Masters, Slaves, and Subjects
In his book “Masters, Slaves, and Subjects”, Robert Olwell examines the complex relationships and power structures of colonial-era Charles Towne. Charles Towne, as Charleston was known in the years between its founding and its independence from the British Empire, is portrayed by Olwell as dominated by a rigid agrarian slave society which served as an intermediary in a more complex power structure that extended from the royal halls of London to the plantation fields of the Lowcountry. In examining the complicated web of relationships between London and the colony, and Masters and Slaves, Olwell argues that the economic and political structure of Charles Towne was based upon a successive series of carefully-maintained power-based relationships.
CHARLES TOWNE: A GATEWAY TO POWER
Power in Charles Towne was centralized at what became known as the Four Corners of Law, at Broad and Meeting Streets, and radiated outward across the Lowcountry. The Four Corners were home to the State House, where the Colonial Assembly met, St. Michael’s Church, the heart of the Church of England in the colony, the Town Watch House, which kept the slave population in check, and the public marketplace, where the commerce that was vital to the colony’s economy took place (19).
One could easily see power was centralized within Charleston, not just over the local area, but also statewide. Of the forty-eight members of the colonial Assembly, twenty-eight lived within a day’s horse ride of the city. Half of the justices of the colony, who took an oath to defend “King and Country”, were either sitting or former members of the Assembly, and all of the justices were slave owners (72).
The elite of Charles Towne also reached across the Atlantic to maintain cultural ties with Mother England, spending their newfound wealth to emulate English culture in a process known as Anglicanization. Olwell cites an English tourist, who noted the desire of colonials, even native Carolinians, to identify England as their home, and desiring to have the wealth and means to move there and live as English gentry (41). Many plantation homes, such as Drayton Hall, were built in the Georgian style that was popular in England at the time, even though such designs were not ideal for the Lowcountry’s sub-tropical climate (184).
RELIGION IN THE COLONY
Loyalty to the Church of England also bound the colonists to Mother England, which was another leg of Olwell’s power structure. Olwell described the Anglican church parishes also serving as the basic political units of the colony, as well as the center of parish life, serving as the public assembly hall, the polling location for elections, as well as the basis for representation to the colonial Assembly (104). When justices took office, they not only swore allegiance to the King, but also to defend the Anglican church (72).