Rice Culture in the Carolina Lowcountry: A Selective List of Materials and Links

Compiled by Grace Morris Cordial, MLS, SL, CA, Beaufort District Collection Manager, Beaufort County Library. The Beaufort District Collection is the special local history collection and archives unit of the Beaufort County Library (SC).

Rice…

  • It has been labeled the “food of the world” because nearly 2/3 of the world’s population considers it an essential food staple.
  • Today, the United States is one of the world’s largest producers, exporting to over 100 countries worldwide.
  • South Carolina was the leading producer for almost two centuries; from the late 1600s to the late 1800s, nearly 1/3 of the entire North American crop was grown in South Carolina.

For South Carolinians, rice is more than a delicious side dish. It is the building block of the everyday meal, a monument to Carolina agricultural history, and a way of life. From colonial times, rice was South Carolina’s great staple food. Enslaved Africans brought their knowledge and skills of how to grow and cook rice. Rice was served with meats and shellfish and used to make breads,   biscuits, flour, puddings and cakes. Enslaved Africans and their slave-owners ate rice on a regular and oftentimes daily basis. In fact, many lowcountry born and reared children grew up eating rice twice a day, every day, at lunch and supper well into the 20th century.

Carolina planters cultivated rice in the coastal tidewater rivers of the lowcountry–mainly the Waccamaw, Santee, Cooper, Ashley, Combahee, and Savannah Rivers. While it is sometimes perceived that rice was grown on most plantations in the lowcountry, according to the Census of Agriculture of 1859, less than 40% of lowcountry farms grew any rice at all. While most people think that all plantations in this area grew sea island cotton, such is not the historical truth. Many Beaufort District area plantations grew several different agricultural and livestock products: sea island cotton, corn, rice, cattle, hogs, etc.
While cultivating rice was less labor intensive and less hazardous than growing sugar cane, it was rather more intensive than raising tobacco. African slaves were accustomed to the hot tropical summer climate, tolerant to malaria and yellow fever, and many arrived already knowing how to cultivate rice. These factors greatly increased the popularity of West African slave labor in the Carolina rice culture.
Rice production required skilled laborers, and lots of them. The larger the number of slaves on a plantation, the more likely that rice was cultivated by the planter. By 1860, nearly 1/3 of plantations with over 300 slaves and nearly 2/3 of plantations with over 500 slaves produced rice. The largest rice planter in the United States in 1860 was Joshua Ward (of the Waccamaw River area, Georgetown District, SC), owner of 1,092 enslaved people.

The American Civil War and Emancipation coupled with steadily declining soil quality and a series of destructive hurricanes heralded the demise of the Carolina rice culture. But fear not! Authentically grown “Carolina Gold” rice can still be found, thanks, in part, to the efforts of Dr. Richard Schulze of Turnbridge Plantation in Hardeeville, SC. After a nearly 60 year shortage, this gourmet southern staple can grace tables once again. California, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas may grow the majority of the United States’ rice, but the history and tradition of rice cultivation will always remain fundamentally Carolinian. ( — Amber Shorthouse, Beaufort District Collection Connections blog, September 4, 2008)

Creation date: July 7, 2010; Latest update 20 October 2016.

Online Resources:

The Southern Farmer and Market Gardener Being a Compilation of Useful Articles on these Subjects, from the most improved writers by Francis S. Holmes, New and Improved Enlarged Edition with a treatise on the cultivation of Rice and Cotton (Charleston, SC: Holmes Book House, 1852).  http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b662646

RiceKingdom.com” website by Jim Tuten, 2010. The website contains James Tuten’s research for Lowcountry Time and Tide: The Fall of the South Carolina Rice Kingdom (USC Press, 2010). The website complements the book and the book develops the themes and narrative of the end of rice culture.

“Made in South Carolina” by Kelly Sisson, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Travel Articles, 2007, South Carolina State Library Digital Collections http://dc.statelibrary.sc.gov/handle/10827/11941This travel article highlights Carolina Plantation Rice, and two other businesses. PRT_Article_Made_in_SC_2007.pdf

etv_when_rice_was_king_1999-pdf

“When Rice was King Teacher’s Guide,” by Margaret B. Walden,South Carolina State Documents Depository, Educational Television Commission, 1999. South Carolina State Library Digital Collections http://dc.statelibrary.sc.gov/handle/10827/14005

This guide supplements the one hour documentary “When Rice Was King” with curriculum standards, program summary, suggested activities, student handouts and suggested resources. ETV_When_Rice_Was_King_1999.PDF

This document is intended for use by federal and state agencies, plantation managers, and consultants that work with the National Historic Preservation Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and rice fields.  The guidance begins with a brief overview of the history and a description of two types of rice fields, inland and tidal. Appendices include definitions of key words; a discussion of Section 106, the National Register of Historic Places, and rice fields along with suggestions for further reading. DAH_Rice_Fields_and_Section_106_2011.pdf

The Gowrie Plantation Records appear to be held in the Manigault Family Papers in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (A finding aid to the Manigault Family Papers is found online at http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00484/.)

