Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Rice, Chicora Wood Plantation and One Woman

By Elva Cobb Martin

"They harnessed the moon," one writer wrote of Caroling Low Country rice planters, "and turned the marshes into fields of gold."

South Carolina rice planters used the power of the moon through the action of the tide to irrigate fields where they grew Carolina Gold rice. This variety derived its names from the color of its outer hull, but also brings to mind the "gold" it brought to South Carolina.

Rice cultivation began in the state in the late seventeenth century. For more than a hundred years, it brought great wealth and power to Low Country plantation owners.

From the clearing of the cypress swamps to the planting and flooding of the fields to the harvesting, rice required intensive labor. African slaves are due most of the credit for the successful rice production in South Carolina.

The Civil War changed this economy dramatically. No where is the rice story and this change recorded more succinctly than in the history of Chicora Wood Plantation. The house is still standing majestically on the Pee Dee between Myrtle Beach and Georgetown, South Carolina. I toured its grounds this past spring during a downpour.

In the 1730s, an early settler of Georgetown, John Allston, received land grants of 4,000 acres that made up his estate. A later owner, Robert F.W. Allston turned it into one of the most productive rice plantations in the South, and he also served as Governor of South Carolina for a time.

But it was his daughter, Elizabeth Allston Pringle, who gave us the most vivid picture of rice plantation life following the Civil War. She wrote a book - actually a diary - of her day-to-day duties as a Woman Rice Planter.

Chicora Wood Plantation
Elizabeth grew up in the era of massive slave holdings over the South, but also when the patriarchal system was firmly entrenched in Southern families. Women were expected to exemplify feminine virtues of nurturing and self-sacrifice and to accept male domination and opinions without question.

But after her father's death, and later, her husband John Pringle's death from malaria (after only six years of happy marriage), widow Elizabeth took on the mammoth and "unwomanly" task of managing Chicora Wood Plantation. She had to learn to grow rice with a greatly reduced labor force and one that had to be paid due wages. Her story is one of courage, compassion for the free slaves, and tenacity to keep holding on to a "man's job" when times grew very hard indeed.

It's been great visiting with you today and sharing some of my research for my historical novels. Hope you leave a comment and tweet and share this article on Facebook for your history-loving friends and fellow writers.

Elva Cobb Martin is president of the South Carolina Chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a former school teacher and a graduate of Anderson University and Erskine College. Decision, Charisma, and Home Life have published her articles. She has completed two inspirational novels, which are currently under consideration for publication - In a Pirate's Debt and Summer of Deception. A mother promoted to grandmother, Elva lives with her husband, Dwayne, and a mini-dachshund writing helper (Lucy) in Anderson, South Carolina. She and her husband are retired ministers. Connect with her on her website, on her blog here, on Facebook, or via Twitter @Elvacobbmartin. 

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