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American Negro Slavery
Chapter V The Rice Coast
by Phillips, Ulrich Bonnell


The impulse for the formal colonization of Carolina came from Barbados, which by the time of the Restoration was both overcrowded and torn with dissension. Sir John Colleton, one of the leading planters in that little island, proposed to several of his powerful Cavalier friends in England that they join him in applying for a proprietary charter to the vacant region between Virginia and Florida, with a view of attracting Barbadians and any others who might come. In 1663 accordingly the "Merry Monarch" issued the desired charter to the eight applicants as Lords Proprietors. They were the Duke of Albemarle, the Earl of Clarendon, Earl Craven, Lord Ashley (afterward the Earl of Shaftesbury), Lord Berkeley, Sir George Carteret, Sir William Berkeley, and Sir John Colleton. Most of these had no acquaintance with America, and none of them had knowledge of Carolina or purpose of going thither. They expected that the mere throwing open of the region under their distinguished patronage would bring settlers in a rush; and to this end they published proposals in England and Barbados offering lands on liberal terms and providing for a large degree of popular self-government. A group of Barbadians promptly made a tentative settlement at the mouth of the Cape Fear River; but finding the soil exceedingly barren, they almost as promptly scattered to the four winds. Meanwhile in the more southerly region nothing was done beyond exploring the shore.

Finding their passive policy of no avail, the Lords Proprietors bestirred themselves in 1669 to the extent of contributing several hundred pounds each toward planting a colony on their southward coast. At the same time they adopted the "fundamental constitutions" which John Locke had framed for the province. These contemplated land grants in huge parcels to a provincial nobility, and a cumbrous oligarchical government with a minimum participation of popular representatives. The grandiloquent feudalism of the scheme appealed so strongly to the aristocratic Lords Proprietors that in spite of their usual acumen in politics they were blinded to its conflicts with their charter and to its utter top-heaviness. They rewarded Locke with the first patent of Carolina nobility, which carried with it a grant of forty-eight thousand acres. For forty years they clung to the fundamental constitutions, notwithstanding repeated rejections of them by the colonists.

The fund of 1669 was used in planting what proved a permanent settlement of English and Barbadians on the shores of Charleston Harbor. Thereafter the Lords Proprietors relapsed into passiveness, commissioning a new governor now and then and occasionally scolding the colonists for disobedience. The progress of settlement was allowed to take what course it might.

The fundamental constitutions recognized the institution of negro slavery, and some of the first Barbadians may have carried slaves with them to Carolina. But in the early decades Indian trading, lumbering and miscellaneous farming were the only means of livelihood, none of which gave distinct occasion for employing negroes. The inhabitants, furthermore, had no surplus income with which to buy slaves. The recruits who continued to come from the West Indies doubtless brought some blacks for their service; but the Huguenot exiles from France, who comprised the chief other streamlet of immigration, had no slaves and little money. Most of the people were earning their bread by the sweat of their brows. The Huguenots in particular, settling mainly in the interior on the Cooper and Santee Rivers, labored with extraordinary diligence and overcame the severest handicaps. That many of the settlers whether from France or the West Indies were of talented and sturdy stock is witnessed by the mention of the family names of Legaré, Laurens, Marion and Ravenel among the Huguenots, Drayton, Elliot, Gibbes and Middleton among the Barbadians, Lowndes and Rawlins from St. Christopher's, and Pinckney from Jamaica. Some of the people were sluggards, of course, but the rest, heterogeneous as they were, were living and laboring as best they might, trying such new projects as they could, building a free government in spite of the Lords Proprietors, and awaiting the discovery of some staple resource from which prosperity might be won.

