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Rice Plantations

Rice Plantations

Rice became an important crop in America during the 18th century. In the Carolinas it became farmer's main source of income and by the 19th century it became a significant crop in Virginia and Georgia. Rice was labour intensive and large numbers of slaves were purchased to do this work. They were also used for the construction of canals and ditches to maintain adequate supplies of water.

MacPherson was an overseer where slaves were employed in cutting canals. The labour there is very severe. The ground is often very boggy: the negroes are up to the middle or much deeper in mud and water, cutting away roots and baling out mud: if they can keep their heads above water, they work on. They lodge in huts, or as they are called camps, made of shingles or boards. They lie down in the mud which has adhered to them, making a great fire to dry themselves, and keep off the cold. No bedding whatever is allowed them; it is only by work done over his task, that any of them can get a blanket. They are paid nothing except for this overwork. Their masters come once a month to receive the money for their labour: then perhaps some few very good masters will give them two dollars each, some others one dollar, some a pound of tobacco, and some nothing at all. The food is more abundant than that of field slaves; indeed it is the best allowance in America: it consists of a peck of meal, and six pounds of pork per week; the pork is commonly not good, it is damaged, and is bought as cheap as possible at auctions.


Rice Plantations - History

In ancient times, Lihue was a minor village. Līhuʻe means "cold chill" in the Hawaiian language.

Lihue is in the ancient district of Puna, the southeastern coast of the island, and land division (ahupuaʻa) of Kalapaki. Royal Governor Kaikioʻewa officially made it his governing seat in 1837, moving it from Waimea he gave the town its name after the land he owned on Oahu by the same name.

With the emergence of the sugar industry in the 1800s, Lihue became the central city of the island with the construction of a large sugar mill. Early investors were Henry A. Peirce, Charles Reed Bishop and William Little Lee. The plantation struggled until William Harrison Rice built the first irrigation system in 1856.

Subsequent plantation owner Paul Isenberg helped German people emigrate to Lihue starting in 1881, with the first Lutheran church in Hawaii founded in 1883. Services were held in German well into the 1960s. By the 1930s, George Norton Wilcox became one of the largest sugarcane plantation owners, buying Grove Farm from Hermann A. Widemann.

Lihu`e quickly expanded well beyond a wide place in the road. In 1876 the plantation moved the company store to the coalescing hamlet from its original location in front Koamalu, the manager’s home (on the mauka side of today’s Kaumuali`i Highway where Aloha Church is now located). The building was set on rollers and hauled by oxen down the steep, muddy side of Nawiliwili Valley, past the mill and up the other to what is now the parking lot on the Rice Street side of the civic center. By 1880, Lihu`e was consider the most important town on the island in 1888 it boasted several stores, two schools and a livery stable. Two years later enough travelers passed through the area to justify the establishment of a full—fledged hotel on the main road between the village and Nawiliwili.

The population of greater Lihu`e grew 150 percent in the 1890s, then expanded to over 150 percent in the following decade, claiming 4,434 residents in 1900 when Hawaii became a U.S. territory. By 1913, Lihue Plantation Company accounts recorded over 1,300 laborers, and 1,600 by the end of World War 1. Neighboring Grove Farm plantation though smaller, registered similar growth.

Among the benefits of becoming a U.S. territory, beyond enough optimism to encourage considerable entrepreneurial activity, was an influx of federal funds to develop ports and roads. Given its central location and commercial vitality, Lihu`e Town was an obvious choice in 1905 to be selected as the island’s county seat, and by the end of the decade Government officials had determined the need to construct an imposing new county building to house government affairs 1n the center of town. In 1912 the County bought a five acre tract of land from Lihue Plantation along the main road to Nawiliwili, now named Rice Street but then listed generically on most maps as "government road" and colloquially called the main street. It contracted the prominent Honolulu architectural firm of Ripley and Davis to design an impressive new headquarters. The plantation also utilized Ripley and Davis to sculpt a new commercial center at the main crossroad to reflect the plantation’s prosperity and further transform Lihu`e from haphazard Village into substantial town. In addition, it sold to the Bank of Hawaii a half acre lot diagonally across the street from the parcel the county government purchased for its new building.

By 1916, Lihu`e’s main intersection - some would argue it was Kaua`i’s main intersection - was bounded by the Tip Top theater and commercial building on the northwest, the Lihue Store on the northeast, and a memorial to Paul Isenberg, the nineteenth century mastermind of much of Lihue Plantation’s success, on the southeast. Duplex houses claimed the fourth side of the intersection. They ran downhill toward the mill (as well as elsewhere in the neighborhood) and were constructed primarily for employees of European origin. To the west of the village, mauka of the mill, the plantation erected a grand new manager’s house at Koamalu. With the exception of the lava-rock Isenberg memorial, all Of these buildings, as well as the county building, were constructed of reinforced concrete, a material that helped convey the message of strength and stability in Lihu`e.

From its early days in the sugar business, Lihue Plantation had commissioned the Honolulu—based H. Hackfeld and Company to serve as its factor, or supplies and purchasing agent. The ties between the two companies were strong. Paul Isenberg, Lihue Plantation’s former manager and a guiding force in the company’s success, became Hackfeld’s managing partner in 1881. The overlap between companies resulted in the Hackfeld partners and their family members owning enough stock in Lihue Plantation to give Isenberg outright control of the business at the turn of the century. But World War I brought an end to the sixty-year-old Hackfeld and Co. It was incorporated by new owners as American Factors, Ltd. four years later, having already received a significant share of the plantation’s stock with the Hackfeld takeover, it purchased enough additional shares to gain majority ownership of the Lihue Plantation.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Lihue Plantation concentrated commercial enterprises along now Kuhio Highway. The telephone the road running north of Lihue Store and Tip Top, eatery, dentist, insurance company, automobile dealerships, soda-making firm, newspaper, insurance agency, and other establishments set up shop in what became the town’s central business district, though workers’ houses would intermingle with commercial buildings in this neighborhood for many years. Between the main intersection and the county building along Rice Street were a few other supervisors’ cottages, the Lihue Plantation’s headquarters, and recreational centers, a two-lane bowling alley and a social hall on one side of the street and a bandstand, later replaced by the library (now Kaua`i Museum), on the other. Behind that was a ball field and tennis courts, with an armory and stables in back of the county building.

As the major landholder in the area, Lihue Plantation had historically driven the town’s planning and controlled decisions about what businesses could set up `shop there. But the land directly across the street from the county building and Elite Street houselots was not owned by the plantation the family of William Hyde Rice held title to it. That property included his homestead, a dairy, and the Lihue Hotel. The plantation’s exclusiveness was dramatically challenged in 1937 with the decision by William Hyde Rice, Ltd, to sell its dairy land along the main street to the national “big box” of its day, S. H. Kress & Company. Local businesses soon followed. The result was a second commercial district that emerged beyond the plantation’s developmental control. After World War II the historic Rice estate across from the county building was also sold and the buildings demolished. On that land, too, entrepreneurs opened business establishments, as they gradually did along the strip once occupied by the grand homes farther down Rice Street.

