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Henry Woodward, first explorer of the province: The Barbadian Adventurers series, Part IV

By Peg Eastman

Francis Nicholson, “Map of the several nations of Indians to the Northwest of South Carolina.” Text: “This map describing the scituation [sic] of the several nations of Indians to the NW of South Carolina was coppyed [sic] from a draught drawn & painted on a deer skin by an Indian Cacique and presented to Francis Nicholson Esqr. Governor of South Carolina by whom it is most humbly dedicated to his Royal Highness George, Prince of Wales.” —Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division.

Part III of the Barbadian Adventurers series describes Robert Sandford’s 1666 voyage to Port Royal Sound and how Dr. Henry Woodward, the 20-year-old ship’s surgeon, volunteered to remain as an honored guest of the Escamacu Indians on present-day Parris Island.

Wanting to establish trade with the explorers, the cacique (chief) suggested that as a gesture of goodwill, the nephew of the Escamacu chief would accompany the Barbadians to learn the ways of the white man and that, in turn, someone would remain with the tribe until the white men returned. Both the Englishmen and the Indians agreed to the arrangement. The night before the explorers left, the cacique placed Woodward by his side on the throne and, to ensure his nephew’s good treatment, gave Woodward a large field of maize and presented his niece to care for him. Sanford gave Woodward formal possession of the whole country to hold for the Lords Proprietors and returned to his ship.

An artist’s rendition of Dr. Henry Woodward located in the Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot Military Museum, S.C.

According an article by Joseph W. Barnwell in the South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, “the romantic story of Dr. Henry Woodward, the first English Settler in South Carolina, was first revealed when the papers of the great Earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Ashley, who had been one of the original Lords Proprietors of Carolina) which had been deposited in the British Public Record Office, London, by the late Earl of Shaftesbury, a descendant of the great Earl, were published in South Carolina.” Now known as The Shaftesbury Papers, they were first published locally by Mayor William Ashmead Courtney in the 1885 City of Charleston Year Book. Woodward’s correspondence was among the documents.

Little is known about Woodward’s early life. He is thought to have been born in Barbados and later made history by becoming the first English settler in South Carolina.

All went well after Sanford left until the Spanish learned of Woodward’s expanding relationship with the Indians. Considering him a threat, in 1667, they captured him at St. Helena and took him to St, Augustine. Woodward wrote the Spanish governor in the universal language of the day (Latin) and told him that he would like to convert to Catholicism. Delighted, the governor let the monks educate him and gave Woodward the run of the town, where he learned about the Spanish-Indian trading system.

The following year the privateer Robert Searle raided St. Augustine and released all the English prisoners. He took Woodward to the Leeward Islands, where he became a surgeon on a privateer to defray his expenses to England. On August 17, 1669, the privateer vessel was wrecked near Nevis during a hurricane. Coincidentally, about December 9, 1669, the Carolina-bound fleet stopped in Nevis. Woodward volunteered to join the expedition, an offer which was readily accepted.

Once the ship landed in Carolina at what is known today as Old Town, Woodward became an interpreter and was able to procure provisions for the settlers. At the instance of Governor Sir John Yeamans, he went to Virginia in 1671 and made expeditions into the interior searching for precious metals and trade connections. Although a few Spanish had explored the southeast of the continent, Woodward was the first Anglo-American to do so.

The proprietors realized his value and in 1674 made him a deputy of Lord Shaftesbury and granted him 2,000 acres of land. Additionally, he was made Indian agent, given a share of the Indian trade profits and commissioned to purchase Edisto Island from the Indians.

The Westo nation lived in the Savannah River region and enjoyed a warlike reputation. They were initially hostile to the fledgling Carolina colony. However, by early 1674, the Earl of Shaftesbury instructed Woodward to build a relationship with either the Westo or the Cussitaw Indians.

Wishing to establish a trade relationship, in October 1674 members of the Westo tribe visited the Earl of Shaftesbury’s St. Giles plantation at the head of the Ashley River. Woodward traveled with them to their village on the Savannah River. While he was there, two Shawnee Indians arrived and warned the Westo of an attack from the Cussitaws.

