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1. Pastoral Sounds
II/ Music

No Damn Black Gown Sons of Bitches among Them”: Rough Music and the Counter-Pastoral in the Eighteenth-Century Carolina Backcountry



Selon l’historien anglais E.P. Thompson, les charivaris consistaient en un mélange de bruits discordants et assourdissants, de rires impitoyables, et de parodies obscènes. C’étaient des sons auxquels était exposée la classe dirigeante des régions reculées de Caroline lors de ses face-à-face avec ses inférieurs. Cet article étudie le journal de Charles Woodmason, un anglais de bonne famille du XVIIIe siècle. D’abord planteur et négociant, il fut ordonné ministre du culte anglican dans les années 1760 et sillonna la région en tant que pasteur itinérant. Il considéra que les bruits abominables qu’il y entendit relevaient du charivari, souvent dirigé contre lui. De même que la pastorale anglaise du XVIIIe siècle reflétait des antagonismes de classe – les conflits entre propriétaires terriens de souche et capitalistes ruraux – de même l’anti-pastorale de Woodmason reflétait les conflits culturels entre les fermiers presbytériens et baptistes de l’arrière-pays de Caroline et les riches patriciens anglicans. Malgré les emprunts aux pastorales anglaises – désir de progrès et thématique des privilèges de classe – on ne trouve dans les écrits de Woodmason ni villages abandonnés ni regret nostalgique d’un monde disparu de bergers et de laboureurs. Chez lui, le silence des esclaves et leur absence apparente ainsi que la barbarie des blancs pauvres laissent transparaître l’identité sudiste de l’auteur.

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1In 1766, newly ordained Anglican minister Charles Woodmason began preaching in the South Carolina backcountry. After arriving there fourteen years earlier, he had built a fortune. He had used pastoral imagery to explicate lowcountry Carolina to English and colonial readers, turning these writings into a justification of Carolina’s rulers (Hooker xi-xxxix). Following pastoral conventions, he praised the silence of nature, its cascading rivers and fertile fields and the buzz of making and processing crops. These sounds were sweet, regular, and logical.

2When he began preaching, Woodmason expected the same sweet sounds from his auditors. They owed him, a gentleman and a cleric, deference, but his audience responded with noisy derision, what English historian E. P. Thompson dubs “rough music.” Rough music, Thompson writes, included “raucous, earshattering noise, unpitying laughter, and the mimicking of obscenities,” often accompanied by crude musical instruments, aimed at those who mocked “community norms” (Thompson 3). Backcountry folk, hardly the deferential swains or husbandmen of eighteenth-century pastoral poetry, hurled rough music at Woodmason and any other gentlemen who deemed them inferior. The rough music Woodmason heard justified his class disdain for unlettered, ill-clothed, and malnourished backcountry farm families along with the demagogues and charlatans who led them.

3Though it does not deal with sound, Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City helps explicate Woodmason’s writings (Williams 17, 20-21, 33, 37-43, 55-62, 68, 70-78). He links class ideologies, productive forces, and labor relations to defend English gentry class privilege. Pastoral poets waxed nostalgic (and sometimes melancholic) about a Golden Age, a lost world of swains and husbandmen, living on “a few paternal acres,” as Pope wrote in his “Ode on Solitude” (qtd. in Williams 25). At the same time, they praised the agricultural improvement and the genteel retirement made possible by the expropriation of peasant land. Such writings became “aristocratic entertainment” (Williams 21). Fields and pastures turned into deserted villages. Lacking land or human agency or property, former peasants became farm laborers; they owed obsequious obedience to their lords, as Robert Herrick made clear in his 1648 poem, “The Hock Cart” (Williams 33). Having turned fields into parks, poets turned to the natural beauty and the supposedly untouched landscape that surrounded them. Lowcountry southern society, with its vast rice and indigo plantations and huge slave holdings, had a far different class structure from industrializing England. Woodmason, for one, took on the identity of a southern planter and then of a cleric.

4Who was Charles Woodmason? Born around 1720, he came to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1752. He moved to a Lowcountry plantation, about 75 miles from town. An indigo (a blue dye crop) and rice planter and rural merchant, he became rich, procuring 2,150 acres of land and 18 slaves. These huge land and slave holdings suggest that Woodmason brought capital with him. By 1759, he lived in luxury, having acquired elegant furniture, silver cutlery, and a hundred-book library. He became politically prominent, appointed as a justice of the peace and elected a member of the vestry, the lay body that governed Anglican parishes (Hooker xiii-xvi).

5Like other educated gentlemen, Woodmason dabbled in belles lettres. South Carolinians published more often in the Gentleman’s Magazine, England’s foremost genteel periodical, than residents from any other colony (Smith 102-29). Most issues of the South Carolina Gazette contained locally-written poetry, essays, or satires. These contributions emulated popular English literary genres—pastorals, odes on the new year, the Spectator’s genteel humor, romantic farces and essays on agriculture (Cohen Gazette chap. 3). Woodmason’s writings demonstrate his familiarity with Virgil, promotional literature, epics, and pastorals. Besides verses on Benjamin Franklin and electricity, all of his writings related to South Carolina, including a long article on indigo, two imitations of Horace set in the Lowcountry, a pastoral poem on indigo, and a topographic description of South Carolina in verse (Jones 189-91).

6In 1762, when Woodmason’s wife died, he returned to England to settle her estate; while he was there, creditors seized his South Carolina lands. When he returned, he abandoned planting and writing about rural life. He settled in Charleston, where he became an influential judge. But his political career ended three years later when he applied to become a stamp distributor under the hated Stamp Act. Having lost power and wealth, he became an itinerant Anglican minister. Between 1766 and 1771, he traveled thousands of miles through the South Carolina backcountry, ministering to the few Anglicans, performing marriages and baptisms, and founding some thirty congregations. He attempted with little success to reach hostile Presbyterians (mostly Ulster Irish), Baptists, and sectarians. In his diary and sermons, he reviled those opponents, men and women who dared think they had the right way to Christ, whose liturgy and conversion experiences he deemed vile noise (Hooker xvii-xxviii).