In the 1960s, Lihue Plantation, guided by its parent company American Factors (later known as Amfac), embraced the concept of urban renewal by radically redesigning the town core. Almost everything in the square block around Lihue Store was demolished to make way for the area’s first mall. The plantation constructed its new headquarters across the street from the museum displaced tenants rebuilt elsewhere in town. On Hardy Street, a secondary road that curved behind the civic and shopping centers, county funds subsidized a convention hall, and the State built a new regional library, a three story government office building, and a public health complex, all of which were clustered around the 1950s era police station and elementary school. The metamorphosis also included a residential component. Unionization after World War II had ended the old paternalistic system of plantation—provided housing, and in the late 19405 and early 1950s Lihue Plantation had made fee—simple lots available for worker-owned residences in the Isenberg tract mauka of the Kuhio Highway business district and elsewhere beyond Lihu`e. Fifteen years later the plantation harvested its last crop of sugarcane on land between Hardy Street and Ahukini Road and subdivided it into the Molokoa subdivision. The project coincided with a demographic shift in town.

Disposition of productive agricultural tracts signaled a major shift for many plantation owners’ long—held philosophy that one’s wealth is in one’s land. It was replaced by them as a commodity for development and sale. In the 1970s, Lihue Plantation’s influence in the town it built virtually disappeared after Amfac sold nearly 40 percent of Lihu`e commercial property to freewheeling entrepreneur Harry Weinberg. Parcels included Lihue Shopping Center, lots on both Rice Street and Kuhio Highway, and the industrial park at the northeastern edge of town. After Grove Farm, the sugar plantation turned development company, opened Kukui Grove Center at Puhi in 1982, many retailers left Lihue Shopping Center and moved into the new mall. Five years later the county government purchased the older shopping center from Weinberg’s company HRT, Ltd., and converted it into a civic center as a solution to its pressing need for additional office space. Today, a significant portion of central Lihu`e is dedicated to government affairs, which in the twenty—first century promises to require still more space. Police, Civil Defense, and the judiciary have already moved out of the town core and into massive complexes near the airport.

The Wilcox family home, Kilohana, has been converted into a restaurant and gift shop. The surrounding plantation now grows crops and livestock. A narrow-gauge tourist railroad with vintage diesel locomotives from Whitworth and General Electric offers tours of the plantation horse-drawn carriage tours are offered as well. The grounds are also the site of luaus, many of which are offshore excursions booked through NCL America.

Lihue also houses the Kauai Museum, which details the history of Kauai.

Click here to view "Lihu`e: Root and Branch of a Hawai`i Town" by Pat L. Griffin, published by the Kauai Historical Society. Excerpts used with permission.


Plantation & Slavery History

As wealthy South Carolinians rushed to carve out rice plantations along tidal rivers, those who knew the art of growing rice were brought in from the African countries where rice growing was commonplace. The tediousness of the process, the dangers of its cultivation in swamp-like conditions, and the various untoward circumstances such as hurricanes or invasion by ricebirds, made the rice extremely difficult to produce.

Since slavery was an inexpensive work force, fortunes were made on the Georgia coast by rice production. Owners of these rice plantations were in residence only during tolerable months. Many sought relief from heat and insects with summer trips to the northern watering holes. Thus, the slaves left behind to cultivate the crops experienced some autonomy.

Built in 1807, Hofwyl-Broadfield once boasted over 7,000 acres of rice fields worked by more than 350 slaves–obtained mostly from Africa’s west coast.  After the Civil War, African-Americans who had lived at Hofwyl and other rice plantations along the Altamaha River – Hopeton, Elizafield, Grantly, New Hope and others – settled into small communities nearby.  They continued to work for pay at the same jobs at which they had labored as slaves. Petersville was one of these communities, its name coming from an old slave, Peter, who first lived there. 

Another settlement, Needwood, was so named because of the shortage of �t lighter wood” needed for cooking fires. Still another such community bore a name, which needs no explanation – Freedman’s Rest. Rice harvesting ceased at Hofwyl in 1915 and the plantation became a State Historic Site in 1974. While little remains of other plantations in this area, Hofwyl-Broadfield stands much as it did nearly 200 years ago, offering a glimpse into Georgia’s 19th-century rice culture.  Today, through its dwellings, servant quarters, museum, artifacts, photo exhibits, and video presentation, the life of a slave on a coastal Georgia rice plantation can be closely examined.


Rice Plantations - History

Rice was cultivated at many British East Florida estates between 1763 and 1784. It never rivaled indigo as a commercial crop during the first decade of British rule in Florida, nor was it as profitable and extensive as naval stores production became after 1775. It is probable, however, that rice would have become an increasingly significant export crop if the British had retained control of East Florida at the conclusion of the American War of Independence.

The essay that follows examines the creation of a rice plantation in the final years of the British occupation of the province. It is based on letters written to James Grant, the first governor of the province, by Dr. David Yeats, the former governor's plantation agent in East Florida. The letters are preserved in Treasury 77, the Papers of the East Florida Claims Commission, at the National Archive, Kew, England .

Surveyor's map of Mount Pleasant Plantation, 1784, a rice plantation owned by James Grant, governor of East Florida, 1764-1771. The site is now along Highway A-1-A at the intersection of Mickler Road. Courtesy of the National Archive, Kew, England.

Highway A-1-A and the intersection of Mickler Road, twenty miles north of St. Augustine. The Mount Pleasant Plantation rice field built in 1782 was located immediately south of Mickler Road between A-1-A on the left and Neck Road on the right.

“A capital rice planter”

In July 1780 an advance party of fifteen enslaved black men, a driver and fourteen laborers, was sent to the headwaters of Guana River, twenty miles north of St. Augustine. Only a sand dune separated this land from the Atlantic Ocean, but British planters who had seen the property praised its potential, especially "a large body of very fine fresh marsh with a clay bottom adjoining the high land." The high land appeared promising for provisions, but the marsh had a special attraction for rice cultivation.

The workers were given orders to clear trees and brush from 100 acres of the high land adjacent to marshes and to plant it in provisions crops. They were also instructed to prepare log cabins for a larger group of workers who were to be transferred from the governor's indigo plantation fifteen miles to the south by the end of December.

With the exception of sixty acres of indigo, the acreage at the Villa was planted entirely in provisions crops in 1780. Corn was selling in St. Augustine for between six and ten shillings per bushel, up from less than three shillings in 1774. Flour, beef, corn, beans, and rice, had all escalated in value due to the high demand for food by large numbers of Loyalist refugees who had escaped the wartime violence in the colonies to the north of East Florida seeking protection of the King's Troops in St. Augustine.

Development of the new plantation proceeded with remarkable rapidity. By December, after only five months at the site, the workers had cleared the palmetto, oak, pine and cabbage trees on the high ground and completed the log cabin shelters. Dr. Yeats wrote: “we could not plant the rice as the ditching takes too much time. We had to plant corn, do the [indigo] vats, indigo houses and overseer's house. We do not have a name for the new plantation yet, but we have cleared 120 acres and are now fencing and burning brush and preparing for planting, ensuring for a crop by the end of March.”

By February 1781, more than fifty workers had settled at the new estate at the head of Guana River. Only one black driver named Old Will and seven other workers remained at the indigo plantation they had created in 1768. Dr. Yeats wrote that Will was "in charge of between thirty and forty acres of provisions which he can tend with the plough, and nearly as many of Indigo which must be managed with the hoe." The other workers were housed at the new settlement at the head of Guana River and helping with spring planting under the direction of a white overseer, William Brockie. Some of the men journeyed each day to work at naval stores production at a pine barren tract north of the new estate in a section called the Diego Plains.

Rather than "cut the bread of idleness," Yeats reported, he traveled to the new settlement every two weeks to lodge for one or two nights in the overseer's house with the overseer. The promising estate had acquired a name by then: Mount Pleasant Plantation. The newly cleared land had all been planted in provisions by the end of March, along with a field of indigo, and ten acres of rice. Yeats boasted: "I now have great hopes of success."

