Lesson Plan: Overview

Into the Wild: Settling the South Carolina Backcountry

Grade Level: 8th
Cook Map Province of SC

Academic Standards

Standard 8-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of South Carolina and the United States by Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.

8-1.5 Summarize the significant changes to South Carolina’s government during the colonial period, including the proprietary regime and the period of royal government, and the significance of the Regulator movement. (G, P)

Standard 8-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Revolution—the beginnings of the new American nation and South Carolina’s part in the development of that nation.

8-2.5 Explain the economic and political tensions between the people of the Upcountry and the Lowcountry of South Carolina, including the economic struggles of both groups following the American Revolution, their disagreement over representation in the General Assembly and the location of the new capital city, and the transformation of the state’s economy that was caused by the production of cotton and convinced lowcountry men to share power with upcountry men. (H, G, P, E)

Social Studies Literacy Elements

H. Construct maps, graphs, tables, and diagrams to display social studies information.

G. Make and record observations about the physical and human characteristics of places.

P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps.

E. Explain change and continuity over time.

Essential Questions

1. Why was the SC Backcountry finally settled? 

2. What hardships, dangers, and struggles did settlers face when establishing early settlements?

Historical Background Notes

Prior to the mid 1700s, South Carolina was almost entirely settled near the coast in the Low Country.  The Backcountry was largely controlled by Native Americans, which left the colony open to attack.  No settlers dared to venture out into the unknown for fear of attack or from becoming lost in the wilderness.   There were very few paths or trails leading to the Backcountry and most of the territory was unsettled (Johnson, pg. 10).  Conditions of the rivers and streams were also very challenging as most were wild rapids that were too treacherous to cross.  The land that many settlers did find was often barren and unable to be settled.  Other areas were covered with swamplands that were unsuitable for agriculture and were infested by dangerous creatures (Johnson, pg. 11).  

The few that did dare to venture out into the Upcountry struggled mightily to survive.  Most left out of desperation due to struggles and debt from living in the elite dominated Low Country.  They set out with limited provisions for the journey and very little knowledge of survival on the frontier.  As they attempted to trudge through the thick trees and swamps they ran into wild animals, difficult terrain, and disease.  Also, many of the creeks and rivers were impassable because there were no bridges or ferries constructed in those regions (Woodmason, pg. 32-33).  Living conditions along the trail to the Backcountry were also less than desirable.  Most travelers carried with them a meager supply of food that would last over the long journey and limited clothing and blankets to stay warm.  The weather did not make the trip any easier, as snowfall and cold winters made nights in open cabins almost unbearable (Woodmason, pgs 13 + 33).       

In 1731, Robert Johnson issued a proclamation opening the Backcountry to settlers using the Township scheme to make settlement easier and more organized.  Johnson organized ten townships in the Carolina Backcountry and advertised specifically for Protestant Europeans facing religious persecution.  He induced many of these settlers by offering free land.  The plan would balance the white and black populations in South Carolina that had been becoming increasingly hostile toward one another.  Also, the new townships on the frontier would enhance the military defense of the colony (Moore, pg. 111). 

Even after the Township Plan, settling the Backcountry was very difficult and resulted in many casualties and failures.  Once the Backcountry was finally settled it still lacked law and order.  Horse thieves, squatters, and murderers ravaged the land and terrorized honest citizens.  They stole and pillaged as they pleased, without the threat of law enforcement.  Few attempts were made to control this criminal behavior, but most volunteers and militia fled at the sight of the villains (Woodmason, pg. 11).  The lack of law enforcement made it nearly impossible to protect private property.  Outlaws found it much easier to steal and profit from someone else’s hard work than to make it on their own (Johnson, pg. 112).  Something needed to be done to provide law and order to the Backcountry.

The Backcountry's response was the Regulator Movement. The movement involved the citizens taking the law into their own hands to restore order.  The main goal of the movement was to provide basic protection of private property to the new planter class of the Backcountry (Johnson, pg. 114).  The Regulators tracked down outlaws and thieves and enforced their own version of justice in South Carolina.  Soon, the movement was out of control and many leaders became corrupt and attacked innocent civilians for personal gain.  To finally bring law and order to the Upcountry, Governor Johnson established the Circuit Court Act of 1769.  The act provided 7 circuit courts in the state with traveling judges.  An organized militia was placed in each to finally bring peaceful settlement and law and order to the Backcountry.


