Investigating the rich history of Lowcountry rice farming

rice barge

When one thinks of antebellum agriculture, one typically thinks of cotton. Indeed, by 1860 Southern farms and plantations supplied 75 percent of the world’s cotton, and Gossypium hirsutum was the dominant agricultural crop from the Carolinas to Texas.

Cotton was such an important part of the pre-war South that the Confederacy believed it would be the ultimate instrument of its independence.

Much less well known today is the princely standing held by another Deep South crop during the days before the War Between the States – that of rice.

Rice was introduced to the United States in the 17th century and is reported to have been cultivated in Virginia almost as soon as the first settlers landed at Jamestown, but it was in the marshy, humid regions of Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia that the crop flourished.

Rice planters couldn’t have succeeded without the forced labor of slaves, particularly those from the Senegambia area of West Africa and coastal Sierra Leone.

At the port of Charleston, slaves with knowledge of rice culture brought the highest price and were put to use on rice plantations around Charleston, Georgetown, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

A new book by Richard Dwight Porcher Jr. and William Robert Judd detailing the once-great Lowcountry rice industry states that nowhere else was an agricultural crop so intimately tied to status and its associated wealth and influence as rice was to the Lowcountry.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice: An Illustrated History of Innovations in the Lowcountry Rice Kingdom is an extensive account of the rice industry in Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia.

market preparation“… the real strength of this book is the author’s documentation based on extensive field research of fifty rice plantations, mill sites, museum and archival collections and travels to investigate foreign connections to the Lowcountry rice industry,” according to a review by the Charleston Post and Courier.

The work, published by University of South Carolina Press, which contains “meticulously rendered line drawings depicting the mechanical devices of the rice industry, lend a startling clarity to the written explanations of how they actually functioned and what part each played in the crop’s journey from the field to the consumer,” the publication adds.

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice identifies the inventiveness of Deep South planters, recognizing that the U.S. Patent Office granted substantial numbers of antebellum patents to South Carolinians for inventions or improvement for rice harvesting and milling equipment alone.

It also recognizes the contributions of slaves “whose blood and sweat transformed inland swamps and riverine marshes into the remarkably dynamic hydraulic systems that composed the sweeping rice fields of the Lowcountry,” according to the Post and Courier.

The book doesn’t gloss over the fact that slaves worked in brutal conditions, explaining “that tidal river marshes were an extremely harsh environment just to exist in, let alone to work in. As it proved, an enslaved work force was the essential element in the survival of the Rice Kingdom, for without them the days of glory were over.”

(Top: Image showing the unloading of rice barges on a 19th century South Carolina rice plantation.)

NC woman, born the daughter of a slave, dies at 91

A North Carolina woman believed to be one of the last residents of the Tar Heel State with a parent who had been a slave has died at age 91.

Mattie Rice of Union County was the daughter of Wary Clyburn, a former slave who died in 1930 at about age 90, when his daughter was 8.

During the Civil War, Clyburn ran away from his plantation in Lancaster County, S.C., to join his master’s son, Frank Clyburn, initially a member of Company E of the 12th S.C. Infantry Regiment, working as his bodyguard and cook.

Rice recalled her father speaking proudly about risking his life to save Frank Clyburn, dragging the officer to safety after he had been wounded in battle, according to the Charlotte Observer.

According to the Compiled Service Records, Thomas Franklin “Frank” Clyburn (1843-1896) joined the Confederate Army as a first lieutenant in the summer of 1861 and rose to the rank of colonel, eventually taking charge of the 12th S.C. Infantry.

He saw action at numerous bloody battles, including Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.

Frank Clyburn was severely wounded on May 23, 1864, in Virginia.

“In December 2012, Rice helped dedicate the marker in Monroe to her father and nine other Union County men. Nine of the men were slaves and one was a free black man, all of whom served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War then received tiny state pensions for their service late in life,” according to the Observer.

The granite marker at the Old County Courthouse is believed to be the first of its kind to honor black men who worked, willingly or not, for the Confederacy.

The marker sparked some controversy and raised questions about elevating so-called “black Confederates” while downplaying slavery’s role in the War Between the States.

Rice ignored such criticism, spending decades “pursuing her unusual family history,” according to the Observer.

Before the 2012 ceremony, she told the publication, “A lot of people ask me if I’m angry. What do I have to be angry about? There’s been slavery since the beginning of time. I’m not bitter about it and I do not think my father would be bitter about it.”

Earl Ijames, a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History, praised Rice’s persistence over the years in highlighting her family background, work that illuminated a long-forgotten chapter of state history.

Rice’s father settled in Monroe, N.C., after the war, and is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery.

(Top: Mattie Rice, seen in 2012, in Union County, NC. Photo credit: The [Monroe County] Enquirer-Journal.)

