Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Researching Carolina Rice Plantations

By Elva Cobb Martin

In my research for a future novel, as well as for magazine articles, I recently 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.

Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church

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!

Wicklow Plantation

Most names of the plantations echo their history--Hopsewee, The Oaks, Wicklow Hall, Rice Hope, Arundel, Mansfield, Rosemont, Arcadia, Millbrooke/Annandale, Estherville, Belle Isle, and Waverly. 

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

We had a delicious tea both afternoons 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; most of the houses still lived in; and many of the farm lands still tilled, but not for 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 preserve all they can of the rich record of the rice plantation culture. We are thankful for that.

Oaks Gun Club

What made the 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 the most 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, right? Of course, they surely ate whole grain rice. 

Are you a regular rice consumer? Unfortunately, rice is no longer grown in South Carolina. Regardless, have you seen the Carolina Rice brand on your grocery shelf? Each rice plantation and the many town houses have their own exciting stories that I hope to explore in later blogs. Would you be interested? 

Be sure and leave a comment and please tweet this article for your history loving friends and fellow writers. 

Elva Cobb Martin is president of the South Carolina Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a former school teacher and graduate of Anderson University and Erskine College. She has had articles published in Decision, Charisma, and Home Life. 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 named Lucy in Anderson, South Carolina. She and her husband are retired ministers. Connect with Elva via her web site at, through her blog here, via Twitter @Elvacobbmartin or through her Facebook page


  1. Very interesting. I did not know about the rice grown in the Charleston. I always thought of just cotton. I would love to hear more and wish we could find rice that was grown here in SC. Maybe now some people will think about it. Thanks for the information.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Lillian. The truth is rice is no longer grown in South Carolina, but in some other southern states in the Gulf area. But the brand is still called "Carolina Rice." I think that's neat and historically accurate. Blessings, Elva