Sunday, January 27, 2013

South Carolina 7: Rice’s Tale Variants

When South Carolina congressmen became more vociferous about the supposedly false theories of modern science, I began to wonder how Charleston had ever produced the important innovations in botany that underlay its lifestyle: the selection of new types of rice and roses. Periodically, I’ll be publishing the result of my inquiries into the lives of two innovative growers, Hezekiah Maham (rice) and John Champneys (roses). Previous entries can be found under “South Carolina” in the index at the right.

Maham is not given credit for his discovery. This posting looks at the interpretations of the origin tale as evidence of South Carolina’s evolving attitudes towards its botanical innovators. It includes an interpretation of Maham’s own comments.

Weather: Warm temperatures during the week soaked up the snow protected by shadows; yesterday’s misting rain washed more away; last rain 1/26/13; 10:18 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Few rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens; yucca. Moss is emerging in shadows where snow stayed long enough to melt into the ground.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot, sandbar willow branches. Some pink leaves are a deeper maroon. Western stickseed leaves turned purple-gray.

What’s grey or blue: Snow-in-summer, winterfat, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow: Globe and weeping willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds.

Weekly update: Alexander Salley, who became state archivist for South Carolina, reprinted eight versions of Fayrer Hall’s origin tale. Each has been retold by others. Still others have tried to combine them into a single tale, emphasizing different elements. The history of the history has moved from some attempts to explain a confusing situation, the varieties of rice found in South Carolina, to syntheses that compounded the confusion.

The first person Salley mentioned was James Glen, governor between 1743 and 1756, who reprinted Hall’s version in 1761. He emphasized chance and the irrelevance of the proprietors when he added (motif 3, see notes) “it was not done with any previous Prospect of Gain, but owing to a lucky accident, and a private experiment.” The (4) gift motif was expanded when he added it was done “for the benefit of Mankind.”

In 1766, when conflicts between the crown and the colony were escalating after the Sugar Act of 1764, Gentleman’s Magazine of London published an account by Peter Collinson, a friend of Charles Dubois, which contained many of the same motifs as Hall.

The (1) individual responsible for introducing the rice was the treasurer of the East India company, and the recipient was (5) Thomas Marsh, a Carolina merchant, after they (3) happened to meet in a coffee house. Dubois (4) gave Marsh (6) a “money bag” of (2) East India rice.

Since the quantity was so small, (9) more rice was brought by a Portuguese slave trader who (4) gave, but actually bartered, some of the ship’s provisions for fresh produce. The (3) unexpected rice (8) made men more sure rice could be a viable commodity.

However, (9) the planters still didn’t have enough, and, in 1713, the colony paid bounties to captains who brought rice. One shipment came (2) “from the Streights, probably Egypt” or Milan. Another bounty was paid for rice that came with a slave ship from (2) Madagascar.

Salley found no record of the bounties, and believed the London writer was thinking of the gratuity paid to John Thurber. What Salley didn’t mention was that the Portuguese and Madagascar ships were probably smugglers who provided cheap goods to Charles Town the way the pirates had. He did mention rice itself was smuggled to Portugal in 1708, and sold for fish that then was sent to London.

Collinson and Du Bois were both avid gardeners, active in exploring the natural resources of the colonies. Collinson imported plants collected by John Bertram, while Du Bois helped sponsor Mark Catesby trip to Charles Town in 1722. He also grew plants sent to him by his family from India.

In 1772, as rebellion against royal authority was brewing in France, a contributor to Guillaume Thomas Raynal’s history of European trade with the two Indies emphasized that the introduction was (3) “purely fortuitous,” the result of a ship returning from the (2) East Indies that (3) “happened to be cast away” and (6) “some bags” were (4) “taken from the ship.” Even so, “a trial was made of sowing them, which (8) succeeded beyond expectations”

During the war, in 1779, a Tory minister living in exile in London, Alexander Hewatt replaced the adventurer, Henry Woodward, with an idealized royal governor, Thomas Smith, who arrived in the colony in his mid-30's in 1684. When his wife died, he married Sabina de Vignon, the widow of Seigneur D’Arssens who had connections to William and Mary and the proprietors. When Sabina died in 1689, Smith petitioned the proprietors for rights to Van Arssens’ estates.