Spanish-American War veterans remembered in SC

US history, sadly, is replete with “forgotten wars.” American veterans of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the earlier and current Middle Eastern conflicts were and have been largely ignored to one degree or another after their service.

In fact, unless one was a participant in the American Revolution, Civil War or World War II, there’s a pretty good chance one’s service went unappreciated.

Among the “less-remembered” wars in US history is the Spanish-American War, which launched the nation on its path to being an imperial power.

The 1898 conflict, in which the US soundly whipped an outmoded Spanish foe in 10 weeks, left the Americans with control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, and precipitated the even lesser-known Philippine-American War, in which the US battled Filipino insurgents until 1902.

Over this past weekend, veterans of the Spanish-American War were honored in Columbia, SC, during the 78th National Convention of the Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans.

The three-day event attracted descendants of Spanish-American War veterans and other supporters of military veterans.

“The Spanish-American War is a time of reunification,” said Joe Long, curator of education at Columbia’s Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. “And it is also a time that is horribly neglected today. If these traditions and values (of service) are going to be passed down, they are going to have to be done by us.”

Sunday’s guests included J. Wesley McBryant of Indiana, whose father served in the Spanish-American War, according to The State newspaper.

McBryant, who traveled to South Carolina with his two sons for the weekend convention, said it’s important that today’s generation not forget the services of those who fought for their freedoms, the publication added.

The Spanish-American War grew out a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States following the Cuban War of Independence (1895-98).

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April 1861 editorial shows divided sentiments within US

fort-sumter-bombardment

Among the misconceptions surrounding the American Civil War is that both North and South were monolithic in agreement that their side was in the right and the other in the wrong.

The fact is that there were many Unionists in the South and plenty of Northerners with pro-Southern sentiments, particularly at the beginning of the 1861-65 conflict.

Still, it is sometimes startling to see such counterintuitive views expressed in print. Consider an April 8, 1861, editorial from the New York Herald, titled “Invasion of the South – The Inauguration of Civil War”.

After beginning with a description of Union warships sailing “for parts unknown,” but accepted to be the recently seceded states of the Deep South, the publication writes, “It is thus evident that a bloody civil war is resolved upon by Mr. Lincoln and his Cabinet. After long hesitation, the President has screwed his courage to the fighting point. At what precise spot he intends to commence hostilities or to provoke them – whether at Charleston, Pensacola, the mouths of the Mississippi or in Texas, where there is an evident design to excite ‘domestic insurrection,’ or at all of these places together – does not yet appear; but a few days will unfold the mystery.”

The Herald continues that as of that date, which is still four days before the bombing of Fort Sumter, Lincoln has three options:

 … first, to yield to the Confederate States and to all the slaveholding communities their just rights as coequal partners in the Union, which would have had the effect of healing the breach and reuniting the sections; second, to permit a peaceable and bloodless separation, either in the hope of reunion at a future day, or at least of a friendly alliance for mutual defense against foreign foes, and for the establishment of commercial relations, which, if not specifically favoring the North, would at least not discriminate against her; and third, to wage a war of subjugation against seven sovereign States, which will be ultimately extended to fifteen, to compel them to submit to the authority of the government at Washington, and to pay tribute to it, whether they are represented in its Congress or not, in contravention to the great principle for which the colonies fought and conquered the mother country in the Revolution of 1776 – the principle that ‘without representation there can be no taxation.’

The Herald goes on to display a grasp of history that would be utterly out of place in a newspaper today, stating that the impeding war “ … is a revival of the struggle which took place two centuries ago in England between the Puritan Roundheads and the rest of the nation. The vast majority of the people were against them, but by the military genius and iron will of Cromwell the fanatics were rendered successful for a time, after putting their king to death and deluging their native land with seas of blood.” Continue reading

Woman passes counterfeit Confederate bill in Utah

fake confederate money

It’s one thing to be duped by someone passing counterfeit legal tender, but it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who takes fake Confederate currency in exchange for goods or services.

That’s what happened recently in Salina, Utah, where a woman paid for fuel at a gas station with fake $50 Confederate bill in late June.

According to Salina Police, an unidentified female driving a gold ’90s model Ford F-150 with California license plates convinced the attendant at a Premium Oil station to allow her to use the bill to purchase approximately $45 worth of gas, according to the delightfully named Richfield Reaper newspaper.

“After the employee turned on the pump, he was suspicious, so he took the bill to a local bank,” said Police Chief Eric Pratt. “They verified it was not legitimate.”

When the attendant returned to the station, the woman, not surprisingly, had already high-tailed it out of the central Utah town.

And because the $50 bill wasn’t even a real Confederate note, it’s worthless.

