Ashley Cooper: He Wasn’t Just A Pair of Rivers

Ashley Cooper: He Wasn’t Just A Pair of Rivers

The namesake of Charleston’s two iconic rivers is Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and a Lord Proprietor of the Carolina colony. He was one of eight nobles selected by King Charles II to rule with near total authority over a colony here in exchange for support restoring the king to the throne.

When the Lords Proprietors established the Charles Town settlement in 1670, they stumbled onto a natural harbor that facilitated strong defense and easy trade with the British West Indies. Ashley-Cooper established the street plan for the new settlement, and thereafter the two rivers that meet at the tip of the Charleston peninsula were named for him.

Noble born and bred in England in the late 17th century, Ashley-Cooper was active Two riversin British royal and parliamentary affairs. He supported the king at first during the English Civil War, then switched to support a parliamentary system in 1644, and even spent time in the Tower of London during a tumultuous time in British political history.

Ashley-Cooper served in 1660 in the House of Commons and starting in 1661 in the House of Lords. He also served for 12 years as Chancellor of the Exchequer (what today would be called the Minister of Finance) and for two years as Lord Chancellor (like our vice president, but with powers and responsibilities).

Ashley-Cooper might be best–known as patron to philosopher John Locke, the first to articulate the natural rights of people as life, liberty and property. Locke and his patron wrote the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which was adopted in 1669. It enshrined both religious liberty and the absolute dominion of slave owners over their slaves, including over their life and death.

Though generally a defender of religious tolerance, Ashley-Cooper supported a law to prevent the ascension of the Duke of York to the throne, fearing he was secretly Catholic. He was arrested for treason and fled to Holland, where he died.

Ironically, Anthony Ashley-Cooper never actually set foot in the New World and had relatively little to do with his holdings. As he spent the last year of his life in the Netherlands, he could be said to have lived in the Low Country.

Read more about him from Historic Charleston Foundation.

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