Returned in the Evening to a Gentleman’s House 10 Miles distant and stayed the Night. Next Day went down to Pine Tree.——25 [miles]; 25 [miles]

Here I found a Packet from the Lieutenant Governor enclosing some Proclamation lately issued for the Rioters to disperse on Pain of Proscription—with a pardon for all who would remain Quiet for the future. This I am directed to publish thro' the Country, and to accompany it with suitable Exhortations.

Tho‘ vastly fatigu’d—almost famished, and very weak thro’ Heat of the Weather and Pain of traveling (having several Boils broke out on me and my Skin full of Seed Ticks) Yet I set to Work to draw up a Discourse suitable to the Subject enjoin’d Me.

Thursday) Went up the Wateree River to marry and baptize according to Notice given—Here I published the Proclamation.—2656 [total miles]

The Licentious Gang of Presbyterians stopt the Governors Messenger—broke open my Packet to see the Contents and would have whipp’d the Man, if not prevented: for some among them fear’d, that if they took this Step, I would leave off preaching and retire to Town, and then the Church People would whip them——10 [miles]

Sunday 21) A Day appointed for a General Meeting of the people on 25 Mile Creek to hear the Proclamation and my Discourse on the State of Public Affairs—To hinder which the Presbyterians sent up to the Waxaws and brought down their Teacher from thence to the Meeting House at Pine Tree—Where was a General Assembly of the Sectaries of all Kinds round about and many Church People some out of Curiosity—Others, because they would not hear the Proclamation—The Provost Marshal was to come up from Town to publish it—But the Regulators got Intelligence and arm’d 500 Men, threatening to whip, or shoot Him—So it was sent to Me. Another was sent to St Marks to Col. Richardson for him to draw out his Regiment and publish it. He indeed came up, but was afraid to do—To such pass are Things come here—and so weak are the Hands of Government.

I had not above 50 Auditors—but they were so well pleas’d with my Sermon, as to desire me to print it—I intend to send a copy to Charlestown.

The Congregation confirm’d to Me the Report, that the Anabaptists should threat to whip me, if I came any more on that Side the River to preach, or publish Proclamations—Excited thereto by some of the principal of the Presbyterians—Returned in the Evening to Pine Tree alias Cambden, to my Lodgings.——20 [miles]

Monday the 22d. The People tell me that the Regulators being exasperated, at my publishing the Governors Proclamation some of their Head Men brought their Children as Yesterday to the Meeting to be baptized, altho' they are Members of the Church. ———2686 [total miles]

Wednesday the 24. Hearing of an Assembly at Hanging Rock Creek I sat off for that place with my Horse heavy loaded with Provisions and Necessaries—Weather exceeding dry and Hot. The Creature gave out, and was obliged to tarry in the Wild Wilderness all Night—I ty’d the Horse to a Tree, Wrapp’d my Self in my Cloak—took my Saddle for my Pillow, and (like Charles the 12th) slept in my Boots very comfortably—I had no Fire—But I am under no dread of Wild Beasts or Snakes—Thousands Would have been scar’d—I had a fine warm Night. But had it rain’d, I should have been in an dismal Situation.———30 [miles]

Thursday) Attended the Multitude, which consisted wholly of Irish Presbyterians and lawless Persons—so that I dar’d not to read the Proclamation as my Life would have been endangered.

Friday) Hearing that another Multitude was to assemble as this day on Lynch’s Creek, I sent the Proclamation to the Heads of them—fearing to go my Self, lest I should be torn in Pieces for not one of the Magistrates dare do as I do—and 'tis a Mercy that they pay some Regard to my Gown.

