Searching the Origins of Carolina Gold
Securing the primordial Gold seed from Mayham’s upland rice fields would be greatly revealing for several reasons. Mayham’s rice strains would eventually serve as the founding seed from which Joshua John Ward, the greatest and most experimental of the antebellum rice planters, developed his world famous long grain version of Carolina Gold. During the brief twenty year period from 1840 to 1861 when that variety was cultivated, it commanded this highest price of any rice on the world market in Paris and London. It is an ambition of the CRG Foundation to genetically recreate the long Gold variety in the next decade.
Pushing Back the Roots of America's Conservationist Writing:
Agricultural Reform Literature of the Antebellum Era
Before the Civil War, specifically from 1820-1860, the number of agricultural journals published in the United States proliferated into the hundreds. Begun in 1819, the American Farmer printed in Baltimore, Maryland figured as the pioneer of these farm papers and forged what would become a transnational exchange of knowledge, ideas, observations, essays, public addresses, and editorials on all facets of agriculture, including the preparation and consumption of food. Though many of these journals circulated only for a few years, others would cultivate a substantial subscription base over a period of decades. What propelled the fomentation of these agricultural publications, and what message did they seek to convey to their readers—farmers?
Already at the birth of the American Republic did the nation’s leaders (many of whom farmed) write and speak about the depleted soils rendering eastern farms (particularly in the mid-atlantic and southern regions) less and less productive. The long-held traditions of planting in monocultures of tobacco and cotton, fallowing instead of manuring and rotating crops, plowing vertically on hillsides, and planting the same crop on the same land year after year left much of the nation’s farmland eroded or exhausted. The call to farmers to restore these “worn out lands” with what the agricultural improvers promoted variably as “the new husbandry,” “scientific agriculture,” and “book farming” served as the mantra of the new age of agricultural reform led by the editors and contributing writers whose experience, expertise, innovation, and vision would promulgate the economic, ecological, political, and moral imperatives of sustaining farms and farming far into the future. Given the primacy these conservationists assigned to practices of restoring and sustaining the soil as the basis for sustainable agriculture, we might consider the corpus of these agricultural journals as America’s first conservation writing in an era predating national programs and policies set forth decades later to conserve and protect wilderness lands. The most articulate of these agricultural writers were no less committed to (and eloquent at) conserving and restoring natural resources than were the likes of Henry Thoreau and John Muir, figures whom we more readily recognize as founders of American environmentalism. Even the poetry commonly featured in the farm papers conveyed moral lessons and practical instruction, and often exonerated the farmer as national hero. Some poets put recipes into verse, such as “Recipe for Making Sweet-Potato Pudding” and “Pudding and Beans” featured in the New England Farmer in 1833 and 1838 respectively.
Among the most strident and articulate of the editors of the farm press, Jesse Buel—also a judge and a farmer—wrote in 1838 that “we should consider our soil as we do our free institutions, a patrimonial trust to be handed down, unimpaired, to posterity; to be used, but not abused.” The health of the nation’s soil and citizenry formed an interdependent relationship. To carry out the the mission to preserve farming as the nation’s economic and cultural foundation, the agricultural “improvers” as they were often called enlisted farmers (and especially those with some facility with the pen) to experiment, observe, record, and report on field trials with the latest thinking and practices involving but not limited to crop rotations, manuring, new seed varieties, soil analysis, and plowing techniques and implements. These journals exhorted farmers to acquire knowledge of the various branches of the natural sciences and to subscribe and contribute to the agricultural journal published in their respective regions as a means to increasing the productivity of their farms and, by doing so, advancing the state and status of the nation’s agriculture in general. Among the most important of the agricultural papers include The Cultivator published in Albany New York, the New England Farmer of Boston, the Genesee Farmer of Rochester, the Southern Agriculturist of Columbia, South Carolina, the Farmer’s Register of Petersburg, Virginia, the Southern Planter of Richmond, Virginia, and the Southern Cultivator of Augusta, Georgia.
Despite the high moral grandeur and visionary zeal characteristic of the agricultural journals of the time given to sustaining the vitality of the soil and the farm, they were equally devoted to enlightening readers to the proliferation of new and novel varieties of grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Correspondents regulary shared their judgments of particular varieties for taste, resistance to pests and disease, productivity, and marketability—including rice. Among the major farm journals of the era, the Southern Agriculturist most prominently featured essays, reports, queries, and responses disputing or promoting all conceivable aspects of rice cultivation, including the merits and vagaries of particular seed varieties, harvesting methods, sowing and irrigation regimes, manuring, rotations, marketing, international trade, and recipes. Featured in an 1828 issue of the Southern Cultivator is Thomas Pinckney’s experiment to free his fields of what many rice planters at the time relentless struggled to eradicate: “volunteer rice.” Pinckney reports variable success by having planted sections of a rice field in wheat, barley, oats, flax, slip potatoes, cowpeas, and the garden pea. Of these crops, barley, oats, and flax most effectively eradicated volunteer rice. The Southern Agriculturist the same year featured the recommendations of Charles E. Rowand to rice planters to alternate planting their rice fields in cotton, corn, barley, or oats. Possibly the most pioneering of rice planters and one of the few who rotated crops as a matter of course, James Hamilton Couper reports in an 1833 issue of the Southern Agriculturist increasing his plantation’s productivity by following a rotation regime of sowing cowpeas followed by sugarcane, cotton, and rice over six successive years. He also intercropped cotton, peas, and corn on other fields. Other crops reported by southern farmers and planters as improvers of the soil include sweet potatoes, “pinders,” or peanuts, “skinless oats,” buckwheat, and rye.
