British South Carolina

Detail of “Rice Cultivation on the Ogeechee River,” Harper’s Weekly, 1867

Detail of “Rice Cultivation on the Ogeechee River,” Harper’s Weekly, 1867

Courtesy of Library of Congress

In the late 1600s the British established a plantation system in South Carolina like the one in the West Indies, dedicated to production of a single cash crop for export. The colony’s rice plantations offered substantial profits to a few but depended on the forced labor of many.

Enslaved Indians were part of the early workforce, but the British soon turned to importing unfree African workers. By the early 1700s South Carolina had an African majority and a European minority. West Africans brought their own knowledge and beliefs and created a new language and culture in America.

British Immigration

At first British authorities recognized the sovereignty of Native nations, as seen in written agreements that conveyed land. Local chiefs and leading women of the Cusabo tribe signed this conveyance in 1675. Later, British intrusions into interior lands and the practice of taking Indian slaves led to the Yamasee War of 1715–1717.

Deed between Native nation and colonial government, 1675

Deed between Native nation and colonial government, 1675

Courtesy of South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Rice Culture

Much of the South Carolina low country was too swampy for traditional English agriculture. To find a staple crop that would make the colony a secure contributor to the British Empire, settlers needed to adapt to their new environment. In the 1690s the colony successfully adopted rice production. Rice cultivation was a multicultural invention. It combined West African rice-growing knowledge with British practices of agricultural experimentation. The labor of enslaved Africans guaranteed Carolina’s economic success.

Reproduction fanner basket

Reproduction pestle

Reproduction pestle

Implements of rice production in the Carolinas included a mortar and pestle for milling to remove the husk from the grain and a fanner basket for winnowing the husks and chaff away. As in West African rice-growing regions, most processing was women’s work.

Woman using mortar and pestle, 1915

Woman using mortar and pestle, 1915

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection, lib028

Woman using a fanner basket, around 1915–1934

Woman using a fanner basket, around 1915–1934

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection, sap094

Profits from rice culture, the slave trade, and commerce with Europe created a class of successful English, Scots, and French Huguenots, many transplanted from the West Indies. Pictured here is Mrs. Charles Lowndes, wife of a plantation owner in Colleton County, South Carolina.

Portrait of Mrs. Charles Lowndes, by Jeremiah Theus, around 1758

Portrait of Mrs. Charles Lowndes, by Jeremiah Theus, around 1758

Loan from Carolina Art Association/Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, South Carolina

Enslaved Laborers

Enslaved people from rice-growing regions of West Africa were valued workers, as this advertisement reflected. Importation gave Carolina a black majority by 1710.

Reproduction of slave advertisement

Reproduction of slave advertisement

Courtesy of Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

Reproduction of slave inventory

Reproduction of slave inventory

Courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Seeking Freedom

Many enslaved Africans sought to liberate themselves from the harsh conditions of slave life. In 1738 escapees from Carolina and Georgia plantations established a free community at Fort Mose, near St. Augustine in Spanish Florida. Spanish authorities offered freedom for those who pledged loyalty to Spain and joined the Catholic Church.

 

“Plano de la Ciudad y Puerto de San Agustin de la Florida,” by Tomas Lopez de Vargas Machuca, 1783. Fort Mose is seen to the right (North) of San Augustine and called “Fuerte Negro.”

“Plano de la Ciudad y Puerto de San Agustin de la Florida,” by Tomas Lopez de Vargas Machuca, 1783. Fort Mose is seen to the right (North) of San Augustine and called “Fuerte Negro.”

Courtesy of Library of Congress