During 1781 Yeats put the strongest men to work preparing a rice field in the drainage basin between the corn fields, while the others labored in the provisions and indigo fields. Deep in the marsh the men blocked off the brackish water that pushed ahead of the ocean tides and soured the soil with salt residue. They compacted an earthen barrier that measured 1,000-yards long, twelve feet wide, and four feet high at the south end of the rice field that functioned as the lower dam. It stretched all the way across the lowland expanse between the corn fields facing each other on the high ground. A large wooden floodgate was constructed in the center of the dam to drain water from the field when appropriate. Yeats said he "hired a white carpenter for the purpose of making our trunks and floodgates. Since the Dams are finished, every rain freshens the lands since Salt water is Cutt off." The “trunks” mentioned by Yeats were cypress logs hollowed out to function as culverts or water pipes to drain water off the fields when needed. Workers opened the stoppers, either simple plugs or hinged lids, on the alternate ends of the trunks to begin and end the flow of water.

Flood gate for inundating rice field (at top) with fresh water from the impoundment pond (at bottom). A trunk, possibly a hollowed-out log, lies beneath the earthen dam between the two wooden gates. From Harper's Weekly (January 7, 1867). Courtesy of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.

Rice Cultivation on the Ogeechee River, near Savannah, Georgia. By Art Ward, Harper's Weekly (January 5, 1867), p. 8. Courtesy of Jerome S. Handler and MIchael L. Tuite Jr., "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record," produced by the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Online at http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/.

One mile to the north of the lower dam the laborers used shovels and hoes to throw mud and dense vegetation on a long pile of soil they compacted into a twenty-foot wide and four-foot high earthen barrier to block the southerly flow of the Guana River. Measuring between 300 to 400 yards long, the upper dam enclosed a narrow neck of the marsh and was positioned between the corn fields on the high ground to the east and west. Above the upper dam, where the Guana River originated, lay a large expanse of low-lying wetlands. Blocking the normal flow of the Guana River backed water into this wetland and created a 1,000-acre reserve pond of fresh water that could be flooded onto the rice field through the same system of hollowed-out cypress trunks used to drain the field at the south end.

Looking north beyond Mickler Road at golf and residential complexes built in a mix of marsh and hammock typical of the area. Enslaved Africans once worked in these marshes digging drainage ditches and packing dams to create rice fields. Today, developeres use machines to dig canals and dredge lakes to lower the water level. The dredged soil is packed on adjacent higher ground for golf course sites and building lots. Wetlands thus become dry lands and former rice fields are transformed into residential complexes.

While the dams were being constructed, workmen also moved into the intervening marsh to dig a center drain. When finished, the ditch measured six feet wide by four feet deep and ran the entire one-mile distance between the two dams. Three intervening east and west ditches were dug to feed water into the center drain and provide water control for eight separate fields of approximately 220 acres. Dirt from the ditches was packed on both banks to form division dams. When fresh water was needed, the trunks in the upper dam could be opened to flood water from the reserve pond down the center ditch and out the three connecting lines to the separate fields. Draining excess water was achieved by opening the flood gate in the lower dam when the ocean's tide was low. Gravity pulled the excess water through the ditches and center drain and on down the Guana. Care had to be taken to close the flood gate before the incoming tide brought brackish water.

A map of the newly named Mount Pleasant Plantation, drawn in 1783, shows the two trunks that were built into the upper dam during construction. Flooding the fields via these trunks served two important purposes: 1) to irrigate the fields during periods of drought and maintain the life of the thirsty rice plants and 2) to drown the weeds as they grew around the base of the plants, saving untold hours of tedious hoeing in the mucky soil. Three trunks were built into the lower dam to help drain the water from the field.

Surveyor's map of Mount Pleasant Plantation, 1784, a rice plantation owned by James Grant, governor of East Florida , 1764-1771. Courtesy of the National Archive, Kew, England. Additional map work by Curtis Perrin.

Delays in implementing rice production were encountered when it was discovered that the soil was not perfectly fresh. Rice plants that sprouted from seed soon wilted and died. The workers were instructed to "turn the soil often, let the rain fall, drain it and repeat the process." Additional water was flooded on the field in an attempt to "wash" salt from the soil.

A thirty-acre segment of the field was deemed fresh and ready for spring planting in late 1781. Because a cooper was needed to construct barrels for the rice, Yeats sent one of the slave's, known as "Rainsford's Tom," to train under another cooper during the entire summer of 1781. In September Yeats reported: “he can now make turpentine barrels, which is more difficult than Rice [barrels]."

While the Guana rice field was being prepared, Yeats wrote numerous letters to James Grant informing him of progress (Grant was then commanding British forces in the West Indies ). He rejoiced when enough of the 300 acres of clay marsh had been sufficiently drained to permit the workers "to turn the plow into [the field] when we please." On January 12, 1782 , Yeats pronounced the rice experiment a success. Although plagued by drought and a low water level in the reserve pond, fifty bushels of "exceedingly fine rice" had been harvested from a three-acre plot. With enough water in the reserve pond to support at least 200 acres of rice in the next crop, and with provisions bringing record prices at the St. Augustine market, Yeats had visions of a prosperous future.

He lamented not having moved to the head of Guana River sooner, but he knew that an earlier move would have placed the workers in danger of bandit raids. Yeats said that a rebel named Peter Brown had recently landed on the beach near the new settlement. A British gunboat on the St. Johns River reached the site in time to drive the invaders away, but Yeats mounted a steady watch on the beach. He informed Grant: "I think I can depend upon the Negroes and that they will not be taken willingly, indeed they know very well they cannot be better treated anywhere."

Yeats prepared a three-month supply of provisions in sealed casks in the event of an invasion by rebels or Spanish troops. He also readied a flat which could "at a moment's notice" transport the workers to St. Augustine . Danger existed, but Yeats was confident it would not "prevent us from prosecuting our plan of making you [Grant] a capital Rice planter and leading the way in that article as you formerly did in Indigo."

By June 1782 fields of corn and peas, sweet potatoes, and rice showed "exceeding promise." The birth of four children at the new plantation convinced Yeats that the site was a healthy one. With the rugged work of establishing the plantation out of the way, additional hands were assigned daily tasks at Grant's other tract in the Diego Plains where naval stores were being produced.

The 1783 map of the Mount Pleasant site shows thirty-seven "Negro Houses" on alternate sides of what are today Neck and Mickler roads. The houses were surrounded by an eighty-acre corn field. Beyond the worker's quarters, south of the bend in the road where the "Indian Tumulus" can still be found, was the dwelling house for the overseer, two corn storage buildings, three coops for fowl and pigeons, and a well for fresh water. The overseer's complex included a kitchen garden and a natural orange grove.

Surveyor's map of Mount Pleasant Plantation, 1784, a rice plantation owned by James Grant, governor of East Florida , 1764-1771. The site is now along Highway A-1-A at the intersection of Mickler Road . Courtesy of the National Archive, Kew, England.

A unique feature of Mount Pleasant Plantation was the avenue planted with Chinese tallow trees. The trees were described as "very thriving [with] thousands of seedlings in beds and ready to plant." The trees produced a "large quantity of seed each year," which in China was used to make candles. On the 1783 map, the thirty-acre grove in the southwest corner of the tract may be where the Chinese tallow trees were located.

The changeover from indigo to rice cultivation prompted significant changes in work routines. In January through March, when some workers were preparing fields of corn and indigo, others were at work in the rice marsh. Horses were used for the initial plowing, but after that the field hands used long hoes to break up the large clods and form trenches. Workers sowed the seed in trenches, perhaps following the same techniques they learned from their parents in Africa : making an indentation in the soil with the heel, dropping in seed, and covering it with the sole of the foot.

