Did Enslaved Africans Spark South Carolina’s Eighteenth-Century Rice Boom?



Beginning in the mid-1970s, students of the rice-growing boom that made South Carolina rich in the eighteenth century began focusing on the role of the enslaved Africans who grew the crop. They decided that the role consisted of much more than sheer brawn, that the slaves brought centuries of rice-cultivation experience in West Africa to the task, and indeed a whole cultural complex. The main advocates of this new historical formulation were Peter H. Wood, Daniel Littlefield, and particularly Judith Carney. Their viewpoint seemed generally accepted until, in 2005, it was sharply criticized by three eminent scholars, David Eltis and David Richardson, historians of the Atlantic slave trade, and Philip Morgan, a historian of American slavery. They contended that the importance of the slaves’ contribution to the rice bonanza had been greatly exaggerated. This paper, in turn, challenges their position on many points, large and small. And it concludes that the achievement of white masters and black chattel in the Lowcountry was a unique synthesis owing at least as much to the slaves as to the planters.


African rice growing Oryza glaberrima Oryza sativa Atlantic slave trade Columbian Exchange Lowcountry rice growing African/American parallels Gullah Division of labor 



For help on this chapter, my thanks go to Frances and Jennifer Alpern, Judith Carney, Philip Cohan, Per Haldbo, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Adam Jones, James La Fleur, Joseph Lauer, Philip Lovdal, Dorothy, Hannah and Peter Lubin, Erica Maillart, Susan Keech McIntosh, Edwin Nuijten, Élisabeth Ortunio, Monique Picard, Tania Pos, Anne Pouchoulin, Paul Richards, Dale Rosengarten, Dana Sardet, and Micky Van Tekelenburg.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Quartier Saint MichelFrance

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