Primary Sources

Cook, James. A Map of the Province of South Carolina with all the Rivers, Creeks, Bays, Inlets, Islands, Inland Navigation, Soundings, Time of High Water on the Sea Coast, Roads, Marches, Ferrys, Bridges, Swamps, Parishes, Churches, Towns, Townships, County Parish Districts, and Provincial Lines, 1773. South Caroliniana Collection. The University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

Governor Robert Johnson's Proclamation, 1731. B800106, Great Britain. Board of Trade. Original South Carolina Correspondence From the Governors and Others, 1720-1775 [microfilm, volume C]. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina. Find a transcription here.

Map of the SC Backcountry: Matthew Singleton Collection.  Aug. 1774.  Manuscripts Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

Welch Grant Plat, 16 November 1736.   Archibald Simpson Papers. 1748-1784 [microfilm].   Manuscripts Division, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

Woodmason, Charles.  The Carolina backcountry on the eve of the Revolution: The journal writings of Charles WoodmasonRichard J. Hooker, Ed.  Chapel Hill, 1953.

Secondary Sources

Johnson, George Lloyd, Jr.  The Frontier in the Colonial South: South Carolina Backcountry, 1736-1800. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Meriwether, Robert Lee. The Expansion of South Carolina, 1729-1765. Kingsport, TN: Southern Printers, Inc., 1940. Source available online through the Internet Archive at www.archive.org.

Moore, Peter N.  World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805.  Columbia: USC Press, 2007.

South Carolina Townships Created During the Royal Period (1729 to 1776). Website published by J.D. Lewis, PO Box 1188, Little River, SC 29566.

• Promethean Board
Settling the Backcountry PowerPoint
• Copies of Primary Resources (includes maps and journals - see Primary Sources section)
Activity#1 handout
• paper for Activity #2 journal

Lesson Plans

1. Intro:

What did the South Carolina Backcountry look like in 1731?  Discussion about how dangerous and wild conditions were in the Backcountry prior to settlement.  Discuss Robert Johnson’s Plan to bring settlers to the Backcountry.

2. Activity:

Students will be selecting their own plot of land in the Backcountry to settle in the 1700s in SC.  Students will first select a point for settlement and sketch out the best route from the Lowcountry to arrive at the point.  Students will then draw out a land plat that displays a visual representation of the settlement.  Finally, students will write a 3 paragraph journal explaining and describing the dangerous journey they made through the Backcountry.


Teacher will disseminate Primary documents (see Primary Sources section) and Activity sheets.  Teacher will then explain how to analyze each of the Primary Documents (see Primary Sources section) and will explain directions for Drawing travel routes, creating land plats and writing travel journal experiences.


Teacher will model the activity by drawing out a route to the SC Backcountry on a map and by reading excerpts of journal examples from real SC citizens (see Primary Sources and Secondary Sources sections).

Guided Practice:

Student will work quietly in groups of 2-3 to complete the Settling the Backcountry activity.  Teacher will also monitor behavior and circulate through the room to ensure students are on task.

3. Closure:

Groups will come to the front of the class to share their journey and explain why they chose the route they took through Carolina.  Teacher will summarize key concepts of the lesson and ask Multiple Choice review questions to ensure Mastery. 

Teacher Reflections

This summer, I had the great fortune to be a part of the Teaching American History in South Carolina course. The course provided a two week comprehensive study of American history, specifically tailored to South Carolina. The course was designed to provide educators within the state with useful background content knowledge about the course they teach, instructional strategies and methods to utilize in the classroom, and hands-on access to cultural institutions throughout the state. One of the main objectives for students enrolled in the course was to design a lesson that used specific primary sources gathered from the various cultural institutions visited throughout the week. The lesson I designed focused on early South Carolina settlement and the struggles citizens faced to settle the wild Backcountry. The assistance provided by instructors and faculty of the TAHSC course proved integral in constructing a useful and effective lesson that increased student interest and mastery.

The content knowledge aspect of the course was instructed by Dr. Kevin Witherspoon. Dr. Witherspoon is a professor at Lander University and provided detailed background information about teaching American History in South Carolina. His course was a fast-paced overview of American History starting with Native Americans and moving up through Reconstruction. Each day we studied a new topic in US History by taking notes and discussing PowerPoint presentations, conducting activities, and discussing assigned reading related to each topic. Dr. Witherspoon always used visual aids such as maps, photographs, and pictures to help bring his presentations to life. Each presentation was also uniquely linked to South Carolina, which I found extremely useful since I teach SC History for 8th Grade. Since taking the course this summer, I have supplemented many of my lessons with information learned during the class, images and pictures from the PowerPoint presentations, and activities and discussion introduced throughout Dr. Witherspoon’s instruction.

