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Carolina's Golden Fields
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Book description

This book examines the environmental and technological complexity of South Carolina inland rice plantations from their inception at the turn of the seventeenth century to the brink of their institutional collapse at the eve of the Civil War. Inland rice cultivation provided a foundation for the South Carolina colonial plantation complex and enabled planters' participation in the Atlantic economy, dependence on enslaved labor, and dramatic alteration of the natural landscape. Moreover, the growing population of enslaved Africans led to a diversely-acculturated landscape unique to the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Despite this significance, Lowcountry inland rice cultivation has had an elusive history. Unlike many historical interpretations that categorize inland rice cultivation in a universal and simplistic manner, this study explains how agricultural systems varied among plantations. By focusing on planters' and slaves' alteration of the inland topography, this book emphasizes how agricultural methods met the demands of the local environment.


'Carolina's Golden Fields recovers from obscurity a history of inland rice cultivation that has hitherto been depicted by historians merely as a primitive and early stage in the long history of rice agriculture in South Carolina. It decisively shows instead that planters grew inland rice continuously as part of a complex of crop choices, and grew it in ways that ingeniously made the most of local environments. This study also demonstrates just how much can be recovered and learned when the analytical tools of environmental history are applied to the history of agriculture.'

Mart Stewart - Western Washington University

'To cultivate South Carolina’s great staple crop, colonists and slaves moved earth and water, reshaping the landscapes of the coastal Lowcountry. Smith reconstructs this world of adaptation with persuasive case studies. For more than 150 years, planters forced slaves to remake the freshwater swamps to keep them productive. This book demonstrates that early Carolina was no sleepy backwater, but rather a dynamic place linked to a larger Atlantic economy that rewarded technological innovation. Full of new insights derived from environmental science, Carolina’s Golden Fields offers a rigorous new picture of plantation agriculture.'

S. Max Edelson - University of Virginia

‘Smith’s research is impressive. He draws on a rich selection of primary source material, including deep dives into the records of individual rice plantations. The book also demonstrates his broad reading of the secondary literature, not just on rice but also of the work dealing with plantations, slavery, and the southern environment. It is a nuanced and thoughtful study, restoring inland rice to a central place in the impressive body of literature on the southern staple, and a valuable addition to the region’s agricultural history.’

Drew Swanson Source: Environmental History

‘… it is an admirable model for how 'attention to the environment leads to … historical analysis' … Smith expertly leads the reader to a better understanding of how early Americans perceived and exploited the natural world.’

Philip Mills Herrington Source: Journal of Southern History

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  • 1 - Introduction
    pp 1-11
  • In Land Of Cypress And Pine


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