(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
Starting as early as 1647, Virginia’s governors ordered colonists to begin planting test plots of rice. South Carolina’s rice production began in 1685 when a Madagascar ship sought refuge from a storm in Charles Town harbor.
As thanks, Capt. John Thurber gave several leading planters bags of his cargo, golden seede rice. From these seeds arose the famed Carolina Golde rice variety.
This rice was grown in the wetlands and the tidal regions of the South Carolina and then the Georgia coastlines. It was referred to colloquially as “wet” rice, as it required a lot of water during its growing season.
By the late 1790s, South Carolina “Rice Barons” — men like the Butlers, Grants, Heywards, Hugers and Manigaults — had moved their families to what are now Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty and McIntosh Counties.
Thomas Jefferson himself sent his good friend and former Georgia governor John Milledge a present of “bearded rice,” or “dry” rice seed to experiment with in 1809. Labeled “upland rice,” this variety could be grown in regular fields, or “‘dry” environments. It was commercially grown in Georgia until the Civil War.
Areas where upland rice was grown successfully in commercial quantities included northeast and central Georgia. People in many other counties grew enough for their own needs.
Whereas most commercial planters sold their “wet” rice in rough form, called paddy rice, several of Georgia’s new rice producers invested in expensive threshing mills.
Two such men were Pierce Butler and James Hamilton Couper. They would process the paddy rice grown by themselves and their neighbors before it was sent to market as “clean rice,” which brought them a much higher price.
Charles and Louis Manigault, who had plantations on the Savanah River at Gowrie on Argyle Island and the adjoining East Hermitage plantation, also built threshing barns.
Georgia rice, exported from Charleston until 1835, was then shipped instead to Savannah’s new rice market. Georgia rice was considered to be far superior to that being sold from the Orient.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.