Sunday, 14 January 2007
Hurricanes and the Collapse of the Georgetown Rice Culture
Exhibit Hall C (Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center)
In an attempt to make Weather Studies more relevant to our students, a unit was developed to address the impact of the numerous tropical cyclones which eventually ended the rice culture of Georgetown County, SC. Hurricanes were almost unknown to the British colonists settling the SC coast in the 1700's. After one storm, Henry Laurens wrote that, on one of his plantations, 1/3 of his rice lands “suffered by salt water.” Georgetown, laid out in 1729, became an official port of entry in1732. Development of tidal flooding in the 1730's and its perfection by 1750, made Georgetown a center of rice production. Northern Europe imported 65% of SC and GA rice. In the 1730's, there was a great influx of slaves into SC from West African coastal regions, where rice growing had been practiced since 1500 BC. By 1730, 2/3's of the SC residents were slaves. Hurricanes claimed many lives of the African slaves whose labor generated the great wealth of the rice plantations. Between 1893 and 1913, six violent storms and unusual spring flooding led to the complete collapse of the once thriving Georgetown rice culture.