Monday, January 28, 2013

Garden Art History - Preparing the Flower Beds 1625

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Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564 - 1638) Preparing the Flower Beds 1625

Of course, we have no paintings of gardeners or flower beds in early 17th-century colonial America; but when I imagine early gardens in New York, this painting comes into my mind. I thought I would share it with you.
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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Garden Art History - The Pavilion

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Elisabeth Modell (Austian artist, 1820–1865) Three Children by a Garden Pavilion
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Monday, January 14, 2013

1748 Gourds for Seed Storage


Peter (Pehr) Kalm (1716-1779) Swedish-Finnish explorer, botanist, naturalist, and agricultural economist, visited America & wrote of a use for gourds in his 1748 diary. “They are particularly fit for holding seeds which are to be sent over sea; for seeds keep their power of vegetating much longer if they be put in calabashes than by any other means.”




Kalm, Pehr, 1716-1779. Peter Kalm's travels in North America; the America of 1750; the English version of 1770, rev. from the original Swedish and edited by Adolph B. Benson, with a translation of new material from Kalm's diary notes., Dover, 1966.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why Garden? - A Proper Activity for "the fair daughters of Columbia"


A Proper Female Pursuit for "the fair daughters of Columbia" in a Patriarchal Society

Early botanist Jane Colden Farquher (1724-66) came from a traditional patriarchal family. Her physician father Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776) sailed to New York in 1710, He was Lt. Governor of New York from 1761 until his death & served as Surveyor General for New York. His scientific curiosity included a personal correspondence between 1749-1751 with Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778).



1748-52 John Wollaston (American colonial era painter, 1710-1775) Cadwallader Colden

Colden thought women should study botany because of "their natural curiosity & the pleasure they take in the beauty and variety of dress seems to fit them for it."  Moreover, he viewed such study as an ideal substitute for idleness among his female children, when he moved his family to the country in 1729.


He believed gardening & botany "an Amusement which may be made agreable for the Ladies who are often at a loss to fill their time."  He went so far as to recommend that perhaps from Jane's example "young ladies in a like situation may find an agreable way to fill up some part Of their time which otherwise might be heavy on their hand May amuse & please themselves & at the same time be usefull to others."


A letter of 1755 from Colden to Dutcch botanist Jan Gronovius (1666-1762)
 : "I have a daughter who has an inclination to reading and a curiosity for natural philosophy or natural History and a sufficient capacity for attaining a competent knowledge. I took the pains to explain to her Linnaeus' system and to put it in English for her to use by freeing it from the Technical Terms which was easily done by using two or three words in place of one. She is now grown very fond of the study and has made such progress in it as I believe would please you if you saw her performance. Tho' perhaps she could not have been persuaded to learn the terms at first she now understands to some degree Linnaeus' characters notwithstanding that she does not understand Latin."

Jane Colden far surpassed her father's amusement theory. She was the first scientist to describe the gardenia. Although she had to read the works of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) in translation, she mastered the Linnaean system of plant classification perfectly. She catalogued, described, and sketched at least 400 plants. She actively collected seeds & specimens of New World flora & exchanged them with others on both sides of the Atlantic.



The South Carolina scientist Dr. Alexander Garden (1730-1791) wrote in a letter to John Ellis in 1755, that Jane Colden “is greatly master of the Linnaean method, and cultivates it with assiduity.”  

Peter Collinson (1694-1768) wrote about her to John Bartram: "Our friend Colden's daughter has a scientifical manner. Sent over several sheets of plants very curiously anatomised after [Linnaeus'] Method. I believe she is the first Lady that has attempted any thing of this nature."  Collinson reported to Carolus Linnaeus, "Your system, I can tell you obtains much in America. Mr. Clayton and Dr. Colden at Albany of Hudson's River in New York are complete Professors....Even Dr. Colden's daughter was an enthusiast."   He later wrote to Linnaeus, that  Jane Colden “is perhaps the first lady that has so perfectly studied your system. She deserves to be celebrated.”  


Carolus Linnaeus also knew of her work.  He corresponded directly with her father; and in a 1758, letter John Ellis tells Linnaeus that he will let Jane know "what civil things you say of her."  The only plant bearing the Colden’s surname is Coldenia, so named by Linnaeus, in reference to a relative of the Borage and Comfrey plants Coldenia procumbens.  Her work on plant classification was in a Scottish scientific journal in 1770, four years after her death.



