South Carolina

South Carolina has been home to members of more different ethnic groups than any other southern state. Late in the twentieth century, many American northerners, as well as Germans and Canadians, moved to South Carolina. However, after 1990, Mexican immigrants far outnumbered those from any other country.

When Europeans made their first contact with the peoples of South Carolina during the early sixteenth century, the region was populated by Native Americans of the Iroquois peopleIroquois, Algonquian, Sioux, and Muskogean cultures. The precise date of the first European settlement in South Carolina is uncertain, but it is believed that Spanish colonists established a settlement called San Miguel de Gualdape in what is now South Carolina in 1526. However, that failed settlement left so few traces that it is not even certain whether it was actually in South Carolina or Georgia. More certain is the fact that the French founded Charlesfort on Parris Island in 1562. That colony also failed quickly, as did the fort and village the Spanish established in its place five years later.South CarolinaSouth Carolina[cat]STATES;South Carolina

In 1663, England’s King Charles IICharles II granted eight noblemen the rights to an area along the eastern seaboard that they named “Carolina” in his honor. In 1670, a ship with 130 men and women aboard, almost all of them English, arrived at the mouth of the Ashley River. They established a settlement several miles upriver, but ten years later they moved back to the coast, where Charleston is now situated. Through the next two decades, about one-half of the white settlers were from the West Indies island colony of Barbadian immigrantsBarbados, and many others also came from West Indies islands. Although the backgrounds of these early colonists were English, the colonists’ cultural roots were in the Caribbean. Many brought Slavery;South Carolinaslaves with them. Later, planters acquired additional slaves from Barbados and also from various parts of Africa, including the Congo region, Angola, Senegal, Gambia, and the Gold Coast.

The proprietors were eager to bring more white settlers into South Carolina. Some of the new immigrants were fleeing religious persecution, among them Huguenot immigrants;South CarolinaFrench Huguenots, German immigrants;South CarolinaGerman Moravian immigrantsMoravians and Lutherans, and Jewish immigrants;South CarolinaJews from Spain and Portugal. Others had experienced political persecution, such as Scottish Highlanders who had fought for the Jacobite cause and the Acadian immigrants;South CarolinaFrench Acadians whom the British had expelled from Nova Scotia. Still others simply wanted to better themselves. Immigrants also came from Ireland, Wales, and the Scottish lowlands. One of the largest groups, the Scotch-Irish immigrants[Scotch Irish immigrants];South CarolinaScotch-Irish from Ulster, settled South Carolina’s upcountry region.

After the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), economic hardships in South Carolina discouraged new immigrants from entering the state, and pervasive poverty, along with racial discrimination, drove many black South Carolinians to northern cities. By the 1920’s, African Americans were no longer in the majority in South Carolina. Some returned to the state after the Civil Rights movement brought legal and social changes during the 1960’s. Meanwhile, the state’s African American cultural heritage had never been lost.

Twenty-first Century Trends

During the second half of the twentieth century, South Carolina’s rich history, ethnic diversity, and cosmopolitanism, along with its temperate climate, drew retirees from northern states to become permanent or part-time residents. New immigrants also came from various European countries and Canadian immigrants;South CarolinaCanada. In 2006, 10 percent of the foreign-born population of South Carolina had been born in German immigrants;South CarolinaGermany or in Canada. Characteristically, these newcomers found homes in communities on or near the coast.

Europeans and Canadians were not, however, the most numerous immigrants living in South Carolina during the early twenty-first century. In 2006, almost 50 percent of the state’s foreign-born residents were from Latin America. The majority of these immigrants were from Mexican immigrants;South CarolinaMexico, and many of them were undocumented. Because most of them were not well educated, Mexican immigrants took mostly poorly paid jobs and lived in substandard housing. Documentation problems caused many of them not to secure drivers’ licenses, obtain health care, or even enroll in English-language courses. Because most of them did not use banks, they were frequently victimized and robbed. Most of them, especially those who had entered illegally, felt that they did not dare report crimes to the police or even complain to employers about their treatment. Moreover, many native-born South Carolinians did not hide their resentment of these new immigrants, who they believed were taking jobs from them as well as placing additional burdens on taxpayers.South Carolina

Further Reading

  • Edgar, Walter B. South Carolina: A History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.
  • _______ The South Carolina Encyclopedia. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
  • Lacy, Elaine Cantrell. Mexican Immigrants in South Carolina: A Profile. Columbia: Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies, University of South Carolina, 2007.
  • Mohl, Raymond A. “Globalization, Latinization, and the Nuevo New South.” In Other Souths: Diversity and Difference in the U.S. South, Reconstruction to Present, edited by Pippa Holloway. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008.

African Americans and immigrants

British immigrants

Canadian immigrants

French immigrants


German immigrants

Irish immigrants

Jewish immigrants

Mexican immigrants

North Carolina

West Indian immigrants