1. The Sounds of Silence

7Woodmason’s anti-pastoral diary and sermons reflected the challenges his backcountry work posed to his earlier pastoral vision of the colony. During the 1750s, he copied the pastoralism of contemporary English writers. Virgil’s pastoral poetry, particularly the Georgics, which emphasized labor, enjoyed great vogue. Imitations of Virgil painted agrarian life as virtuous and pleasurable and described farming in a scientific way. James Thompson’s four-part poem The Seasons (1726-44) had particular influence: it paraphrased the Georgics, depicted the seasons, praised improving farmers, and admired farm work and country leisure. Colonists, English immigrants and native-born gentlemen alike, adopted the form (Williams chap. 8; O’Brien 160-79; Gentilcore 257-70; Smith 2-3, 8-9).

8Southern pastoral poets placed their writing in a different context from Thompson’s. Since the late sixteenth century, promotional writers had envisioned America as an unspoiled and unsullied garden, with a pleasant climate, containing a cornucopia of valuable products, easy to cultivate and export. As early as in 1606, Michael Drayton saw Virginia as “Earth’s onely Paradise” (Williams 23). The New World was an Eden, a benign wilderness, yet one that required improvement to reach its potential. Eighteenth-century southern writers knew pastoral conventions and used them to defend their own class privilege (Marx 73-102; Mancall). Southern poets rarely mentioned the farmer, much less the slaves who did nearly all the labor—but praised the genteel estate owner and manager, giving them credit for the crops (Breen chap. 2).

  • 1 For clarity, I have inserted line numbers and letters in Woodmason’s notes from “C. W. in Carolina, (...)

9Soon after Woodmason arrived in South Carolina, Gentleman’s Magazine published a topographical pastoral poem he had submitted. Italicized endnotes identified rivers, towns, and people (Cohen “Typographical” 252-58; Woodmason, “C. W. in Carolina” 337-38).1 A foreigner in a strange land, he found that “endless beauty fills the circuit round” whose “pleasing name I echo thro’ the woods” (12-13). He evoked the sounds of nature—melting snow, flowing water, “southern breezes” (51) and “western gales” (68). With a “tuneful song,” he depicts sixteen rivers, rescuing them from “silence and oblivion” (26-28): the “Santee tumultuous in its course,” its waterfalls rising “36 feet perpendicular in a few hours” (15). Nature might turn malevolent, with rattlesnakes, mosquitoes, droughts, hurricanes, or heat could “at once impair, / The smiling prospects of the plenteous year,” ruining harvests (100-101). But once gentler nature returned, crops sprang from the soil, and rivers and mines hummed with the sounds of making crops and mining ores (83).

10Gentlemen, a few named and identified, populated these rivers’ shores, bringing bounty and honor to the land; “a second Carthage here we raise” (72), worthy successors to “first advent’rers to this blooming land” (85). The “gen’rous names, that honour Cooper’s shore” had brought “ties of virtuous friendship long endear’d […] The pride and grace of Carolina’s land” (45-48). These “Gentlemen of large estates” had “Delightful villas, be they long renown’d […] superb seats that would make a good figure in England” (75). These gentlemen used nature productively, enjoyed the bounty of their labor, and implicitly deserved to rule over their slaves and indeed nearly all free men, who were their inferiors (Bailyn chap. 1).

2. “Violent constant stirring and beating”

11Georgics, a form of pastoral common in eighteenth-century English poetry, emphasized agricultural commodities. English poets composed verses about cider, wool, and hops. Tobacco, rice, indigo, sugar, and naval stores, most cultivated by slaves and servants, predominated in the southern and island colonies. Gentlemen wrote about such products. Maryland and Virginia tobacco cultivation elicited a vast literature but—given its low price and the nastiness of its use—no poet wrote admiring pastorals. Other commodities fared better: a West Indian doctor wrote about sugar cane; Maryland emigre poet Richard Lewis praised ship-building, a potential use of timber. Woodmason’s pastoral poem about indigo built on his two articles on indigo cultivation and production that had appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine (Shields chap. 4; Feeser 55-57).

12Georgic poetry drew a feast for the eyes; the poet and his readers saw the natural world and drew moral conclusions from observing nature. Yet sounds, natural and human, also abound. Wind blows, plows scratch the soil, scythes slash the grain, herds bleat and bellow, peasants beg for sustenance. English pastoralists often evoked the sounds of labor, on occasion giving voice and agency to laborers. Stephen Duck’s 1730 “The Thresher’s Labor” was the best known of these proletarian poems (Christmas 1: xvii-xxv, 127-29, 132-29; Williams 87-90). Southern poets, however, followed the usual English convention of making gentlemen responsible for production, erasing the labor of slaves and poor free whites who made the crops.

13In 1755, three years after reaching South Carolina, Gentleman’s Magazine published Woodmason’s two-part essay on indigo (“Indigo Plant,” 201-3; “Manufacturing Indigo” 256-58). Since the dye was in high demand among British drapers, he may have heard about indigo while still in England (Nash 362-92). Woodmason may have read a 1747 London pamphlet by James Corkatt on improving Carolina indigo and borrowed some of its details. Once he arrived, he probably learned that indigo production, whose seasonal patterns meshed with that of rice, had surged, driven by slumping rice prices and growing British demand for cheap cloth dyes. Just as Woodmason’s piece appeared, indigo exports exploded, nearly tripling between the 1754 and 1755 crop years (Nash 371; Feeser chap 1; Chaplin 190-209).