Not only did certain of the more forward-thinking rice planters rotate crops and intercrop to increase the soil’s fertility, they also did so as a means to staving off the “volunteer rice” or “red rice” that regularly plagued rice fields by assessing, changing, and managing soil chemistry—a central focus of the “scientific farming” promoted in the agricultural improvement literature. In 1828, Charles Munnerlyn writes, “Rice land that possesses any ill quality, or much polluted with volunteer Rice, I think could be greatly improved, by planting it a year in dry culture.” In the same year and journal (Southern Agriculturist), Roswell King claims that “A rotation of crops is necessary to make large crops of Rice [. . .] as well as to eradicate the water grass and volunteer Rice.” Another correspondent in 1833 provides a detailed account of his success with keeping his fields clear of volunteer rice by sowing oats and slips (potatoes) alternately twice a year for two years, as Edward T. Heriot’s written account of his experiment with this rotation eleven years later would confirm. Other methods of eradication included the use of various manures and irrigation regimes. The question arises, how did these planters know how to eradicate volunteer rice without destroying the commodity rice varieties intended for cultivation? Surprisingly, their accounts provide us little or no explanation.
In the bigger picture, how did the agricultural journals as a whole change American agriculture? While it may be impossible to ascertain their impact apart from the broader realm of the agricultural reform movement of the time that included not only the journals but the activities of agricultural societies and “fairs,” farm manuals, and other non-print efforts, we can trace their influence upon the formation of agricultural colleges, the creation of the United States Department of Agriculture in 1862, and the mechanization and industrialization of agriculture that have increased efficiency and productivity but, in retrospect, have compromised the ecological sustainability of modern agriculture. Yet given their reliance upon organic manures before the age of chemical fertilizers—and our own age in which their use has spawned a return to “organic” farming, we might learn from what the early nineteenth-century agriculturists had to say about farming and food. And too, we might incorporate their writing into America’s canon of environmental literature and the knowledge and wisdom found there into our culture of growing and eating food.
(Special Note) Last Spring, the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation awarded a grant to Stephen Spratt, a Ph.D student of American Literature at the University of South Carolina, to research the major agricultural journals in circulation from 1819 to 1860 and extract articles on crop rotations and on varieties of grains, legumes, and peas. These findings will soon be accessible as PDF documents in the Foundation’s archives.
Stephen’s dissertation explores the mediating force which the agricultural press and the larger “print” world of agricultural writing exerted upon the imaginary and literal field of agriculture from the age of Thomas Jefferson and Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur to the eve of the Civil War.
Origin of Carolina Gold Long Grain
Brook Green, Nov. 16, 1843
The following brief remarks, relative to the big grain Rice, I send you, in compliance with your request.
In 1838, my overseer, Mr. James C. Thompson, a very judicious planter, residing on my Brook Green Estate, accidentally discovered in the Barn yard, during the threshing season, a part of an ear of Rice, from the peculiarity of which, he was induced to preserve it, until he had an interview with me.
It was so very different from any other Rice I had attentively examined, in point of size, that I requested him to take care of, and plant in the Spring on one of the Rice-field margins, which had not been cultivated for several years. This, however, proved to be an unfavorable spot for in long watering, the trash settled on and about the experiment Rice—and after the ‘long water.’ The rats injured it no little. The causes reduced the number of plants which matured to only six, the grain of which appeared the same as that which was planted.
Our want of success in procuring the quantity of grain expected, induced us in the Spring of 1839, to plant the rice in a large tub, filled with swamp mud, and placed in Mr. Thompson’s garden, where it could be watered an attended to every day. But here another misfortune befell it. The careless servant who had it in charge, left the garden gate open, and a hog getting in, destroyed the greater part of the rice. The remaining shoots were carefully taken up and transplanted in a pond; from which we obtained three pecks of rotten light rice—the fact of its being light was attributed to the want of water at the critical time of its maturing.
In the year 1840, we planted with this seed not quite half an acre of new land, at ‘Long Wood,’ which yielded in the Autumn, forty-nine bushels and a half of clean winnowed rice.
