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The expedition of Lt. Col. Robert Sanford: The Barbadian Adventurers, Part III

By Peg Eastman

“Cassique of Kiawah” by Willard Newman Hirsch. Image by Douglas M. Pinkerton. Reprinted with permission.

Part II of the Barbadian Adventurers series described how Sir John Yeamans instructed Robert Sanford, the Cape Fear colony’s secretary, to undertake an exploration voyage once the would-be settlers recovered from the loss of their supply ship.

Sanford was an ambitious man who had friends in high places. Sometime before 1662, he had been part of a group of Englishmen who settled in the Dutch colony of Surinam, South America. They established an elective government that was soon taken over by a faction headed by Governor William Byam. His despotic ways caused a revolt in which Sanford and others who disputed his authority were court-martialed. Although the prisoners pleaded not guilty, they were hurried away in irons, fined and exiled. Sanford proceeded to England where his complaints were presented to His Majesty’s Privy Council on September 3, 1662.

An educated, well-connected man, Sanford lost no time in self-publishing his case, complete with depositions, in Surinam justice in the case of several persons proscribed by certain usurpers of power in that colony: being a publication of that perfect relation of the beginning, continuance, and end of the late disturbances in the colony of Surinam, set forth under that title, by William Byam Esq. (sometime rightfull) governour of that colony: and the vindication of those gentlemen, sufferers by his injustice, from the calumnies wherewith he asperseth them in that relation /couched in the answer thereto by Robert Sanford.

Sanford’s family had settled in Barbados when he was a young boy. He had gained advantageous employment under Sir James Drax, probably the richest of the Barbadian “sugar barons.” Sanford rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was a member of the Assembly in 1663 when he became embroiled in a quarrel with Francis, Lord Willoughby, governor of Barbados. Sanford was seized under a warrant and, along with the Assembly speaker, was imprisoned for high treason. Although the charges were dismissed for lack of witnesses, Sanford and the speaker were deported to England on the governor’s ship. And once again, Sanford laid grievances before the king and council.

While in London, Sanford came to the attention of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. He dined with them in August 1664 and discussed the settlement of their newly acquired Carolina Province. In November 1664 Sanford was appointed secretary and register of Clarendon County and was part of Governor Sir John Yeamans’ settlement of Charles Town, on the Charles (Cape Fear) River.

Before he abandoned the fledgling colony, Yeamans instructed Sanford to use the sloop that had been sent to Virginia for supplies or to hire the vessel of Captain Edward Stanyarne (also spelled Stanyon, which is the correct pronunciation) when it returned from Barbados.

Unsurprisingly, the exploration got off to a bad start. The sloop that returned from Virginia had rotten timbers and was found to be unfit for service. Worse, Captain Stanyarne’s ship was poorly staffed on the return trip from Barbados, and without backup, Stanyarne was forced to sail for many weeks in severe weather conditions. The unremitting responsibility ultimately caused him to lose his reason, and after many wild extravagances of behavior, he jumped overboard and drowned. His inexperienced crew, “assisted by a miraculous Providence,” after many wanderings brought the ship to Cape Fear and provided Sanford with a means to undertake the expedition. Sanford’s account of the voyage of exploration was later published in London. It is a fascinating story.

On Saturday, June 16, 1666, Sanford left the Charles River at Cape Fear accompanied by Capt. George Cary, Lt. Samuel Harvy, Lt. Joseph Woory, Ensign Henry Brayne, Ensign Richard Abrahall, Mr. Thomas Giles and ten others. Most of them, Sanford said, were “Gentlemen but little used to any labor.” Besides Sanford, the crew consisted of two seamen and a ship’s boy.

Lieutenant Woory wrote his own account of the expedition. He was a nephew of Sir John Yeamans and later represented his uncle in his trade with Virginia. Woory settled in Isle of Wight County, which elected him burgess in 1684. We know from Woory’s account that Sanford’s ship (formerly Stanyarne’s) was called Rebecca, a detail that Sanford, curiously, did not mention in his account.

Rebecca was accompanied by a three-ton shallop belonging to the Lords Proprietors, identified by Woory as the Speedwell. Due to darkness and cloudy weather, Speedwell and Rebecca were separated three nights later. They continued separately down the coast until reunited near Port Royal.

On June 22, Sanford entered a wide river and was met by two Indians in a canoe. They boarded Rebecca, telling Sanford he was in the country of Edisto and that the seat of the cacique was downriver closer to the sea. Sanford assumed that this was the same river that Hilton had mentioned but had not entered. Hilton had called it the Grandie (Grandee) River, from the Spanish name Rio Grande. Sanford called it Harvy Haven, after his lieutenant, as part of a plan to erase Spanish and French claims on the land. However, the Indian name persisted; it is the North Edisto River. The following day, Sanford went up Bohicket Creek and took possession of the land using an ancient ceremony of “turf and twig” and claimed land from the 36 degree latitude to the 29 latitude and west to the South Seas. In honor of His Majesty Charles II, it was named the Province of Carolina for use of the Proprietors. This possibly took place near Rockville, on Wadmalaw Island.

On June 24, Rebecca anchored near the seat of the Edisto cacique. While exploring the island, a “captain” of the Edisto nation called Shadoo, whom Hilton had taken to Barbados, invited the men to spend the night in his town. Sanford ordered Lieutenants Harvy and Woory, and Messers Thomas Giles and Henry Woodward, to accept the invitation. In a gesture of goodwill, some Indians remained on the ship. The Englishmen returned the following day with glowing reports of the richness of the land and the favorable situation of the town.

