Letters of Thomas Newe to His Father, from South Carolina (1682).
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Letters of Thomas Newe to His Father, from South Carolina (1682).

After the restoration of the British monarchy in 1660, a group of proprietors received a royal grant to establish the colony of South Carolina. They envisioned an agricultural economy based on mixed farming, cattle raising, and trade in deerskins with the local Indians, diverging from the Chesapeake’s tobacco and slave economy to the north. The Carolina proprietors sought settlers from the Caribbean by offering inexpensive land for family farms. But conditions were harsh, work was heavy, and poor nutrition was common, as Oxford University-educated Thomas Newe made clear in this 1682 letter to his father. A small minority of wealthy colonists seized economic and political control of the colony. They concentrated in the town of Charleston, drove out the local Indians, and occupied huge tracts of land. Deviating from the society that had been planned, these planters established rice cultivation, thanks to the African slaves whose experience in West Africa formed the basis for the economy. By 1707 South Carolina had the first black majority population in North America. Thomas Newe died within a year of writing these letters, at the age of 28.

May the 17th, 1682, from CHARLES TOWN on Ashley River by way of Barbadoes in the Samuel.

Most Honourd Father:

The 12th of this instant by the providence of God after a long and tedious passage we came to an Anchor against Charles town at 10 in the night in 3 1/2 fathom water, on the sixth we made land 60 miles to the South of Ashley River against which we came the 8 but could not get in by reason of contrary winds sooner then we did. We had little or nothing observable in the whole voyage, but the almost continual S.W. winds. God be thanked I had my health very well except a day or two of Sea sickness but most of the other passengers were much troubled with the scurvy; Of 62 that came out of England we lost 3, two of them were seamen, one dyed of the scurvey, the other fell overboard, the third was a woman in child bed, her child died shortly after her. As for the Countrey I can say but little of it as yet on my one [own] knowledge, but what I hear from others. The Town which two years since had but 3 or 4 houses, hath now about a hundred houses in it, all which are wholy built of wood, tho here is excellent Brick made, but little of it. All things are very dear in the Town; milk 2d a quart, beefe 4 d a pound, pork 3 d, but far better then our English, the common drink of the Countrey is Molossus and water, I don’t hear of any malt that is made hear as yet. . . . Severall in the Country have great stocks of Cattle and they sell so well to new comers that they care not for killing, which is the reason provision is so dear in the Town, whilst they in the Country are furnisht with Venison, fish, and fowle by the Indians for trifles, and they that understand it make as good butter and cheese as most in England. The land near the sea side is generally a light and sandy ground, but up in the Country they say there is very good land, and the farther up the better, but that which at present doth somewhat hinder the selling [settling] farther up, is a war that they are ingaged in against a tribe of Barbarous Indians being not above 60 in number, but by reason of their great growth and cruelty in feeding on all their neighbours, they are terrible to all other Indians, of which, there are above 40 severall Kingdoms, the strength and names of them all being known to our Governer who upon any occasion summons their Kings in. We are at peace with all but those common enemies of mankind, those man eaters before mentioned, by name the Westos, who have lately killed two eminent planters that lived far up in the Country, so that they are resolved now if they can find their settlement (which they often change) to cut them all off. There is a small party of English out after them, and the most potent Kingdome of the Indians armed by us and continually in pursuit of them. . . . and if they can make good wine hear, which they have great hopes of, and this year will be the time of tryall which if it hits no doubt but the place will flourish exceedingly, but if the vines do not prosper I question whither it will ever be any great place of trade. . . . This is the first opportunity I have had to write since I came from England but I hope to find more opportunityes here, then I had at Sea, this with my most humble duty to yourself and my Mother, my kind love to my sister and Brothers being all from

Your most duetifull and obedient son

Thomas Newe
My duty to my Grandmother and my love to all my relations and friends that enquire concerning me.


May 29th, 1682, by way of Barbados.

Most Honoured Father:

. . . one thing I understand (to my sorrow) that I knew not before, [that] most have a seasoning, but few dye of it. I find the Commonalty here to be mightily dissatisfied, the reason is 3 or 4 of the great ones, for furs and skins, have furnished the Indians with arms and ammunitions especially those with whome they are now at War, for from those they had all or most of their fur, so that trade which 3 or 4 only kept in their hands is at present gone to decay, and now they have armed the next most potent tribe of the Indians to fight the former, and some few English there are out, looking after them, which is a charge to the people and a stop [to] the further setling of the Countrey. The soil is generally very light, but apt to produce whatsoever is put into it. There are already all sorts of English fruit and garden herbs besides many others that I never saw in England, and they do send a great deal of Pork, Corn and Cedar to Barbados, besides the victualling of severall Vessels that come in here, as Privateers and others which to do in the space of 12 years the time from the 1st seating of it by the English, is no small work, especially if we consider the first Planters which were most of them tradesmen, poor and wholy ignorant of husbandry and till of late but few in number, it being encreased more the 3 or 4 last years then the whole time before the whole at presen[t] not amounting to 4000, so that their whole Business was to clear a little ground to get Bread for their Familyes, few of them having wherewithall to purchase a Cow, the first stock whereof they were furnished with, from Bermudas and New England, from the later of which they had their horses which are not so good as those in England, but by reason of their scarcity much dearer, an ordinary Colt at 3 years old being valued at 15 or 16 lis. as they are scarce, so there is but little use of them yet, all Plantations being seated on the Rivers, they can go to and fro by Canoe or Boat as well and as soon as they can ride, the horses here like the Indians and many of the English do travail without shoes. Now each family hath got a stock of Hogs and Cows, which when once a little more encreased, they may send of to the Islands cheaper then any other place can, by reason of its propinquity, which trade alone will make it far more considerable than either Virginia, Maryland, Pensilvania, and those other places to the North of us.