In the year 1841, this product was sown in a twenty-one acre field, at Brook Green, which yielded in the Autumn, on thousand one hundred and seventy bushels of sheaf rice, clean winnowed. Of this quantity, from one hundred ad fifty to two hundred bushels were milled, and sent to market. My Factors disposed of it at a considerable advance beyond the highest market price.
In the year 1842, I planted four hundred acres with this seed, and being so perfectly satisfied with both the product and the improved quality of the same, I was induced in the succeeding year, (1843) to sow with it my entire crop. The first parcel when milled, consisted of eighty barrels, netted fifty cents per cwt. Over the primest new rice sold on the same day.
Such is a hurried account of the origin of the big grain Rice, which I have been solicited to furnish. I earnestly trust that his improvement in the seed, will be of incalculable benefit to the entire Rice-growing region.
JOSHUA JOHN WARD
The Proceedings of the Agricultural Convention and the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina from 1839-1846 inclusive (Columbia: Summers & Carroll for the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina, 1846), pp. 56-57.
Charleston Gold Rice: Making the Old New Again
There is a little known movement with a quiet but insistent and growing voice in our planet’s scientific community. This shift is most noticeable in those scientists whose disciplines create, study and release foods with better nutrition and higher natural yields into third world agriculture where famine looms as a continual threat. Recently, the best of these scientists have begun additional, voluntary, unfunded research to create better foods for the first world as well. If it weren’t for their dedication, years of post-doctoral research and lack of motives for personal gain, these new first world research projects could be labeled “hobby” projects, but the fact that their work is on par with the best worldwide seed development corporations dispels that notion with certainty. In the following paragraphs we explore the challenges and rewards of one such collaboration and discover how important this new movement is for the future of American agriculture and American cuisine.
Dr. Gurdev Khush and Dr. Merle Shepard reside on opposite coasts and pursue complimentary but vastly different fields of research. Dr. Khush is a leading plant breeder on faculty at UC Davis and Dr. Shepard is professor of entomology at Clemson University’s Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Both scientists are recognized worldwide for decades of research programs in Southeast Asia and both are emeritus from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. But the fact that they are close friends is the best explanation for their unexpected collaboration on an historic rice breeding effort in the Philippines, South Carolina and Texas since 1998. Both scientists engage in this research and development unfunded to be able to deliver this rice to the American public and beyond with no proprietary constraints. For those unfamiliar with the rigor of new rice variety introduction in the American rice industry, it would be an understatement to say Khush and Shepard’s unfunded collaboration is a rare.
The understanding of rice farming, cultural history and breeding research Dr. Shepard and Dr. Khush draw upon to create their new rice variety is also unique in our rice industry and critically important to the future of rice horticulture in the Americas. For their new rice, Dr. Khush combined heirloom Carolina Gold rice traits with quality, disease resistance and productive strengths from many rice varieties into one new variety that combines the best traits of its parents. Imagine juggling dozens of balls while running at top speed while reciting a Shakespeare sonnet while dodging bullets … this is the conceptual idea of Dr. Khush’s plant breeding talent as art. To provide a cultural and historic foundation for Khush’s art, Dr. Shepard, Indiana Jones style, mined data from antique farm journals, scoured heirloom rice seed banks worldwide, evaluated traditional third world rice farming methods and collected for study rare indigenous rice varieties from fields in the far corners of our planet. Khush and Shepard took a final verification step by employing genetic marker analysis to authenticate the results of their collection and breeding. By joining their research strengths, both scientists hold an exceptional awareness of the arc of rice development worldwide over the last few centuries. This merger of disciplines makes possible their new American rice derived from America’s oldest rice.
America’s oldest rice emanates from the time of our revolution in the rice fields around Charleston, South Carolina. Prior to that time, we grew rice in Virginia, Carolina and Georgia (wildly popular and known generically in Europe as “Carolina Rice”) from seed grown for centuries around the Mediterranean, coastal Africa, Indonesia and the Far East. During our revolution, British forces destroyed cereal grain seed stock throughout the colonies. This tactic was especially severe in the South where rice production and export played a major role in economic stability. After our revolution, scientist farmers throughout the Southern states launched unprecedented development efforts in marketing, technology and seed breeding to revive the Southern rice export industry. Drayton, in his “A View of South Carolina” published in 1803, states there were over one hundred rice varieties used for breeding new rice for production shortly after our revolution. The highest quality and most successful rice was given the name “Carolina Gold” for its hull color in the field and lovely subtle gold patina when milled correctly and observed in sunlight.
But the recent trend toward abbreviation of Carolina Gold rice history and diversity to one export variety from our revolution until it faded from production during the Great Depression is the greatest challenge to its cultural survival. Carolina scientist farmers created numerous rice cultivars from exotic rice varieties originating in Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean Rim. Consequently, more than one variety marketed as CGR attained production success here and subsequently enjoyed marketing success in Europe and the Far East. Dr. David Shields provides an excellent description and history of one new pre-Civil War Carolina rice, “Long Gold”, in this newsletter. Dr. Shield’s piece is groundbreaking for many reasons but it is particularly important for its confirmation of the continuity of rice improvement efforts in the South from our revolution to modern times.