Anno octavo Georgii II. Regis.: An act to continue an act passed in the third year of his present majesty’s reign, intituled, An act for granting liberty to carry rice from His Majesty’s Province of Carolina in America, directly to any part of Europe southward of Cape Finisterre, in ships built in, and belonging to Great Britain, and navigated according to law; and to extend that liberty to his majesty’s province of Georgia in America. http://books.google.com/books?id=Czo5AAAAMAAJ&pg=PA3&dq=intitle:anno+intitle:octavo+intitle:georgii&lr=&as_brr=0&as_pt=ALLTYPES&ei=SIU-SZLSD4X6kgTC5fjWBw#PPA3,M1

Hampton, Initial Archeological Investigations at an Eighteenth Century Rice Plantation in the Santee Delta, South Carolina by Kenneth E. Lewis; prepared by the Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina. (Columbia, S.C.: The Institute, 1979). Download: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/archanth_books/151/

Richmond Hill and Wachesaw : an archaeological study of two rice plantations on the Waccamaw River, Georgetown County, South Carolina by James L. Michie. Columbia, S.C. : Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, [1987]. Download: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1223&context=archanth_books

You can search for and download other rice culture related research publications at the University of South Carolina through its Scholar Commons database: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/

Check out these Resources from a SCLENDS Library:

African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina by Amelia Wallace Vernon. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995).

Archaeological and Historical Investigations of Jehossee Island, Charleston County, South Carolina by Michael Trinkley. (Columbia, S.C.: Chicora Foundation, [2002]).

Benjamin Mazyck, the mystery man of Goose Creek : a curriculum for the study of eighteenth century South Carolina Low Country Huguenots, rice plantations, and slavery for grades 3-12 by Debi Hacker and Michael Trinkley. (Columbia, S.C.: Chicora Foundation, Inc., [2004?]). Download: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/archanth_books/151/

Carolina Gold: Economic and Social Change on a South Carolina Rice Plantation by Ellen Shlasko. (Photocopy. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI, 1997).

A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties: 30 Paintings in Water-colour by Alice R. Huger Smith; narrative by Herbert Ravenel Sass, with chapters from the unpublished memoirs of D.E. Huger Smith. (New York: William Morrow, c1936).

Exploring the Tidelands [DVD] by Caryn Richman and Peter Ryan. (Columbia, SC : South Carolina ETV, 2007, c1998).

Georgetown Rice Plantations by Alberta Morel Lachicotte. (Columbia, SC: State Commercial Printing Co., 1955).

Gullah/Geechee : Africa’s seed in the winds of the diaspora, Volume III : Frum Wi Soul tuh de Soil: The Cash Crops of the Sea Islands by Marquetta L. Goodwine. ([Brooklyn, NY] ; Kinship Publications : Gullah/Geechee Island Coalition, 1998).

Hampton, Initial Archeological Investigations at an Eighteenth Century Rice Plantation in the Santee Delta, South Carolina by Kenneth E. Lewis; prepared by the Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina. (Columbia, S.C.: The Institute, 1979).

Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of Georgetown County and the Santee River by Suzanne Cameron Linder and Marta Leslie Thacker with preliminary research by Agnes Leland Baldwin. (Columbia, SC: Published by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History for the Historic Ricefields Association, Inc., [2001?]

Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of the Ace River Basin, 1860 by Suzanne Cameron Linder. (Columbia,SC: Published by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History for Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy, 1995).

Liberty Hall: A Small Eighteenth Century Rice Plantation in Goose Creek, Berkeley County, South Carolina by Michael Trinkley, Debi Hacker, Sarah Fick. (Columbia, SC: Chicora Foundation : c2003).

The Life and Times of Robert F.W. Allston by Anthony Q. Devereux. ([S.l.]: Waccamaw Press, 1976.

