Rice & Indigo South Carolina Cash Crops

Following yesterday’s post and the response, I thought I’d do one of my rare history lessons and discuss a little about plantation life in then 1780s, specifically in South Carolina where His Yankee Bride takes place.

While Virginia and North Carolina thrived on tobacco, it didn’t grow as well in South Carolina due to the more tropical climate and wetter ground, particularly in the lowlands of the state–or the southern portion.

Rice, however, grew very well in South Carolina because the ground stayed wet. However, rice fields brought other problems, most notably mosquitos. Because rice has to be grown in water, there would be miles and miles of stagnant water which attracts mosquitos which would transmit malaria. Netting and even candles were used as a means to stay healthy, but it was useless as in some places mosquitos were so thick they looked like black clouds.

During the mid 1700s and even all the way until the early 1800s death by malaria was very common and claimed lives in epidemic proportions.

South Carolinians tried to grow other things, such as silk, but had no luck. It wasn’t until Eliza Lucas who lived outside of Charleston was sent some plants from her father who grew indigo in the tropics that the people in southern South Carolina had a chance. Eliza grew the plants on her own plantation first, then when she saw they thrived, she taught other plantation owners in the area about how to grow and harvest indigo.

Though indigo did grow and thrive in South Carolina, many rice farmers still continued to grow rice because they could grow two crops of rice a year. Some, did a combination of the two and grew indigo during part of the year and a crop of rice for the other part. Because rice could be grown and harvested twice in a year, rice maintained the position of the most profitable cash crop in South Carolina with indigo being firmly in second.

Plantation Terms:

Planter–the owner of the plantation

Big House–house the plantation owner and his family lived in

Street–row or cluster of houses where the slaves lived

Field Hand–slave who worked outside

House Worker–indoor slave

Skilled Laborer–a slave who had a skill such as shoeing horses or blacksmith work.

Interesting facts:

[As a disclaimer, these may or may not cover plantations and slavery in all of the south, however, from what I understand these are accurate for in and around Charleston, South Carolina.]

It was not uncommon, especially on small plantations, for the master of the house to work in the fields alongside the field hands. This happened as a means to either help keep morale high and stave off a slave rebellion or if they couldn’t afford to buy the needed field hands.

It was very, very rare that men and women in slavery were called slaves. The ones who worked outdoors were called filed hands or skilled laborers and the ones who worked indoors were house workers or help. The word “slave” was never used in daily conversations and the only place the word slave actually appeared in writing was in an account of what a dying man had left for his widow–for her to be taxed on, of course. Since inheritance taxes of this sort didn’t become an issue until closer to the Civil War this is irrelevant for this particular time, but still interesting.

Because plantains were so large, it wasn’t uncommon at all for the master’s children to play with the children of the field hands or the house servants until they were about twelve.

As with most of the lofty lords and ladies we read about in England, most plantation owners also owned a townhouse in the city. During the Revolutionary War, the Redcoats took over Charleston for two years and destroyed many of the original townhouses and the majority that did survive were sold after the war to help rebuild their plantations. Coincidentally, after the Civil War, those who owned both townhouses and plantation had to choose to sell one or the other in order to make “something” work financially and the majority chose to sell their plantations this time.

25 thoughts on “Rice & Indigo South Carolina Cash Crops”

  1. Rose –

    I loved your post about Charleston. When my son was attending The Citadel we had the chance to “walk the city” as well as many sites relating to history on our many visits.

    Many of our friends at the time had no idea of the diverse history of the state from before the American Revolution thru current day.

    We love the diversity of culture that makes Charleston a wonderful place to not only visit but to live .Fortunately we have friends that live in Sommerville and get the chance to visit then and walk the streets and by-ways in Charleston when when we visit our son and his family in Columbia.

    1. Jeanne,

      A friend of mine suggested in April that I just had to go to Charleston in order to write this book. So in June we went and it was one of the best family vacations we’ve ever been on. My husband and boys (5 & 6) had no real interest in walking the streets in 100 degree weather, but I did!

      It was so neat to see different sections of the city and hear during which time period they were built, pre or post Revolutionary War and then again pre and post Civil War. It was all very neat. (I was even amazed at how many houses were still in good condition that were built in the 1700s.)