Outdoors with a book. 1798 William Clarke. Mrs William Frazer. Delaware.

In South Carolina, Eliza Pinckney (1722-1793), who was responsible for profitably changing the economy of South Carolina by introducing indigo agriculture, wrote in 1760, “I love a garden & a book; & they are all my amusement.”


A book popular on both sides of the British Americn Atlantic was the 1769 book on general health by Scotsman Dr. William Buchan, called Domestic Medicine: or, a Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines.  When Abigail Adams sailed to Europe to join her husband John in 1784, she took a copy of Buchan along with her.  Buchan wrote, "I have always observed, that women who were chiefly employed without doors, in the different branches of husbandry, gardening, and the like, were almost as hardy as their husbands, and that their children were likewise strong and healthy."

The Rev. Mr. John Bennet (1714–1759), a Methodist English clergyman interested in the appropriate behavior (especially the conduct of women) for a moral society whose 1803 Letters to a young lady...calculated to improve the heart, to form the manners and to enlighten the understanding circulated throughout Great Britain & the United States, wrote"Attention to a garden is A truly feminine amusement. If you mix it with a taste for botany, and a knowledge of plants and flowers, you will never be in want of an excellent restorative."

Irish immigrant gardener, seed dealer, & writer Bernard M'Mahon (1775-1816), noted nearly the exact sentiments as father Colden in his 1806 Phildadelphia book The American Gardener's Calendar"The innocent, healthful, and pleasing amusement that Botanical studies might afford to the fair daughters of Columbia, who have leisure time to devote to such, is also a very important object, as in that way, many happy and enchanting hours might be delightfully spent to useful and salubrious purposes, which othecwise would hang heavily or be trifled away perhaps to disadvantage."


Rosalie Stier Calvert (1778–1821), who lived near Washington D. C. just when it was becoming both a political & social capitol, thought women should hold themselves above an discussion of politics, especially during the mud-slinging surrounding Thomas Jefferson's personal life & loves. She called gardening her “greatest diversion.”



1804 Gilbert Stuart (American artist, 1755-1828) Rosalie Stier Calvert and their eldest daughter Carolina Maria

In 1807, she observed, "I see so many women making themselves ridiculous by discussing politics at random without understanding the subject that I am disgusted with all controversy except about flowers! Their culture absorbs me more every day, for as I go out rarely, it is my chief amusement."

Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps (1793-1883) of the Troy Female Seminary wrote in her 1829 Familiar Lectures on Botany:  "The study of botany seems particularly suited to females; the objects of its investigation are beautiful and delicate." 



1805 Salem Girls School later Salem College.

Salem College began in 1766, when the Moravians, established the village of Salem. Among the town's early residents were 16 girls & women who walked more than 500 miles from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to join the new community. Salem Girls School, later Salem College, was run by the unmarried women, the Single Sisters, of the Moravian community, who were economically self-sufficient, a rare condition for women of the 18th century. Moravian records show that Salem educated African American girls as early as 1785. The gardens at the Girls’ School in Salem, were described as “designed for literary repast, & evening amusement.”

1912 Photo of Tableau on the Lower Pleasure Grounds at Salem College.

In 1858, Principal Robert de Schweinitz (1818-1901) transformed the Lower Pleasure Grounds from a heavily-wooded ravine barrier between Salem Academy & Salem College into a beautifully landscaped garden, creating rose gardens & pavilions. An amazing photo of this area, where amusement & theater were still a serious components, from 1912 exists at the College.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Published Article - Ye Olde Kitchen Garden

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Ye Olde Kitchen GardenBy Michael Tortorello
New York Times Published: July 6, 2011

Who was Good King Henry?

I first encountered the label in the Fedco Seeds catalog, as a common name for a plant in the genus Chenopodium. It’s an edible perennial with shoots like asparagus and leaves like spinach. But before Good King Henry was a salad green, he was, ostensibly, something nobler: European royalty.

There is no shortage of English Henrys to choose from, though few are remembered as paragons of good government. And did any of them have an appetite for roughage? On this question, history is mostly quiet.

A 1545 French herbal, or primitive botanical guide, mentions a “bon-Henri” (perhaps Henry IV of France), said Kathleen Wall, who cooks and gardens at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, Mass. But then Ms. Wall, 53, has also found a “bad Henry,” of German origin: der böse Heinrich.

