"If you are walking in Charleston, you are walking on someone's grave."--Sue Bennett, Charleston tour guide

Monday, September 25, 2017

Ashley Cooper's Immense Influence Shaped Charleston and the Carolinas

Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper 
He was a man so important in the early development of Charleston and the surrounding Carolina colony that not one but two rivers are named for him!

In England's management of the New World that would eventually become the United States, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-1683) was appointed Lord Proprietor of the Province of Carolina by King Charles II.

With his assistant John Locke (1632-1704), Cooper went about trying to get people from Europe to move to the vast Carolina, which then stretched from Virginia to Florida.

Over time, Locke would become better known than his mentor as a key writer and philosopher during the Enlightenment, "making central contributions to the development of liberalism," according to Wikipedia.

Ruth Miller speaking to my CofC students 
Speaking on Sept. 18 to my "Beyond the Grave" College of Charleston class, Ruth Miller, an author, historian and tour guide, explained how Ashley Cooper's marketing of Carolina led to its plantation economy, slavery, and also its religious freedom, which was unparalleled among the 13 colonies.

"Carolina was the only colony that recruited Jews," Miller said. "By 1810, half of all Jews in the United States lived in Charleston."

They came, she said, from Spain and Portugal, where they were being persecuted.

Ruth Miller with Hannah Harvey (center) and Erin Hogan

Along with offering free land, Ashley Cooper sought to make his Carolina domain even more attractive to settlers by promising religious freedom.

"A church only needed seven people to form," Miller said.

Miller said it was not "enlightenment" or high moral grounds that moved Ashley Cooper to be so religiously tolerant. It was business.

"He wrote laws to attract people," she said.

And the business plan worked.

2nd Presbyterian Church 

Ashley Cooper's "Promises of Religious Freedom from Fundamental Orders for Carolina" in 1669, which Miller shared copies of with the class, even gave religious freedom and freedom from religious-based harrassment to African slaves and "heathens, Jues, and other disenters from the purity of Christian religion."

Miller, who has written a series of "Touring the Tombstones" books about Charleston's 18th century churches and their graveyards, spoke of how Ashley Cooper's unprecedented "Promises of Religious Freedom" edict brought people of so many different faiths to the Carolinas. Charleston would become of the largest colonial cities, behind only New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

From England would come Anglicans (later Episcopalians), Congregationalists (Dissenters and Puritans), Quakers, Anabaptists (Baptists), and Methodists.

St. Mary's Catholic Church 
Huguenots, or French Protestants, would come to Carolina, fleeing persecution from Catholic France, Catholics would arrive to escape their own torment in Ireland and Santo Domingo (now Haiti).

From Scotland would come Presbyterians, Lutherans from Central Europe and Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal.

"Article 100. No person whatsoevr, shall distrurbe, molest, or p'secute another for his speculative opinions in religion, or his way of worship" (from "Promises of Religious Freedom").

It was a radical approach to marketing the colony, but even if the reasons were not high minded or egalitarian, Lord Ashley Cooper deserves credit for giving an alternative to the persecuted peoples of Europe.

And, yes, having two rivers along Charleston's peninsula named for him, seems an honor he richly deserved.  It is interesting too to note that, according to Miller, Lord Ashley Cooper never actually came to Charleston, nor did his assistant John Locke. They administered their New World colony from far away in England.

Miller also discussed how Charleston has the best collection of 18th century graveyards and headstone and monument examples of anywhere in America. For more on that, click here. 

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