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the short but eventful 1666 voyage of robert sandford

The Short But Eventful 1666 Voyage of Robert Sandford

As the ship Berkeley Bay slowly turned northwest out of the Atlantic Ocean into what would later be called South Carolina’s North Edisto River, Lt. Colonel Robert Sandford leaned against the rail to get a good look at the lush, green foliage that framed the wide river the ship was sailing into. The date was June 22, 1666, and the sun stood high in a cloudless sky. Sandford had been commissioned by the eight English Lords Proprietors and a group of wealthy Barbadian planters to explore the coastal area south of the English settlement on the Cape Fear River in an area that the English had named Clarendon County, after Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, one of the Lords Proprietors and a sponsor of the young colony.

Most of the Cape Fear settlers had come from Barbados, one of the southernmost of the Caribbean islands. Since the 1640s, Barbados had become one of the largest sugar producing areas in the world, and several people had made fortunes in the sugar, molasses, and rum trade. But the island was filling up with sugar cane plantations and investors were seeking other locations to set up agricultural enterprises. The coastal region of what is now North and South Carolina was appealing because of its mild climate and that it was several miles north of Spanish controlled territory.

Located on the Cape Fear River in what is now south-east North Carolina, the site had first been settled in 1663 by a group from New England who did not stay but a few months, and already the colonists from England and Barbados who had settled there in May 1664 were looking for another home. Sandford, who was sent to scout out a new location, studied closely the terrain, the flora, the depth of the waterways and other features that would be included in the report he was required to write upon his return to Cape Fear.

Sandford’s voyage, in a merchant ship that generally sailed between Virginia, Cape Fear, and Barbados, was the result of a long period of political turmoil in England starting from the reign of King Charles I from 1625 until his execution by Oliver Cromwell in 1649. Cromwell then ruled England until his death in 1658. By the late 1650s, however, there was a movement to put Charles II, son of Charles I, on the throne of England and restore the monarchy. Although Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard took the leadership of England after his father’s death, he proved to be an unpopular ruler and only stayed in office for nine months.

At the end of the Cromwell era, a group of English politicians and military leaders were instrumental in bringing King Charles’s son, out of exile in mainland Europe. The son returned to England in May 1660 and in April 1661 was crowned King Charles II. To repay these men for helping him, Charles II allowed them to establish a colony in America and run it as a business venture.

Given the title of Lords Proprietors, the eight men were: Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon; George Monck, Duke of Albemarle; William Craven, Earl of Craven; Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury; John Berkeley, Baron Berkeley of Stratton; Sir William Berkeley, governor of Virginia, Sir George Carteret; and Sir John Colleton. Although none of these men ever visited what became the Carolina settlements which covered all of what is now North and South Carolina, looking at a map of the area one sees that several counties, rivers, and towns are named after them. Sandford, in deference to two of his sponsors, named his ship the Berkeley Bay “from the Right Honorable John Lord Berkeley and Sir William Berkeley, two of the noble Lords Proprietors.”

The English settlement on the west bank of the Cape Fear River and named Charles Town after the King, for a time showed promise as it reached a population of around 800 people from Barbados, New England, and the West Indies spread along several miles of the river. But a series of unfortunate events occurred and the colony was now struggling. Due to land disputes, relations with the Indians living along the river had deteriorated, and the river on which the colony was situated was full of shoals that had destroyed a ship laden with much needed supplies when it ran aground.

Another serious problem was that the principal leaders of the colony, John Vassall and John Yeamans were feuding over how the settlement should be governed. Vassall, a Barbadian merchant, had brought the first settlers to the colony, but the Lords Proprietors who were the colony’s sponsors, had appointed Barbadian planter John Yeamans to take Vassalls place as governor.

Also adding to the colony’s woes was the fact that the eight Lords Proprietors, who were headquartered in London, had been distracted by events in England such as the Great Plague of 1665-66 and the Anglo-Dutch War that was not going well for England. Plus, one of the colony’s most enthusiastic supporters, John Colleton, had died in April 1666. For a while the proprietors seemed to have lost interest in the project prompting the colonists to seek other options in order to keep the settlement viable.

