A Trunk Gate By Any Other Name…

Finally I’ve gotten to the meat of Judith A. Carney’s Black Rice, the part where she delves specifically into Carolina rice cultivation. She’s given me some great new insights that my previous research had not revealed, research from books as well as from trips to the Charleston region.

Take, for example, what was known as “trunk gates.” I had wondered why the sluices were given that name when they really didn’t look like trunks. Well, turns out that the early trunk gates which regulated water flow to and from the rice fields were just that–trunks, as in tree trunks. Cypress logs hollowed out for the purpose. Another bit of ingenuity brought over from Africa by Carolina’s slaves. Over time the trunks were re-engineered to something between the simple cypress log and the later hanging gates that appeared by the time of the American Revolution. I saw an awesome replicate of one of these when I last visited Middleton Plantation outside of Charleston, seen here:

Trunk Gate

The vertical piece is the actual gate that regulated water flow through the “trunk” which is the horizontal piece you see in the picture. This is what lay beneath the dykes that contained the rice fields. At the other end of the trunk would have been another gate that worked in conjunction with its mate to harness the water flow to and from the fields.

Another revelation (and they all seem so logical now to me) was that the first rice fields in the region were not cultivated next to the tidal rivers of the lowcountry but instead back in the myriad of inland swamps. In The Chronicles, James Logan and his business partner, Ezra Archer, are ahead of the times with their rice production, especially Logan who would grow tidal rice before someone as cautious as Archer, who would instead be content with inland swamp rice production until he could see if Logan succeeded or failed in his new venture. Soon, though, Archer would learn from Logan’s gamble that tidal rice required fewer slaves than inland rice–one slave could “manage five acres instead of the two typically planted to inland rice cultivation,” as Carney revealed in her book.

Weaving history into a story is challenging, to be sure, but great fun. And, like in my example of Archer and Logan, their part in that history helps to define and flesh-out the characters–Archer the shrewd, cautious businessman; Logan the bold explorer, a man willing to listen to the knowledge of his slaves and learn from them in order to become more prosperous.

This entry was posted in Research and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Trunk Gate By Any Other Name…

  1. silentpawz says:

    I always love when history and a good story collide. πŸ™‚

    In historical fiction, I love seeing and experiencing the added level of research that goes into crafting a believable tale. And yes, some in-depth background may be better treated in a footnote, but I was fascinated by the descriptions of rice cultivation in The Driver’s Wife. This additional background is much appreciated.

  2. susankeogh says:

    Thanks, Pawz. Now you just have to remember to keep sending me those typos, etc. πŸ˜‰

  3. dasNdanger says:

    I’m trying to get my sister to forward me some info about Charleston…something you might find of interest (talking about history). I’m just not sure on the dates. What is the time frame of your story?


  4. dasNdanger says:

    Perfect! Include my great-great-great…whatever…grandfather in an upcoming book! πŸ˜€ Here’s a bit of family history (Archibald Stobo is one of my ancestors):

    In 1682 another company of nobles and gentlemen in Scotland arranged for a settlement at Port Royal, South Carolina. These colonists consisted mainly of Presbyterians banished for attending “Conventicles.” The names of some of these immigrants, whose descendants exist in great numbers at the present day, included James McClintock, John Buchanan, William Inglis, Gavin Black, Adam Allan, John Gait, Thomas Marshall, William Smith, Robert Urie, Thomas Bryce, John Syme, John Alexander, John Marshall, Matthew Machen, John Paton, John Gibson, John Young, Arthur Cunningham, George Smith, and George Dowart. The colony was further increased by a small remnant of the ill-fated expedition to Darien [Panama]. One of the vessels which left Darien to return to Scotland, the Rising Sun, was driven out of its course by a gale and took refuge in Charleston. Among its passengers was the Rev. Archibald Stobo, who was asked by some people in Charleston to preach in the town while the ship was being refitted. He accepted the invitation and left the ship with his wife and about a dozen others. The following day, the Rising Sun, while lying off the bar, was overwhelmed in a hurricane and all on board were drowned. This Rev. Archibald Stobo was the earliest American ancestor of the late Theodore Roosevelt’s mother. (Dates are a little off in this article)



    Although I joke about my ancestor, you might want to use that hurricane, or some of the descriptions about life at that time found in those articles. Googling will get you even more – tons of stuff about Stobo’s expedition because he’s an ancestor of Teddy Roosevelt.


  5. susankeogh says:

    Thanks, D. I’ll peruse the links tonight when I have more time. πŸ™‚

  6. In south Louisiana and French Canada, these were called aboiteaux; they may or may not have been made with a trunk, but they definitely made use of the same kind of gate.

  7. Grace McKivergan says:

    I too have wondered about aboiteau vs rice trunks for years. Common source or simultaneous invention? I have an ancestor who came to Acadia in 1628 r so to drain marshes to make land.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s