Among the crops tried was rice, introduced from Madagascar by Landgrave Thomas Smith about 1694, which after some preliminary failures proved so great a success that from about the end of the seventeenth century its production became the absorbing concern. Now slaves began to be imported rapidly. An official account of the colony in 1708[1] reckoned the population at about 3500 whites, of whom 120 were indentured servants, 4100 negro slaves, and 1400 Indians captured in recent wars and held for the time being in a sort of slavery. Within the preceding five years, while the whites had been diminished by an epidemic, the negroes had increased by about 1,100. The negroes were governed under laws modeled quite closely upon the slave code of Barbados, with the striking exception that in this period of danger from Spanish invasion most of the slave men were required by law to be trained in the use of arms and listed as an auxiliary militia.
[Footnote 1: Text printed in Edward McCrady, South Carolina under the Proprietary Government (New York, 1897). pp. 477-481.]
During the rest of the colonial period the production of rice advanced at an accelerating rate and the slave population increased in proportion, while the whites multiplied somewhat more slowly. Thus in 1724 the whites were estimated at 14,000, the slaves at 32,000, and the rice export was about 4000 tons; in 1749 the whites were said to be nearly 25,000, the slaves at least 39,000, and the rice export some 14,000 tons, valued at nearly £100,000 sterling;[2] and in 1765 the whites were about 40,000, the slaves about 90,000, and the rice export about 32,000 tons, worth some £225,000.[3] Meanwhile the rule of the Lords Proprietors had been replaced for the better by that of the crown, with South Carolina politically separated from her northern sister; and indigo had been introduced as a supplementary staple. The Charleston district was for several decades perhaps the most prosperous area on the continent.
[Footnote 2: Governor Glen, in B.R. Carroll, Historical Collections of South Carolina (New York, 1836), II, 218, 234, 266.]

[Footnote 3: McCrady, South Carolina under the Royal Government (New York, 1899), pp. 389, 390, 807.]
While rice culture did not positively require inundation, it was facilitated by the periodical flooding of the fields, a practice which was introduced into the colony about 1724. The best lands for this purpose were level bottoms with a readily controllable water supply adjacent. During most of the colonial period the main recourse was to the inland swamps, which could be flooded only from reservoirs of impounded rain or brooks. The frequent shortage of water in this régime made the flooding irregular and necessitated many hoeings of the crop. Furthermore, the dearth of watersheds within reach of the great cypress swamps on the river borders hampered the use of these which were the most fertile lands in the colony. Beginning about 1783 there was accordingly a general replacement of the reservoir system by the new one of tide-flowing.[4] For this method tracts were chosen on the flood-plains of streams whose water was fresh but whose height was controlled by the tide. The land lying between the levels of high and low tide was cleared, banked along the river front and on the sides, elaborately ditched for drainage, and equipped with "trunks" or sluices piercing the front embankment. On a frame above either end of each trunk a door was hung on a horizontal pivot and provided with a ratchet. When the outer door was raised above the mouth of the trunk and the inner door was lowered, the water in the stream at high tide would sluice through and flood the field, whereas at low tide the water pressure from the land side would shut the door and keep the flood in. But when the elevation of the doors was reversed the tide would be kept out and at low tide any water collected in the ditches from rain or seepage was automatically drained into the river. Occasional cross embankments divided the fields for greater convenience of control. The tide-flow system had its own limitations and handicaps. Many of the available tracts were so narrow that the cost of embankment was very high in proportion to the area secured; and hurricanes from oceanward sometimes raised the streams until they over-topped the banks and broke them. If these invading waters were briny the standing crop would be killed and the soil perhaps made useless for several years until fresh water had leached out the salt. At many places, in fact, the water for the routine flowing of the crop had to be inspected and the time awaited when the stream was not brackish.
[Footnote 4: David Ramsay, History of South Carolina (Charleston, 1809), II, 201-206.]
Economy of operation required cultivation in fairly large units. Governor Glen wrote about 1760, "They reckon thirty slaves a proper number for a rice plantation, and to be tended by one overseer."[5] Upon the resort to tide-flowing the scale began to increase. For example, Sir James Wright, governor of Georgia, had in 1771 eleven plantations on the Savannah, Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers, employing from 33 to 72 slaves each, the great majority of whom were working hands.[6] At the middle of the nineteenth century the single plantation of Governor Aiken on Jehossee Island, South Carolina, of which more will be said in another chapter, had some seven hundred slaves of all ages.
[Footnote 5: Carroll, Historical Collections of South Carolina, II, 202.]