Continual improvement of CGR forms the genesis of Dr. Shepard’s and Dr. Khush’s approach to a new rice variety based upon one well documented pure heirloom CGR. Their work underscores CGR’s critical importance in American rice history and its future cultural relevance within American cuisine.
Dr. Khush and Dr. Shepard began their project in 1998 by setting their CGR improvement parameters well above modern rice quality and production standards. They chose their end use characteristics carefully to reflect the best traits of CGR while incorporating new rice agronomic and culinary qualities that guarantee market success in the 21st century. Most remarkable, and in addition to modern breeding protocol, Khush and Shepard determined in advance to include natural selection improvement protocol used by Antebellum CGR scientist farmers in the final selection of their new rice. All of Dr. Khush’s crosses were grown out by Dr. Shepard beginning in 1999 at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and then transferred in 2004 to research plots at Clemson Coastal Research and Education Center. Dr. Shepard and Dr. Khush eliminated the less desirable offspring over the next three years. By fall harvest in 2007, Dr. Shepard and Dr. Khush selected the final most successful improved CGR strain and made two important decisions: In the spring of 2008, they sent seed to Dr. Anna McClung, rice research project leader, USDA-ARS Beaumont, TX, for replication and study to verify its productive and quality characteristics and insure its introduction to American rice farming as a public variety with a high degree of integrity. They also conducted two quality tasting regimes: a formal food tasting panel evaluation of their new rice supervised by food scientists at Clemson University and an informal tasting trial with selected professional chefs around the USA. The results of both evaluations will be presented in a future CGRF newsletter.
Dr. McClung planted the new rice in the spring of 2008 in research plots at the USDA-ARS research station in Beaumont, Texas, to study characteristics and replication. Dr. McClung also engaged the growers at Texas Rice Improvement Association (TRIA) to grow a small field of the new Khush/Shepard rice for production trial analysis. By late spring, Dr. McClung observed remarkable early vigor and yield development traits in the Khush/Shepard rice. By mid-summer it was obvious that the new Khush/Shepard rice was extraordinarily vigorous and competitive, a prime attribute for successful low input organic horticulture to address naturally occurring weed pressure in rice fields without the use of herbicide. By September 1, field trial yield analysis by TRIA growers in association with Dr. McClung verified that the new Khush/Shepard rice is very high yielding. Their informal projection was between 6000 and 9000 pounds per acre at harvest. Noting a distant threat of a tropical storm system, Dr. McClung invited me to TRIA to review the progress of the research plots and field trial. I flew in on September 2 with now Hurricane IKE threatening the region. Dr. McClung arranged a meeting with Mike Douget, President, and Julio Castillo, Seedsman, TRIA. Mike and Julio immediately stated they thought IKE was a threat to Dr. McClung’s Khush/Shepard rice plots and also the field trial of the new rice. Because of their concerns we immediately departed for the fields to review the state of the Khush/Shepard rice. It was too immature to harvest, sadly. (Julio promised he would try to bring in as much research rice as he could before IKE made landfall. Julio told me later he worked into the night before IKE hit to bring in the 2008 CGR.) On September 8, Julio and Mike found 2 large storage bins destroyed, the roof gone on one seed house and another damaged. The worst damage came from tornados spawned by IKE that ravaged much of the TRIA rice in the fields, including some of our Khush/Shepard rice. Some lodged and some had seed stripped off the heads. But with the support of Mike Douget and Dr. McClung, Julio was able to harvest enough Khush/Shepard rice to plant five acres in 2009.
Dr. McClung will include the Khush/Shepard rice in its second year of a five state yield trial this summer. In addition, Dr. McClung with place the rice in a comparative study with other modern aromatic rices and CGR and also in an N response study.
Dr. McClung selected panicles of the Khush/Shepard rice from what was grown in 2008 and sent them to the USDA-ARS Puerto Rico nursery for grow out. Dr. McClung expects to harvest there in late April and plans to return with several hundred “true to type” panicles that will be planted in Beaumont, TX, as headrow. Headrow seed will be harvested in the fall and will be used to register the variety and submit it as a voucher sample to the ARS world collection. The headrow seed that Dr. McClung produces in this year can be provided to TRIA or others for foundation seed production of the new Khush/Shepard rice in 2010.
Here are the findings to date:
The Khush/Shepard rice is at least equivalent in production yield with modern rice and it may be exceptionally productive. It is very early to emerge and very vigorous in early growth. It has excellent agronomic characteristics. It has remarkable yield potential. Informal physiological, morphological and DNA analysis of the Khush/Shepard rice shows it is similar to Jasmine 85, a widely popular modern production rice. Dr. McClung and Mike Douget suggest one more year of formal evaluation for food and agronomic study. Dr. Bastos, a Brazilian rice geneticist expressed interest in the Khush/Shepard rice for his country after observing it in the field at TRIA in July 2008.
