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Rice Essay, Research Paper

“…Finally, because South Carolina, from her climate, situation, and peculiar institutions, is, and must ever continue to be, wholly dependent on agriculture and commerce, not only for prosperity , but for her existence as a state…” (Boller, pg.110)

-John C Calhoun: South Carolina explosion and Protest (1828)


While the north was undergoing an “industrial revolution,” the south remained agriculturally based. Rice, which was the first grown in South Carolina in the early 1960’s, was a very promising harvest. Between 1820and 1850, the production of rice nearly tripled, making it a leading colonial crop along the seacoast of South Carolina and Georgia. Rice had definitely proved to be a “magic crop” of the South. (Boyer, pg.96)

The Carolinas was originally granted in the 1663 by King Charles II of England to a few of his British supporters. The proprietors named the land Carolina in the honor of King Charles. Charles in Latin is Carolus. (Olmsted, pg.312) The colony grow hastily at first. In 1669, however, Anthony Ashley Cooper, one of the proprietors, speeded up settlements by offering immigration land grants. For each new family member, indentured servant, or slave brought in, fifty acres of land were given to the family head. The wealth immigrants, or those with large families, received a large piece of land, which were used as plantations. The Carolinas was shaped to be agrarian-based bound. (Faulkner, pg. 217)

Until the 1680’s, most of the settlers in the Carolinas were farmers. It soon became obvious that Carolina was not created “so that he settlers could eke out a marginal existence.” Like the Virginians before them, the Carolinas sought their own staple crop that can make them rich, rice. The plantation owners of North Carolina, like those of Virginia, raised chiefly tobacco and corn on small farms. Those in South Carolina planted rice and indigo on a large scale. Rice was probably brought from West Africa. Because the grain made a few men rich with capitol to invest in costly dams, dikes, and slaves, the Carolinians began to resemble that of the West Indies. Rice planters earned annual profits of 25%, causing them, within a generation, to become the only Colonial elite whose wealth revealed that of the Caribbean sugar planters. (Fite, pg.78)

As early as the early 1700’s rice proved to be an extremely profitable harvest. By the time of the revolution Charleston was exporting annually about 125,000 barrels. Although the profits of rice tripled between 1820 and 1850, there were also many costs in rice production. The work of leveling land and building levees and ditches for irrigation was costly. A rice planter in the 1830’s and 1840’s needed between $50,000and $100,000 to get into large-scale production of rice. (Faulkner, pg189)

Rice plantations were exceedingly large enterprises. One plantation owner, Governor William Aiken of South Carolina, had an estate that contained 1500 acres of rice land, 500 acres of upland, 700 slaves, and livestock and equipment worth $380,000, which was considered a typical rice plantation. Among the huge plantations were small shops of cheap clothing and trinket stores such as those of Jews that settled in the Southern cities. (Boyer, 92)

Rice thriving only within a 40-mile-wide coastal strip extending from Cape Fear, which is now known as North Carolina, to present day Georgia. The marshy and hot lowlands quickly became infested with malaria. Carolina grimily joked that “ the rice belt was a paradise in spring, an inferno in the summer, and a hospital in the wet, chilly fall.” Planters’ families usually escaped, in the worst of months, to the more healthier and cooler climate of Charleston, while the overseer supervised the harvest. (Olmsted, pg.315)

The Carolina rice profits had come to someone else’s expense. English undeterred servants could not survive the humid rice paddies swarming with malaria-bearing mosquitoes. The planter’s solution was to import African slaves. There were two advantages in importing slaves. Th first, approximately 15% of the imported slaves cultivated rice in their homeland, and their enterprise was vital in teaching whites how to raise the unfamiliar crop. Second, most Africans had partial immunity to the malaria that killed many in the region. A tremendous demand for slaves therefore developed. For a typical rice planter, farming 130 acres of land required 65 slaves. (Boyer, pg. 94)

Malaria on plantations caused the number of indentured servants to decrease. Plantation owners had tom settle for slaves; Negroes, who, although expensive to purchase, worked for their masters for life. Furthermore, the offspring of the slave would be in servitude of the master as well. The proportions of slaves in southern Carolina’s population spurted from17% in 1620 to 67% as nearly as 1720. The slave population outnumbered that of the white farmers, plantation owners, and their families. Life for a slave on a rice plantation was probably worse than any other. The swampy land made all slaves susceptible to malaria and other diseases; as Fredric lmsted described in The Cotton Kingdom:

“…in the upper part of this pine land is a house, occupied by his overseer during the malaria season, when it is dangerous for any but Negroes to remain during the night in the vicinity of the swamps and the rice fields. Even those who have been born in the region, and have grown up subject to malaria, are said to be generally weak and short-lived.” (Olmsted, pg.182-3)

The slave issue turned out to be an extremely important one in the shaping of the ante-bellum South. While the North was fighting slavery, the South was advocating it. Under President Jackson, the North and West aligned to tax the South by forming the tariff of Abomination. In December of 1838, the South Carolina legislature called the new tariff unconstitutional. At first, the south tried to align with the wet. When their plan failed, South Carolina, led by Vice President John C. Calhoun, threatened to nullify laws and tariffs which were unfavorable to them. The new tariff, Calhoun believed, would impoverish the south. After warning Jackson the relief should be provided or the union ”would be shaken to its foundation,” Calhoun returned to his South Carolina plantation where he wrote his essay ”South Carolina Exposition and Protest.” After several threats were made by Jackson, including one in which he threatened to hang all the nullifiers, the issue was quelled, but the Southerners carried a hatred which would eventually bring about the civil war. (Faulkner, pg.205)

Economically, the “golden period” in rice production in the South was between 1820 and 1850. In 1839, over eighteen million pounds of rice, most of which was sold in Europe, the West Indies, the North were produced in South Carolina and Georgia. A decade later the production of rice increased to 215,313,497 pounds produced. A decline in rice production occurred in 1850. The decline was most probably caused by the rise of cotton prices that drew labor or capital out of rice production, or possibly planters hesitated to risk the lives of expensive slaves in the unhealthy rice swamps. But, whatever the reason rice growers never occurred in the Southeast and after the Civil war it moved Westward into Louisiana Arkansas, and Texas. States from 1690, and the production of rice, as well of the American nation. The South was a threat to the Union. The incompatibility of the North and South caused the two to completely separate; whether issues concerning industrialization, slavery, or just the Unity of the nation.



- Boyer, Paul S.

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