Lowcountry Plantations Today  photography by M. Jane Iseley, text by William P. Baldwin. (Greensboro, NC: Legacy Productions, 2002).

Lowcountry Time and Tide: The Fall of the South Carolina Rice Kingdom by James H. Tuten. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2010).

Mansfield Plantation: A Legacy on the Black River by Christopher C. Boyle (Charleston, SC : The History Press, [2014]).

Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina by S. Max Edelson. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Preserving! Praising! Sharing!: A guide to understanding Jasper County’s relationship to rice through its history and culture by James Gardner. (N.p., N.d.)

Reports, certificates, proofs, endorsements, etc., etc. [Charleston, S.C.? : South Carolina Rice Plantations Trust, 1873].

Rice and Rice Planting in the South Carolina Low Country by David Doar. ([S.l.]: Charleston Museum, 1970)

Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina by Daniel C. Littlefield. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991, c1981).

Rice and the Making of South Carolina: An Introductory Essay by Daniel C. Littlefield.  (Columbia, SC: SC Department of Archives and History, Public Programs Division, 1995).

The Rice Princes: A Rice Epoch Revisited  by Anthony Q. Devereux. [Columbia, S.C., State Printing Co., 1973?]

Richmond Hill Plantation, 1810-1868: The Discovery of Antebellum Life on a Waccamaw Rice Plantation by James L. Michie. (Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Co., 1990).

 Richmond Hill and Wachesaw : an archaeological study of two rice plantations on the Waccamaw River, Georgetown County, South Carolina by James L. Michie. Columbia, S.C. : Institute of Archeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, [1987]. Download: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1223&context=archanth_books

Seed from Madagascar by Duncan Clinch Heyward and illustrated by Carl Julien. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937; Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Co., 1972).

The South Carolina Rice Plantation: As Revealed in the Papers of Robert F.W. Allston by J.H. Easterby (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2004).

Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps by William Dusinberre. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Time and Tide:  Cultural Changes and Continuities among the Rice Plantations of the Lowcountry, 1860-1930 by James Henry Tuten. (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Press, 2003).

When Rice Was King [DVD] by the South Carolina Educational Television Network, directed by Rich Panter. (Columbia, S.C. : South Carolina ETV, 1999).
A Woman Rice Planter by Elizabeth Allston Pringle; illustrations by Alice R. Huger Smith with a new introduction by Charles Joyner. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press in cooperation with the Institute for Southern Studies and the South Caroliniana Society of the University of South Carolina, 1992).

Visit the Beaufort District Collection to See These Items:

Harper's Weekly, BDC Print #43 (Raid of Second South Carolina Volunteers (Col. Montgomery) among the rice plantations on the Combahee, S.C., Harper’s Weekly , Beaufort District Collection)

SC B ALLSTON The Life and Times of Robert F.W. Allston by Anthony Q. Devereux. ([S.l.]: Waccamaw Press, 1976. Note: Chapter XIII entitled “Epilogue” provides background information leading directly into A Woman Rice Planter by Pringle.

SC 306.3 DUS Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps by William Dusinberre. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). Note: Although the conclusions of this work are somewhat controversial, none can fault the author’s thoroughness or his scholarship. The appendices contain a wealth of data regarding rice cultivation before the Civil War in the twelve coastal counties of South Carolina and Georgia. Beaufort and Colleton antebellum planters figure prominently in the narrative. The book contains an useful and extensive bibliography is on pp. [463]-540.

SC 633.18 BEA 2014 Rice & Ducks: The Surprising Convergence That Saved the Carolina Lowcountry by Virginia Christian Beach. (Charleston, SC: Evening Post Books, [2014]). Note: This book records the history of the South Carolina rice lands through personal interviews, letters, family papers, plantation and game journals, and other primary source materials. It also draws from experts and scholars in the fields of rice cultivation and plantation history, African-American studies, wetland and waterfowl biology, and wildlife and habitat conservation to create a multi-faceted history of a region and the wildfowl who thrive in the abandoned rice fields.

SC 633.18 CAR Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas by Judith Ann Carney (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001). Note: On the basis of documentary and agricultural evidence she uncovered, the author argues that West Africans domesticated rice about 1000 years before the European slave trade in Africa began.

SC 633.18 DET A History of the American Rice Industry, 1685-1985 by Henry C. Dethloff (College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press, c1988). Note: The author explores three centuries of the rice trade in the United States.