[Footnote 6: American Historical Association Report for 1903, p. 445.]
In spite of many variations in the details of cultivation, the tide-flow system led to a fairly general standard of routine. After perhaps a preliminary breaking of the soil in the preceding fall, operations began in the early spring with smoothing the fields and trenching them with narrow hoes into shallow drills about three inches wide at the bottom and twelve or fourteen inches apart. In these between March and May the seed rice was carefully strewn and the water at once let on for the "sprout flow." About a week later the land was drained and kept so until the plants appeared plentifully above ground. Then a week of "point flow" was followed by a fortnight of dry culture in which the spaces between the rows were lightly hoed and the weeds amidst the rice pulled up. Then came the "long flow" for two or three weeks, followed by more vigorous hoeing, and finally the "lay-by flow" extending for two or three months until the crop, then standing shoulder high and thick with bending heads, was ready for harvest. The flowings served a triple purpose in checking the weeds and grass, stimulating the rice, and saving the delicate stalks from breakage and matting by storms.

A curious item in the routine just before the grain was ripe was the guarding of the crop from destruction by rice birds. These bobolinks timed their southward migration so as to descend upon the fields in myriads when the grain was "in the milk." At that stage the birds, clinging to the stalks, could squeeze the substance from within each husk by pressure of the beak. Negroes armed with guns were stationed about the fields with instructions to fire whenever a drove of the birds alighted nearby. This fusillade checked but could not wholly prevent the bobolink ravages. To keep the gunners from shattering the crop itself they were generally given charges of powder only; but sufficient shot was issued to enable the guards to kill enough birds for the daily consumption of the plantation. When dressed and broiled they were such fat and toothsome morsels that in their season other sorts of meat were little used.

For the rice harvest, beginning early in September, as soon as a field was drained the negroes would be turned in with sickles, each laborer cutting a swath of three or four rows, leaving the stubble about a foot high to sustain the cut stalks carefully laid upon it in handfuls for a day's drying. Next day the crop would be bound in sheaves and stacked for a brief curing. When the reaping was done the threshing began, and then followed the tedious labor of separating the grain from its tightly adhering husk. In colonial times the work was mostly done by hand, first the flail for threshing, then the heavy fat-pine pestle and mortar for breaking off the husk. Finally the rice was winnowed of its chaff, screened of the "rice flour" and broken grain, and barreled for market.[7]
[Footnote 7: The best descriptions of the rice industry are Edmund Ruffin, Agricultural Survey of South Carolina (Columbia, S.C. 1843); and R.F.W. Allston, Essay on Sea Coast Crops (Charleston, 1854), which latter is printed also in DeBow's Review, XVI, 589-615.]
The ditches and pools in and about the fields of course bred swarms of mosquitoes which carried malaria to all people subject. Most of the whites were afflicted by that disease in the warmer half of the year, but the Africans were generally immune. Negro labor was therefore at such a premium that whites were virtually never employed on the plantations except as overseers and occasionally as artisans. In colonial times the planters, except the few quite wealthy ones who had town houses in Charleston, lived on their places the year round; but at the close of the eighteenth century they began to resort in summer to "pine land" villages within an hour or two's riding distance from their plantations. In any case the intercourse between the whites and blacks was notably less than in the tobacco region, and the progress of the negroes in civilization correspondingly slighter. The plantations were less of homesteads and more of business establishments; the race relations, while often cordial, were seldom intimate.