Weeding Rice Field, U.S. South, 19th century. Source: Charles C. Coffin, Building the Nation (New York, 1883), p. 76. Courtesy of Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite Jr., "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record," produced by the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Online at http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/.

When planting was completed, water was flooded onto the fields and left there for about one week until the seeds sprouted. Water was then drained and the tender plants were left to grow. As soon as weeds began to appear around the stalks of the young rice plants, workers returned with their hoes. The fields were flooded again and the water left to stand for several weeks to kill insects and weeds, then drained so the plants could draw nourishment from the direct sunlight. Repeated hoeing would have been followed by a final flooding so that water could support the heads of grain as they filled out. When the grain was ripe, water was drained for the final time.

Harvesting began immediately. Brandishing rice hooks, short-handled sickles, the workers cut the stalks and stacked them to dry before tying them in bundles and carrying them from the fields to the barn yard or threshing area. Men and women swung short wooden sticks with flails attached to separate grain from stalk (or rice straw), a process known as threshing. Like so much of rice cultivation in the American South before mechanization became prevalent, the techniques and tools were modeled directly on African practices.

Rice Harvesting, U.S. South, 1859, using a short-handle sickle. Harper's Monthly Magazine (1859), vol. 19, p. 729 accompanies article by T. Addison Richards, "The Rice Lands of the South) (pp. 721-38). Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library. Courtesy of Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite Jr., "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record," produced by the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Online at http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/.

Once the rice stalks were dried in the field and tied in bundles, they were loaded on barges and carried on the most convenient waterway to a landing near the threshing area. Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library. Courtesy of Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite Jr., "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record," produced by the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Online at http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/.

Rice Threshing, U.S. South, 1866, using wooden sticks with flails to separate grain from stalk. Leslies Illustrated Newspaper, October 20, 1866, p. 72. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ 62-61966. Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library. Courtesy of Jerome S. Handler and Michael L. Tuite Jr., "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record," produced by the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Online at http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/.

Women took over the processing next, holding in their hands the large coil-woven flat baskets that inclined slightly upward at the outer edges and were known as fanning baskets. Grain was placed on the baskets and tossed gently upward into the air to winnow or blow the chaff away before the grain particles fell back into the basket. Larger baskets were filled with the grain and lined up for the final step in the rice harvest.

A woman in South Carolina winnowing chaff from grain using a fanning basket. Courtesy of the Georgia Department of Archives and History, Atlanta, Georgia..

The most labor intensive phase of the rice harvest was known as pounding. Grain left in the fanning baskets after winnowing was poured into hollowed out logs, the wooden mortars that could be seen outside the door of nearly every slave cabin in coastal Carolina and Georgia . Women used long wooden pestles to pound the rice grains until the outer husks and inner cuticles broke off. They worked communally and rhythmically with other women, following the African pattern of pounding in unison, tossing the pestle upward and letting go with both hands while clapping the hands together before catching the tool on its downward cycle and plunging it into the grain at the bottom of the mortar. Pounding the outer husks off the grain increased the commercial value of the product. Water and steam powered threshing and pounding mills eventually replaced hand labor throughout the Carolinas and Georgia , but at small estates like the one on the upper Guana the volume of the harvest was so small in the early years that the work would have been done the old and hard way, by hand.

Two South Carolina women pound outer husks from rice grain. Courtesy of the Georgia Department of Archives and History, Atlanta, Georgia.

Pounding rice using a wooden pounding tool and a hollowed out log. Courtesy of the Georgia Department of Archives and History, Atlanta, Georgia..

If the experience of rice cultivation at John Moultrie's estates at Matanzas and Tomoka Rivers was the norm for East Florida, the workers at Mount Pleasant harvested two cuttings of rice each year. Rice plantations were expensive to initiate because of the labor intensity required, but once established they continued to produce as long as the dams and canals were kept intact and the fields were maintained. Had Mount Pleasant continued to operate under Grant's ownership beyond 1784, it is probable it would have become as profitable as his indigo estate, Grant's Villa, had previously been.

Before the end of 1784, however, all planting efforts at the Villa and Mount Pleasant Plantations had ended. East Florida had been ceded back to Spain at the Treat of Paris, and nearly all the British planters decided to evacuate the province. The enslaved men and women who created the rice estate took down the cabins they had only recently constructed, placed them on rafts along with barrels of rice and corn, and shipped it all to the Bahama Islands . The men, women and children owned by James Grant were also transported to New Providence Island, from where they were sent to South Carolina and sold to rice planters.

The upper dam for the Mount Pleasant rice field later became a portion of Mickler Road . The lower dam was built one mile to the south (to the left on this photograph). Rice was planted between the dams. Guana River can be seen on each side of the road, where a culvert now permits water to flow unimpeded. When the dam was completed in 1782 fresh water was collected in a 1,000-acre holding pond on the north side.

View of Sawgrass and Marsh Harbor residential complexes located north of Mickler Road. Marshes here were turned into dry land through dredge and fill development. On the upper left of the photograph, across Pablo River, the Prudential Insurance and Mayo Clinic buildings can be seen, along with J. Turner Butler Boulevard.

Aerial photograph taken in 2002 of a former rice field located on the south shore of the St. Marys River at its juncture with the Little St. Marys River. Constructed by enslaved Africans in 1768 and farmed until the American Civil War, the rice field is now part of White Oak Plantation.

Close up of the old rice field at White Oak Plantation on the St. Marys River.

Bibliographic Information

The above essay was taken from Daniel L. Schafer, Governor James Grant's Villa: A British East Florida Indigo Plantation ( St. Augustine , FL : The St. Augustine Historical Society, 2000).


Rice Plantations - History

W ILLBROOK PLANTATION HISTORY .

The land that was to become Willbrook Plantation was part of a vast land grant from King Charles II to eight British noblemen. The purpose was to develop colonies and generate money for the crown. Earlier settlements in Charleston (Charles Town, 1670) were followed by plantations on the Waccamaw Neck.

In 1711, John Crofts bought 1,280 acres which became Oatland and Willbrook Plantations. Crofts sold it to William Branford who split it into: 640 acres (Oatland) for his daughter Martha and 640 acres (Willbrook) for his son, William. Over the next 200 years this land, from the Waccamaw River to the Atlantic Ocean, was bought, sold or inherited numerous times. Indigo was cultivated on the plantation in early colonial days, but rice was the cash crop and created the wealth of the Low Country.

By 1750, Oatland and Willbrook were owned in partnership by Samuel Allston and Benjamin Marion, brother of Frances Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” of Revolutionary War fame. Willbrook was sold again in 1770 and 1798. In 1804, John Hyrne Tucker, who also owned Litchfield Plantation, bought Willbrook. He eventually sold Willbrook to L. C. Lachicotte. His brother Clarence was the last to live in the two story house built in 1895. This house, in which the chimney still stands near the 5th fairway, is on the same site as the original plantation house. The plantation barns and warehouses were along Oatland Creek which is at the end of Heston Point Road.

In 1860, rice production was at 168,950 pounds on approximately 636 acres. There were 630 slaves at the time. The transformation of vast cypress swamps to tillable land was a monumental task and removing trees and ditching and diking was labor intensive. The water control device called a ‘trunk’ was so efficient that today the same system is used in modern operations where the abandoned fields are used for water fowl habitat. This was the Madagascar style of agriculture learned from the slaves that came from that area.

