(Note: The following is part of a series of articles looking at the history and evolution of agriculture in Georgia and Bulloch County.)
The name for sugar is derived from the Sanskrit word sarkara (or sarkarra). Sugar cane is a member of the family of large grasses, and, believe it or not, was first traded as “Italian Salt.”
Georgia’s Royal Governor Sir James Wright, upon assuming leadership of the colony in 1760, immediately began expanding the colony’s agricultural efforts to include the growing of sugar cane.
Planter Thomas Spalding of Glynn County reported that John McQueen of Savannah was the one who actually brought sugar cane to Georgia (and British North America) in 1805. He distributed the plants to his friends.
This is the earliest known effort in any of the original 13 colonies to grow sugar cane. One of these friends, a Roswell King of Saint Simon’s Island, sent a schooner loaded with cane to his good friend John J. Coiron of Louisiana.
Spalding wrote to the magazine “Southern Agriculturalist” in 1828 to inform them that he had begun planting sugar cane on his Sapelo Island plantation in 1805 with 100 plants he had acquired from McQueen.
He stated that by the end of the War of 1812, some 100 sugar cane plantations had been established between Darien on the Altamaha River and Milledgeville on the Oconee River.
In 1814, his crop, tended to by 50 slaves, earned him $12,500. He soon expanded his sugar cane cultivation by planting sugar cane on land along the Savannah River.
James Hamilton Couper of Hopeton Plantation on the Altamaha River built the first real sugar processing plant in Georgia. Couper then published those designs in the 1831 “Southern Agriculturalist.”
Domestic sugar production in America soon exploded. In 1860, Georgia alone produced nearly 1.2 million pounds of sugar and more than half a million gallons of syrup or molasses.
Thirty years later, in 1890, Georgia’s production had shifted, now producing 1.2 million pounds of sugar and nearly 3.3 million gallons of syrup or molasses.
The sugar cane production in Georgia in 1890 came from some 20,000 acres scattered across 50 or so counties. Bulloch County recorded the highest yields in the state with an average of 700 gallons of sugar harvested per acre.
Curiously, a Tennessee entrepreneur began combining Georgia sugar syrup with glucose and branding it as “Georgia White Syrup,” which soon became very popular in other regions of the United States.
America’s consumption of sugar per person had become higher than anywhere else in the industrial world.
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.