(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
The largest rice planter in Georgia was Nathaniel Heyward, who — by the time he died in 1851 — accumulated 4,390 acres divided into 14 different rice plantations.
In 1860, the average size of Savannah River rice plantations was about 425 acres per plantation, with the largest single plantation reaching 1200 acres.
The Georgia agricultural census of 1849 showed that James Potter in Chatham County sold 1.75 million pounds of rice, surpassing Pierce Butler’s harvest of over 1.5 million pounds.
It was announced in a survey of rice plantations that 446 in South Carolina and 80 in Georgia had produced more than 20,000 pounds of rice each. There were now some 30,000 acres of land cultivating rice in Georgia alone.
Like South Carolina rice planters, most Georgians purchased slaves from the ‘Windward” or “Rice Coast” of Africa, so called because the slaves knew about growing and harvesting rice. It was said that Upper Guinean slaves were the most highly prized.
As the Federal Constitution prohibited trade in foreign slaves from 1807 on, areas such as Harris Neck, Darien, Cumberland Island, and Saint Mary’s in Georgia; and Fernandina on the Florida Coast, became prime illegal smuggling points.
Zephaniah Kingsley was a very successful slaver. From Fort George Island near Jacksonville, Kingsley’s ships carried his Sea Island cotton to Liverpool and then sailed to Africa to buy new slaves.
Fully loaded with slaves, his ships would return to Fort George Island. After a short time working on his plantations, these new slaves could then legally be sold as domestic slaves.
On March 2 and 3, 1859, the largest single slave auction ever held in the United States took place at the Ten Broeck Race Course just outside of Savannah.
Slaver and auctioneer Joseph Bryan sold 436 of Pierce Butler’s slaves from his Butler Island Altamaha River plantation to satisfy his debts. The two-day sale raised more than $330,000.
The 1859 Georgia rice harvest of more than 52.5 million pounds equaled 45 percent of the rice produced in South Carolina that year. Combined, Charleston and Savannah area rice plantations that year produced almost all of the nation’s rice.
The future of rice production in Georgia was very bright until the Civil War began. In fact, with the decline of rice planting, many rice plantation slaves were put to work harvesting Sea Island cotton.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's historical past. Email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.