I desire you would be pleased by the next opportunity to send me over the best herbalist for Physical Plants in as small a Volume as you can get. There was a new one just came out as I left England, if I mistake not in 8vo. that was much commended, the Author I have forgot, but there are severall in the Colledge that can direct you to the best. If Mr. Sessions, Mr. Hobart or Mr. White, should send to you for money for the passage of a servant, whether man or boy that they Judge likely, I desire you would be pleased to send it them, for such will turn to good account here; and if you please to enquire at some Apothecarys what Sassafrass (which grows here in great plenty) is worth a pound and how and at what time of the year to cure it, let me know as soon as you can, for if the profit is not I am sure the knowledge is worth sending for. Pray Sir let me hear by the next how all our friends and relations do, what change in the Colledge, and what considerable alteration through the whole Town; I have now nothing more to speak but my desire that you may still retain (what I know you do) that love with which I dayly was blest and that readiness in pardoning whatsoever you find amiss, and to believe that my affections are not changed with the Climate unless like it too, grown warmer, this with my most humble duety to yourself and my mother, my kind love to my sister and Brothers and all the rest of our Friends I rest

Your most dutifull and obedient son, Thomas Newe  

From Charles Town, August the 23, 1682.

Most Honourd Father.

In obedience to your commands, I am ready to embrace every opportunity of sending to you, this . . . which I hope you will receive long before this comes to your hands. This place affords little news, nothing worth sending. . . .

The 30th of July came an Indian to our Governour and told him that 800 Spaniards were upon their march coming from St. Augustine (a place belonging to our Proprietors about 150 miles to the South of us where the Spaniards are seated and have a pretty strong Town) to fall upon the English, upon which the Council met 3 times and ordered 20 great Guns that lay at a place where the town was first designed to be made, to be brought to Charles Town, and sent Scouts at a good distance (knowing which way they must come) to discover their strength and the truth of it, which if they had seen anything were to return with all speed, and 700 men were to have met them, which were to lay in Ambuscade in a Cave, swam where the Spaniards were to come, through a Marsh, that every step they would be up to their middle. Our people were so far from being afraid that they mightily rejoyced at the news of it, wishing that they might have some just cause of War with the Spaniards, that they might grant Commissions to Privateers, and themselves fall on them at St. Augustine. as we understand since this was the ground of the report, The Spaniards thinking themselves to be abused by a nation of Indians that lived betwixt them and us, marched out to cut of that Nation, to which this Indian belonged, which (as it is usual with the Indians) reported that they were 800, whereas some of the Privateers have been there, and say that they are not able to raise above 300 men. We have 100 Privateers here all shar like though not at the taking of the prize, which if our Governour would suffer them would fain fall on the Spaniards at St. Augustine; it is not likely if the Spaniards were so strong as the Indian reported, that they would send out such strength against them, For when the English have any war with a Nation of the Indians tho at 150 miles distance they think 20 English and 30 or 40 friendly Indians to be a sufficient party. The Indians are sent before to discover where the other Indians lay who if they see but . . . of their enemyes they will returne with great speed and greater fear to the English reporting they saw 200.

The 20th of August I saw a Comet in the North East about 2 hours before day, the 21 it was seen in the west. [Halley’s comet was then visible.] Sir of those goods you gave me of my Brothers, I have sold some, and most of them I bought in London, but I can not yet make any returne; for money here is but little and that Spanish which will not go for so much in England by 4 or 5 s in the li. Our pay is what the Countrey affords, as Corn, Pork, Tar and Cedar, the 3 first are fit only for the Islands. I know not whether the last will pay charges to England it can’t be afforded under 30 or 32 s profit in London, if you please you may enquire what it will yield in Oxen, and if you think it worth sending, and know how to dispose of it, I will take care to send it by the first, after I know your mind. Sir I have sent to Mr. Sessions for these following goods which are the best I can think of and I desire you, that you would let him have as much money as will buy them. . . . Sir I desire you with these things to send me 1/2 [hundredweight] of Shomakers thread and one of my Brothers shop books if you have one that is not used. Sir I beseech you pardon my presumption since 'twas your goodness made me so by your usuall readiness in granting my former requests. Pray present my humble duety to my Mother and my Grandmother, my kind love to my sister and Brothers and the rest of our Relations and be confident that I will be industrious to improve whatsoever you shall commit to my charge and to approve my self

Your most Dutifull and obedient Son,

Thomas Newe

Source: Alexander S. Salley, Jr., ed., Narratives of Early Carolina, 1650–1708 (New York, 1911), 181–87.