At the time the proprietors were having problems asserting their authority over the colony, and in 1693 transferred Van Arssen’s land to Smith and appointed him governor. Before he died in 1694, he tried to suppress the pirates who competed with the East India Company. I found nothing on-line about his life between the time he was born in Devon in 1648 and he appeared in the colony.

According to Hewatt, soon after Smith became governor, (3) a “fortunate accident happened” when (1) a brigantine from (2) Madagascar (3) touched on Sullivan Island outside the Charles Town harbor. Smith met with the captain who (4) “made him a present of a (6) bag of seed rice.” Smith (7) divided the rice between “Stephen Bull, Joseph Woodward, and some other friends.”

Hewatt then mentioned (9) DuBois to explain (11) “the distinction of red and white rice.”

The location of the accident and the identity of the planters have been elaborated. Sullivan’s Island was the location of the fort William Moultrie built that repulsed the first British attack on Charleston in 1776, while Hewatt was close to the last royal governor of the colony, William Bull, and probably heard family stories from descendants of Smith. Stephen Bull was William’s son, and his son, William’s grandson, also Stephen Bull, married Elizabeth Woodward. Salley couldn’t identify Joseph, who was not descended from Henry.

In 1798, after years of battle and intrigue to secure the French revolution, Raynal reissued his history and the current contributor said “opinions differ” on the introduction of rice, and he no longer thought it mattered if it came with a shipwreck, was sent by England, or brought by slaves, because what mattered was South Carolina was ideally suited to grow rice.

In 1802, another governor, John Drayton, published his version, which now gave “good government” a role. He said the first shipment of 1699 was an unprofitable variety, and it was only in 1696 that a larger, whiter variety was introduced The last is a trait associated with the rice of Hezekiah Maham, and Drayton may have been contrasting the rice that existed after the revolution, with that from before.

Drayton’s second introduction came when the (1) captain of a brigantine from (2) Madagascar (4) “presented” a (6) bag to the (5) governor (7) “who divided it between several gentlemen.” He adds, Mr. DuBois (9) “sent another parcel” which explains “the distinction which now prevails, between white and gold rice.”

In 1809, Henry Laurens’ son-in-law, David Ramsey deliberately introduced new elements. He suggested Thomas Smith “had been at Madagascar before he settled in Carolina” and that he was “an old acquaintance” of the captain of a (1) vessel from (2) Madagascar which (3) “being in distress, came to anchor near Sullivan’s Island.” The (1) ship’s cook (4) “presented” Smith with (6) “a small bag of rice.”

This time it’s Smith himself who (8) proved that rice could grow “luxuriantly.” He (7) distributed his “little crop” “among his planter friends” Salley said Ramsey went so far as to alter Edward Crisp’s 1704 map of Charles Town to mark the spot in Smith’s garden where the rice first grew, apparently unaware that the area could not have supported rice because it only had access to salt water.

Ramsey had been an active patriot during the war, jailed in Saint Augustine by the British. His more colorful version may have been influenced by Parson Weems’ attempts to create a dramatic past for the young republic with his books on George Washington and Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. The later was published in 1805, based on notes by Peter Horry, but had been repudiated by Horry.

Salley’s last reference was to a genealogist, Guy Mannering Fessenden, who discovered John Thurber was buried in Warren, Rhode Island, and noted he had brought the rice (2) from India between 1694 and 1607.

David Shields of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation has since found another variant provided by John Legare in 1823. He told the South Carolina Agricultural Society (2) “the late Col. Henry Laurens “ (3) “imported” a (6) “small quantity of what is called the Gold-seed Rice, soon after the revolutionary war” which was (8) found to be so far superior to the white-hulled Rice before cultivated.”

Shields noted there was no evidence Laurens grew rice at Mepkin between the time he returned to Carolina after the war in 1784 and he died in 1892. Legare probably thought him as a better godfather than Maham, the way Hewatt thought the titled Thomas Smith was a more appropriate agent for change than the adventuring Henry Woodward.