With the beginning of the 20th Century northerners began buying Low Country plantations for hunting preserves and winter retreats. William Ellis, from Pennsylvania, bought Willbrook, Turkey Hill and Oatland Plantations for duck and quail hunting. From this point on all three plantations were sold as one preserve. The southern border of Oatland Plantation bisected Chapman Loop, extending to approximately Willbrook Blvd. The remains of Oatland Plantation Slave Cemetery are on Chapman Loop and contain 38 grave sites. At the intersection of old Kings Road was a one lane sandy stretch that ran east of the cemetery. A Cherokee rose bloomed every spring and it was told that on the first full moon night after the rose bloomed, you could see the spirits of those buried in the cemetery, dancing and rejoicing in the roadway because the cold winds were not to return for many months and living would be easier in the days to come.

In 1978, a canoe was noted lodged in a bank of Oatland creek at the Waccamaw River. The S.C. Dept. of underwater Archeology was contacted and removed the canoe which was still attached to the stump of the tree that it was being carved from, and was determined to be the only example of colonial canoe construction in the USA. It is now a permanent display in the S.C. State Museum in Columbia, S.C.

The land between today’s Willbrook Blvd. and Sandy Island Road was Turkey Hill Plantation. The partnership owners of the property continued to change over the years and in 1984 Litchfield-By-The-Sea became the current owners.

The land no longer boasts the cash crops of rice and indigo, but the colonial heritage remains. We have a cemetery that is sacred to the memory of the 38 slaves who were buried there before Freedom Day. The sand ridges and canals along the rice fields echo bygone days. Our live oaks are witness to history, nature and the coming and going of the waters.

Adapted from: Suzanne C. Linder& Martha Leslie Thacker, Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of Georgetown County and the Santee River (Columbia South Carolina Department of Archives and History. 2001)

George C. Rogers, Jr., The History of Georgetown County, South Carolina (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1270)


Rice Plantations - History

The origin of the South Carolina rice industry is complex and controversial. Until relatively recently historians accorded Europeans primary credit for originating rice production in South Carolina. During the past few decades, however, some scholars have amassed evidence suggesting instead that Africans were the prime movers in the earliest days of rice cultivation in South Carolina.

South Carolina&rsquos first great agricultural staple, rice dominated the lowcountry&rsquos economy for almost two hundred years, influencing almost every aspect of life in the region from the early eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Rice was responsible for the area&rsquos rise to prominence in the colonial era. But the commercial rice industry collapsed in the late nineteenth century, leaving much of the lowcountry with few viable economic options for a half-century or more. It was only in the second half of the twentieth century that the economic and social legacy of rice began to recede into history.

Domestication of rice began in Asia between seven thousand and ten thousand years ago and spread gradually to other parts of Eurasia and Africa. The cereal arrived in the Western Hemisphere along with Europeans and Africans as part of the &ldquoColumbian exchange&rdquo of plants, animals, and germs that began in the late fifteenth century. Although rice accompanied Europeans and Africans to the Western Hemisphere, the cereal did not become an important cash crop in the Americas until the South Carolina rice complex was developed in the eighteenth century. Carolinians, both Europeans and Africans, had likely grown small amounts of rice to eat, but not until the 1710s or 1720s were local capital, labor, and entrepreneurship sufficient to support significant commercial production.

The origin of the South Carolina rice industry is complex and controversial. Until relatively recently historians accorded Europeans primary credit for originating rice production in South Carolina. During the past few decades, however, some scholars have amassed evidence suggesting instead that Africans were the prime movers in the earliest days of rice cultivation in South Carolina. In a technical (and technological) sense, the &ldquoblack rice&rdquo view of the origins of rice cultivation may be correct. It is important to note, however, that there were several other plausible routes of transmission, and that there is a big difference between rice production and a rice industry. Regardless of the origins of rice cultivation in the colony, the South Carolina rice industry was informed by European and Euro-American aspirations and entrepreneurship along with African technology and labor.

Despite considerable research, little is known about early rice production techniques or even sites. Some &ldquowet&rdquo rice may have been grown from the start, but scholars generally agree that the first rice crops were produced &ldquodry,&rdquo that is, without irrigation and on relatively &ldquohigh&rdquo ground. Throughout its history in South Carolina, most rice cultivation took place in the lowcountry, but production was distributed quite unevenly within this region.

By the 1720s a rice industry had begun to develop. Production became better established and systematic, and cultivation relocated from &ldquohigh&rdquo ground to inland, freshwater swamps, where rudimentary water-control mechanisms&ndashsuch as impoundments&ndashcould be employed. After 1750 the locus of production shifted again, this time to drained swamps on or adjacent to South Carolina&rsquos major tidal rivers. The so-called tidal rice zone, which was to constitute the heart of the lowcountry rice industry, developed within narrow geographical and hydrological limits. The idea behind tidal cultivation was to harness daily river tides to draw water onto and off the fields, which irrigated the crop and otherwise reduced labor requirements. The trick was to find places where tidal action was strong enough to raise and lower water sufficiently without being too brackish or salty. Over time such places were found, and tidal cultivation flourished from about ten to twenty miles inland along the tidewater rivers of the lowcountry: the Waccamaw, Santee, Cooper, Ashley, Combahee, and Savannah in particular.

Rice cultivation under any circumstances is arduous, but this is particularly true when it is cultivated under &ldquowet&rdquo conditions, as was the norm by the early eighteenth century. Moreover, because populations working in the swamps of the lowcountry were also subject to mosquito-borne diseases, morbidity and mortality rates in rice areas were extremely high. As a result of the rigorous labor demands and unhealthy conditions of rice culture, it proved difficult to attract sufficient numbers of white laborers. Moreover, because many West Africans were already familiar with rice culture and had greater immunities to mosquito-borne diseases, it is not surprising that the rice industry in South Carolina quickly became&ndashand remained&ndash dominated by black labor.

It is difficult to appreciate how much labor was involved in building and maintaining the &ldquowet rice&rdquo regime in the lowcountry. Although only about 80,000 to 120,000 acres were devoted to rice in South Carolina at its pre&ndashCivil War peak, the amount of engineering and construction needed to render this land suitable for commercial rice cultivation was staggering. Before planting could begin, swamps had to be drained, cleared of trees, and leveled. Next, the elaborate irrigation system needed to regulate the tidal flow was constructed. For the rice plantations of the lowcountry, this meant miles of levees, ditches, and culverts, interspersed with assorted floodgates, trunks, and drains.

Furthermore, rice was a row crop that needed considerable attention during the growing season. Thus, rice workers endured a rigorous year-long labor regimen: repairing irrigation facilities, readying the fields for cultivation, planting, flooding, draining, hoeing, harvesting, processing, and transporting it for further milling or marketing. Africans and African Americans provided the vast majority of this labor, although draft animals sometimes supplemented human labor, and inanimate power sources&ndashwater, wind, and steam&ndashwere employed as well.

Unlike in most areas of the slave South, the labor system in the South Carolina lowcountry&ndashin rice and other activities&ndashwas dominated by the task system rather than the gang system. Under the latter, slaves worked in groups, were subject to close supervision, and worked for set periods of time (&ldquosunup to sundown&rdquo). The task system was quite different. In this scheme a slave was responsible for a set amount of work: a daily &ldquotask&rdquo or &ldquotasks.&rdquo Once complete, the slave was relieved of any further labor responsibilities to the master for the rest of the day and could do as he or she chose. Further, the close supervision associated with the gang system was generally absent from the task system. Therefore, slaves in the lowcountry enjoyed somewhat greater independence and autonomy within the context of slavery. The persistence of the task system was evident in the lowcountry even after emancipation, as free black workers often contracted with landowners not for a calendar year or a growing season, but for specific tasks such as sowing, hoeing, or harvesting.