During the visit, Woodward was able to make a treaty with the Westo for which he was to receive one-fifth of the profit from the Indian trade in skins and slaves. This treaty opened the way for expansion beyond the Charles Town area and provided a southern buffer from hostile Spanish Florida. The English gave the Westos weapons, and they and other southeastern tribes used their superior advantage to terrorize other Indians and partake in the Indian slave trade.

Meanwhile, the Lords Proprietors wanted to cash in on the lucrative business for themselves and started a seven-year monopoly on trade with the Westo tribe. In spite of that, some colonists continued to trade privately with other Indians, some of whom were the Westos’ enemies. The situation was unstable at best. When the Westos killed two English colonists, the colonial government forbade the Westos entry into Charles Town. The tribe retaliated by stealing the colonists’ cattle and raiding their Indian allies.

By the spring of 1680, agents John Boone and James Moore were sent to improve relations with the Westos. When these efforts failed, the Grand Council placed a trade embargo on the Westos. Ensuing warfare degenerated into the Westo War, which ultimately destroyed the tribe. The Savannah Shawnee, who had been allied with the Carolinians, moved into Westo lands along the lower Savannah River after the tribe was eliminated.

The colonial government fined Woodward for providing the Westos weapons that were later used against pro-English tribes. He was forced to travel to England to defend his actions. He was pardoned by the Proprietors, returned to Carolina in good standing and continued as Indian agent.

Meanwhile, after securing guarantees of political and religious freedom from the Proprietors, in 1684 some Scots Covenanters founded a settlement called Stuart’s Town in the Port Royal Sound area. This frontier land was occupied by several feuding Indian nations, and the Scots formed an alliance with the Yemassee.

The Yemassee Indians, assisted by the Scots, raided Spanish settlements in Florida for prisoners to sell as slaves. Woodward and the people in Charles Town denounced this, and in retaliation for the Yemassee attacks in Florida, a Spanish fleet destroyed Stuart’s Town.

In the summer of 1685 Woodward made contact with the Lower Creeks, who had previously been allied with the Spanish. He forged an alliance, much to the displeasure of the Spanish, who scoured the backcountry for him.

Woodward was arrested when he passed through the Stuart’s Town area to meet with the Creeks of the Chattahoochee River, as Lord Cardross, leader of the Scots, wanted total control of the Creek trade. Woodward was later released and may have assisted the Scots with their Indian negotiations.

Gravely ill, Woodward returned to Charles Town in 1686, accompanied by a large party of Creeks and died shortly thereafter.

It is conjectured that without Woodward’s language and diplomatic skills, the nascent Carolina colony might have suffered the same fate as the Cape Fear colony had years before.

On a personal note, Woodward was born c. 1646. His second wife was Mary Browne, widow of Robert Browne and the daughter of Col. John Godfrey, one of the most prominent men in the province. They married in 1681 and had two sons and a daughter. From this union are descended many South Carolinians including the author.

According to Barnwell, no mention of Woodward has been found after the 1685 quarrels between officials in Charles Town and Lord Cardross at Port Royal. Later historians dispute the tradition that Woodward introduced the rice culture to Carolina.

More tales of the Barbadian Adventurers will be continued in the next issue of the Mercury.

My appreciation to Bob Stockton, Rhoda Greene and Lish Thompson for contributing to this story, which is a prequel to Evening Post Press’s upcoming book, Broad Street, Charleston’s Historic Nexus of Power. Anyone with a good Broad Street story is invited to contact


South Carolina Under Proprietary Government 1670-1719 by Edward McCrady (New York, The MacMillan Company, 1897).

Original Narratives of Early American History, Narratives of Early Carolina 1650-1708 by J. Alexander S. Salley, Jr., Secretary of the Historical Commission of South Carolina, ed. (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911).

Joseph W. Barnwell, The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, vol. 8, no. 1 (Jan. 1907), pp. 29-41.

“Woodward, Henry” by Michael P. Morris, South Carolina Encyclopedia online.

“Meet Dr. Henry Woodward: First settler of Beaufort,”


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