The introduction of indigo culture was achieved by one of America's greatest women, Eliza Lucas, afterward the wife of Charles Pinckney (chief-justice of the province) and mother of the two patriot statesmen Thomas and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Her father, the governor of the British island of Antigua, had been prompted by his wife's ill health to settle his family in South Carolina, where the three plantations he acquired near Charleston were for several years under his daughter's management. This girl while attending her father's business found time to keep up her music and her social activities, to teach a class of young negroes to read, and to carry on various undertakings in economic botany. In 1741 her experiments with cotton, guinea-corn and ginger were defeated by frost, and alfalfa proved unsuited to her soil; but in spite of two preliminary failures that year she raised some indigo plants with success. Next year her father sent a West Indian expert named Cromwell to manage her indigo crop and prepare its commercial product. But Cromwell, in fear of injuring the prosperity of his own community, purposely mishandled the manufacturing. With the aid of a neighbor, nevertheless, Eliza not only detected Cromwell's treachery but in the next year worked out the true process. She and her father now distributed indigo seed to a number of planters; and from 1744 the crop began to reach the rank of a staple.[8] The arrival of Carolina indigo at London was welcomed so warmly that in 1748 Parliament established a bounty of sixpence a pound on indigo produced in the British dominions. The Carolina output remained of mediocre quality until in 1756 Moses Lindo, after a career in the indigo trade in London, emigrated to Charleston and began to teach the planters to distinguish the grades and manufacture the best.[9] At excellent prices, ranging generally from four to six shillings a pound, the indigo crop during the rest of the colonial period, reaching a maximum output of somewhat more than a million pounds from some twenty thousand acres in the crop, yielded the community about half as much gross income as did its rice. The net earnings of the planters were increased in a still greater proportion than this, for the work-seasons in the two crops could be so dovetailed that a single gang might cultivate both staples.
[Footnote 8: Journal and Letters of Eliza Lucas (Wormesloe, Ga., 1850); Mrs. St. Julien Ravenel, Eliza Pinckney (New York, 1896); Plantation and Frontier, I, 265, 266.]

[Footnote 9: B.A. Elzas, The Jews of South Carolina (Philadelphia, 1905), chap. 3.]
Indigo grew best in the light, dry soil so common on the coastal plain. From seed sown in the early spring the plant would reach its full growth, from three to six feet high, and begin to bloom in June or early July. At that stage the plants were cut off near the ground and laid under water in a shallow vat for a fermentation which in the course of some twelve hours took the dye-stuff out of the leaves. The solution then drawn into another vat was vigorously beaten with paddles for several hours to renew and complete the foaming fermentation. Samples were taken at frequent intervals during the latter part of this process, and so soon as a blue tinge became apparent lime water, in carefully determined proportions, was gently stirred in to stop all further action and precipitate the "blueing." When this had settled, the water was drawn off, the paste on the floor was collected, drained in bags, kneaded, pressed, cut into cubes, dried in the shade and packed for market.[10] A second crop usually sprang from the roots of the first and was harvested in August or September.
[Footnote 10: B.R. Carroll, Historical Collections of South Carolina, II, 532-535.]
Indigo production was troublesome and uncertain of results. Not only did the furrows have to be carefully weeded and the caterpillars kept off the plants, but when the stalks were being cut and carried to the vats great pains were necessary to keep the bluish bloom on the leaves from being rubbed off and lost, and the fermentation required precise control for the sake of quality in the product.[11] The production of the blue staple virtually ended with the colonial period. The War of Independence not only cut off the market for the time being but ended permanently, of course, the receipt of the British bounty. When peace returned the culture was revived in a struggling way; but its vexations and vicissitudes made it promptly give place to sea-island cotton.[12]
[Footnote 11: Johann David Schoepf, Travels in the Confederation, 1783-1784, A.J. Morrison tr. (Philadelphia, 1911), pp. 187-189.]