The instructional strategies and methods aspect of the course was instructed by Mrs. Wardie Sanders. Mrs. Sanders is an AP US History Teacher at Hartsville High School and brought to the class a plethora of activities and materials that teachers could immediately utilize in the classroom. After Dr. Witherspoon was finished instructing specific content in American History, Mrs. Sanders always followed up his instruction with a useful strategy related to that topic. Each activity was always linked to South Carolina Social Studies Standards and was meant to spark student interest and ensure mastery. Some of my most favorite activities introduced at the summer course included the slavery placard drama scenes, Revolutionary War metaphor posters, Lewis and Clark picture interpretation activity, and the Primary Source/Secondary Source Zenger trial activity. The best part about each instructional session was that Mrs. Sanders always provided clear explanations about how to implement each activity in your classroom and even made copies to immediately begin using the activities when the topics came up in the classroom. After the course this summer, I took many of the instructional strategies, activities, and methods and utilized them in the classroom. The activities fit neatly within the 8th Grade SC History Standards and also motivated students, while achieving mastery at the same time.

One aspect of the course was the various cultural institutions that we visited. Each day, the class visited a specific cultural institution that was connected to the Pee Dee region. The institution included some connection to American History and was always an intriguing and entertaining location. The locations we visited over the two week course included the Florence County Library, Society Hill Town Hall, Sumter County Museum, South Carolina Cotton Museum, Kalmia Gardens, Darlington County Library, Francis Marion University, South Carolina Archives & History Center, and the Florence Museum of Art, Science, and History. Each institution boasted impressive attractions and research data and were run by very knowledgeable and welcoming staff. The institutions I found to be most useful in assisting my teaching in the classroom included the Florence County Library, Darlington County Library, and the South Carolina Archives and History Center. Each of these institutions contained useful and interesting information that I was able to supplement my primary source lesson with. I used primary source reading found at the Darlington County Library, maps and examples of land plats from the South Carolina Archives and History Center, and background information related to my topic from the Florence County Library. The staff at each of these locations was able to quickly find these resources for me and help me integrate it into my lesson. Other items I gathered at each institution have also been used this year to supplement lessons and activities students have completed. The experience at each institution was valuable and useful to improving my teaching.

After experiencing the instruction, methods course, and visiting the cultural institutions, it was time to put these great experiences into practice. I teach an 8th Grade SC History class at Ronald E. McNair Middle School in Lake City, South Carolina. The lesson I chose related to the great difficulty settlers experienced moving into the Backcountry during the early 1700s. The lesson challenged students to plan a trip into the wild backcountry and write a journal about what their experience would have been like during the 1700s in South Carolina. To put students into the history of the time period, I provided them with background information gathered at the cultural institutions and primary sources directly connected to the topic. After discussion and analysis of Backcountry life in South Carolina and analysis of the primary sources, students really seemed to grasp the concepts and put themselves into the history. The activity really got students interested and involved in the activity. They were determined to find the best route to their selected location in the Backcountry and provided detailed accounts of their journeys. The best part about the experience was that when students reviewed concepts learned during the activity and took formative assessments, they were able to remember examples of what their personal journey was like to help them succeed.

After taking the TAHSC course this summer, I can really see the benefit of the materials and instruction I received. It seems that every unit I have taught this year lends itself to the use of a primary source and an activity shown to us this summer. Though I have had many successes utilizing the resources and instruction I received, there are some areas for growth and improvement. Especially when using primary sources, I would like to become more proficient in making the sources more student-friendly. Many students look at old primary sources and are bewildered by the old language and unclear print. Making the sources simpler and being able to explain how to use each source correctly would be an area I need to improve. I would also like to improve my content knowledge of South Carolina History, particularly stories and resources from the Pee Dee region. My students often ask about events that occurred in our area, and I do not know much about them. Finally, I would like to come up with some engaging and challenging projects for my students to complete using one of the local cultural institutions. Students from our area that often do not get to travel and explore the state would truly enjoy the opportunity to complete a project in cooperation with one of the institutions we visited this summer!

Student Assessment


Observations of group work/participation, analysis of primary resources (see Primary Sources section), and group presentations.


Group journals and mapping of the location for settlement.  Multiple choice exit card questions and Exam questions during Unit Test.

Examples of Students Work

Student Work


Bryant Hicks
Ronald E. McNair Middle School
Lake City, South Carolina
2008 Pee Dee Institute