What if Henry wasn’t a king at all, but an elf? That’s one of the hypotheses the botanical historian Judith Sumner put to me by e-mail.

“Henry (or Heinz or Heinrich) was a typical name for elves,” she wrote. “So the plant name may reflect some presumed magical qualities rather than commemorating an actual king. The ‘good’ part might mean it was safe to ingest.”

The exact namesake for Good King Henry may be lost to time. But then the plant itself, like so many others, has almost vanished as well. In the raised-bed gardens that flank the houses at Plimoth Plantation, Ms. Wall grew Good King Henry for years.

But “I didn’t save the seed,” said Ms. Wall, who bought it every year from catalogs instead. “And then the seed was gone for a long time.”

The mystery of Good King Henry made me wonder about other Colonial-era vegetables that have all but disappeared from our gardens and dinner plates. Gardeners today will routinely raise a dozen varieties of tomato, a plant utterly foreign to early Americans. So why do we neglect common Colonial food plants like burnet, smallage, skirrets, scorzonera, gooseberry and purslane? And how would they taste to us now?

When it comes to Good King Henry, Ms. Wall said, the flavor is easy to describe: bland. “That’s probably why it fell out of favor,” she said. “It wasn’t special. It doesn’t get into the recipe books, so it’s just forgotten.”

In contrast, she said, spinach, a green that “springs up in the English garden scene in the 1580s,” grew stalwartly through the country’s mild summers. And by the 17th century, “suddenly all the recipes called for spinach: salads of spinach, spinach boiled, with added butter and cinnamon and sugar and raisins.”

The story of early American kitchen gardening hides in recipes like these. Another source is herbals — what one modern historian calls “botanical bibles.” Yet botany, as we know it, is just a shadow on these pages. The herbal presents a pre-scientific universe, a realm of astrology and magic.

A “vegetable” could be any plant. An “herb” was a useful one, for the table or the medicine chest.

The colonists relied on popular guides like “The Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes” (1597), 1,400 pages of reminiscences, folk medicine and superstition written by John Gerard. Domestic handbooks like Thomas Hill’s “Profitable Arte of Gardening” (1568) were more artful than horticultural.

“A lot of the time when they write about gardening,” Ms. Wall said, referring to authors like Hill, “they’re writing about the ancient Greeks” or Romans — that is, beliefs and ideals that dated back to Pliny the Younger.

Actually growing “herbs” to feed a New England household was anything but a scholarly pursuit. The average kitchen garden was about an acre, the historian James E. McWilliams wrote in a monograph titled “ ‘To Forward Well-Flavored Productions’: The Kitchen Garden in Early New England,” from the March 2004 issue of The New England Quarterly. Hired help was practically nonexistent. Given the abundance of land, settlers had their own acres to harvest. And men were preoccupied with tending livestock and sowing grains.

That meant “this arduous task fell almost entirely to women,” Mr. McWilliams wrote. Then, as now, raised beds were standard. The soil needed to be improved, Mr. McWilliams noted: “stirred,” loosened and loaded with dung. A garden often would include an orchard of fruit trees, like apples, pears, quince and plums. And these required their own pruning and picking.

Ms. Wall has tried this kind of labor for herself in the recreated gardens outside each of the 12 historical dwellings at Plimoth Plantation. “I’m a housewife of perpetual visitation,” she said. “I travel between houses and help people.”

After 30 years at the museum, Ms. Wall is past complaining about the period costumes. But going without glasses, as most 17th-century women did, is an abiding nuisance. “It’s really hard for me to put seed in without having my nose in the ground,” she said. And weeds “have to grow large enough that I can tell them from my plants.”

It doesn’t help matters that many Colonial-era “herbs,” like dandelions or patience dock (Rumex patientia), would now be tarred as weeds. Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis), one of Ms. Wall’s favorites, can be found growing by the side of the road.

The plant has a tireless quality. The flowers, typically maroon, will bloom all summer if you keep picking them, she said. And the little leaves of salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) can be harvested almost all year.

“Why is this something that doesn’t show up in all these salad mixes?” she said.

Burnet turns up on a list of 59 seeds that John Winthrop Jr., a future governor of the Colony of Connecticut, ordered in 1631 from a London grocer, Robert Hill. And herbals widely recommended burnet, with its cucumber-like flavor, for doctoring wine after long sea voyages. “I dare say a lot of that wine needed help,” Ms. Wall said.