Many recent writers have read some, or all of the accounts mentioned by Salley, and created their own syntheses, usually within a contemporary framework. For instance, Richard Schulze, who is growing heirloom Carolina Gold rice at his Turnbridge Plantation, has elaborated the accident:

“A Liverpool-bound brigantine sailing from (2) Madagascar was (3) badly damaged by a storm and blown off course; it set into the port of Charles Towne for repairs.”

and the nature of the gift

“Dr. Henry Woodward apparently (4) befriended the captain”

From there, the modern skeptic questions the traditional facts, noting “the ship, which was of American origin, was probably not trading legally as the British law at that time forbade trade outside of the colonies and the British Isles.”

He repeats Ramsay’s idea filtered through Salley that “Woodward proceeded to grow this in his garden in the city” before suggesting it was more likely he planted the seed at “the more suitable property on the Abbapoola Creek.”

He then notes not enough time passed between the summer of 1685 when the ship entered port and Woodward’s trip to the frontier where he died for him to (8) “produce a very good crop, which he then (9) distributed to his friends.” He concludes “he probably never had the opportunity to fully appreciate (10) the new industry that he was so instrumental in spawning.”

As for Joshua John Ward’s belief that Maham’s rice came from Madagascar, it may have. There were some relations with the island where André Michaux, who had left Charleston in 1796, died collecting plants in 1802. However, it’s more likely, Maham was simply saying his rice came from the black market and the origin is deliberately unknown.

Motifs found in origin tales that explain the introduction of rice to South Carolina

1. Someone, usually unnamed
2. From Madagascar
3. Through some accident, usually a shipwreck
4. Gave, usually as a sign of gratitude
5. To Woodward, or some other prominent person
6. A peck or some other small amount of rice
7. Which was distributed free to the other planters
8. Who proved rice could grow in the colony
9. A second introduction
10. Is responsible for the spread of the crop
11. And the visible variations in the rice

Salley, A. S. Jr “The Introduction of Rice Culture into South Carolina,” Historical Commission of South Carolina Bulletin 6, 1919.

Schulze, Richard. Carolina Gold Rice: the Ebb and Flow History of a Lowcountry Cash Crop, 2005.

Shields, David S. “Who first planted Carolina Gold?,” The Rice Paper April 2008.

Photographs: More grasses, known, unknown, and guessed.
1. I think it’s blue grama grass, because it looks like a grama, doesn’t look like the grama growing wild in the yard, and that’s the name of the seed I planted in the area where it’s growing.

2. I think it’s buffalo grass, because I mixed buffalo grass with blue grama along the one walk, and it doesn’t look like anything in the yard. It never blooms, and reproduced by sending out runners.

3. But what is this? Is it the same as the “buffalo grass” at a different stage? Or, is it Bermuda grass? Or, is it something else. It also doesn’t seem to bloom, although there is sometimes a coxcomb growth associated with it.

4. They say Bermuda grass is hard to tell from crab grass, but I think this is crab grass. The seed stalk is attached to a clump of bunch grass.

5. When I wander on the prairie, I see grasses that resemble ones in my yard whose identity is only half guessed. What do you call a guess based on an associate with a guess? This grows like the grama grasses, with narrow, similarly shaped seed heads. Only, up close, they look more ragged.

6. This grows like a ring-muhly, only the dead grasses are at least six inches high. The new growth branches out from the side, and looks reddish.

7. Another of the monsoon grasses that emerges along the edge of the drive.

8. Another of the grasses that I think just appeared after the fire. It also seems to be a monsoon grass.

9. Another monsoon grass that looks so familiar, and yet I can’t identify it.

10. An annual monsoon grass that I call “barnyard grass.” The stalks are fuzzy, the seed heads shaped like sparklers.

11. And then, there are the grasses I know too well. Cheat grass is an annual that appears in the spring, then dies into mulch.

12. A brome grass plant showed up last summer. I don’t know if it’s going a be a pest or not. It’s in the same genus as cheat grass.

13. The biggest nuisance of all. An annual spring grass I call “three awn.” One friend of mine calls it squirrel tail. Another just says, ‘Oh That!” The segments fall apart when I touch them, and each causes an itching reaction if I pick them up to keep them from reseeding.

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