Rich swamps and rice grounds
Smith, Hayden Ros
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This study discusses the environmental and technological complexity of South Carolina inland rice plantations from their inception at the turn of the seventeenth century to their institutional collapse during the Civil War. Inland rice cultivation provided a foundation for the South Carolina colonial plantation complex and enabled planters’ participation in the Atlantic economy, dependence on enslaved labor, and dramatic alteration of the natural landscape. Also, the growing population of enslaved Africans led to a diversely acculturated landscape unique to the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Unlike many historical interpretations that categorize inland rice cultivation in a universal and simplistic manner, this study explains how agricultural systems varied among plantations. By focusing on planters’ and slaves’ alteration of the inland topography, this interpretation emphasizes how agricultural methods met the demands of the local environment. Inland cultivation began as a simple process for growing rice by taking advantage of available sites, yet enslaved laborers spent more energy refining old inland fields and creating new landscapes as the demand for the crop and the land increased. Moreover, planters had to modify a general cultivation model to fit within the diverse landscapes of the Coastal Plain. By paying detailed attention to Lowcountry topography, this study explains how the complex layering of soil and water presented people with a landscape to construct their cultural identity. This study also discusses how rice cultivators worked within these ecological boundaries to construct successful rice plantations and an important global agricultural commodity.
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