The Story of Rice in GA and SC

Harper's Weekly (Jan. 5, 1867), p. 8.

The first recorder planting of rice as a cash crop in Georgia was in 1685. The "wet rice" techniques imported from Africa came later and required tidal fresh water with an adequate tidal range to flood and drain fields using only the rise and fall of the tides. These conditions were present only along a thin stretch of coastal SC and GA stretching from around Georgetown, SC to Brunswick, GA.Here is an excerpt from Ricepedia about rice cultivation in the southeast US. Links have been added.

"In the United States, colonial South Carolina and Georgia grew and amassed great wealth from the Slavery labor obtained from the Senegambia area of West Africa and from coastal Sierra Leone.

At the port of Charleston, through which 40% of all American slave imports passed, slaves from this region of Africa brought the highest prices, in recognition of their prior knowledge of rice culture, which was put to use on the many rice plantations around Georgetown, Charleston, and Savannah.

From the enslaved Africans, plantation owners learned how to dyke the marshes and periodically flood the fields. At first the rice was milled by hand with wooden paddles, then winnowed in sweetgrass baskets (the making of which was another skill brought by slaves from Africa). The invention of the rice mill increased profitability of the crop, and the addition of water power for the mills in 1787 by millwright Jonathan Lucas was another step forward.

Rice culture in the southeastern U.S. became less profitable with the loss of slave labor after the American Civil War, and it finally died out just after the turn of the 20th century. Today, people can visit the only remaining rice plantation in South Carolina that still has the original winnowing barn and rice mill from the mid-19th century at the historic Mansfield Plantation in Georgetown, South Carolina. The predominant strain of rice in the Carolinas was from Africa and was known as "Carolina Gold."

Life as a slave on a large rice plantation in GA or SC was brutal and usually short. Demanding work in the swampy fields resulted in physical breakdown (poor diet being a contributing factor) and exposure to epidemics of dysentery, malarial, and yellow fever, Few children born in or sent to rice plantations survived to adulthood.


Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps by William DusinberreĀ (2000) A disturbing, in-depth look at three rice plantations in GA and SC detailing the every day brutality of life as a slave.

Seeed from Madgascar by Duncan Clinch Heyward. A 1993 reprint of a 1937 book written with a sympathetic eye for the plantation system by a descendant of the one of the largest slaves holders in the area.

Slavery and Rice Culture in Low Country Georgia 1750-1860 by Julia Floyd Smith (1985) Well researched analysis of the life of slaves in the lowcountry.

Black Rice by Judith Carney (2002) "In this vivid interpretation of rice and slaves in the Atlantic world, Judith Carney reveals how racism has shaped our historical memory and neglected this critical African contribution to the making of the Americas." (Karl Zimmer).