      If you go again and have a desire to tour the historic part of the city with a small group and like a lot of history packed in, I’d suggested checking out The Charleston Tea Party Tour. It’s a private tour that’s lead by a life-long citizen, and she knows so much it’s unreal. It literally takes half the day because she drives you to several of her friends’ historic houses and takes you inside or around the gardens. It also includes breakfast in one of the historic homes by the battery and a light lunch (and because of this it’s a little more expensive than the others), but it’s certainly worth it.

      1. I want to go on a trip with you, Rose. (that didn’t sound stalkerish or anything)That tour sounds like a very fun thing to do. We used to do tours of houses when we went places growing up. I can still remember touring a house in Galveston, Texas where the daughters of the house had a contraption made outside the bathroom to catch the rain water to wash their hair with. It’s those weird things that stick in my mind.

      2. I fear I shan’t be making many more trips with my readers after the pajama and overflowing toilet incident. LOL

        The tour was actually a lot of fun to go on and extremely interesting. You, being a major lover of history, would probably think you’d died and gone to heaven with all the historical facts and of course the freshly brewed tea–from leaves–served from a real silver tea set.

        There are all sorts of neat things in old houses. I love hold houses and seeing how people of that time period made do.

      3. Oh you are no fun. Just because you had a bad experience doesn’t mean it will happen again. I am a fun person to travel with. Just don’t take me whale watching on windy, overcast day. Heck, that was even funny after the fact and my friend still traveled with me to Dallas a couple years later. I always pack extra jammies and I live in house with 5 boys, over flowing toilets mean nothing to me.

      4. It wasn’t her who forgot her pajamas…it was me! LOL But I do have to take full responsibility for the toilet fiasco. (Oh, and tricking her into eating Ghost Pepper Salsa!)

  2. I love history…probably because I grew up on the East Coast. However, I still haven’t visited many southern sites…Bucket List!

    Thanks for the lesson. In reading fiction, I often find myself researching certain terms (scully maid, below stairs, etc).

    1. So much history on the east coast! I grew up in Oregon and without fail during every big event in history someone in the class would ask “Why aren’t we mentioned” or “Where were the Oregon troops?” The answer of course was, either “Oregon” didn’t exist yet or they were so far away from civilization they didn’t matter.

      When I started reading historical fiction, I, too, had to look up scullery maid to know specifically which maid she was: the lowest, usually in the kitchen or “below stairs”. As embarrassing as it is to admit, it wasn’t until I started doing research for my own books that I even realized that the servants only woke below stairs, but lived/slept up in the attics. Very strange to think about at first.

  3. Excellent History lesson. I’m going to be in SC at some point next year visisting a firend and I’m really hopeing we will be able to take in some of the historical sights of SC.

    1. Charleston is great. Also, if you go there, go out to Fort Sumter. Originally built to help keep the English from invading Charleston, but later became the spot of the first Civil War battle. You can actually ride out to it and walked around. It’s really neat.

  4. Another one of those places on my list to see. Thank you for the wonderful post. You know I love my historical tidbits.

  5. Wow, what a great post! I am actively researching South Carolina for our next family trip… Thanks so much for the fun facts and great tips. I also really want to try and grow an indigo plant, thanks to Carolina and her reluctantly informative interview a few days ago. 🙂

    1. South Carolina is great. You guys would probably love it–especially you and your antique shop/flea market obsession.

      There’s a website out there where this woman blogs about growing indigo plants in her garden. If I can find it again, I’ll send you the link.

  6. Rose –

    I just wanted to mention that if you’re every looking for “fun in the sun on the beach” be sure to visit Folly Beach which is just south of Charleston!

    One benefit is you can get fresh shrimp that have just been caught! We have lots of seafood up her in New England but shrimp isn’t one of them!

    If a great little beach town and everyone is so friendly. I can’t praise enough the friendliness and welcome the Charleston area extends to welcome us “Darn Yanks” and be prepared to fall in love with “sweet tea”!

    When my son got married we rented a “beach cottage” just one block from the ocean with a path that led right down to the beach and it was half the price we would have paid in our own town much less in Newport which is just a few miles away from us!

    1. Sadly Jeanne, we cannot return to Folly Beach. It’s a dog beach and our puppy behaved very, very badly while we were there. That’s all I’m going to say.

      I didn’t realize there wasn’t any shrimp in New England.

      Totally agree on how how friendly the people of Charleston are. I think it’s been awarded the most friendly/hospitable city in the USA for several years running, and it is.