14The essay took on a scientific tone. Since an indigo planter had to get land and slaves before he could begin production, Woodmason appended a computation of the cost of setting up a South Carolina plantation to his essay. Land, slaves, houses, livestock, and equipment cost £2000 sterling, $447,000 in 2014 dollars (; “Plantation” 258-59), a huge outlay for all but the richest Carolinans (Ryden and Menard 600-6). “As Indigo is now become one of the staple articles of our trade,” Woodmason sought to give “some account of the culture and manufacturing of it” (“Indigo Plant” 201). He examined making indigo: choosing the proper specie; planting, cultivation, and harvesting; and manufacturing the product.

15Cultivation required constant care by slaves to make “a perfect garden,” keeping fields clear from the “abundance of weeds” the humid climate produced. “If extreme pains were not taken,” he concluded, “our rice and Indico would be destroyed e’er they got above the ground; so that our negroes are always at the hoe.” In such a labor-intensive regime, slaves could “plant and attend three or four acres of land, besides making of his provisions” but cultivate two acres, and that area only by “very able ones.” Indigo thus required “three times the number of hands to compleat a field of 30 acres as in England ” (“Indigo” 202).

16He then turned to manufacturing indigo, depicting the complex steps—regulating the water supply, judging the fermentation process—needed to turn the harvested plant into a saleable commodity. The tone shifted dramatically. Inert equipment and tools—“several vats [...] called steepers and beaters, together with pumps, buckets, troughs tubs, strainers, boxes, and a variety of other utensils also a drying-house and a storehouse”—took center stage (“Manufacturing Indigo” 256).

17As an illustration appended to the article showed, these machines dictated the labor slaves performed. Two pumps were “worked by a pendulum, to pump water into the steeper,” a large rectangular tub immediately adjacent to the pumps where the indigo was placed. The pendulum rested on a “stage whereon to work the pumps” (“Manufacturing Indigo” 259). The harvested plant, “cut and brought to the steeper, is laid in very lightly 14 inches deep, to macerate and digest.” These tubs “are raised on frames, one above another, so that the second may receive the liquor thro’ a tap at the bottom of the first.” The liquid drained into the beater, a square tub; a faucet sent lime water to the adjacent beater, which helped purify the murky mixture (“Manufacturing Indigo” 256).

18Readers could imagine the sounds of humming machines, gurgling pumps and swishing water as resembling those in nature, harmonious and sweet to the ear. Other sounds—“Violent constant stirring and beating” of the indigo liquid, lasting a half-hour or more” that “produced “heats, froths, and foments” were less harmonious but resulted from natural processes (heating or fermentation) and thus allowed Woodmason to stay within a pastoral framework.

19Woodmason omitted the discordant noise the slaves made while working the indigo contraptions. He thus viewed slaves as silent engines of production. Slaves lacked the independent human agency English pastoral poets ascribed to husbandmen and even laborers. Their labor disappeared into the machinery: the construction of the apparatus “depends in a great measure on the fancy of the planter and the number of hands he employs” (“Manufacturing Indigo” 256). The term “hands” turned slaves into machines; it referred to the number of slaves who worked the equipment multiplied by a fraction representing their strength and abilities.

3. “The richer Dye of INDICO, I sing”

20Woodmason—building on his Gentleman’s Magazine essay—published 120 lines of his pastoral poem “Indico” in the August 25, 1757 and December 1, 1758 issues of the South Carolina Gazette. The lines aimed at getting subscriptions for a twenty-four page poetry collection. Woodmason had agents in three major Lowcountry towns take subscriptions of two Spanish dollars, half payable at time of subscription, the rest on publication. With rice prices so low, relative to indigo, planters should have wanted to learn more about the crop but a year later his agents had found too few subscribers to pay for printing. Woodmason turned to finding buyers in London, but the collection never reached print (Cohen “Indigo Culture” 41-42). Planters had other ways of learning about indigo, and the price for the volume was high. Spanish dollars equaled four shillings six pence sterling, but an unbound pamphlet of 24 pages retailed for one shilling (Amory 511, 514; Hall and Martin 522-23; Winton 234-35; Green 264-65).

  • 2 I have used Cohen, “Indigo Culture,” 42-44, and added line numbers in parentheses, for clarity.

21“Indico” made the cultivation and manufacture of the commodity a pastoral. The planter—not the slave—replaced the swain of English pastorals, as the productive and virtuous worker. Invoking the exile of humankind from the Garden of Eden and Virgil’s Georgics, Woodmason argues that “Laborious Toil” and fear of poverty prodded industry, which planters readily took up (45-60). “Most skilful Planters in the Judgment rest, / That rotten Soil for INDICO’s the best” (37-38). With such knowledge, God had crowned “with Joy the wary Planter’s Toil / Do thou with propitious grant the Help I need, / Success shall follow my Labors speed” (3-6). Slaves were the vessels of the labor their masters commanded; they had to work, Woodmason wrote, following conventional arguments, because their constitutions “temper’d to the Heat [...] / Best bear the scorching Suns, and rustic Toil” (77, 79).2

22Nature’s endless round of the seasons dominated the narrative. After the harvest in the fall, the land lay “Fallow for the following Year” (12). The climate proved ideal: “In these hot climes that rich Herbage grow / The following summer, where in Winter past / The hungry Swine had found a Winter Mast” (16-18). The soil would yield bountiful crops, if the planter worked hard and read nature correctly:

I’ve seen a Crop of Weed [indigo] like Thicket grown,
From stubborn Clay, on some Plantations mown.
Such Lands with double Exercise prepare
And double Harvest shall reward thy Care. (41-44)

23When “joyful Spring returns,” (80-81) “distant groves re-eccho to the Sound” of oaks and pines (27-28). When clearing fields, “Arm’d With destructive Steel thy Negroes bring, / With Blows repeated let the Woodlands ring” (23-24). Planters “Break off Delays, and thus prepare the Plain,” sowing the seed in trenches two feet apart, giving “Room, one Stem as much shall yield / And richer far the Weed” (82-89). These lines come from the first segment of the poem; the second segment deals with manuring, plowing fallow land, and weeding to protect the “Golden Weed” (113).

