Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Romance and Rice Plantations by Elva Cobb Martin

In my research for a future romance novel, as well as for magazine articles, I recently I took the annual two-day Rice Plantation Tour sponsored by an historic Episcopal Church in Georgetown, South Carolina. The church parish was founded in 1721. It's cemetery I wandered in the day before the tours began whispered many stories.

Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church Cemetery     

Did you know that rice was once king in South Carolina? Some would even say more so than the King of England ever was. From colonial times until the Civil War rice growing made the Carolina Low Country one of the wealthiest areas in the United States. In fact, by the Revolutionary War rice, nicknamed “Carolina Gold” made Charleston, South Carolina, the richest colonial town in America with twice the wealth of Philadelphia and New York, according to the ETV program “When Rice Was King.”

Over two days we toured about 20 plantations and town houses. Even though it rained both days I took lots of photos—with my umbrella held in one hand and my camera in the other!

Most names of the plantations echo their history—Hopsewee, The Oaks (shown on the right), Wicklow Hall, Rice Hope, Arundel, Mansfield, Rosemont, Arcadia, Millbrooke/Annandale, Estherville, Belle Isle, Waverly.

The town houses often reflected the names of original owners—Kaminski House, Robert Stewart House, Thomas Hutchinson House, Henry Cuttino House, Samuel Kirton House.

We had a delicious tea each afternoon at the Winyah Indigo Society Hall (circa 1857). This society is one of the oldest men’s convivial organizations in our nation. It was founded in 1740. Indigo, it seems was a good second crop to rice which required its intense labor at a different season than the most intense labor for rice. Thank God for indigo—an important original ingredient in making Levi’s and blue jeans we all love.

All the plantations we toured were in excellent preservation, and most of the houses still lived in, many of the farm lands still tilled, but not with rice. The good shape of the houses can probably be credited to the second wave of Yankee invaders after the Civil War—the rich industrialists of the north who bought up the beleaguered rice plantations after their loss of slave labor. In the beginning they often turned them into hunting and gun clubs where U.S. Presidents visited. Many are now owned by history lovers who all they can to preserve the rich record of the rice plantation culture. We are thankful for that.

Estherville Plantation river side where the rice was transported. 

What made the Carolina Low Country and Georgetown so conducive to rice growing? The rice-growing kingdom actually stretched for nearly 300 miles of coastland from Cape Fear, North Carolina, to St. Mary’s river in Georgia. Sixteen rivers in this stretch had the necessary ocean tides of at least four feet. Georgetown is situated at the mouth of five of those rivers as they flow into the Atlantic, so it became the heart of this rich industry.

Who brought all the wealth into the Carolinas buying the rice? Carolina Gold Rice was the best praised by foreign nations who bought tons of it to feed their marching armies.

Doesn’t this make you think we ought to eat more rice—if it kept marching armies on their feet, it can keep us ticking along, too. Of course, they surely ate whole grain rice. Are you a regular rice consumer? Unfortunately, rice is no longer grown in South Carolina, but have you seen the Carolina Rice brand on your grocery shelf?

Each rice plantation and the many town houses have their own exciting story I hope to explore in later blogs. Would you be interested?

Be sure and leave a comment and tweet this article for your history lover friends and writers.

Elva Cobb Martin is president of the South Carolina Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a former school teacher and a graduate of Anderson University and Erskine College. Decision, Charisma, and Home Life have published her articles. She has completed two inspirational romances. In a Pirate’s Debt is being considered by a literary agency for representation. Summer of Deception is being considered by a publisher. A mother finally promoted to grandmother, Elva lives with her husband Dwayne and a mini-dachshund writing helper (Lucy) in Anderson, South Carolina. She and her husband are retired ministers. Connect with her also on her web site