Rice cultivation in the South Carolina lowcountry is often associated with large plantations worked by many slaves in specialized tasks. Such units of production were often highly capitalized, marked by economies of scale, and owned (if not directly operated) by white men and women of great wealth. This image is not so much wrong as incomplete. To be sure, rice planters were often wealthy, and many planter families were more or less stereotypical grandees. It is important to note, however, that rice plantations, even large ones, were not always extremely profitable (particularly by the late antebellum period), and that many small lowcountry farmers grew some rice. It is also worth remembering that rice cultivation was concentrated in certain parts of the lowcountry and that only a minority of lowcountry farmers grew rice. For example, according to the Census of Agriculture of 1859, less than forty percent of lowcountry farms grew any rice at all.

South Carolina was unquestionably the leading North American rice producer for almost two centuries, from the late 1600s until the 1880s, when Louisiana surpassed the Palmetto State in rice production. Although data on total rice output are lacking until 1839, good data on rice exports existed from the start, and the broad parameters of the early rice period can be spoken of with confidence. Rice exports from &ldquoCarolina&rdquo&ndashSouth Carolina and North Carolina combined&ndashaveraged 268,602 pounds annually between 1698 and 1702, growing to more than 30 million pounds annually between 1738 and1742 and more than 66 million pounds annually between 1768 and 1772. The vast majority of these &ldquoCarolina&rdquo exports originated in South Carolina, but a small amount of &ldquoCarolina&rdquo rice exports during the late colonial period originated in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina.

Except for small quantities grown in Louisiana and Florida, almost all North American rice came from &ldquoCarolina&rdquo and Georgia in the eighteenth century, and these two areas constituted the two largest producing regions until the Civil War. American rice production grew substantially during the eighty-five years between the Revolution and the Civil War, although rice exports stagnated after about 1800. Throughout this period South Carolina dominated production and exports, constituting roughly three-quarters of total U.S. rice production in both 1839 and 1849, and about sixty-four percent of a much higher total in 1859.

While the American rice industry continued to expand in the nineteenth century, its position in world markets became increasingly untenable. In the eighteenth century virtually all American rice was exported. Most exports went to northern Europe, where rice was welcomed as a cheap and versatile food source. Before American rice entered European markets, Italy supplied most of Europe&rsquos demand for rice. By the mid&ndasheighteenth century, however, rice from South Carolina (and, to a lesser extent, Georgia) had supplanted Italian rice, and it would dominate European markets for the rest of the century.

The expansion of European trade with Asia changed things. As early as the 1790s European merchants were importing large quantities of cheaper Asian rice, and thus making inroads into South Carolina&rsquos markets. This development intensified throughout the nineteenth century. Between 1800 and 1860 cheap Burmese, Javanese, and Indian rice came to dominate European markets, and South Carolina rice was gradually forced out of Europe and into the Caribbean (especially Cuba) or into the domestic market of the United States. Despite increasing European demand for rice, U.S. rice exports to Europe were far lower in the 1850s than they had been in the 1790s, demonstrating that American rice was becoming uncompetitive as global market integration proceeded.

With the coming of the Civil War, the competitive decline in the South Carolina rice industry became precipitous. Indeed, the United States as a whole actually became a net importer of rice from the time of the Civil War until well into the twentieth century. There are several reasons for this. Asian rice continued to undermine the position of American rice&ndashincluding that produced in South Carolina&ndash in global markets, as improving transportation and communications facilities increasingly linked low-cost producers in Asia to consumers in Europe and elsewhere. As a high-cost producer of a basic commodity, South Carolina&rsquos rice industry was probably doomed even without the Civil War. Even so, the war-time destruction of infrastructure, emancipation of the labor force, and the postbellum transformation of agriculture doubtless hastened its demise.

International competition cost the rice industry in South Carolina and Georgia not only its export markets, but ultimately its domestic customers as well. In the 1880s and 1890s American rice production shifted to Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. In these states, and later in the Sacramento Valley of California, rice producers attempted to meet low-cost Asian competition by replacing labor with machinery. In so doing, growers in these areas&ndashaided by tariff protection&ndashrebuilt the U.S. rice industry.

These solutions were unavailable to South Carolina rice producers. The swampy lowcountry could not bear the weight of the new equipment, and investor interest and capital were short in any case. With the loss of its export markets and the establishment of more efficient domestic competitors, the southern Atlantic rice industry simply collapsed in the 1870s and 1880s. South Carolina, which produced almost 120 million pounds in 1859, saw its rice output fall to about 30 million pounds in 1889, a decline of seventy-five percent. Nature had a hand in things as well. Between 1893 and 1906 a series of hurricanes struck the rice coast, further damaging the decaying infrastructure. By 1919 the state&rsquos rice production had dropped to about 4 million pounds, about three percent of its annual antebellum output. As a commercial activity, South Carolina rice was dead and gone.

The rice legacy lived on for a long time, however. Throughout its long history, rice production was synonymous with the lowcountry. Although other crops were grown there&ndashSea Island cotton, indigo, naval stores&ndashthis ecologically fragile and economically limited region was built by and for rice, with the building done largely by blacks and largely for whites. Without rice, the heavily black population of the lowcountry had few viable options, and the once-wealthy region withered into one of the poorest in the nation. Only with the onset of World War II did the region begin to rise again. The lowcountry&rsquos economy in the early twenty-first century was based largely on tourism, forest products, military installations, and service-sector employment in Charleston. See plate 28.

Carney, Judith A. Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Chaplin, Joyce E. An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730&ndash1815. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Coclanis, Peter A. &ldquoDistant Thunder: The Creation of a World Market in Rice and the Transformations It Wrought.&rdquo American Historical Review 98 (October 1993): 1050&ndash78.

&ndash&ndash&ndash. The Shadow of a Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina Low Country, 1670&ndash1920. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Littlefield, Daniel C. Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

Morgan, Philip D. Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.


Check out these related entries from our 102 Things To Do in Myrtle Beach guide:

12. Exploring State Parks

Some Myrtle Beach visitors — and even many locals — never make it to our two State Parks. There are plenty of distractions here at the beach, no denying. But those who don’t visit are missing out on two of the jewels of our region, both offering ver &hellip

67. Downtown Conway

Just miles away from the beach is a whole different world in the historic city of Conway. The city is full of history and Southern charm with lots of shops and restaurants for visitors to check out. Most Myrtle Beach visitors see Conway as a town to pass &hellip

72. Beachwear Stores

The sun and sand are free, but you need some supplies before you hit the beach. The beach stores dotting corners and roads throughout the Grand Strand have become just as much a part of the vacation experience as the ocean itself. Whether you’re looking &hellip

75. Tattoos & Piercings

Gift shops are great, but maybe you’re looking for a more permanent memento of your trip to Myrtle beach. Limited by law to a small strip off the beaten path in Myrtle Beach, most area tattoo parlors call Seaboard Street home. Anyone wanting a tattoo or &hellip

16. Bowling

A classic diversion for both young and old, bowling has long been part of American culture. With a number of bowling alleys in the area, the Grand Strand offers families, friends and couples a wide variety of bowling and entertainment options. Everything &hellip

05. Jet Ski Rentals

Since the first Jet Skis rolled off the assembly lines in the late 1960s and into America’s lakes, rivers and oceans, watersports got a whole lot more fun. Like motorcycles on the water, jet skis, also called PWC (Personal Water Craft), are fast, fun, a &hellip

29. Arcades

As old as seaside vacations themselves, arcades, originally called “penny arcades,” have a long-standing tradition of entertaining crowds of all ages. Along the Grand Strand you’ll find games of chance, games of skill, and the unique sights and soun &hellip