4. “They delight in their present low, lazy, sluttish, heathenish, hellish Life”

24By 1766, when Woodmason began to minister in backcountry Carolina, he had lost his land, chosen the wrong side in the Stamp Act controversy, and abandoned belles lettres. During the first two years of his ministry, he went six thousand miles, gave two hundred sermons, baptized nearly 1,200 children, started thirty congregations, and distributed religious literature and farm implements (Hooker 3-64, esp. 63). He aimed to reform benighted backcountry inhabitants. As he wrote the Bishop of London in 1765, he saw his job as cleansing the region of “New Monsters,” who took “the title of New Lights or the Gifted Brethren (for they pretend to Inspiration)” and who “now infest the whole Back Country.” A crazed group led by a prophet had “lately kil’d a Travelling Person, and cut Him into Atoms […] and offering up this inhuman Sacrifice to the Diety.” Six were captured and taken to Charleston where “not all the Expostulations, Reasonings and Remonstrances of our Gentry and Clergy could make any Impression on their Diabolical Minds, or bring them back to Reason or Reflection” until one of them was hanged (Hooker 67-83, qtd. on 78-79).

25He did not succeed. Though he expected to receive the respect from unchurched backcountry families due to him as a genteel man of the cloth, he neither gained that respect nor heard the serene sounds he had imagined a decade earlier. Instead, he wrote a powerful counter-pastoral in his diary and sermons, painting a chaotic and disorderly backcountry, recording the discordant sounds of scheming sectarians. He juxtaposed his counter-pastoral with a reassertion of the beauty of pastoral imagery and sounds. This use of the terms “counter-pastoral” or “anti-pastoral” differs from conventional understandings. Unlike English pastoral poets, Woodmason neither rejected the pastoral nor lamented its loss, but championed its utility in a savage world (Williams chap. 3; Gifford chap. 5).

26Woodmason’s woes began with the wild nature he encountered wherever he went. Impenetrable forests and impassible streams left him wet and hungry. After two years on the road, he recorded in his journal: I “Wore my Self to a Skeleton and endured all the Extremities of Hunger, Thirst, Cold, and Heat” (Hooker 63). On January 2, 1767 he forded the Wateree River, a tributary of the Santee, but suffered “A Shocking Passage. Obliged to cut the Way thro’ the Swamp for 4 Miles, thro’ Canes, and impenetrable—Had my Cloaths torn to Pieces” (Hooker 12). The situation did not improve. Over two weeks in August, 1768 he ate “Meat but thrice and drank not but Water—subsisting on my Bisket and Rice Water and Musk Melons, Cucumbers, Green Apples, and Peaches and such Trash.” No “Gentleman not seasoned to this Clime, could sustain this,” nor should he even travel to such a desperate place (Hooker 52).

27Scheming, noisy, and diabolical white savages permeate his writings. In September 1766, three months after starting his ministry, he still could not find housing. The people “live in log cabins like hogs and their living and behavior as rude or more so than the Savages” (Hooker 7). Four months later, he preached before five hundred and baptized sixty children, but “Quite jaded out,” he stood and spoke “six Hours together and nothing to refresh [him], but Water—and their Provisions [he] could not touch—all the Cookery of these People being exceeding filthy, and most execrable” (Hooker 13). Everywhere he went, licentiousness reigned. “Many hundreds live in Concubinage—swopping their Wives as Cattel, and living in a State of nature, more irregularly and unchastely than the Indians” (Hooker 15). They remained ignorant, impudent, illiterate, and indolent: “they delight in their present low, lazy, sluttish, heathenish, hellish Life;” they lived in “gross, Licentiousness Wantonness, Lasciviousness, Rudeness, Lewdness, and Profligacy” (Hooker 52).

28These countrymen tormented Woodmason with loud disrespect and rough music. In February 1767, at a South Carolina settlement, 150 miles from Charleston, he Scot Presbyterians “had hir’d these lawless Ruffians to insult me, which they did with Impunity—Telling me, they wanted no D——d Black Gown Sons of Bitches among them—and threatening to lay me behind the Fire.” Only the protection of travelers prevented them from doing so. But after Anglicans appeared the next morning, “the Service was greatly interrupted by a Gang of Presbyterians who kept hallooing and whooping without Door like Indians” (Hooker 16-17).

29Similar incidents occurred later in 1767. In April “they had prepared a Band of Ruffians as before to make disturbance.” But a local magistrate brought some Indians, who behaved quietly, with him. When the “lawless Crew [...] kept (as before) a great Noise without Door; The Indians resented their affronts and fought with several of them, which only made more Noises” (Hooker 20). In December Woodmason arrived at a “Wild remote Part of the World” where Anglican communion had never been celebrated. Out of “Envy Malice and Temper,” some Presbyterians “gave away 2 Barrels of Whiskey to the Populace to make drink, and for to disturb the Service.” By mid-morning, “The Company got drunk […] and we could hear them firing, hooping, and halowing like Indians. Some few came before Communion was finish’d and very Noisy” (Hooker 30).