“I can tell you it feels like coloring book paper,” Pratt said. “I don’t recommend anyone accepting nonstandard bills like this one as an acceptable form of payment.”

Of course, even if one was somehow taken in by the front of the bill, which has “The Confederate States of America” written in large letters, one might be tipped off that something was amiss by the reverse, which is more akin to monopoly money than legal tender.

Places in the US where fake Confederate currency is accepted.

Places in the US where fake Confederate currency is accepted.

It features the word “Fifty” written large once, smaller two more times, and in numerical form four times, but features no design other than a few geometric patterns.

Not that it’s dissimilar to money printed by the Confederacy 150 years ago, but one would imagine most anyone today would think twice before accepting it.

If the unnamed attendant still has a job, one can’t help but imagine that there are a passel of talented counterfeiters flocking to central Utah for easy pickings.

(Top: The fake $50 Confederate bill accepted by a gas station attendant in Salina, Utah, recently. Photo credit: The Richfield Reaper.)

California cemetery shows post-war migration

1854 official_map_of_california

A return to old haunts offered an indication of the melting pot makeup of 19th century California.

Evergreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz, Calif., along the Monterey Bay, dates back to just before the War Between the States. It not only includes graves from many of the area’s original Protestant pioneers, but the final resting place for an unusually diverse array of Union Army veterans.

Civil War soldiers from 15 states representing no fewer than 35 different units have official Veterans Administration markers in this graveyard, which is dotted by large redwood trees and also features the final resting place for ex-slaves, gold prospectors and Chinese immigrants.

Those at rest range from troops from numerous California regiments and men who served in territorial units from Nevada and Colorado to those who saw service in some of the conflict’s major battles as part of regiments from eastern and Midwestern states.

There is also at least one Confederate veteran buried in the cemetery.

And these are only the graves marked by VA stones. With more than 2,000 individuals resting in the cemetery, it’s almost certain that other soldiers are buried in the graveyard, as well.

The cemetery is different from that of many Southern and Eastern cemeteries of the same era, where the deceased are often from the state the graveyard is located in, the country they emigrated from, or, occasionally, a nearby state.

Evergreen, however, features Union veterans from the following states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.

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Haw’s Shop: The seven-hour buzz saw

haw's shop battlefield

For all the notoriety of Shiloh, Antietam and Gettysburg, the American Civil War featured hundreds of smaller battles and skirmishes, many all but unknown except to students of the 1861-65 conflict. One such clash was the battle of Haw’s Shop, which took place in Hanover County, Va., 150 years ago today.

It marked the first action for the 4th, 5th and 6th South Carolina Cavalry regiments, which made up Butler’s Brigade, part of Hampton’s Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The battle is important because it marked an increased emphasis in a new style of cavalry tactics in which troopers would often use their horses to speed to the scene of battle, then dismount and fight from improvised fortifications, much like infantry.

Not coincidently, Haw’s Shop also marked the changing of the guard for the Army of Northern Virginia’s Cavalry Corps as Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton unofficially began his eventual succession of J.E.B. Stuart, killed earlier in the month at the Battle of Yellow Tavern.

The 4th South Carolina had only reached Virginia a few days earlier after spending the previous 2-1/2 years defending the South Carolina coast, as had the 5th and 6th South Carolina.

Just four days after finally arriving in Richmond after a six-week trek north, the 4th and 5th South Carolina, along with the 20th Georgia Cavalry Battalion and the regiments that made up Brig. Gen. William C. Wickham’s Virginia Brigade were dispatched to track the movement of Grant’s army and to counter Union cavalry commanded by Philip Sheridan.

Robert E Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, the opposing military leaders, were trying to discern each other’s intentions. Both sides relied on their cavalry to try to establish contact with enemy.

Lee, fearful that Grant might get around him and break through to Richmond, sent Hampton on a mission to locate the Union force. Grant, seeking a way to get around Lee’s army and into the Confederate capital, turned to Sheridan in a bid to determine Lee’s plans.

The two cavalry forces met on the morning of May 28, 1864, near Haw’s Shop, named for a large blacksmith shop owned by local resident John Haw.

The action began about a mile west of Haw’s Shop, near Enon Methodist Church, which still stands today. After a series of charges and countercharges by opposing cavalry forces, the conflict turned into a dismounted battle, with Union troopers from Brig. Gen. David McMurtie Gregg’s 2nd Cavalry Division battling Hampton’s forces in the woods near Enon Church.

Gregg would later write, “In the shortest possible time both of my brigades were hotly engaged. Every available man was put into the fight, which had lasted some hours. Neither party would yield an inch.” Hampton formed a defensive line with Brig. Gen. Thomas L. Rosser’s troops on the left, Wickham’s men in the center and Butler’s South Carolinians on the right.

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