Dr. Khush and Dr. Shepard have created an exceptional rice. It is an elegant aromatic long grain Japonica dwarf of pure Carolina Gold Rice with a very promising future and the hallmark distinction of golden seeds. It mills beautifully with a high percentage of whole grain, has lovely aromatic attributes and very appealing texture when cooked. The Khush/Shepard rice has attracted support for non-proprietary development from the American rice milling industry and is garnering close scrutiny from respected rice growers in Texas and South Carolina. In terms of contemporary development, the new Khush/Shepard rice is a run away success. To give tribute to their new rice’s heritage, Dr. Shepard has chosen the name “Charleston Gold” for this new rice which will be released in 2009 by Dr. Shepard, Dr. Khush and Dr. McClung. These rice scientists are truly making history.
POST NOTE: An unexpected result of Dr. Shepard’s research in rice farming history reveals the heretofore-unrecognized possibility that our rice seed banks around the world today may contain diverse heirloom CGRs bred in the Carolinas continuously during the half-century prior to our Civil War. To explore this, he asked Dr. Anna McClung for DNA marker analysis and authentication support beginning in 2004. Dr. Shepard and Dr. McClung are now engaged in a worldwide DNA database survey of seed bank rices that include CGR genetic profile. This research will be the subject of an article in a future CGRF newsletter.
Search for the Lost “Long Gold” Rice
Long Gold appeared suddenly, a genetic sport of regular Gold Seed rice, spotted as a lone panicle lying on the ground after the 1837 harvest by Mr. Thompson, the overseer of Brookgreen Plantation. Brookgreen’s owner, Joshua John Ward, was the most ambitious and scientific, of Carolina’s antebellum planters. He took up Thompson’s discovery and carefully developed the strain, planting it in newly cleared marsh lands, soil free of red rice contamination and blessed with maximum fertility. From 1838 to 1843 he nurtured the grain, giving pure seed to his circle of planters working north of the Santee River. In 1843, Ward and his circle grew sufficient quantities of Long Gold to make it available commercially. Its qualities immediately commanded the wallets of rice buyers, who paid “15 to 20 per centum more” for it than regular Carolina Gold of prime grade. [R. W. Allston, “On the Cultivation of Rice,” Southern Agriculturalist 3, 7 (July 1843), p. 245.] In 1844 Ward placed Long Gold seed rice on the market, making it available to anyone who wished to undertake cultivation. Yet the rigor that keeping seed rice for Long Gold pure proved so great, that only Ward himself supplied it for much of the time it remained on the market.
The difficulties of maintaining seed integrity were not the sole problems that Long Gold’s growers faced. The larger grains caused problems with the commercial rice processing mills, requiring recalibration of the grinding surfaces to keep the rice from breaking apart when having the bran removed. Joshua John Ward died in 1853, turning his rice empire over to son, Joshua Ward, who maintained Long Gold’s seed stock as a testimony to his father’s memory. According the R. Habersham, the Savannah, GA, grain broker, Joshua Ward’s own mills processed most of the Long Gold produced on the eve of the Civil War. The war disrupted the planting schedule, stopping seed production for Long Gold. By 1865 the variety was lost in the Waccamaw region. In 1869 Joshua Ward died, and the will of his father went into litigation that would lead to the plantation’s break-up. While Long Gold had been crossed with other varieties during its two decades of production, engendering long grain raise in other places, it only lived in the cherished memories of southern cooks and agriculturists as the twentieth century dawned.
The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation in its fall 2008 meeting formed the goal of restoring the lost long version of the grain. It discussed undertaking seed archaeology at Brookgreen and other sites known to have grown the grain, and also discussed using modern breeding methods to recreate the form.
African Origin for Carolina Gold?
At the November 2007 meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Anna McClung of the United States Department of Agriculture announced that she and Robert Fjellstrom had identified a genetic match for Carolina Gold rice in a sample of seed rice collected in 1972 in Ghana. The African variety, called Bankoram, shared the key genetic marker, the RM 190 allele, that distinguishes Carolina Gold from the multitude of world rice varieties. The presence of this genetic component, controlling starchiness, prompted McClung and Fjellstrom to seek 43 other molecular characteristics of Carolina Gold in the Bankoram sample. It possessed 42. When planted and grown, the rice greatly resembled Carolina Gold.
Several persons have attempted to discover the Old World ancestry of Carolina Gold Rice. In 2006, the Carolina Gold Rice foundation funded a rice collection trip in Indonesia seeking a parent strain on the island of Sulawesi. The seed collected there proved not to be related to Carolina Gold.
McClung and Fjellstrom examined 1,600 samples of rice germplasm looking for ones that bore the RM 190 marker that appears in only 1 % of the world’s rice varieties. All accessions that showed the marker were grown out to examine how the plants resembled or differed from Carolina Gold. Only thirteen bore enough structural resemblance to merit further exploration. When these were examined for the 43 other molecular markers, Bankoram emerged as the only approximate match.