30Woodmason’s opponents used dogs as an instrument of psychological torture. He feared dogs: in October 1766, he had reported in his diary that a gentleman friend, “bit by a mad Dog” had “died four days later” (Hooker 9). In June 1768, some Presbyterians

hired a Band of rude fellows to come to Service who brought with them 57 Dogs (for I counted them) which in Time of Service they set fighting, and I was obliged to stop—in Time of Sermon they repeated it—and I was obliged to desist and dismiss the People. (Hooker 45)

31Lacking any local justice, he could not have “these lawless Ruffians” arrested nor did he have the time or money to get them to Charleston, location of the nearest courts. But Woodmason devised an ingenious way of getting revenge. “When they sent the fellows with their Dogs, one of the Dogs followed me down here.” Upton taking that dog “to the House of one of the principals—[I] told Him that I had 57 Presbyterians came that Day to Service, and that I have converted one of them, and brought Him home—I left the Dog with Him.” Though those involved became so “angry that they could cut my Throat,” this measure stopped further disturbances, “for if a Presbyterian now shews his face at Service, our People ask him if he is come to be Converted. So Shame has driven them away” (Hooker 46).

32Woodmason piled insult upon insult on backcountry residents. As mentioned earlier, he heard them “them firing, hooping, and halowing like Indians.” They lived “in log cabins like hogs and their living and behavior as rude or more so than the Savages.” Hundreds of them swapped “their Wives as Cattel,” and lived “in a State of nature, more irregularly and unchastely than the Indians.” Such insults reduced free white men below the level of the “savage” Indians.

33The words “savage” and “savagery” had negative meaning in Enlightenment thought. Building on John Locke’s insight—that “in the beginning all the World was America” (Locke para. 49), Joseph-Francois Lafitau (French Jesuit and ethnographer), Turgot, Rousseau, Lord Kames, and Adam Smith, among others devised a four stage theory of human progress. Those living in each stage had a different mode of subsistence. The primitive society of the ignoble savages—American Indians and the ancient barbarian Gauls and Iberians—was the lowest rung of society. However natural and honest they may have been, however harmonious their societies, they moved from place to place, hunted and gathered, and stood outside of commercial life. They lacked a settled life, even that of herders—the swains and shepherds of pastoral poetry. In contrast, farming and commerce—the themes of Georgic poetry—stood at the top of their hierarchy (Meek Ignoble Savage, chaps. 1, 3-4; Meek “Four Stages” 9-27).

5. “A set of Rhapsodists, Enthusiasts, Bigots, Pedantic, illiterate, impudent hypocrites”

34Woodmason’s hostility to backcountry residents and their spiritual leaders came at the convergence of class disdain, ethnic hatred, theological conflict, and cultural misunderstanding (Little 363-82). He had little tolerance for dissenting Protestants, especially if they appeared to him poor, ignorant, and uncouth. He loathed itinerants who led their flocks astray. As he wrote in June 1768, “‘Tis these roving teachers that stir up the minds of the people against the established church, and her ministers and make the situation of any gentleman extremely uneasy, vexatious, and disagreeable.” Those he had seen were “a set of Rhapsodists, Enthusiasts, Bigots, Pedantic, illiterate, impudent hypocrites, Straining at gnats, and swallowing camels, and making religion a cloak for covetousness detraction, guile, impostures” (Hooker 42).

35Woodmason’s disdain went deeper than fear of disorder and the jarring noise of his opponents. They challenged civility, gentility, moderation, sweetly modulated sounds. “Rhapsodists” refers to Greek epic poets who improvised songs and tales—the opposite of the set Anglican liturgy. “Enthusiasts,” his most vitriolic word, suggested that itinerants had led their flocks in pursuit of sinful behavior, ranging from spirit journeys to see God and the angels to falling into fits, all for the false hope of salvation. Refusing to acquiesce to the one true, established church, they had become bigots, who disdained their moral superiors. The other words point to ambiguities in Woodman’s attack: these ignorant men, he wrote in a 1768 sermon entitled “The Baptists and the Presbyterians,” were pedantic and thus disputatious and “impudent hypocrites” who misunderstood gospel truth. Instead of preaching truth, they used their false knowledge to trick the unwary with “impostures” (Hooker 101-2).

36This 1768 sermon on Baptists and Presbyterians uncovers the depth of his detestation. An Indian or Turk, transported to a New Light service would, he thought, “have imagin’d themselves rather amidst a Gang of frantic Lunatics broke out of Bedlam, rather than among a Society of religious Christians.” They might have heard a “Fellow […] bawling, See the Body of Christ, Another with the Cup running around and bellowing—Who cleanses his Soul with the Blood of Christ, and a thousand other Extravagancies.” Others knelt, or sung, cried, ranted, or danced, “Laughing and rejoycing.” At the same revival, a spirit journey to heaven might take place, for Woodmason an evil fantasy. “Two or 3 Women” would fall “on their Backs, kicking up their Heels, exposing their Nakedness [...] in deep Melancholy [...] quite insensible.” Returning from “their pretended Reveries Transports, and indecent Postures and Action,” they remembered “nought of the Matter,” save “That their souls had taken flight to Heav’n” (Hooker 101-2).

37Three years later, in a 1771 sermon entitled “New Light Baptists” which Woodmason composed but did not deliver, he lambasted these Baptists as “unholy Apostles.” They misconstrued Mark 16:17, “In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues.” They took

the Expression in the Literal Sense, [they] absolutely do speak or Sing or rehearse […] in New Tongues—in a barbrous [sic] Dialect—A constant Menotomy [sic], A squeaking, untuneable, unintelligible Jargon.”

38That noise was “Neither Verse or Prose, Singing or Speaking.” One, “reprimanded for this, and asked—Whether he sung or spake, He in this blasphemous Strain It is not I that speak—but the Spirit of God that dwelleth in me” (Hooker 114-15).