49. Comedy Clubs & Shows

Stand-up comedy is funny on television, but being there is a completely different experience. And there aren’t many better ways to relax at night than checking out a few comedians at a Myrtle Beach comedy club — you’ll completely forget the &hellip

02. Parasailing

“Fly through the air with the greatest of ease!” Myrtle Beach parasailing captains have made it easy to soar like a bird. And on a beautiful Grand Strand day, the views are out of this world! Let area boat captains and crews launch you slowly, and saf &hellip

52. Go-Karts

Take a break from the water and test your need for speed on land at a fun go-kart attraction! Those brave enough to take on the cool watersports on our list of 102 Things to Do will also love the feeling of salt air whipping through their hair as they tak &hellip

10. Boat Cruises

With the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west, the numerous boat tours in Myrtle Beach provide a range of entertainment and sightseeing alternatives. From quiet Waterway dinner cruises to exciting casino boat experiences, &hellip

68. Historic Georgetown

The third-oldest city in South Carolina, Georgetown offers a glimpse of the state’s history along with great shopping, dining and scenery. Georgetown is located halfway between Myrtle Beach and Charleston along the Sampit River. The city embraces the Ma &hellip


Historic Rice Plantations Of South Carolina

According to the lecturer, Charles Joyner, a local historian and author who spoke above the engines' whine using a small public-address system, this entire expanse had come full circle -- from cypress swamps to rice fields and back again. In a remarkable feat of human labor and engineering, African slaves cut thousands of acres of trees, dug stumps and drained the land by building a series of levees, canals and flood-gates. Although the wooden sluices that line the banks are now rotted and swallowed by marsh grass, they provide a glimpse of what was but a brief mastery by man of the landscape.

Our first stop was Arundel Plantation, which sits on the dry western bank of the Great Pee Dee River. To get there, we veered off the Waccamaw and onto a narrow creek that wound its way through thick stands of trees. As we approached, the forest opened to reveal a white two-story manor set back among live oaks so big their limbs rested on iron braces.

''Don't ask me how old the trees are,'' said Lou Quattlebaum, owner of the property since 1955, as she addressed the visitors from atop her front steps. ''No one can agree. Some say 200 years, others 800.''

Following her brief historical account, we had an hour to wander in and around the late-19th-century house. Although none of the furniture had belonged to the 1,200-acre estate's original owners (''the only thing they left in the house was a butter churn''), it is filled with beautiful four-poster beds, side tables and other period pieces. I stepped outside, where a handful of white outbuildings with red tin roofs are scattered among the oaks and magnolias: the commissary, with bars on the windows to protect the food the smokehouse, and a well-kept carpenter gothic slave cabin with board-and-batten siding, the only one of 50 still standing.

While we shuffled from room to room, afternoon tea was set on the front patio, with strawberries, scones and deliciously un-fat-free shortbread. We snacked and chatted beside the blooming camellias. A bottle of bourbon and some fresh mint stood beside the tea, and, needing no instruction, a few guests mixed mint juleps. Just as fitting, perhaps, were the insects that emerged just as the sun sank, but they seemed a reasonable trade-off for the day's excellent weather.

When the bugs grew overbearing, we thanked our softspoken hostess and hurried to the boat. Captain Bob cranked the engine, but it quickly overheated. Mud from the shallow canal had clogged something or other. The bugs had followed us, and darkness was falling fast.

Just as the crowd began to rumble in dissent, Lulu offered to have us driven 10 minutes back to the marina. It had been a long, magical day, an escape by river to a vanished world. So I was more than a little surprised when after only several hundred yards on her dirt driveway, we pulled up to the Grand Strand's main drag, and back to the speedy beach-minded traffic. [source: NY Times, LOGAN WARD is a New York-based writer who visits South Carolina frequently.]



RICE AND SLAVERY IN COLONIAL AMERICA

In honor of Black History Month, I thought I would repost this article I wrote a couple of years ago when my novel The Driver's Wife was first released.

When most Americans think of the Old South, they envision the cotton plantations of Gone with the Wind or Roots. Most think cotton was all the South produced. They might also think of tobacco growing. But I would wager few outside South Carolina think of rice.

My novel The Driver's Wife is set on a plantation in the Charleston area of South Carolina. During the 17th century, Charleston was Charles Town, and South Carolina was simply Carolina the North and South Carolina we know today were one province controlled by a group of Englishmen known as the Lords Proprietors. My fictitious plantation, Leighlin, is like other 17th century plantations along the Ashley River—it produces a variety of goods, from fruits and vegetables to deer hides, beef, and naval stores. But it is also one of the region’s first plantations to grow rice.

Demonstration rice field at Middleton Place plantation near Charleston.

Today you may be familiar with a type of rice known as Carolina Gold. It was this specie of rice that made Colonial Carolina extremely rich. It’s the type grown in the photo above. However, before Carolina Gold was grown, other species were grown with various levels of success. My novel takes place in the early 1690’s, so it would not have grown the more famous specie.

“Nowhere in the Americas did rice play such an important economic role as in South Carolina,” writes author Judith A. Carney in her excellent book, Black Rice. “Rice and South Carolina share a history that led to the establishment of the crop early in its settlement and the colony’s growing emphasis on rice as a plantation crop by the end of the seventeenth century…. On the eve of the American Revolution…rice exports from South Carolina exceeded sixty million pounds annually.”

Rice is a labor-intensive crop, and the cheapest labor back then, of course, was enslaved peoples. In Carolina, the transplanted Englishmen enslaved local Indians as well as Africans brought from their home continent or from the Barbados sugar plantations that many of the planters left for the land-rich colonies of America. The planters mostly abandoned using Indians, citing a certain laziness compared to African laborers, as well as the fact that they were more likely to escape back to their local tribe. Africans had no such haven to which they could flee. Once in the wilderness of Carolina’s plantations, there was nowhere to go without immediate recapture and punishment.

Many of the slaves came from Africa’s “rice coast,” countries such as Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, fed by the Niger River, as well as other rivers that made rice production possible. While some Colonists may have claimed credit for introducing rice to Carolina, the more likely source was the slaves who were born and raised along the Rice Coast of Africa and provided the knowledge of rice cultivation that sugar cane plantation owners from Barbados would not have had.

“…before the outbreak of the American Civil War, an estimated 100,000 slaves were planting between 168,000 and 187,000 acres of wetlands to rice,” Carney writes. “Charleston…gloried in one of the greatest concentrations of wealth in the world…. About a hundred slaves accompanied the first settlers arriving in South Carolina from Barbados in 1670 within two years they formed one-fourth of the colony’s population, and by 1708 blacks outnumbered whites.”

The broad tidal rivers that flowed on either side of the Charles Town peninsula, the Ashley and Cooper Rivers (named after Anthony Ashley Cooper, the chief Lord Proprietor), were highways to the interior plantations. No roads yet existed in the wilderness. Rice was grown in fields adjacent to the brackish waterways, fed and flooded through trunk gates from inland swamps, then drained into the marshy rivers through more trunk gates like that pictured below. (The trunk gates of my novel’s era are more primitive—literally a cypress tree trunk hollowed out and buried in dykes that surround the fields.)

Slaves tended these fields in insufferable heat, tormented by clouds of insects and fearful of poisonous snakes.

Painting of rice cultivation picture taken at Middleton Place plantation near Charleston.