Set off for the Waxaws, to consult with some Persons about building of a small Chapel in those Parts, Met on the Road with a Presbyterian Teacher, who travelled with me the Day. The People subscribed to a General-House—i.e. Neither Church, or Meeting—but open for Ministers of all denominations. My Horse greatly jaded thro' heat of the Weather and Great drought and my Self greatly tormented with Seed Ticks, by my lying in the Woods. Seed Ticks are a small Insect not bigger than the Point of a Needle with which ev’ry Leaf and Blade of Grass is covered at this Season of the Year—they bite very sharp—get into the Skin cause Inflammations—Itchings, and much torment.———20 [miles]; 2736 [total miles]

Saturday—Crossed the River—and came to Rocky Mount very weary and hungry—having eaten nought but a little Rice these 4 days.———20 [miles]
Sunday 28) Went to the Wateree Creek to attend the Congregation there—Many People assembled. Read the Proclamation— and in afternoon my late Sermon, which pleas’d them—And they too desired that I would print it.———10 [miles]

In the Evening attempted to ride up to Jacksons Creek to attend a Congregation on Tuesday—But the Horse being very Sick and tired, gave out. So put up at a Cabbin on the Road.

Monday) Finding the Horse unfit for Travel, walk’d back to the Wateree Creek, and from thence led the Horse down to Pine Tree where I came on Tuesday very weak and very Weary—the Weather being very hot and dry, and having had no Sleep for some Nights, my Skin being full of Seed Ticks.———30 [miles]

Employ’d this Week in answering the Governor’s Letter—Writing to the Council—Board of Church Commissioners and in filling up Petitions from the Peoples.

The Seditious Multitude refuse to embrace the Governor’s Proclamation.

Saturday September 3) Rode down the Country on the West Side the Wateree River into the Fork between that and the Congaree River—This is out of my Bounds—But their having no Minister, and their falling (therefrom) continually from the Church to Anabaptism, inclin’d me to it—The People received me gladly and very kindly. Had on Sunday 4—a Company of about 150—Most of them of the Low Class—the principal Planters living on the Margin of these Rivers.

Baptiz’d 1 Negroe Man—2 Negroe Children—and 9 White Infants and married 1 Couple—The People thanked me in the most kind Manner for my Services—I had very pleasant Riding but my Horse suffered Greatly. The Mornings and Evenings now begin to be somewhat Cool, but the Mid day heat is almost intolerable— Many of these People walk 10 or 12 Miles with their Children in the burning Sun—Ought such to be without the Word of God, when so earnest, so desirous of hearing it and becoming Good Christians, and good Subjects! How lamentable to think, that the Legislature of this Province will make no Provision—so rich, so luxurious, polite a People! Yet they are deaf to all Solicitations, and look on the poor White People in a Meaner Light than their Black Slaves, and care less for them. Withal there is such a Republican Spirit still left, so much of the Old Leaven of Lord Shaftsbury and other the 1st principal Settlers still remains, that they seem not at all disposed to promote the Interest of the Church of England—Hence it is that above 30,000£ Sterling have lately been expended to bring over 5 or 6000 Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the Scum of the Earth, and Refuse of Mankind, and this, solely to ballance the Emigrations of People from Virginia, who are all of the Established Church.——50 [miles]; [total] Miles 2846

It will require much Time and Pains to New Model and form the Carriage and Manners, as well as Morals of these wild Peoples—Among this Congregation not one had a Bible or Common Prayer—or could join a Person or hardly repeat the Creed or Lords Prayer—Yet all of 'em had been educated in the Principles of our Church. So that I am obliged to read the Whole Service, omitting such Parts, as are Repetitious, and retaining those that will make the different Services somewhat Uniform— Hence it is, that I can but seldom use the Litany, because they know not the Responses.

It would be (as I once observ’d before) a Great Novelty to a Londoner to see one of these Congregations—The Men with only I a thin Shirt and pair of Breeches or Trousers on—barelegged and barefooted—The Women bareheaded, barelegged and barefoot with only a thin Shift and under Petticoat—Yet I cannot break [them?] of this—for the heat of the Weather admits not of any [but] thin Cloathing—I can hardly bear the Weight of my Whig and Gown, during Service. The Young Women have a most uncommon Practise, which I cannot break them off. They draw their Shift as tight as possible to the Body, and pin it close, to shew the roundness of their Breasts, and slender Waists (for they are generally finely shaped) and draw their Petticoat close to their Hips to shew the fineness of their Limbs—so that they might as well be in Puri Naturalibus—Indeed Nakedness is not censurable or indecent here, and they expose themselves often quite Naked, without Ceremony—Rubbing themselves and their Hair with Bears Oil and tying it up behind in a Bunch like the Indians—being hardly one degree removed from them—In few Years, I hope to bring about a Reformation, as I already have done in several Parts of the Country.——284[6?] [Miles]

