When Cotton Wasn’t King

I came across another interesting fact while reading Judith A. Carney’s book, Black Rice. Though the era about which I’m writing is earlier than the era mentioned in this excerpt, it gives the reader a sense of where planters like those in my books were headed, men who realized the value of a crop that would “become the first cereal to be globally traded.” Plantations, of course, often passed from generation to generation, so the money earned by antebellum planters was thanks to the brave foundation laid down by their ancestors in the 17th and 18th centuries. The excerpt is as follows:

“Production steadily increased during the antebellum period, and before the outbreak of the Civil War, an estimated 100,000 slaves were planting between 168,000 and 187,000 acres of wetlands to rice. The antebellum rice economy included the richest planters of the U.S. South, and the region’s capital, Charleston, gloried in one of the greatest concentrations of wealth in the world.”

In the world! An impressive statistic, especially considering how many of us think that cotton was “king” in the South during the antebellum era. I don’t know about you, but cotton was always the crop mentioned in any discussion of the South’s agricultural wealth. Just think, if Margaret Mitchell had set Gone With The Wind in the lowcountry of South Carolina instead of inland Georgia, Scarlett O’Hara might have been slogging through a flooded tidal rice field instead of scrabbling for turnips in her dry fields after the Civil War. That’s all right with me; it gives me a fresh background of southern agriculture to explore. I wouldn’t want my readers to think I was a copycat.  😉

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