SC 633.18 FIE Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora by Edda L. Fields-Black (Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c2008). [Reference copy at STH in the Gullah-Geechee Room.] Note: This book reconstructs the development of rice-growing technology among tribes which reveals a picture of dynamic pre-colonial coastal societies open to inheritance, innovation, and borrowing of cultural expression in Africa passed down to and through enslaved Africans in the New World centuries later.

SC 633.18 POR 2014 The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice: An Illustrated History of Innovations in the Lowcountry Rice Kingdom by Richard Dwight Porcher, Jr. and William Robert Judd (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press,2014). Note: This multidisciplinary study covers the rice industry in South Carolina from its beginnings in the 1670s to its demise in the twentieth century. Porcher asserts that the post–Civil War loss of slave labor and destruction of infrastructure, a series of hurricanes, competition from rice grown in the American Southwest starting in 1880, and financial restraints that led to the cessation of rice culture in lowcountry South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia.

SC 633.18 SAL The Introduction of Rice Culture into South Carolina by A.S. Salley. (Columbia, SC: The State Company, 1919). Note: This is a seminal work on rice production and its importance in South Carolina’s history and cultural life.

SC 633.18 SCH Carolina Gold Rice: The Ebb and Flow History of a Lowcountry Cash Crop by Richard Schulze with a foreword by John Martin Taylor. (Charleston, SC : The History Press, 2005). Note: Carolina Gold rice—the variety of rice found in the South Carolina Lowcountry—was an integral part of the state’s economy for two centuries fueling the establishment of slavery. Abolition, among other factors, caused the demise of the local industry in the early 20th century.

SC 633.18 SMI 1936 A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties: 30 Paintings in Water-colour by Alice R. Huger Smith; narrative by Herbert Ravenel Sass, with chapters from the unpublished memoirs of D.E. Huger Smith. (New York: William Morrow, c1936). Note: A visual treat of an idealized interpretation of the lowcountry’s natural environment.

SC 633.18 WHE When Rice Was King [DVD] by the South Carolina Educational Television Network, directed by Rich Panter. (Columbia, S.C. : South Carolina ETV, 1999). Note: This one hour documentary examines cultivation of rice in South Carolina and its impact on local culture from its beginnings in the late 1600s to its demise in the early 20th century.

SC 633.1857 CAM The History of The Rice Industry in South Carolina to the Civil War by Harriett Z. Campbell (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1922r). Note: This was written as a thesis for the University of Chicago.

SC 633.3318 DOA Rice and Rice Planting in the South Carolina Low Country  by David Doar. ([S.l.]: Charleston Museum, 1970). Note: Doar recounts techniques of rice cultivation and reasons for the decline of the industry.

SC 641.6318 HES The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection by Karen Hess (Columbia, S.C. : University of South Carolina Press, c1992)

SC 917.579 ISE Lowcountry Plantations Today photography by M. Jane Iseley, text by William P. Baldwin. (Greensboro, NC: Legacy Productions, 2002). Note: Emphasis here is on architecture and aesthetics of interior decoration but the narrative includes some mention of the final working days of rice cultivation into the early 20th century at some of the plantations.

SC 975.7 LIN (oversized) Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of the Ace River Basin, 1860 by Suzanne Cameron Linder. (Columbia,SC: Published by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History for Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy, 1995.) Note: One cannot hope to understand the extent and importance of rice production in South Carolina along the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto Rivers without consulting the work of Suzanne Linder. This one concentrates upon inland rice plantations of Beaufort County and Colleton County.

SC 975.7 MIC Richmond Hill Plantation, 1810-1868: The Discovery of Antebellum Life on a Waccamaw Rice Plantation by James L. Michie. (Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Co., 1990). Note: This titles goes into great detail about the anthropological aspects of a small rice plantation and differences in lifestyle between the planter, his overseers, and the enslaved who labor on the plantation.        

SC 975.7 TRI Integrated History and Ecology Curricula for Tea Farm Park, Charleston County, South Carolina prepared by Michael Trinkley and Debi Hacker. (Columbia, SC: Chicora Foundation; Charleston, SC: Distributed by Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, 1993). Note: Tea Farm Park, formerly known as Stanyarne Hall, was once a rice plantation. Rice cultivation is discussed on pages 32-45. Alternative agricultural products were tried after the Civil War, including tea after 1901.

SC 975.702 EDE Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina by S. Max Edelson. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006). Note: Edelson examines the relationships between planters, slaves, and the natural world they colonized and in the process tauts a new perspective of the Carolina Lowcountry at once the most prosperous yet repressive regions in the Atlantic world.

