A New Errant: Massachusetts Puritans and the Founding of Dorchester, South Carolina

Francis J. Bremer, writing in the Bulletin of the Congre­gational Library, Boston, Mass., Vol. 28, No.2, Winter 1977, said in “A New Errant: Massachusetts Puritans and the Founding of Dorchester, South Carolina”:


“Puritan interest in the Carolinas had been evident as ear­ly as 1660, when the first of two attempts was made by Puritan colonists to settle along the Cape Fear River. That attempt was soon relinquished, only to be followed by a second colony which was planted in 1664 and abandoned three years later. But the Carolina region remained attractive to Dissenters, particularly as the Carolina proprietors stressed their attachment to-the principles of tolerating all religious groups.


“The first true foundations of South Carolina were laid in the 1670’s when emigrants from Barbados began to settle at Port Royal and also along the Ashley River. Additional colonists gravitated to these outposts from New York, Eng­land, and France. Among those who journeyed from England were Dissenting families such as Blakes, Astells, and Mortons, many of whom had strong connections with leading New Englanders. In the 1680’s a Congregational church was organized in Charles Town, and in 1691 the Reverend Ben­jamin Pierpont, a recent Harvard graduate, became the group’s first pastor. Pierpont was later succeeded by two other Harvard-trained ministers, the Reverend Hugh Adams in 1698 and the Reverend John Cotton in 1699. Adams made his stay in Charles Town a brief one, quickly assuming the role of itinerant preacher to various frontier congregations. Cotton died in a yellow fever epidemic within a year of his arrival. His successors in the pulpit of the Charles Town congregation were Scottish Presbyterians.


“The settlement of Congregationalists and other Dissenters was strongly encouraged by the Carolina proprietors in the 1680’s and 1690’s in the hope that these non-conformists would provide political support for the proprietors against the influence of the predominently Anglican Barbadians. During that period numerous small groups of Quakers, Congregationalists, Huguenots, Presbyterians, and Anabapt­ists were attracted to the colony. One such group, led by the Reverend Joseph Lord of Dorchester, Massachusetts, founded the town of Dorchester on South Carolina’s Ashley River.


“South Carolina held a number of attractions for Joseph Lord and his fellow pilgrims, not the least of which was the promise of economic improvements. The maturation of a third generation of colonists placed heavy pressure upon the agrarian economy of most New England towns. The situation was particularly severe in communities such as Dorchester which had been settled early in the colony’s history and which had begun to suffer from acute shortage of land long before the more dispersed frontier communities. Dorchester itself had spawned emigration as early as 1636 when some of the inhabitants joined Thomas Hooker’s exodus to the rich lands of the Connecticut River Valley. Those who in 1695 decided to follow Joseph Lord did so in the belief that they could anticipate far greater economic opportunities in the developing society of South Carolina than they could in their native town.”