Yet burnet fell out of favor. For all her research, Ms. Wall has yet to answer the question of what makes something fashionable.

A case study, she said, could be smallage (Apium graveolens). The biennial plant grows a stalk like celery, but thicker and taller. And for 300 years — in between “medieval English cookery” and the “18th century,” Ms. Wall said — it displaced celery in cookbooks.

She discovered why after she and the head Plimoth horticulturist conducted a long quest for smallage, and she finally grew out the seeds herself.

The Fuller Garden in the English Village at Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Mass.

“I was making potato salad,” she said, “and I didn’t have any celery. Then I realized, I have smallage. And in potato salad, it was heaven.”

And then there are the historical plants whose disappearance is no cause for mourning. A good riddance goes out to the root crop skirrets (Sium sisarum), said Clarissa Dillon, 77, who practices historical cooking and gardening at the 1696 Thomas Massey House in Marple Township, Pa.

John Winthrop Jr. ordered three ounces of skirret seed for his father’s Massachusetts farmstead. The medicine of the era attributed some colorful qualities to the plant, notes Ann Leighton’s 1970 classic, “Early American Gardens: ‘For Meate or Medicine.’ ”

“ ‘They are something windie, by reason whereof they also provoke lust,’ ” Ms. Leighton wrote, quoting John Gerard’s herbal. “ ‘The women in Susula ... prepare the roots for their husbands, and know full well wherefore and why.’ ” (If ardor persists for more than four hours, call your physician.)

It’s no great challenge coaxing a bunch of skirrets to fill the yard. The horticulturist who started Dr. Dillon on skirrets “did not tell me how enthusiastic the seeds are,” she said. “And I have them everywhere.”

A cook needs an awful lot of plants to yield more than a teaspoon of roasted pulp. The edible root “is supposed to be the size of a man’s thumb,” Dr. Dillon said. But “my skirrets tend to be, as a friend said, the size of her dog’s toenails.”

And these toenails need to be peeled, too. “What’s really awful,” Dr. Dillon added, is the “wire” that runs through another forsaken and fast-spreading root crop, scorzonera (which botanists know as Scorzonera hispanica and civilians call viper’s grass). This core runs through the center of the root and must be removed. Far easier, she said, is to substitute parsnips, which are bigger, sweeter, better.

Gerard had his notions of why a woman would favor skirrets in the kitchen (and the bedroom). But Dr. Dillon wrote her dissertation on women and 18th-century kitchen gardens in eastern Pennsylvania, while she was teaching elementary school and raising a child. The experience helped her formulate a rule about why a taxing plant like skirrets might fall into the compost heap of history.

“Women don’t make work for themselves,” Dr. Dillon said. “They have enough to do.”

Clarissa Dillon at the 1696 Thomas Massey House in Marple Township, Pa.

Growing History

A PACKET of 250 purslane seeds costs about $3.60 from Seeds of Change, (888) 762-7333 or seedsofchange.com. Not a bad price, though it may be 249 purslane seeds too many. Like a lot of the “sallet” greens that the colonists brought with them to the New World, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) can colonize a yard all on its own.

A single specimen can produce a million seeds. Let a purslane patch go, said Clarissa Dillon, a food and garden historian, and “it’s the plant that eats your driveway.”

“It will come up through asphalt,” she said.

You can spray the thick red stem and the sprawling oval leaves with weed killer, Dr. Dillon added, which is what most gardeners do. Or you can pickle the whole plant with “equal parts vinegar and stale beer,” which is what she prefers.

Dr. Dillon recommends blanching the purslane first for a quick three-count. “I don’t want it to be limp,” she said. She learned this preparation from a “receipt” (that is, a recipe) in her 1750 edition of “The Compleat Housewife: Or Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion.”

Tricks like these were once common knowledge among kitchen gardeners, said Joel Fry, the curator at Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia, which dates from 1728. “One of the reasons they’ve disappeared,” he said of some colonial-era food plants, “is we don’t know what to do with them.”

Dr. Dillon learned a method for removing the stringy core from scorzonera. Overbaking the root crop for a few minutes can make the “wire” less unwieldy. There’s only one way to find out if it’s worth it: Fedco Seeds, fedcoseeds.com or (207) 873-7333, lists a 1/8-ounce packet for $1.30. (A trial packet of smallage, available under the name Afina Cutting Celery, is even cheaper at just 90 cents.)

