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Barrier Islands of South Carolina and Georgia

Ms Junkie and Junkie just returned from an Intracoastal Waterway cruise through these incredibly interesting tidal lands.  The relationship of this area to the Civil War is not widely known and I will be discussing the trip and the history in the next few blog posts. 

In early America, slavery of a different sort came with the English in the form of indentured servants.  This allowed servitude for a defined period of time until the servant had fulfilled his or her obligation, which could be many years.  But chattel slavery eventually replaced it as the rice cultivation of the coastal island began to grow.  Chattel slavery was an institutionalized condition that was written into law and was of lifetime duration.  Some early African arrivals were in the endentured servant  catagory and eventually became free men of color and many of these were working throughout the South in places like New Orleans, Petersburg, Charleston and Savannah.    

The first English planters in the Carolinas and Georgia came from Barbados with deep pockets which they needed to get the plantations started.  These families included the Draytrons, Middletons, Lucas’, and Pinckneys.  Prior to the African slave trade South Carolinians sold indigenous Indians into slavery throughout the colonies.  Historians estimate that between 1670 and 1717, 24000 to 51000 indian slaves were sold which they used to finance the importation of Africans.  It is interesting that about 500,000 African slaves were imported into the US and their major entry point was Sullivan’s Island near Charleston because of the rice business.  Barbados had 500,000 slaves all to its own used in cultivating sugar, tobacco and indigo.  These crops did not do well in the lowland area and the Africans suggested to their masters that they could grow rice because the weather and soil conditions were similiar to their homeland in western Africa.  The five ethnic tribes of Ibu, Bantu, Uruba, Goola and Mandingo became the most desirable because of their experiences in the African regions of Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Benin and CongoAngola.  The accomplishments of these planters and their enslaved workforce created over time the rice fields that rival in dimension the Pyramids of Egypt.  African slaves seemed to do better in the coastal islands than the colonists due to their natural resistance to the diseases that were common in the Tidewater area such as malaria and yellow fever.

The first strains of Carolina Gold rice were introduced into cultivation by Dr. Henry Woodward in 1665.  The seeds came from Madagascar and for more than 200 years South Carolina was the leading producer of rice in the US.  The rice was a strain that could thrive in salt water marsh which is the composition of the barrier islands area.  The demand for rice was driven by the demands of the British Army for transportable rations. Rice cultivation was labor intensive and heavily dependant on cheap labor. 

The rice has a distinctive taste derived from the salt marsh and after the war the collapse of the plantations virtually eliminated the cultivation of this product.  Today the Carolina Gold rice is only grown in Darlington, South Carolina.  It is very expensive as compared to white rice. 

Later, cultivation of Sea Island long staple cotton, was introduced in the area and it was the finest and most expensive cotton in demand at that time.  To be continued…


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