This induced Sanford to meet the cacique himself. Accompanied by Captain Cary and others, the group was followed by a long train of Indians, one of whom always presented himself to carry Sanford on his shoulders over rough terrain. The Englishmen were received in a large circular state house where the cacique and his wife (she who had hosted the party the evening before) sat on a high seat. Sanford and Cary were given seats of honor beside the cacique on the raised platform.

When Sanford and his party returned to their vessel they were followed by a large group of Indians. The cacique spent the night on Rebecca and told Sanford about the Dawhoo River, which led from the North Edisto to the South Edisto River. This induced Sanford to weigh anchor on June 27 and turn up the river, which had sufficient draft. However, it turned out to be narrow, winding and windless, forcing the men to tow the ship, often against the wind. This was so tedious that it was not until July 1 that they came to the South Edisto River

The Indians followed Rebecca across Edisto Island. Among them was the cacique of the Kiawah Indians who had traded with the colony at Cape Fear. The cacique wanted to showcase the benefits of the Kiawah country (present-day Charleston Harbor). Unwilling to retrace his steps, Sandford insisted that he must visit Port Royal first. To assure Sanford’s return, the cacique sent a message ahead to the cacique of Port Royal to prepare a welcome while Shadoo remained on the vessel as a guide.

On July 3, 1666, Sandford reached Port Royal Sound. The next day he anchored off the Escamacu town on Parris Island, which Hilton had visited two years earlier. Sanford and his party were entertained in the Escamacus’ large, circular meeting house. Near the building stood “a faire woodden Crosse” erected by the Spanish. (Santa Elena had been the capital of Spanish Florida from 1566 to 1587, and Spain still claimed the area.)

Rebecca was almost lost in a gale but finally arrived at Hilton Head Island. While there, they sighted the shallop Speedwell, from which they had been separated since June 19. Speedwell came in handy as Sanford and his men explored Port Royal Sound and the Broad River up to the confluence of the Tulifinny and Coosawhatchie Rivers. Later Sanford entered Calibogue Sound between Hilton Head and Daufuskie Island and noted the myriad of waterways.

The evening before the explorers left, Nisquesalla, the Escamacu cacique, came aboard Rebecca, bringing his sister’s son with him, and requested that Sanford take the young man with him and teach him the English ways and language; he also proposed that Sanford leave one of their company with the Indians. Dr. Henry Woodward, the 20-year-old ship’s surgeon, volunteered, and both the Englishmen and the Indians agreed to the arrangement. 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.

Still accompanied by the Kiawah cacique Shadoo, the explorers sailed north to stop at the Kiawah country. But Shadoo was not used to seeing Charleston Harbor from the sea and did not recognize it, causing the vessels to travel two leagues before the mistake was realized. As the winds were unfavorable and Sanford “did not like the complexion of the Heavens,” he did not retrace the route and continued up the coast to Cape Fear.

Sanford knew that there was a river flowing into a large bay (Charleston Harbor), which the Indians called the Kiawah and the Spanish called San Jorge (St. George). “In hopes that it may prove worthy of the dignity,” Sanford named the large river entering the harbor “Ashley” after the Lord Proprietor. Later, the Cooper River was also named after Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury. An old Charleston adage, whether in jest or in hubris, relates that the Ashley and Cooper Rivers “come together to form the Atlantic Ocean.”

On their return to Cape Fear, the intrepid explorers were joyfully greeted by their friends who delighted at the explorers’ reports. Sanford wrote the Lords Proprietors an account of the explorations and published as A Relation of a Voyage on the Coast of the Province of Carolina in 1666. Accompanying the narrative was a statement by the officers who accompanied him. Sanford’s manuscript and other papers were retained by the Earl of Shaftesbury’s family until the seventh earl gave them to the British Public Records Office (BPRO) in 1880. Papers relating to South Carolina were transcribed by W. Noel Sainsbury, formerly of the BPRO. They were published for Charleston City Council at the insistence of Mayor William Ashmead Courtney, who used the Shaftesbury transcripts in the centennial celebration of the incorporation of the city of Charleston. They were published in the 1883 annual Year Book of Charleston and have since been published multiple times.

Sanford was banished by Barbadian governor Willoughby in 1668. It is thought that he may have moved to Carolina in 1670, but he fades from history subsequently.

Lt. Joseph Woory’s account was not among the Shaftesbury papers. His manuscript is believed to have been among the papers of Sir Edmund Andros, governor of Virginia, where Woory settled. The manuscript passed through various collectors until acquired in 1994 by the University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library. It was published for the first time in Jennie Holton Fant’s book The Travelers’ Charleston (University of South Carolina Press, 2016).

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

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


  • 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, Editor (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911).

  • The History of Beaufort County, South Carolina, vol. 1, 1514-186 by Lawrence S. Rowland, Alexander Moore, and George C. Rogers, Jr. (University of South Carolina Press, 1996).

  • The Barbados-Carolina Connection by Warren Alleyne and Henry Fraser

  • South Carolina Under Proprietary Government 1670-1719 by Edward McCrady

  • Constructing Early Modern Empires, Proprietary Ventures in the Atlantic World, 1500-1750, edited by L. H. Roper and B. Van Ruymbeke, 2007.

  • “Escamacu Explorers” by Robert Sandford,


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