Fedco sold out of skirret seed this spring. But Amishland Heirloom Seeds offers a packet of 20 seeds for $2.50; amishlandseeds.com.

The sallet green Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) can be found at Fedco as well. And to the long list of aliases for the plant, Fedco adds Lincolnshire spinach and goosefoot.

Like goosefoot (and goose itself), the gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum or uva-crispa) seems to have dropped off the nation’s menu at least a century ago. The cause was no mystery: federal authorities started to quarantine and eradicate the thorny shrub in 1917 to limit the spread of white pine blister rust. In 2003, New York State finally legalized the gooseberry and its close cousin, the red currant. (Sales of gooseberry and various currant shrubs remain restricted in a cluster of Eastern states, including parts of New Jersey.)

Hardy gooseberries were native to the New World. But that didn’t stop the English from importing their own varieties, said Kathleen Wall, a historical culinarian. These plants bore bigger, sweeter fruit. They also died in the warmer climate. Raintree Nursery, raintreenursery.com or (800) 391-8892, sells a dozen cultivars (most for $11.50), including a few American gooseberries that have a resistance to powdery mildew.

The English never lost their taste for gooseberries, Ms. Wall said, but colonial gardeners were typically pragmatic. When a tart called for small, sour fruit, they looked to the yard and started cooking with cranberries.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Nurseryman - Thomas Bridgeman 1786-1850

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Thomas Bridgeman –(1786-1850)–New York City, New York–


Bridgeman was born in Abingdon, England, and came to America in 1820. He had married Catheine Hannah Eastmond on May 23, 1807 at St. Helena's Church in Abingdon, England.  Theree of his children, Thomas, Deborah, & Amelia were born in England.  Joseph was born in New York City.  He opened a seed store in 1824.

In 1829, he published The Young Gardener’s Assistant that was later reprinted many times and copyrighted in 1847. The seed store was later run by his son Alfred Bridgeman, one of his 6 children.

Information from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and private research.
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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Early Garden Book - Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. Boston, 1817.

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Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817-20. Iris versicolor, Blue flag, or flower de luce

The author of American Medical Botany Jacob Bigelow (1787-1879) graduated as a doctor but pursued his interest in botany leading him to publish the first systematic plant survey of the flora indigenous to Boston, in 1814. Along with William Barton's Vegetable Materia Medica, publication of which was almost simultaneous, Bigelow's book was one of the first two American botanical books with colored illustrations. American Medical Botany: being a collection of the native medicinal plants of the United States, containing their botanical history and chemical analysis, and properties and uses in medicine, diet and the arts was published in 6 parts, later bound into 3 volumes, appearing in 1817-1820.

Bigelow taught botany at Harvard University while maintianing his medical practice. He also was the botanist & landscape architect for Mount Auburn Cemetery. Mount Auburn Cemetery was founded in 1831, as "America's first garden cemetery", or the first "rural cemetery", with classical monuments set in a rolling landscaped terrain. The use of this gentle of landscape coincides with the rising popularity of the term cemetery, as opposed to graveyard. Cemetery evolves from the Greek term for "a sleeping place." The 174 acre Massachusetts cemetery is important both for its historical precedents & for its role as an arboretum.

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. , Datura stramonium, Thorn apple.

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Apocynum androsaemifolium (dog's bane)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Datura stramonium (thorn apple)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Euphorbia ipecacuanha

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Geranium maculatum (common cranesbill)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Ictodes foetidus (skunk cabbage)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Illicium foridanum (starry anise)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Laurus sassafras (sassafras tree)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Magnolia glauca - small magnolia

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Menyanthes trifoliata (buck bean)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Nicotina tabacum (tobacco)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Nymphea odorata - sweet scented water lily

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Rhododendron maximum (american rose bay)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Rubus villosus (tall blackberry)

Jacob Bigelow. American Medical Botany. 1817. Sanguinaria canadensis (blood root)
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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Slaves & Rice Cultivation in Georgetown County, South Carolina

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Salves and Rice Cultivation in Georgetown County, South Carolina

The intricate steps involved in planting, cultivating, harvesting, and preparing rice required an immense labor force. Planters stated that African slaves were particularly suited to provide that labor force for two reasons: 1) rice was grown in some areas of Africa and there was evidence that some slaves were familiar with the methods of cultivation practiced there, and 2) it was thought that the slaves, by virtue of their racial characteristics, were better able than white laborers to withstand the extreme heat and humidity of the tidal swamps and therefore would be more productive workers. Rice cultivation resulted in a dramatic increase in the numbers of slaves owned by South Carolinians before the American Revolution.