39Woodmason played into the greatest fissure within colonial Protestantism, between those who insisted the age of revelation was long over and their radical opponents who asserted they received new revelation from God. He heard dystopian sounds everywhere. Enthusiasts spoke in “New Tongues,” a “barbrous Dialect,” neither speech nor singing, jarring noise, “untuneable, unintelligible Jargon.” Even worse, they insisted that these vile sounds came directly from the spirit within. Like earlier orthodox Protestant ministers, Woodmason found these sounds, common in evangelical revivals, discordant and distasteful. He thought their noise—chaotic groans, screams, shrieks, full of irregular emotions and ecstasies, of laughing rather than solemnity—blasphemous. The opposite of the structured Anglican liturgy, they challenged the science that led to human improvement (Schmidt 66-71; Winiarski 3-46).

40Woodmason loathed Presbyterians for their class as much as their religion. The province had refused to support courts and schools for decent people in the backcountry. But, he reported, they spent £30,000 sterling “to bring over 5 or 6000 Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the Scum of the Earth, and Refuse of Mankind.” Beggars, scum, refuse—these words combined class, ethnicity, and religion in a terrifying brew. Even worse, the colony spent this money “Soley to ballance the Emigrations of People from Virginia, who are all of the Established church” (Hooker 60-61).

41Mutual incomprehension permeated Woodmason’s relationship with backcountry people and exacerbated the response of Presbyterians and Baptists to the Anglican minister. They had different conceptions of order, demeanor, and of jarring and beautiful sounds. What Woodmason interpreted as disrespect represented conventional practices. Presbyterians in Scotland and the colonies, for instance, often took dogs to church. Minister and congregation ignored them, unless they became disruptive (Bynam 159-60, 162). Woodmason thought such behavior insulting. To counter his disdain, local Presbyterians reciprocated, turning this common practice into rough music that Woodmason heard as beastly sounds.

42Woodmason thought sectarians ignorant—but doctrinal differences explain this supposed lack of knowledge. By August 1768, he had distributed all the Bibles, Books of Common Prayer, and practical literature that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had donated to him. That left “Few or no books [...] in all this vast Country, beside the Assembly, Catechism, Watts Hymns, Bunyan’s Pilgrims—Russells—Whitefields and Erskines Sermons” (Hooker 52). This list encapsulates Calvinist popular belief. Calvinists universally read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; “the Assembly” refers to the Presbyterian Westminster Assembly’s 1645 Directory for the Public Worship of God; Whitfields, to the sermons of the evangelical Anglican George Whitfield, the greatest revivalist in the eighteenth-century English speaking world. None of these texts would appeal to an anti-Calvinist Anglican. Woodmason thought this list showed that “these People despise Knowledge, and instead of honoring a Learned Person, or any one of Wit or Knowledge be it in the Arts, Sciences, or Languages they despise and Ill treat them.” Even worse, “this Spirit prevails even among the Principles of this Province.” Instead, backcountry Presbyterians and Anglicans enjoy “their Season of Festivity and Drunkenness—the Stills will be soon at Work for to make Whisky and Peach Brandy” (Hooker 53-54).

43That same month, he preached at Flat Creek, 150 miles from Charleston, near the North Carolina border and heard even greater ignorance. He “found a vast Body of People assembled— Such a Medley! such a mixed Multitude of all Classes and Complexions.” This multitude had “Great Curiosity” about him, “And they were as great Oddities to me.” He claimed that “Most of these People had never before seen a Minister, or heard the Lords Prayer, Service or Sermon,” which is highly unlikely, given the widespread acceptance of Protestantism throughout the British colonies. He linked this ignorance to depravity, which was loud and disreputable. “After Service they went to Revelling Drinking Singing Dancing and Whoring” (Hooker 56), a description full of raucous and jarring sounds.

44A month later, Woodmason found another ignorant community, located at the fork of the Watersee and Congaree rivers, ninety miles northwest of Charleston. “Not one had a Bible or Common Prayer—or could join a Person or hardly repeat the Creed or Lord’s Prayer.” Presbyterians would not have owned the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and they might not have memorized the Anglican Creed or the Lord’s Prayer, rarely used in Presbyterian services. But nearly everyone in early America had a Bible, if for no other reason than to record marriages, baptisms, and burials. “Yet all of ’em,” he continued, “had been educated in the Principles of our Church.” They had either forgotten them, or more likely rejected them for Presbyterian practices. Under the circumstances, Woodmason had “to read the Whole Service,” but could “seldom use the Litany, because they know not the responses” (Hooker 61).

45In September 1766, early in his ministry, Woodmason officiated in a Presbyterian meeting house to about “200 Hearers, chiefly Presbyterians.” The congregation refused his offer “to give sermon twice on every Sunday.” They rejected it because of their “abandoned morals, and profligate principles—Rude—Ignorant—Void of Manners, Education or good breeding.” These people, “of all sects and denominations—a mixed medley from all countries and the Off scouring of America” had “No genteel or polite person among them” (Hooker 6).

46Woodmason’s Presbyterian auditors spurned his offer because they saw his service, with its prepared and read sermon, as disorderly. They thought he followed customs that reeked of the papacy. They had their own order of service: they stood for prayers, repeated psalms limned out to them, and heard the lengthy sermons, lectures, and prayers the minister composed, seemingly extemporaneous but usually memorized. Given their lengthy services and long bouts of standing, they became used to moving about and losing concentration, acts Woodmason interpreted as disrespect (Bynam 157-70).

47Woodmason continued to find disorder everywhere. In January 1767, he preached at Lynch’s Creek, 140 miles northeast of Charleston “to a great Multitude of People assembled together, being the 1st Episcopal Minister they had seen since their being in the province.” An area of mixed settlement—Ulster Irish, English, Huguenot—it attracted innumerable sectarians. Congregants “complained of being eaten up by Itinerant Teachers, Preachers and Imposters from New England and Pennsylvania—Baptists, New Lights, Presbyterians, Independents, and a hundred other sects.” Each had its own doctrines. “By the Variety of Tailors who would pretend to know the best fashion in which Christ’s Coat is to be worn none will put it on,” leaving auditors “without any religion at all.” They saw Woodmason as another sectarian, coming to his “sermon with itching ears only, not with any Disposition of Heart, or Sentiment of Mind.” They listened, but “pleased with their native ignorance,” they were “offended at any Attempts to rouse them out of it” (Hooker 13).