More research remains to determine whether Bankoram was a native African evolution from Oryza glaberrima or may have been an African adaptation of Carolina Gold, whose cultivation spread globally during the nineteenth century. If it is a long-grain variety, then the great likelihood is that it is the latter case. If it is the short-grained version, then the case for an African genesis of America’s most famous historic rice variety is strengthened.
Who first planted Carolina Gold?
When early historians of Carolina agriculture told of the introduction of rice into cultivation, they unanimously spoke of white rice as the original crop in the colony, dominating production until “late in the last century” (i.e. the last part of the 18th century) when it was eclipsed by “gold seed rice.” When gold seed rice came to be planted was a matter of debate. N. B. Cloud of The American Cotton Planter (1853) thought it “sometime before the Revolutionary War.” But most commentators thought the introduction of the variety followed upon the peace of 1783. John D. Legare in an 1823 report of the South Carolina Agricultural Society on the importation of foreign seeds, noted that “the late Col. Henry Laurens imported a small quantity of what is called the Gold-seed Rice, soon after the revolutionary war, which was found to be so far superior to the white-hulled Rice before cultivated, that the latter is now scarcely to be met with” (American Farmer 24, p. 187).
Laurens, the famous patriot merchant and planter, who spent much of the Revolution captive in the Tower of London, until released in exchange for General Conwallis. He remained in Europe, assisting in the negotiations of the Treaty of Paris ending the war. While mention is made that he imported the rice, no report exists that he planted it at Mepkin Abbey, when he attempted to rebuild the plantation after the war. He eventually returned home in 1784 to Mepkin. John Lewis Gervais, his agent, had overseen the planting of rice at Stono and Mepkin beginning in 1783. The papers of Henry Laurens for the period, however do not remark that the rice produced on his plantations was a new variety.
Indeed, the first person whom we know by name to have grown Carolina Gold Rice was Hezekiah Mayham. Colonel Mayham (1739-1789), best known to history as a fiery tempered officer in Swamp Fox Francis Marion*s regiment, planted gold seed rice on his plantation abutting Pineville in St. Stephen’s Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina in 1785. Robert Alston, the most respected chronicler of Carolina rice culture in the antebellum period, in a summary of Gold Seed Rice, observed: “The ordinary crop rice most highly esteemed and therefore universally cultivated, an oblong grain 3-8ths of an inch in length, slightly flattened on two sides, of a deep yellow or golden color, awn short; when the husk and inner coat are removed, the grain presents a beautiful pearly-white appearance—an ellipsoid in figure, and somewhat translucent. This rice has been introduced into the Winyaw and Waccamaw region, since the revolution. It was planted by Col. Mayham, on Santee, in 1785. [The Commercial Review of the South and West, 1846, p. 327]
Who was Colonel Mayham and what had he to do with agriculture? He was from all accounts a bold and ambitious fellow. A member of the first Provincial Congress of South Carolina, he opted for military rather than political life, accepting election as captain in Col. Huger’s regiment. He fought in the Revolution throughout the lowcountry, participating in the siege of Savannah and the battle of Stono. He is most famous for capturing a bastion of Carolina loyalist, Fort Watson, by erecting a tower, and shooting down into the enclave over the walls forcing its surrender. The idea would be imitated several times subsequently on southern battlefields. Illness in 1781 forced Mayham’s retirement from the field.
The economic uncertainty of the post-war era, particularly the inflation led to a situation where rice planters found themselves facing crippling debt. Mayham emerged as one of the ferocious men of the period, resisting foreclosures and championing debt relief in the legislature. Legend tells that when a sheriff came to serve Mayham debt papers, he forced the man to eat them. Rather than see the plantation system collapse, the government passed a series of debt relief bills throughout the 1780s.
Few memoirs present the life and works of Col. Mayham. They are not needed, because his memory has been preserved in the character of the most famous comic creation of early South Carolina fiction, William Gilmore Simm’s rough-hewn cavalier, Captain Porgy. In Sword and Distaff the brash, jovial captain under Francis Marion, retires from the field, struggles against debt, and strives mightily to reconstitute his lands, life, and slaves in the wake of the war. There is little doubt that Simms based his character on Mayham.
The Revolution disrupted the economy and the planting cycles in the Peedee, Santee, and Waccamaw watersheds. Most importantly it disrupted the production of seed rice. In the absence of the usual local supply, Mayham and his fellow planters had to secure other stock. It is no wonder that a new variety—Gold Seed—happened to be planted in the region then. Whence did it come? No one knows. Why was Mayham’s planting important? That can determined with some accuracy. His grandson, Joshua John Ward, master of Brookgreen plantation, friend of Robert Allston, and one of the great rice barons of antebellum South Carolina, traced his gold seed stock back to his grandsire. Ward to honor his forebear erected the four-sided inscribed monument over Mayham’s remains in Pineville. Ward became the most important rice seed producer in the antebellum period.
