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How Carolina Rice Influenced the Ecological and Cultural History of the Lowcountry

Richard Porcher, Retired Professor of Biology, The Citadel (Retired)

20 January 2017

The introduction of rice into South Carolina in the 1600s created an economy that completely changed the ecology of the Lowcountry. One hundred and fifty-thousand acres of tidal freshwater swamp were converted to rice fields, eliminating an entire ecosystem, and required a massive import of African slaves to sustain the industry. Today, these abandoned fields are an incredible natural resource, but require proper management to sustain wildlife into the future. The wealth of the Lowcountry was based on the rice economy. Charleston as we know it today would not exist without rice culture that lasted from the 1600s until the early 1900s. Charleston and Georgetown became centers of industry, producing an incredible array of machines to power the industry. After the industry ended, Northerners bought many an abandoned rice plantation for waterfowl hunting. This was a fortuitous event since many of these plantations have been set aside as protected habitat for the people of South Carolina.