SC 975.702 LIT Rice and the Making of South Carolina: An Introductory Essay by Daniel C. Littlefield.  (Columbia, SC: SC Department of Archives and History, Public Programs Division, 1995). Note:   This gem digests the process of rice cultivation and slavery into an easily understood morsel of general information.  However, there is nothing about post-war rice production.

SC 975.702 LIT Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina by Daniel C. Littlefield. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991, c1981). Note: The author concludes that the combined efforts of the Africans and Europeans to grow and market rice molded American civilization particularly in the lowcountry region of South Carolina.

SC 975.789 EXP Exploring the Tidelands [DVD] by Caryn Richman and Peter Ryan. (Columbia, SC : South Carolina ETV, 2007, c1998). Note: The cultural influences of Native Americans,  African slaves, and European rice planters have blended to produce a unique blend of food flavors and cookery.

SC 975.703 TUT Time and Tide: [microform] Cultural Changes and Continuities among the Rice Plantations of the Lowcountry, 1860-1930 by James Henry Tuten, (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Press, 2003). Note: This dissertation submitted to  Emory University explored changes brought to plantation organization and social life from the Civil War period to the end of rice cultivation as a business in South Carolina by 1930.

SC 975.784 VER African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina by Amelia Wallace Vernon.  (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.) [Originally published by Louisiana State University Press, 1993]. Note: The author compiled a collection of oral history interviews with African American farmers who grew rice for personal consumption during the 1920s.

SC 975.789 DEV The Rice Princes: A Rice Epoch Revisited  by Anthony Q. Devereux. (Columbia, SC: State Printing Co., 1973?) Devereux highlights rice production at  Hagley-Weehauka Plantations on the Waccamaw River into 1879.

SC 975.789 LAC Georgetown Rice Plantations by Alberta Morel Lachicotte. (Columbia, SC: State Commercial Printing Co., 1955). Note: Lachicotte recounts the post war era of who owned plantations in Georgetown County and the built environment on those plantations.

SC 975.789 LAW No Heir to Take Its Place: The Story of Rice in Georgetown County, South Carolina by Dennis T. Lawson. (Georgetown, SC: Rice Museum, 1972). Note: Lawson notes the reasons why rice cultivation stopped in South Carolina during the early years of the 20th Century. 

SC 975.789 LIN (oversized) Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of Georgetown County and the Santee River by Suzanne Cameron Linder and Marta Leslie Thacker with preliminary research by Agnes Leland Baldwin. (Columbia, SC: Published by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History for the Historic Ricefields Association, Inc., [2001?]. Note: Although emphasis is on the history of individual rice plantations in Georgetown County through the Civil War era, some continued to cultivate rice into the early 1910s.  Extensive end notes occupy pp. 781-844.

SC 975.789 SOU The South Carolina Rice Plantation, edited by J. H. Easterby. ([S.l.] : University of Chicago Press c1945). Note: This book is based on the papers of R.F.W. Allston held at the South Carolina Historical Society. This book concentrates on the pre-Civil War production of rice along the Waccamaw River in Georgetown County.

SC 975.79 HEY Seed from Madagascar by Duncan Clinch Heyward; illustrations by Carl Julian. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1937). Note: Rice planter Heyward marks the rice and decline of rice production in South Carolina.

SC 975.79 PRI A Woman Rice Planter by Patience Pennington, pseudonym of Elizabeth Waties Allston Pringle. ([S.l.] : Macmillan, c1913). Note: This diary chronicles Pringle’s stewardship of a rice plantation after the Civil War using free black labor on the property she inherited from her planter father. The diary runs from March 30, 1903 until December 31, [1907] and tells of her ultimately futile efforts to operate the rice plantation at a profit.

SC 975.8 LIF Life and Labor on Argyle Island: Letters and Documents of a Savannah River Rice Plantation, 1833-1867, edited with an introduction by James M. Clifton. (Savannah, GA: Beehive Press, 1978). Note:  On 22 March 1867, Louis Manigault returned to Gowrie Plantation to review the condition of his former rice plantation. Clifton’s introduction is thorough, with pp. xliv-xlvi detailing the last days of rice production on Gowrie. Rice production appears to have ended about 1892 when it was no longer possible to control river water in the rice fields. According to Clifton’s notes, Gowrie Plantation records end in 1889.

BDC Vertical File: “Rice”

 

 

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