48The next day he preached at the Waxaws, a community near the border with North Carolina, a region of piety, populated almost exclusively by Scots Presbyterians (Moore 41-47). His auditors “never heard an Episcopal Minister, or the Common Prayer, and were very curious.” The place “is occupied,” Woodmason wrote, “by a Set of the most lowest vilest Crew breathing Scotch Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland.” They had a meetinghouse and “a pastor, a Scots man among them.” This “good sort of Man,” formerly an Anglican, had taken ordination from the Pennsylvania Presbytery “who allow him a stipend to preach to these People, who (in his Breast) he heartily contemns.” In Woodmason’s telling, that minister had constant conflict with his huge congregation (1,200 each Sunday). “They will not suffer him to use the Lord’s Prayer. He wants to introduce Watts’ Psalms in place of the barbarous Scotch Version—but they will not admit it” (Hooker 14).

49Woodmason stepped into the middle of Presbyterian doctrinal clashes. Anglicans commonly read both the Lord’s Prayer and sang Watt’s hymns, a reimagining of the Psalms that incorporated Christian themes. Both were controversial among 18th century Presbyterians. Conservative Presbyterians objected to reading the Lord’s Prayer because Anglicans did this (and perhaps because it reduced the time for the minister’s prayers), and they refused to sing hymns like those Watts composed because they denied their scriptural basis.

50Singing played a big role in Woodmason’s critique. In his 1768 sermon on Baptists and Presbyterians, he echoed orthodox critiques of private religious meetings, excoriating those who “stay at home [...] on those Sundays” to sing hymns “when there is no Sermon at the Meeting.” The private “Singing Matches” took place at a “Rendezvous of Idlers under the Mask of Devotion” and where youth met “to Carry on Intrigues and Amours.” Far from “Religious Exercises and Works of Edification […] whereby their Hearts are greatly inflam’d with Divine Love and Heav’nly Joy,” such activity was “very reprehensible.” At church, “no Scandal would arise,” but those sung in private meetings “had far better be thrown into the Fire.” The songs Woodmason had heard were “exercrable, [sic] [...] full of Blasphemy Nonsense, and Incoherence.” The clerk, who had forbade them in church, had the authority to decide; the church did “not disallow of them, provided they be Solemn, Sublime, Elegant, and Devout,” that is regular, logical, and doctrinal, the opposite of discordant hymns sung in private meetings (Hooker 97-98).

51At an April 1767 sermon at Pine Tree, a rural area on the Pacolet River about two hundred miles west and north of Charleston, Woodmason once again attributed the practices of sectarians to ignorance. Few people came, because “there are a Gang of Baptists or New Lights over the River” from his congregation “to whom on that Side resort,” while a Methodist preached nearby. Both ministers were “exceeding low and ignorant persons—yet the lower Class chuse to resort to them rather than to hear a Well connected Discourse.” To keep the few who came, he adopted some practices he identified with the sectarians. He had to “repeat the Liturgy by Heart and to use no Book but the bible.” He also gave “an Extempore Prayer before Sermon—but cannot yet venture to give Extempore Discourses, tho’ certainly could perform beyond any of these Poor Fools” (Hooker 20).

6. “Come with a proper disposition of mind and heart”

52Woodmason craved the orderliness he imputed to the Gospels. During July 1770, he preached about order at two backcountry South Carolina settlements located in the Appalachian foothills 120 miles from Charleston. The sermon, based on 1 Corinthians 14:40—“Let All Things Be Done Decently and in Order”—evoked deference to ministerial authority and silence before God except when repeating the Lord’s Prayer or singing hymns. It reeked of insulting condescension; Woodmason addressed his adult audience as though they were children, using simple language that presumed they knew nothing about baptism, marriage, and burial.

53The orderly services he imagined uncovered a pastoral ideal he rarely encountered in the backcountry. Woodmason began by reminding his auditors that since they had a consecrated place to worship, he expected them to attend services whenever Anglicans preached, avoiding “schismatical congregations, who hold opinions contrary to any of the Great Articles of Christianity.” When there, they should “behave with that Gravity, Reverence, and Devotion as becomes a Christian Congregation” and thereby perform “the Public Service of God.” He deemed such “public Communion,” swathed with speech—sermons, hymn singing, oral sacraments, “Confession of Faith”—“necessary in order to our letting our light shine before Men” (Woodmason “Done Decently and in Order” 109-10).

54Church-goers must behave with decorum. If they did not do so, he threatened them with a fine and imprisonment: “remember that you are now under authority.” He informed those who misbehaved “that the penalty for disturbing any minister while he is at Service, is one hundred pounds Sterling, and 3 years imprisonment.” Congregants had to “come with a proper disposition of mind and heart.” He warned congregants to “Bring no Dogs with You—they are very troublesome.” If they did, he promised to inform the Magistrate (Woodmason “Done Decently and in Order” 110-11).

55Woodmason mandated civility and silence. “Always contrive to come before Service begins.” Those who came late “Disturb both me and ev’ry One,” but those who unavoidably arrived late should “tread softly,” carefully leaving those “intent on their Devotions” in peace. Having seated themselves, congregants should be silent, for commotion would disturb congregants and God. He warned them not to “whisper, talk, gaze about—shew light Airs, or Behavior,” all of which shows “Irreverence towards God.” Regarding sounds, he proscribed disruptions: “Neither sneeze or Cough, if you can avoid it […] keep your Children as quiet as possible. If they will be fractious, Carry them out at once” (Woodmason “Done Decently and in Order” 110-11).