In 1680, four-fifths of South Carolina's population was white. However, black slaves outnumbered white residents two to one in 1720, and by 1740, slaves constituted nearly 90% of the population. Much of the growing slave population came from the West Coast of Africa, a region that had gained notoriety by exporting its large rice surpluses.


While there is no consensus on how rice first reached the American coast, there is much debate over the contribution of African-born slaves to its successful cultivation. New research demonstrates that the European planters lacked prior knowledge of rice farming, while uncovering the long history of skilled rice cultivation in West Africa. Furthermore, Islamic, Portuguese, and Dutch traders all encountered and documented extensive rice cultivation in Africa before South Carolina was even settled.


At first rice was treated like other crops, it was planted in fields and watered by rains. By the mid-18th century, planters used inland swamps to grow rice by accumulating water in a reservoir, then releasing the stored water as needed during the growing season for weeding and watering. Similarly, prior records detail Africans controlling springs and run off with earthen embankments for the same purposes of weeding and watering.


Soon after this method emerged, a second evolution occurred, this time to tidewater production, a technique that had already been perfected by West African farmers. Instead of depending upon a reservoir of water, this technique required skilled manipulation of tidal flows and saline-freshwater interactions to attain high levels of productivity in the floodplains of rivers and streams. Changing from inland swamp cultivation to tidal production created higher expectations from plantation owners. Slaves became responsible for five acres of rice, three more than had been possible previously. Because of this new evidence coming to light, some historians contend that African-born slaves provided critical expertise in the cultivation of rice in South Carolina. The detailed and extensive rice cultivating systems increased demand for slave imports in South Carolina, doubling the slave population between 1750 and 1770. These slaves faced long days of backbreaking work and difficult tasks.


A slave's daily work on an antebellum rice plantation was divided into tasks. Each field hand was given a task--usually nine or ten hours' hard work--or a fraction of a task to complete each day according to his or her ability. The tasks were assigned by the driver, a slave appointed to supervise the daily work of the field hands. The driver held the most important position in the slave hierarchy on the rice plantation. His job was second only to the overseer in terms of responsibility.


The driver's job was particularly important because each step of the planting, growing, and harvesting process was crucial to the success or failure of the year's crop. In the spring, the land was harrowed and plowed in preparation for planting. Around the first of April rice seed was sown by hand using a small hoe. The first flooding of the field, the sprout flow, barely covered the seed and lasted only until the grain sprouted. The water was then drained to keep the delicate sprout from floating away, and the rice was allowed to grow for approximately three weeks. Around the first of May any grass growing among the sprouts was weeded by hoe and the field was flooded by the point flow to cover just the tops of the plants. After a few days the water was gradually drained until it half covered the plants. It remained at this level--the long flow--until the rice was strong enough to stand. More weeding followed and then the water was slowly drained completely off the field. The ground around the plants was hoed to encourage the growth and extension of the roots. After about three weeks, the field was hoed and weeded again, at which time--around mid-June or the first of July--the lay-by flow was added and gradually increased until the plants were completely submerged. This flow was kept on the field for about two months with fresh water periodically introduced and stagnant water run off by the tidal flow through small floodgates called trunks.


Rice planted in the first week of April was usually ready for harvesting by the first week of September. After the lay-by flow was withdrawn, just before the grain was fully ripe, the rice was cut with large sickles known as rice hooks and laid on the ground on the stubble. After it had dried overnight, the cut rice was tied into sheaves and taken by flatboat to the threshing yard. In the colonial period, threshing was most often done by beating the stalks with flails. This process was simple but time consuming. If the rice was to be sold rough, it was then shipped to the agent; otherwise, it was husked and cleaned--again, usually by hand. By the mid-19th century most of the larger plantations operated pounding and/or threshing mills which were driven by steam engines. After the rice had been prepared, it was packed in barrels, or tierces, and shipped to the market at Georgetown or Charleston. In 1850 a rice plantation in the Georgetown County area produced an average yield of 300,000 pounds of rice. The yield had increased to 500,000 pounds by 1860.

See National Park Service
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