For these reasons, Sandford, acting as “Secretary and Cheife Register for the Right Honorable the Lords Proprietors of their County of Clarendon…” had left Charles Town on June 16, 1666 to seek a new location to give the colony a fresh start. On June 23, he anchored the Berkeley Bay some four miles up a river now known as the North Edisto River, and went exploring in his tender into a large creek on the river’s east side, todays Bohicket Creek, near the site of a Bohicket Indian village. About one mile into the creek, near today’s village of Rockville, he and his men went ashore on the northern bank where he: “according to my instructions in presence of my Company tooke a formall possession by turffe and twigg of that whole Country from the Latitude of 36 degrees North to 29 degrees South and West to the South Seas by the name of the Province of Carolina for our Soveraigne Lord Charles the Second, King of England and his heirs and Successors and to the use of the Right Honorable Edward Earle of Clarendon, George Duke of Albemarle, William Lord Craven, John Lord Berkeley, Anthony Lord Ashley, Sir George Carteret, Sir William Berkeley, and Sir John Colleton their heirs and assigns according to the Letters Pattents of Our Soveraingne Lord the King.” Although Colleton had died five weeks earlier, Sandford may not have known about it.

It turns out that since he was unaware of the width of America, if taken in its entirety, Sandford had claimed for King Charles II and the Lords Proprietors a vast tract of land from the southern border of Virginia to St. Augustine, Florida, a distance of roughly 500 miles north to south, then some 2,800 miles “West to the South Seas” that would later encompass all or part of 14 US states as well as a portion of Northern Mexico. No doubt, Sandford knew that France and Spain also claimed large portions of this territory, and that it was inhabited by numerous Indian tribes, but as far as Sandford, King Charles II, and the Lords Proprietors were concerned, it now belonged to England.

Although both France and Spain had gone so far as to establish settlements in the territory Sandford had claimed, England held that its claim to the region superseded those of the other two nations because it predated them. The first European to explore the coast of America north of the Caribbean Sea was Giovanni Coboto, known to us today as John Cabot. Under the auspices of English King Henry VII, and largely financed by a group of Bristol, England merchants, from 1496 to 1508 Cabot made three voyages, the second of which landed in Newfoundland and in the third he sailed as far south as Chesapeake Bay. Since Columbus’s four voyages from 1492 through 1504 took place only in the Caribbean Islands, and Cabot’s took place north of that area, the English felt justified in claiming all of the territory north of what is today Florida.

It was not until 1513 that Spaniard Ponce de Leon sailed north from Hispaniola (today’s Dominican Republic and Haiti) and explored a territory he named Pascua Florida, since he had landed at Easter in a place with lots of flowers. Along with claiming Florida for Spain, he also claimed what is now Georgia and the Carolinas. A few years later France laid claim to some of the same territory based on the voyage of Giovanni da Verrazono in 1524 who named the land Francesca after his sponsor King Francis I of France. So, for over 150 years Spain, France, and England all claimed the same southern portion of the United States.

It is interesting to note that three of the earliest western explorers were Italian but were sponsored by the regents of other nations. Columbus – Spain, Caboto (Cabot) – England, and Verrazzano – France. Although an attempt was made by a group of Italians to settle in what is now French Guiana in 1608, no successful Italian colonies were established in North or South America at this time.

Unfortunately, King Henry VIII who reigned from 1509 to 1547 did not inherit his father’s interest in exploration of the western world, and his lax attitude concerning America allowed the opportunity to establish settlements there to slip by him. As a result, during most of the 1500s, Spanish explorers sailed unimpeded along America’s southern coast capturing Indians for slave labor and establishing settlements as far north as Winyah Bay near today’s Georgetown, South Carolina. The Winyah Bay settlement of 1526 would have given the Spanish a foothold into America several miles north of Florida, but it lasted less than a year.