56Ritual sounds—speech, prayer, singing—were at the heart of religious celebrations. Congregants had to practice piety, “magnify and extol” God, and “by humble prayer, and supplication, to beg a continuance of all good thing we enjoy and a supply of those we want.” Anglican liturgy, unlike the practices of “Slovenly” Presbyterians, enveloped the service with decorum and beautiful sounds. He told his congregations, “The more you are engaged in, and are us’d to her Publick Liturgy, the more pleas’d and edify’d will You [be] by it,” the more likely you would “have a love and veneration for it.” (Woodmason “Done Decently and in Order” 110, 113).

57Singing sweet-sounding psalms and hymns was central to the church service. “When the Psalms are sung, all of you join with one heart and with one voice.” Those with a “tolerable voice, and a good ear” must learn the tunes. He urged congregants to “stand while the Psalms are singing—Hereby shewing Reverence to your Maker and honour to yourselves.” While at home, if they should “sing an Hymn, ev’ry morning and evening,” a “more pleasant, a more delightful task,” then “how Christian would this be!” (Woodmason “Done Decently and in Order” 111-12).

58Sermons, the biblical interpretation at the heart of Protestant services, had become a contested medium between evangelical and orthodox clergy, evangelicals viewing them as an extemporaneous, emotional way to connect God to believers, the orthodox insisting that a prepared sermon taught congregants the meaning of God’s word. Woodmason thought sermons the “ordinary means, which God hath appointed for your instruction—and therefore you are to be very attentive to the explication of the Word of God.” He feared his listeners preferred “extempore sermons, to those which are premeditated, and may call my mode of delivery, rather reading than preaching.” Here he implicitly acknowledges that he “sounds” different. But those who prepared sermons “will speak better and in a more useful sense” and “with more consistency and will more convince your judgment” than those who preach extemporaneously. Prepared sermons with “the most elegant and choicest diction” had “the most refin’d sentiments we can possibly devise” (Woodmason “Done Decently and in Order” 112).

59Woodmason occasionally reported such respectful behavior. In September 1766, a Quaker gentleman “kindly rode about with me to make me known to the people” (Hooker 7). A half year later, he preached to “80 Church People [...] who behav’d very decently and orderly”; the congregation included “One Elderly Gentleman” who “brought 6 Sons and 4 Daughters, all excellent Singers, so that the Service was regularly perform’d” (Hooker 17). In May 1767, he preached “to a mix’d Company,” including “many Presbyterians [...] who did not disturb me. Some Women attempted it, but were soon silenc’d” (Hooker 21). About the same time, he preached before four hundred people, including “a great Number of Baptists and Presbyterians.” He heard “excellent Singing,” particularly among the women. In September 1768, after he baptized white and black infants observing, “the People thanked me in the most kind Manner for my Services”; many of them had walked “10 or 12 Miles with their Children in the burning Sun” (Hooker 60).

60Woodmason’s craving for order culminated in his support for the South Carolina Regulator uprising (Brown; Klein, 661-80). He admired Regulator goals of suppressing bandits and bringing regular governance to the backcountry. A late 1767 diary entry captured his craving for order and fear of horrible noise. Planters feared “the depredations of robbers [...] without laws or government churches schools or ministers—no police established—and all property quite insecure—merchants as fearful to venture their goods as ministers their persons.” When the assembly ignored their petitions, they rose up,

pursued the Rogues, broke up their gangs—burnt the dwellings of all their harbourers and abettors—whipped and drove the idle, vicious, and profligate out of the province, men and women without distinction. (Hooker 27-28)

61A year later, the lieutenant governor ordered him to read a “Proclamation lately issued for the Rioters [Regulators] to disperse on Pain of Proscription—with a pardon for all who would remain Quiet in the future.” But after Baptists threatened to whip him if he “came any more on that Side of the River to preach or publish Proclamations,” he sent the document to Regulator meetings, rather than reading it in person (Hooker 57, 59-60).


62Woodmason’s poetry, diary, and sermons melded English pastoral conventions with colonial conditions, reflecting earlier promotional literature and southern social conditions. If English pastorals reflected English class privilege and antagonisms, Woodmason’s counter-pastoral reflected cultural conflicts between backcountry Presbyterian and Baptist farmers and rich lowcountry Anglican gentlemen. Though he borrowed the yen for improvement common in England and tropes of class privilege from English pastorals, he wrote about neither deserted villages nor nostalgic yearning for a lost world of swains and husbandmen.

63Sounds had a greater role in Woodmason’s writings, and particularly his counter-pastorals, than in English pastorals. Much like English pastoralists, he filled his earlier works with the pleasant sounds of nature and seasons, of cultivation and improvement. On the other hand, disorderly sound permeates his critique of the backcountry. Gentle nature becomes loud and hostile wilderness; the people spout unintelligible and savage sounds, hardly worthy of conversation or singing. The silence and seeming absence of slaves, along with the savagery of poorer whites, points to Woodmason’s southern identity, one marker on the road to a peculiarly southern literature.

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1 For clarity, I have inserted line numbers and letters in Woodmason’s notes from “C. W. in Carolina,” in this and the next paragraph.

2 I have used Cohen, “Indigo Culture,” 42-44, and added line numbers in parentheses, for clarity.

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Allan KULIKOFF, « No Damn Black Gown Sons of Bitches among Them”: Rough Music and the Counter-Pastoral in the Eighteenth-Century Carolina Backcountry »E-rea [En ligne], 14.2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2017, consulté le 12 août 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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University of Georgia
Allan Kulikoff is the Abraham Baldwin Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at the University of Georgia. He has been a Fulbright lecturer in China and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. His books include From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers (2000), The Agrarian Origins of American Capitalism (1992) and Tobacco and Slaves: the Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake 1680-1800 (1986). He is currently working on a new book entitled Ben Franklin and the American Dream.

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