It was out of the Mayham-Ward lineage of gold seed rice that long grain Carolina gold was developed. Long grain—5/12ths of an inch in length—weighed at 840 grains an ounce whereas short grain weighed 896 grains an ounce. In 1838 one of Ward’s slaves discovered a panicle of unusually large grained rice during threshing. Ward had the seeds planted. By 1840 he had a half acre of seed in the field and by 1843 had expanded the output so greatly that his entire crop consisted of long grain. [The Cultivator 1844, p. 50]. It quickly became the market standard in the United States.
D. S. Shields
Growing Rice at Whitehouse Plantation
Anyone who reads the chronicles and memoirs of the great rice planters of yesteryear in Carolina realizes that bringing a crop of Carolina Gold to harvest is no easy matter. At any given moment a promising field might fall victim to hail, insect infestation, a plague of birds, hurricanes, drought, or floods. As a reminder that these problems still afflict planters in the 21st century we present a report by Edwin H. Cooper, Jr., of his crop at Whitehouse Plantation on the Black and Peedee Rivers in Georgetown County, South Carolina. In the history of rice cultivation, Whitehouse, is famous for being one of the two plantations cultivated by Elizabeth Allston Pringle, author of A Woman Rice Planter (1913), the most eloquent memoir of the closing years of the great age of rice cultivation in South Carolina. Edwin H. Cooper, Jr. and his son, Edwin Cooper III are intent upon restoring the heritage crop to its old home.
1. Rice was planted in approx. 30a. of prepared fields at Whitehouse around the last week of April so as to avoid any chance of freezing weather, as plagued many farmers this year.
2. Rice came up very well and we were preparing to flood the rice to control weeds once the rice was approx. 6" -8" tall. At that time, a strong coastal system with NE. winds came up the coast and caused our dikes to overtop, thus flooding most of the rice totally underwater.
3. We commenced pumping and were able to bring the water down below the top of most of the rice, but some parts of the field were killed.
4. Apparently the water contained a high salt content, which eventually killed the rest of the rice, although the water levels were not excessive.
5. The rice was planted in an old crawfish field, and the crawfish that we thought were gone reemerged and ate what was left of the rice. Obviously, we need to find a way to eliminate the crawfish before we attempt to plant rice again in that field. Any information you may have on this would be appreciated.
6. Bottom line is growing rice is not a hobby type undertaking, but we plan to continue to experiment.
Mr. Cooper welcomes any expert advice that might assist the success of the 2008 crop.
Chronicles of Carolina Gold Rice
Extract of a Letter of Peter Collinson to Gentleman’s Magazine, May 26, 1766.
In the year 1696, my sagacious friend, Charles Dubois, then treasurer to the East Indian Company, told me often with pleasure, that he first put the Carolinians on the culture of rice.
He happened one day, in that year, to meet Thomas Marsh, a Carolina merchant, at the coffee-house, to whom he said, I have been thinking, from the situation, nature of the soil, and climate, that rice may be produced to great advantage in Carolina: but, says Marsh, how shall we get some to try? Why, says Dubois, I will inquire for it amongst our Indian captains. Accordingly, a money-bag full of East India rice was given to Marsh, and he sent it to South Carolina; and in the year 1698, he told his friend Dubois, that it had succeeded very well.
But, from so small an original, it required a long time to spread to advantage; besides, the people being unacquainted with the manner of cultivating rice, many difficulties attended the first planting and preparing it, as a vendible commodity, so that little progress was made for the first nine or ten years, when the quantity produced was not sufficient for home consumption.
About this time, a Portuguese vessel arrived, with slaves from the east, with a considerable quantity of rice, being the ship’s provision; this rice the Carolinians gladly took in exchange for a supply of their own produce. This unexpected cargo was distributed, which gave new spirit to the undertaking, but was not sufficient to supply the demand of all those that would have procured it to plant.
Therefore the Assembly of South Carolina, taking into consideration the importance of the culture of rice, very prudently voted a bounty to encourage its importation, that there might be a supply of seed for every undertaker.
My ingenious friend, Tho. Lambol, esq. now living, informs me, that in the year 1704, being then a lad, going to school at some distance from Charles-Town, he took notice of some planters who were essaying to make rice grow.
In the year 1712, the same gentleman was an apprentice to a principal merchant in Charles-Town, who was appointed public treasurer; and he well remembers that a bounty (granted by the Assembly) was then paid to a captain, who brought in the first cargo of rice, after the bounty was ordered; this cargo came from the Straits, probably from Egypt, or the Milanesse.
In the year 1713, another ship arrived, and the captain made the like demand, and received the bounty for bringing a cargo of rice and slaves from Madagascar.