From 1562 to 1565 a group of French Huguenots under Jean Ribault attempted establishing two settlements in the what is now South Carolina and Florida. Charlesfort, named after the French king Charles IX and located on what is now Parris Island near Beaufort, South Carolina, was abandoned when Ribault sailed to France for supplies and was not able to return for several months. A second colony, Fort Caroline, on the St. Johns River in Florida, was destroyed by the Spanish. Ribault and most of his men were killed after they had surrendered to Spanish troops under Pedro Menendez. The site of the massacre is today called Matanzas, Spanish for slaughters.

The two Roanoke Island English settlements in 1585 and 1587 under the auspices of Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled from 1558 to 1603, and statesman and explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, were England’s late attempt to secure a foothold in America, but the colonies did not succeed. The 1607 English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia survived and fortunately was far enough north that the Spanish did not bother to interfere with it.

Once Sandford had claimed for England all of the territory he was exploring, he began giving English names to the bays, rivers, and islands in the area. Several of these he named after members of his expedition crew or leaders of the Cape Fear colony. For example, the area where he had landed in order to claim the territory for England, Sandford named Harvey Haven after Lt. Samuel Harvey who accompanied Sandford on the voyage. A large inlet a few miles south of Harvey Haven, called by the Spanish St. Helena Sound, was renamed Yeaman’s Harbor after the governor of the Cape Fear settlement. Several other places were renamed but few of Sandford’s names are used today.

While in the vicinity of today’s Edisto Island, Sandford met an Indian called the Cassique of Kiawah who came aboard the Berkeley Bay for part of the voyage. Four years later, in 1670, the Cassique of Kiawah proved very helpful in helping the English establish a successful colony on the Ashley River in Charleston. Having been a leader respected by both Indians and English, a statue of the Cassique was sculpted in 1970 by Willard Hirsh and erected at Charles Town Landing State Historic Site in Charleston where the first English colony in the state had been established three hundred years earlier.

Cassique is a word that originated with the Taino Indians who lived on the Caribbean Islands, primarily Cuba, and was used by the Spanish as well as the English to denote a tribal chief. When the English settled what is now Charleston, South Carolina, they used the term to denote a person who had been granted large tracts of land by the Lords Proprietors.

Sandford occasionally followed the same routes used by William Hilton on his voyage of exploration aboard the ship Adventure in 1663. He did not rename the large island that Hilton had named after himself, Hilton Head, nor did he rename Port Royal Sound which had been named by Jean Ribault when he attempted to establish the settlement of French Huguenots on what is now Parris Island in Port Royal Sound.

In order to get not only the lay of the land but the attitude of the local Indians as well, Sandford visited a village of the Escamacu Indians on Parris Island where he saw the ruins of Charlesfort, one of the abandoned French settlements, and noted that in front of the main building of the Indian village there “stood a faire woodden Cross of the Spaniards ereccon”, a sure sign that Spanish priests still came to the area occasionally in their attempts to convert the Indians to Catholicism. He also no doubt saw the Parris Island site of Santa Elena, a Spanish town that was occupied off and on from 1566 to 1587 and at one time was the capital of the area called Spanish Florida.

Three years earlier William Hilton had also visited the same Escamacu village where Sandford had stopped. Although relations with the Spanish had not been good due to their enslavement of Indians to work on Spanish plantations on Hispaniola, apparently, the English had better relations with the Escamacu. In fact, Shadoo, the Cassique of the Escamacu and another Indian named Alush had traveled to Barbados with Hilton. So, by the time Sandford arrived, the Indians were familiar with the English and on good terms with them. As a result, Sandford and his men were given food and deerskins and treated well during their stay.

A few days after Sandford arrived, Shadoo came aboard the Berkeley Bay bringing his nephew and asked that Sandford take the boy with him so he could learn about English society and the language. Sandford agreed to take him to the Cape Fear settlement.

