“Hands On” Rice Planting at Middleton Place

For Immediate Release, May 2013

Visitors are invited to take part in the centuries-old tradition of rice cultivation in the Low Country May 16, 17, and 18, as Middleton Place embarks on the annual planting of the demonstration rice field. Costumed interpreters will instruct guests in traditional methods of planting, discuss the history of Carolina Gold rice on Low Country plantations, and explain the African origins of rice and its cultivation in South Carolina in the 18th and 19th centuries. Planting will take place each day at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Some say cotton was king in the antebellum south. For more than 125 years of Middleton Place history, however, rice ruled. Rice propelled Charleston to the richest city in the colonies and later the States, and created vast wealth for the Middleton family. The Low Country’s tidal rivers once produced millions of pounds of Carolina Gold rice. Rice fields lined both sides of the Ashley River and other tidal rivers on the southeast coast from the Cape Fear to the St. John’s. By the year 1730, Charleston’s rice exports had grown to nearly 20,000 tons per year. Middleton Place was the headquarters for a network of rice-producing plantations owned by the Middleton Family.
At the hands-on planting events, Middleton Place educators in period costumes will teach visitors the methods employed by enslaved field hands. Traditionally, planting would take place between early March and mid-June. After the fields were prepared with a system of dikes, drainage ditches, and rice trunks and gates, slaves used specially designed wooden rakes to drag shallow furrows into the dry soil. Rice seed was dropped into the furrows and covered with a thin layer of dirt, which was often done with bare feet in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“To know Low Country history, you must know about Carolina Gold rice,” says Tracey Todd, Vice President of Museums. “We want to shed light on the enslaved people’s contributions to rice cultivation. Rice was the cash crop that allowed Low Country planters to amass the greatest fortunes in the colonies.”
The growing season for the Middleton Place demonstration rice field runs through mid-September, ending with three days of rice harvest programming September 12, 13, and 14. Throughout that time, visitors can view Carolina Gold rice growing in the flooded rice field, and learn about the African origins of rice and its importance in colonial and antebellum South Carolina.
The mission of the Middleton Place Foundation, a public non-profit educational trust, is to sustain the highest levels of preservation and interpretation for the Middleton Place National Historic Landmark, its Gardens, House, Plantation Stableyards and affiliated properties, such as the Edmondston-Alston House, and their collections and programs. Middleton Place and the Middleton Place Restaurant are located at 4300 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC 29414.