One of the most unique things about Carolina slavery at the time of my novel was the task system of labor. The antebellum slavery most people are familiar with functioned differently—slaves worked from dawn to dusk everyday in work gangs. In the earlier task system, slaves were assigned a task each day, and when that task was completed, their workday was done. They were free to tend their own crops or visit friends on other plantations or hire themselves out for paid work. They also worked only during the morning on Saturdays and had Sundays off. On other days of the week, work was suspended during the hottest part of the day. This system remained in place until the Civil War. “The task labor system is probably of African origin,” Carney writes, “as it was already a feature of African slavery along the Upper Guinea Coast and its hinterland during the Atlantic slave trade.”

In my novel, rice culture not only provides the backdrop of the story but is used to show the struggles of enslaved people in early America. Without the blood and sacrifice of those Africans and their knowledge of rice cultivation, one of America’s greatest cities would never have risen above its meager beginnings and become the icon that it is today.


This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Emily Anne Duke as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2016.

The Butler Island Plantation historical marker was dedicated in 1957. View the Butler Island Plantation historical marker listing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1. Butler Island Plantation marker, 2013. Image courtesy of La Salle University Connelly Library Digital Commons.

2. Famous Butler Authors marker. Image courtesy of David Seibert and Galelio, Georgia’s Virtual Library.

3. Highway view of the Butler Island Plantation, 2016. Image courtesy of Emily Anne Duke.

4. Rear view of the Butler Island Plantation home, 2016. Image courtesy of Emily Anne Duke.

5. Miniature of Major Pierce Butler. Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, creator unknown.

6. Portrait of Pierce Mease Butler. Image courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries.

7. Frances Anne “Franny” Kemble. Image courtesy of Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America Artist: Alonso Chappal 1824-1887 Publisher Johnson, Wilson and Co. NY.

8. Farm where Pierce Mease Butler and Fanny Kemble resided, known as ‘Butler Place”, which no longer stands today. Image courtesy of La Salle’s Connelly Library, who owns a number of original photographs of “Butler Place.”

9. Cover of What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation? 2016. Courtesy of Georgia Historical Society.

10. Inside cover of What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation? 2016. Courtesy of the Georgia Historical Society.

11. Map of Butler Island Plantation. Courtesy of Ancestry.com.

The following essay is by SCAD student Emily Anne Duke, 2016.

One mile outside of Darien, Georgia sitting just off what is currently Highway 17, lies the Butler Island Plantation which operated during the 19th century cultivating rice. [i] Major Pierce Butler, one of the founding fathers of the United States and a supporter of American slavery, took ownership of the property in 1790. Pierce Butler was in charge of the plantation up until his death in 1822, then, Roswell King Jr. who acted as manager of the premises continued his duties until the two chosen grandsons of Butler’s eldest daughter were of age to inherit the plantation themselves in 1838. Pierce Mease Butler took ownership of the Butler Plantation after the death of his grandfather, and he also acquired the hundreds of slaves who lived, worked, loved and raised families there.

During the winter of 1838-1839 Pierce (Mease) Butler brought, against his initial wishes, his wife and two young daughters along with him to the rice plantation. His wife Frances Anne “Franny” Kemble was opposed to slavery and wanted to see how the slaves lived on the plantation grounds. Butler, however, hoped the visit would “rid her of her abolitionist ways,” and “Kemble had been told that the slaves were well-treated, that they were never sold, and that they were content.”[ii] Fanny very quickly realized that this was not the reality. During her time spent on the plantation, Kemble kept a diary that documented the horrific treatment and condition of the slaves working there. Her experience only assured her further of her contempt for slavery. Eventually Kemble published her writing, which is thought by some to have persuaded the British against the Confederacy during the Civil War. [iii]

Many of the slaves on the Butler Plantation originated from West Africa, specifically from Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast.) [iv] Their Ghanian names can be found written within Malcolm Bell’s text Major Butler’s Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family.[v] The community of slaves living on the plantation consisted of families, lovers, daughters, and sons just as you would find in any community of people. Conditions on the plantation were unbearable, and health rates were atrocious. Women were frequently pregnant, and infant mortality rates were incredibly high. “Over half of all slave children born at Butler Island perished before their sixth birthday sixty percent died before age sixteen.”[vi] Kemble remarks on a mother and her apparent neglect of a child “Upon addressing some remonstrances to one of these, who, besides having a sick child, was ill herself, about the horribly dirty condition of her baby, she assured me that it was impossible for them to keep their children clean that they went out to work at daybreak, and did not get their tasks done till evening, and that then they were too tired and worn out to do any thing but throw themselves down and sleep.”[vii] Kemble goes on to discuss her observations about the large families within the enslaved communities..” She noted that pregnant women might be given a lighter workload which decreased further throughout her pregnancy. The family expecting was also given extra clothing and weekly ration. Once the mother had recovered from childbirth, however, she would be taken back to work leaving the other children to care for the newborn. Kemble observes, “squatting round the cold hearth, would be four or five little children from four to ten years old, the latter all with babies in their arms, the care of the infants being taken from the mothers, and devolved upon these poor little nurses, as they are called, whose business it is to watch the infant, and carry it to its mother whenever it may require nourishment.” [viii]

Kemble described the living quarters of the enslaved as filthy and unmanageable there were four settlements on the island each consisting of ten to twenty housing units. One house was about twelve by fifteen feet, with small rooms coming off of a main room where the slaves would sleep on their beds made of moss. Typically two families would stay in one of these cabins.

By 1859 Pierce Mease Butler had not only been divorced by his wife Franny Kemble, but had fallen into serious debt as well. To bring in more revenue, on March 2nd and 3rd of that year Butler auctioned off 436 of his slaves at the Ten Broeck Race Course, creating the largest slave sale in US history. The slaves were brought to Ten Broeck by “steamer and rail,” and were held in sheds that were used for the storage of horses and carriages. [ix] After four days of intrusive inspection by possible buyers and two days of agonizing auction, families and loved ones were separated from one another for the first time in their lives. Hence the title which was given to this horrific event, The Weeping Time. [x]

Today the Butler Island Plantation is owned by the Department of Natural Resources. The grounds are open every day to the public for recreational activities such as fishing, hiking, and picnicking. [xi]

[i] “Darien, Georgia: Butler Island Plantation.” City of Darien GA. Accessed May 10, 2016. Darien, Georgia: Butler Island Plantation.

[ii] Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson, “Unearthing the Weeping Time: Savannah’s Ten Broeck Race Course and 1859 Slave Sale.” Southern Spaces. February 18, 2010. http://southernspaces.org/2010/unearthing-weeping-time-savannahs-ten-broeck-race-course-and-1859-slave-sale.

[v] Malcolm Bell, Major Butler’s Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

[xi] “Darien, Georgia: Butler Island Plantation”

Malcolm Bell, Major Butler’s Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Stephen W. Berry, “Butler Family,” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 03 September 2014.

“Darien, Georgia: Butler Island Plantation,” City of Darien GA. Darien, Georgia: Butler Island Plantation.

Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson, “Unearthing the Weeping Time: Savannah’s Ten Broeck Race Course and 1859 Slave Sale,” Southern Spaces. February 18, 2010. http://southernspaces.org/2010/unearthing-weeping-time-savannahs-ten-broeck-race-course-and-1859-slave-sale.

Fanny Kremble, “What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation? Great Auction Sale of Slaves, at Savannah, Georgia.”

Chuck Mobley, “Chatham County Transactions Included Slave Auction Sales,” The Savannah Morning News, February 18, 2011.

Brittini Ray, “Community Remembers ‘The Weeping Time,'” The Savannah Morning News, February 21, 2016.

“Great Sale of Negros.” Savannah Daily Morning News, March 4, 1859.


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