Black Rice, by Judith A. Carney

This is the latest book I’m reading for research. Rice, you say? What does rice have to do with Jack Mallory? Well, rice was a huge money-earning crop in colonial [South] Carolina (I write Carolina here because, at the time of my stories, South Carolina and North Carolina were not delineated as two separate states but one colony). The topography around Charles Town (modern-day Charleston) is quite swampy, low, and blessed with a number of rivers, large and small (modern-day Charleston has the fourth busiest deep-water port in America). Known today as “lowcountry,” this part of Carolina produced huge amounts of “Carolina gold” rice during the crop’s boom in the late 1600’s and far into the 1700’s. And rice is the main crop produced at Leighlin Plantation in Jack’s stories (more on Leighlin another day).

What Carney’s book focuses on is the origins of America’s rice in western Africa. In years past, many scholars were reluctant to credit African slaves transported from Africa to America with the introduction of rice to the colonies. However, more recently studies have shown the truth of the matter. Rice was and still is an important staple crop in Africa, and the Africans who were brought to America in shackles carried with them the knowledge of how to grow and harvest rice, something your transplanted Englishman lacked.

Carney’s book is a bit of a challenge to read at any speed and thus far is lingering a bit too long on rice in Africa than what those origins meant to the American colonies, but I have run across some interesting nuggets. In the current chapter that I am reading, she discusses the Middle Passage, with one statistic giving the reader a picture of the horrific journey: “Mortality rates across the Middle Passage, a journey that could last from six weeks to three months, averaged 20 percent on slave ships.”

If you prefer movies to reading history, I recommend Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” and, more recently, “Amazing Grace” for a look at slavery as viewed by Americans and Englishmen.

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