[Footnote 12: David Ramsay, History of South Carolina, II, 212; D.D. Wallace, Life of Henry Laurens, p. 132.]
The plantation of the rice-coast type had clearly shown its tendency to spread into all the suitable areas from Winyah Bay to St. John's River, when its southward progress was halted for a time by the erection of the peculiar province of Georgia. The launching of this colony was the beginning of modern philanthropy. Upon procuring a charter in 1732 constituting them trustees of Georgia, James Oglethorpe and his colleagues began to raise funds from private donations and parliamentary grants for use in colonizing English debtor-prisoners and other unfortunates. The beneficiaries, chosen because of their indigence, were transported at the expense of the trust and given fifty-acre homesteads with equipment and supplies. Instruction in agriculture was provided for them at Savannah, and various regulations were established for making them soberly industrious on a small-farming basis. The land could not be alienated, and neither slaves nor rum could be imported. Persons immigrating at their own expense might procure larger land grants, but no one could own more than five hundred acres; and all settlers must plant specified numbers of grape vines and mulberry trees with a view to establishing wine and silk as the staples of the colony.

In the first few years, while Oglethorpe was in personal charge at Savannah and supplies from England were abundant, there was an appearance of success, which soon proved illusory. Not only were the conditions unfit for silk and wine, but the fertile tracts were malarial and the healthy districts barren, and every industry suited to the climate had to meet the competition of the South Carolinians with their slave labor and plantation system. The ne'er-do-weels from England proved ne'er-do-weels again. They complained of the soil, the climate, and the paternalistic regulations under which they lived. They protested against the requirements of silk and wine culture; they begged for the removal of all peculiar restrictions and for the institution of self-government They bombarded the trustees with petitions saying "rum punch is very wholesome in this climate," asking fee-simple title to their lands, and demanding most vigorously the right of importing slaves. But the trustees were deaf to complaints. They maintained that the one thing lacking for prosperity from silk and wine was perseverance, that the restriction on land tenure was necessary on the one hand to keep an arms-bearing population in the colony and on the other hand to prevent the settlers from contracting debts by mortgage, that the prohibitions of rum and slaves were essential safeguards of sobriety and industry, and that discontent under the benevolent care of the trustees evidenced a perversity on the part of the complainants which would disqualify them for self-government. Affairs thus reached an impasse. Contributions stopped; Parliament gave merely enough money for routine expenses; the trustees lost their zeal but not their crotchets; the colony went from bad to worse. Out of perhaps five thousand souls in Georgia about 1737 so many departed to South Carolina and other free settlements that in 1741 there were barely more than five hundred left. This extreme depression at length forced even the staunchest of the trustees to relax. First the exclusion of rum was repealed, then the introduction of slaves on lease was winked at, then in 1749 and 1750 the overt importation of slaves was authorized and all restrictions on land tenure were canceled. Finally the stoppage of the parliamentary subvention in 1751 forced the trustees in the following year to resign their charter.

Slaveholders had already crossed the Savannah River in appreciable numbers to erect plantations on favorable tracts. The lapse of a few more transition years brought Georgia to the status on the one hand of a self-governing royal province and on the other of a plantation community prospering, modestly for the time being, in the production of rice and indigo. Her peculiarities under the trustee régime were gone but not forgotten. The rigidity of paternalism, well meant though it had been, was a lesson against future submission to outward control in any form; and their failure as a peasantry in competition with planters across the river persuaded the Georgians and their neighbors that slave labor was essential for prosperity.

It is curious, by the way, that the tender-hearted, philanthropic Oglethorpe at the very time of his founding Georgia was the manager of the great slave-trading corporation, the Royal African Company. The conflict of the two functions cannot be relieved except by one of the greatest of all reconciling considerations, the spirit of the time. Whatever else the radicals of that period might wish to reform or abolish, the slave trade was held either as a matter of course or as a positive benefit to the people who constituted its merchandise.