From these particulars it appears that the progress of raising rice in any considerable quantity was very slow; and I can find no account of any being exported for the first fifteen years. But it is reasonable to conclude, that after the arrival of these two cargoes of rice, for sowing, the planters were amply furnished, to extend its culture; and being a yearly production, it soon became a staple commodity; it is therefore very probably, that in the years 1715 or 1716, a quantity was raised sufficient for exportation, which continued to increase till the year 1726, and then it became a great article of commerce. For my correspondent, Sam Eveligh, a merchant residing in Charles-Town, writes me that, from the year
Barrels of Rice
1726 to 1727 were exported 40,000
1729 to 1730 were exported 41,957
1740 to 1741 were exported 80,000
1755 to 1756 were exported 60,000
1757 to 1758 were exported 67,040
1760 to 1761 were exported 100,024
1761 to 1762 were exported 34,972
half barrels 3,600
The Carolina Gazette of June 12, 1762, says the crops of rice are so great that we expect to make 150,000 barrels.
I cannot express the satisfaction I feel, in reflecting on the wonderful increase of so valuable a commodity, from so small a beginning, in about, or little more than, half a century.
May 26, 1766 P. Collinson
Toward an Improved Variety of Carolina Gold Rice
Our studies at Clemson University’s
Coastal Research and Education Center (CREC), Charleston, SC were
started when we obtained seeds of ‘Carolina Gold’ rice from the
USDA-ARS Germplasm Laboratory in Aberdeen, Idaho in 1998. The
Carolina Gold was grown in the greenhouse for the first year. Then
in 1999 we transplanted them to the field. We increased the seeds
each year and in 2000 we sent the Carolina Gold seeds to Dr. Gurdev
Khush, head of the Plant Breeding and Genetics Department at the
International Rice Research Institute, Los Banos, Philippines, with
the request to cross these with modern, high-yielding varieties but
with instructions to keep the gold color (and hopefully, the taste)
of Carolina Gold.
Dr. Khush made these crosses and in 2002 we planted 25 CGR-modern variety rice crosses at CREC. Our objective was to develop an improved strain of Carolina Gold with better yields, disease and insect resistance and one that would resist lodging (falling down in high winds and rain), an undesirable characteristic of Carolina Gold. Dr. Khush sent 25 accessions that resulted from crosses between Carolina Gold and high-yielding Japonica type varieties. We selected 12 of these and evaluated them in 2003.
Four of the most promising ones were planted in 2004 and we selected one that will be increased in 2005. One genotype stands out among the others and we hope to develop a new variety called ‘Charleston Gold’. Another 2 – 3 years field observations should allow us to decide if ‘Charleston Gold’ will really become a suitable variety.
Another aspect of our research is moving toward organic production of Carolina Gold. At the suggestion of Glenn Roberts, President of the CGRF and owner of Anson Mills, we used sustainable methods of production of Carolina Gold for the first time in 2003. We had very positive results and have decided to continue growing part of each year’s crop in this way.
Over the years we have donated seed to be grown for demonstration projects such as the Middleton Place rice field grown in 2002, 2003, 2004, and the crop to be grown there in 2005. In addition we have consulted with several other interested growers including Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Mike Booth’s Low Country Foods, Dr. Jack Rhodes’ Prospect Hill Plantation fields, and Glenn Roberts’ field this year also at Prospect Hill.
Also, the WINGS program in the Charleston county schools benefited from our seed and growing expertise this year. They received 300 patio pools of growing rice plants donated to them by the Spoleto Festival after they were used in their presentation called “Water Table” at the Memminger Elementary School. These pools were first set up here at the CREC where the soil was placed into the pots, fertilizer and seed added, watered to germination and then flood was maintained until the plants were trucked to Memminger for the presentation.
B. Merle Shepard, Ph.D., is a Professor of Entomology and the Director of Clemson University, Coastal Research and Education Center.
Hal Hanvey is Farm Manager of the facility.
Experimenting with Gold
According to Hal Hanvey, farm manager at the CREC, the initial rice seed came from two sources, part from a local private party and the balance from the USDA Germplasm Repository in Aberdeen, Idaho. After the first few crops, the seed generated from the private donor’s supply was returned to him. Hanvey has continued to plant crops and generate seed from the special accession rice from the Idaho facility.
One of the weak points of Carolina Gold is the height of the stalk. It is a tall growing variety and tends to fall over in the field, which reduces the yield of the crop. In an attempt to lower the grain stalk, CREC has worked with renowned rice breeder Dr. Gurdev Khush of the International Rice Research Institute. He crossed the Carolina Gold Rice with a number of modern varieties of rice hoping to develop a variety that would maintain the basic characteristics of Carolina Gold but reduce the stalk height of the plant.
CREC initially planted all of Dr. Khush’s crossed varieties, narrowing the selection to twelve varieties in 2003. This year the CREC has planted the four most successful varieties of Khush’s original twenty-five. According to Hanvey, in this final four he will be looking for the variety the best maintains the color and flavor of traditional Carolina Gold yet grows a stalk at a height more common to the modern varieties which will improve yield.