A young man sailing with Sandford from Cape Fear had early in the voyage expressed a desire to possibly stay with the Indians a while in order to learn their culture and language. He was Henry Woodward, who was about 20 years old at the time, and who Sandford descried as a “chirurgeon”. Sandford gave his permission for Woodward to stay, and the exchange was worked out. Shadoo’s nephew would go with Sandford and Woodward would stay with the Escamacu. It turned out that in the next few years, Henry Woodward’s knowledge of Indian culture and language that he learned while with the Escamacu would prove very valuable to the early English settlers of South Carolina.

Sandford was pleased with the arrangement. Having the Indian boy on board would assure him that Woodward would be well treated, and having Woodward learn the Escamacu language, the same language spoken by several tribes of the Cusabo Nation that occupied most of the southern Carolina coastal area, would greatly facilitate trade between these tribes and the English.

In his report to the Lords Proprietors, which he titled “The Relation of a voyage on the Coast of the Province of Carolina”, Sandford wrote that the Escamacu welcomed Woodward with “high Testimonyes of Joy and thankfulness”. They gave him his own field of maize to cultivate, and the Cassique “brought Woodward the Sister of the Indian that I had with mee telling him that shee should tend him and dress his victuals and be careful of him that soe her Brother might be better used amongst us…”

Since Henry Woodward would now be the first English inhabitant of the territory south of the Cape Fear settlement that Sandford had claimed for England, Sandford declared that he would have “formal possession of the Whole Country to hold as Tennant att Will of the right Honorable Lords Proprietors…” Satisfied that the Indians at Port Royal would be friendly to English settlers, Sandford then returned to the Berkeley Bay and continued on his voyage.

On July 10th, on his way north back to the Cape Fear River, Sandford passed what is now Charleston Harbor and named the river running down the west side of the Charleston peninsula into the harbor “the River Ashley, from the right Honorable Anthony Lord Ashley…” It turns out that this is one of the few rivers Sandford named that is still called that today. In fact, the Cooper River that runs into Charleston harbor on the east side of the Charleston peninsula is also named after Anthony Ashley Cooper who, in the late 1660s and early 1670s, proved to be the most enthusiastic of the Lords Proprietors in helping establish the first colony at Charleston.

Sandford sailed back to the Cape Fear colony having reaffirmed England ‘s claim to the territory that is now North and South Carolina. He had found good sites “in which may be found ample Seats for many thowsands of our Nation in a Sociable and comfortable Vicinity…” He had located settlement sites with fertile soil and most importantly, he had strengthened the friendship with the local Indians who seemed sincerely interested in helping the English establish homes near them.

He had brought with him the nephew of the Escamacu Cassique and left an able and intelligent Englishman with them. Also on board was the Indian leader called the Cassique of Kiawah who turned out to be very helpful in establishing the English colony at the second Charles Town, today’s Charleston, South Carolina.

On returning to the Cape Fear colony, Sandford wrote his report to be sent to the Lords Proprietors. Also, six of the men who had accompanied Sandford, Henry Brayne, Richard Abrahall, Thomas Giles, George Cary, Samuel Harvey, and Joseph Woory collaborated on another report. Both reports spoke of the beauty of the area and how there were excellent places for English colonies.

By early 1667 most of the Cape Fear settlers had moved to Virginia or returned to Barbados. Sandford went to Barbados, but for some reason, he ran into political trouble there and was banished from the island by its governor William Willoughby. It is believed that Sandford then moved to Hartford, Connecticut where he died in 1676 at the age of 61.

Based on Sandford’s favorable description of the places he visited in the summer of 1666, in August 1669, three ships left England bound for the coast of Carolina. After stops in Bermuda, Barbados, Nevis, and Port Royal, one of them, the Carolina, landed in a creek on the west side of the Ashley River in Charleston Harbor with some one hundred settlers and established a successful colony that grew rapidly and which became the city of Charleston, South Carolina.

In a way, Sandford’s voyage completed England’s claim on what is now the coast of the United States, except for Florida which Spain for a few years longer still claimed. The English were well established in New England, in Virginia, and now Sandford had opened up most of the American southeast for new settlement.

Ted McCormack

November 2022

One comment

  1. Well done, Ted. Your love of local history reveals itself again. Very informative piece of writing!

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