The narrow limits of the rice and indigo régime in the two colonies made the plantation system the more dominant in its own area. Detailed statistics are lacking until the first federal census, when indigo was rapidly giving place to sea-island cotton; but the requirements of the new staple differed so little from those of the old that the plantations near the end of the century were without doubt on much the same scale as before the Revolution. In the four South Carolina parishes of St. Andrew's, St. John's Colleton, St. Paul's and St. Stephen's the census-takers of 1790 found 393 slaveholders with an average of 33.7 slaves each, as compared with a total of 28 non-slaveholding families. In these and seven more parishes, comprising together the rural portion of the area known politically as the Charleston District, there were among the 1643 heads of families 1318 slaveholders owning 42,949 slaves. William Blake had 695; Ralph Izard had 594 distributed on eight plantations in three parishes, and ten more at his Charleston house; Nathaniel Heyward had 420 on his plantations and 13 in Charleston; William Washington had 380 in the country and 13 in town; and three members of the Horry family had 340, 229 and 222 respectively in a single neighborhood. Altogether there were 79 separate parcels of a hundred slaves or more, 156 of between fifty and ninety-nine, 318 of between twenty and forty-nine, 251 of between ten and nineteen, 206 of from five to nine, and 209 of from two to four, 96 of one slave each, and 3 whose returns in the slave column are illegible.[13] The statistics of the Georgetown and Beaufort districts, which comprised the rest of the South Carolina coast, show a like analysis except for a somewhat larger proportion of non-slaveholders and very small slaveholders, who were, of course, located mostly in the towns and on the sandy stretches of pine-barren. The detailed returns for Georgia in that census have been lost. Were those for her coastal area available they would surely show a similar tendency toward slaveholding concentration.
[Footnote 13: Heads of Families at the First Census of the United States, 1790: State of South Carolina (Washington, 1908); A Century of Population Growth (Washington, 1909), pp. 190, 191, 197, 198.]
Avenues of transportation abundantly penetrated the whole district in the form of rivers, inlets and meandering tidal creeks. Navigation on them was so easy that watermen to the manner born could float rafts or barges for scores of miles in any desired direction, without either sails or oars, by catching the strong ebb and flow of the tides at the proper points. But unlike the Chesapeake estuaries, the waterways of the rice coast were generally too shallow for ocean-going vessels. This caused a notable growth of seaports on the available harbors. Of those in South Carolina, Charleston stood alone in the first rank, flanked by Georgetown and Beaufort. In the lesser province of Georgia, Savannah found supplement in Darien and Sunbury. The two leading ports were also the seats of government in their respective colonies. Charleston was in fact so complete a focus of commerce, politics and society that South Carolina was in a sense a city-state.

The towns were in sentiment and interest virtually a part of the plantation community. The merchants were plantation factors; the lawyers and doctors had country patrons; the wealthiest planters were town residents from time to time; and many prospering townsmen looked toward plantation retirement, carrying as it did in some degree the badge of gentility, as the crown of their careers. Furthermore the urban negroes, more numerous proportionately than anywhere else on the continent, kept the citizens as keenly alive as the planters to the intricacies of racial adjustments. For example Charleston, which in 1790 had 8089 whites, 7864 slaves and 586 free negroes, felt as great anxiety as did the rural parishes at rumors of slave conspiracies, and on the other hand she had a like interest in the improvement of negro efficiency, morality and good will.

The rice coast community was a small one. Even as measured in its number of slaves it bulked only one-fourth as large, say in 1790, as the group of tobacco commonwealths or the single sugar island of Jamaica. Nevertheless it was a community to be reckoned with. Its people were awake to their peculiar conditions and problems; it had plenty of talented citizens to formulate policies; and it had excellent machinery for uniting public opinion. In colonial times, plying its trade mainly with England and the West Indies, it was in little touch with its continental neighbors, and it developed a sense of separateness. As part of a loosely administered empire its people were content in prosperity and self-government. But in a consolidated nation of diverse and conflicting interests it would be likely on occasion to assert its own will and resist unitedly anything savoring of coercion. In a double sense it was of the southern South.

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