Received Letters from England—One acquaints me with death of the Reverend Mr. Crallan, 10 days after his Embarking. This is the 13th or 14th of the Clergy dead or gone here within these 2 Years—This Gentleman grew insane before his departure. He was a Saint—An Angel in his Life and Manners—A most pious and devout Young Man, and yet he could not escape the Censure of these flighty, Proud, Illprincipled Carolin[i]ans. They are enough to make any Person run Mad—And they crack’d the Brain of one Young Man Mr. Amory the Year before. We have two now in the same Condition—And others, whose Situation is so uneasy, that Life is a Burden to them—I would not wish my worst Enemy to come to this Country (at least to this) Part of it to combat perpetually with Papists, Sectaries, Atheists and Infidels— who would rather see the Poor People remain Heathens and Ignorants, than to be brought over to the Church. Such Enemies to Christ and his Cross, are these vile Presbyterians.

Tuesday 6th) Officiated at Sawneys Creek; I expected at least 3 or 400 People, but had not half the Number—They refus’d to listen to the Governors Proclamation—But readily subscribed My Petitions drawn up for Churches and Chapels—Even several of the Anabaptists subscrib’d. There being very Great Enmity between these Sects. They begg’d Pardon for [MS torn, one word missing] Indiscreet Speeches of some of their People, laying the blame on some of the Church People, who had threatned to whip some of their Teachers if they offered to harangue the Multitude.———20 [miles]; 2866 [total miles]

My Horse being jaded, I borrowed one of a Gentleman for this Days Duty, who proved restif and unmanageable—and in my Return run away with me into the Woods amidst the Bogs and Marshes, where at last he stuck—And I was obliged to wade thro‘ a large Morass to get to dry Land—After which he became more governable, and brought me home safe, tho’ I sweated thro' fear of passing the Night in that Bogg.

The River is now very low, and fordable in many Places, so that I cross it with Safety, tho' always with Fear and trembling— the Bottom being rough Rocks and Sharp Stones, and the Water rolling over the Rocks makes beautiful Cascades, but what is terrifying to Horses. Mine is now used to it. There are but 3 Boats on this Long River of 150 Miles but they are about opening of Roads, and making of Ferries.

Thus You have a Journal of two Years—In which have rode near Six thousand Miles, almost on one Horse. Wore my Self to a Skeleton and endured all the Extremities of Hunger, Thirst, Cold, and Heat. Have baptized near 1200 Children—Given 200 or more Discourses—Rais’d almost 30 Congregations—Set on foot the building of sundry Chapels Distributed Books, Medicines, Garden Seed, Turnip, Clover, Timothy Burnet, and other Grass Seeds—with Fish Hooks—Small working Tools and variety of Implements to set the Poor at Work, and promote Industry to the amount of at least One hundred Pounds Sterling: Roads are making—Boats building—Bridges framing, and other useful Works begun thro' my Means, as will not only be of public Utility, but make the Country side wear a New face, and the People become New Creatures. And I will venture to attest that these small, weak Endeavours of mine to serve the Community, has (or will) be of more Service to the Colony, than ever Mr. Whitfield’s Orphan House was, or will be. On which he has [Ms. torn, one word missing] Twelve Thousand Pounds Sterling (by [Ms. torn]) from which Mankind has not been twelve pence benefitted.

Source: Charles Woodmason, (Richard Hooker, ed.), The Carolina Backcountry on the Eve of the Revolution: The Journal and Other Writings of Charles Woodmason, Anglican Itinerant, Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1953), 58–63.