      I swear sweet tea is the unofficial (an official in some places) beverage for every state south of the Mason-Dixon line. My husband is a life-long Okie (I’ve only lived here about 11 years) and every summer I find myself brewing pots and pots of sweet tea. It’s even a typical drink option on menus at restaurants around here.

  7. Rose –

    Up here in Rhode Island the “official drink” is coffee milk! Since Dunkin Donuts started right here in Rhode Island of course coffee comes second! My son was thrilled when they opened a Dunkin Donuts up in Greenville, SC (since then he has been transferred to Columbia but fortunately he can buy them there as well).

    We’re fortunate that the local fishing port (Galilee) is only about 5 miles from our house! When you can buy lobster (right off the boat you know your truly getting a “fresh catch”)! You can also go “digging” for clams and then have a clambake on the beach! One of our other favorites is clam cakes and chowder – freshly made of course!

    My sister-in-law, who now lives in Wyoming (she married a real life cowboy), missed the seafood at first but when your husband can get his own “fresh” elk, moose and deer right on their own land (and it’s free) who cares if you can only eat fresh seafood on your visits home?

    1. Coffee Milk? Is that coffee with an extreme amount of milk mixed in?

      I haven’t eaten at a Dunkin’ Donuts in years! We had a Krispy Kreme open a few years back which is pretty good and a few Daylight Donuts, but I’m not sure that I’ve even seen a Dunkin Donuts (unless traveling) in years. Thanks, now I’m craving donuts, or “do-nots” as I frequently call them to remind myself I shouldn’t be eating them if I actually want to fit in my clothes.

      Wyoming is beautiful! I’m sure she has some beautiful landscape to look at. Here in Oklahoma, our beef is as fresh as it can be! My husband once helped my father-in-law wrangle a cow from the farm to take straight to the butcher. I think he used to raise pigs, too, or some other farm animal. (Also, and I don’t know if this is cool or just downright gross, in our city, it is legal to raise chickens in your backyard…and some people actually do.)

  8. Rose –

    My sister-in-law lives in Baggs, Wyoming, one of the places the Hole in the Wall gang used to “hang out” and isn’t one of the “scenic” parts of Wyoming! My brother-in-law grew up on a ranch that covered part of both Wyoming and Colardo and his Dad used to send him and his brothers out to the west “48” to gather up the cattle! They loaded up the truck with food and a tent and drove as far as they could drive, got out and un-loaded then got on their horses and rode until they reached the herd and drove them back to the truck and “horse hauler” and back to the ranch. It took them several days both ways so they “camped out” at night. His father was in a PBS (I think) feature film called “The Last Cowboys”! My niece learned to drive a traffic when she was about 5! My niece and nephew sure aren’t growing up the same way as my sons did “back east!

    My sister-in-law is a teacher and my brother-in-law works in a gas field now but they had a ranch for a while up in Powell where they raised cattle. Some of the students at my sister-in-law’s school still ride their horses to school. When the children participate in “school sports” it a week-end event and they have to stay overnight because the drive is so long. Here parents get up-set because they sometimes have to drive 20 minutes to get to the games because if you drive more than 40 miles in any direction your out of the state!

    1. I think I’ve heard of that PBS special, now I’ll have to go look it up. We have a few real genuine cowboys here, but most aren’t.

      That having to drive really far out of the way for sports is hard. The first football game I remember in high school was against some team from Arkansas, which is about an hour away. Very strange to me since I’d just moved from a city that had four high schools just in that one city and about 20 between all the little cities/towns it touched.

      1. Hi Rose!

        My niece plays on basketball team and when they have a match with another school it’s a week-end event – usually a drive of several hours just to get there and they have to stay overnight for the match!

        Here in Rhode Island people pack a lunch to stop and eat on the way to their destination if it’s more than 15 miles away!

  9. Thank you for your post… very sexy!
    I love the Old South.. I feel as if I were born in the wrong time period. I would love to return to the days when cotton was king in the Old South, with a life full of pampered elegance, rigid arrogance, and frilly fluffy ruffles on ladies and gents fancy attire….

    1. I love the old, south, too, Kip. I often tell my husband that I was born in the wrong place in time. All that you described is exactly what I would have loved (and if the gent was good enough, I might even forgo modern plumbing…)

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