A Compendium of Traditional Grains of the Coastal South

In 2004 the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation formed to renew the agriculture that gave rise to the rice-centered cuisine of the Lowcountry from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida.  The revival of the cereals stood at the center of the work the Foundation undertook — not just the rice, but the biscuit wheat, the whiskey rye, the high-power oats bred for race horses, and meal, sweet, and flint corns. 

We sought the enduring staples — the row crops whose virtues were so profound that they remained in use for generations. In 2004 we did not know what those enduring grains were, aside from Carolina Gold Rice. Research in 19th-century agricultural journals gave us an outline that served as a guide to restoration in 2006-2007. Yet our picture of the full scheme of cereal production did not come into final focus until 2013-14. 

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A Book on the History of Rice Processing Technology Gets Published

written by David Shields

originally published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2014


It is with great pride and delight that the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation announces publication of Richard Porcher & William Judd’s The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice, a history of the technology of rice processing. This landmark presentation of the many structures and machines developed from the 18th through the 19th century for the growth, harvesting, hulling, and milling of Carolina Rice supplies a comprehensive view of the immense expenditure of capital the exercise of mechanical ingenuity entailed in making Carolina Gold a world crop.

Professor emeritus of biology at the Citadel and board member of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation, Porcher examined the material remains of virtually all of the significant plantations in the region. Judd, his collaborator, is a draughtsman who has performed miracles of interpretation, taking ruins and jumbled knots of rust and translating them to schematic drawings of a variety of machines. These illustrations are impressive in their clarity and detail. They contribute greatly to one of Porcher’s theses — that the old canard that the South lacked mechanical genius and industrial development was patently false. The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice traces the historical development of a vertically integrated scheme of processing the equal of any sugar refinery in Barbados or Jamaica.

The organization of The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice derives from the order of labors requisite siting, formation, irrigation, planting, weeding, harvesting, and soil renovation of a plantation, then the process of the harvest — the cutting, drying, threshing, screening, milling, and polishing of the rice. The authors recount both the processes involved and the material means by which they were accomplished. 

As Porcher demonstrates, only he has explored the several sorts of evidence needed to do this work: he alone of the several students of rice culture has visited the important historical sites, including the difficult-to-reach marsh islands in the Santee River, to record the remnants of the fields and the ruins of milling infrastructure there. Numbers of objects he photographed and measured 30 years ago have disappeared from the landscape. In parallel with these material evidences, Porcher delved into Southern archives for written commentary on the methods, examined U.S. Patent Office records for drawings of machines, and sifted through the extensive corpus of agricultural literature published in the many farming periodicals of the 19th century for his reconstructions. Having explored the literary evidence extensively myself, I can attest to the depth of the research involved here. All of the most informed contemporary commentators are given preference in citations, while the testimonies of a great number of experienced planters and inventors flesh out the narrative.

Rice culture as a subject has inspired several masterworks of historical interpretation. Porcher & Judd’s The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice joins that distinguished list of essential volumes. The monograph was published by the University of South Carolina Press and released in summer of 2014.

Part 3 — Orton Plantation Rice Production: Heirloom Rice Foodways, Farming, and Cultural Notes

Written By Glenn Roberts, David S. Shields, & B. Merle Shepard

Originally Published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2012


Heirloom Rice Foodways, Farming, and Cultural Notes

Carolina Gold rice market farming created a unique set of foods that eventually evolved into a complete cuisine. Sweet potatoes, brassicas, oats, barley, buckwheat, benne, emmer, bread rye, wheats, maize, cowpeas, broad beans, etc. were involved at the height of 19th century science supported market farming in an elegant sequence of mixed crop rotation prior to industrialization. We have completely lost these combinations and rotations in modern times. These rice crop rotation crops formed the cuisine associated with our market farming and eventually attained stature in Europe and on our tables. 

There is renewed interest in our rice cuisine, known today as the Carolina Rice Kitchen, and all of the plants and systems that once vaulted it onto the global stage. Dr. Shields is about to publish a definitive work on the plants and foods of our 19th century market farming. There has been explosive media interest in Carolina (including North and South) rice cuisine in the last 18 months since Dr. Shepard, Dr. Khush, and Dr. McClung released their new rice “Charleston Gold.”

We are witnessing our youth becoming aware of their own food legacies and we see them returning by the tens of thousands to their local tables nationally. This phenomenon is moving ahead with alacrity and is constant in homes, farmers markets, food kiosks, and restaurants. Everyone in the “older” generation in our major urban centers where these food systems are beginning to take hold economically, is adapting or being left behind. In the South, particularly the Virginia to Southern Georgia region, there is renewed global interest in our local food heritage beyond urban gardening and hobby cropping for the first time since the mid-nineteenth century. There are growing clusters of nascent heritage food farmers encircling our larger cities. 

The latest Southern entry onto the world stage sourcing quality ingredients from this movement is Husk Restaurant in Charleston and Husk’s Chef Sean Brock. Brock is equally a farmer and a chef and has been featured in major media here, in Europe and in Asia more than any other American chef over the last year. Brock’s food philosophy, garnered from his time with Dr. Shields, marries local food history and Brock’s modern locale. Brock is reviving lost foods at a rapid clip. Husk restaurant is living the Carolina Rice Kitchen and they are booked solid 30 days in advance right now. Brock is unabashedly drawing Carolina Rice and its companion foods back into the Southern pantry while the world watches.

Orton should be a major presence in this grand movement toward sense of place and local identity. Simply, there is deep cultural meaning in repatriating North Carolina rice for the people of North Carolina. Our rices were always Carolina rices. They were the legacy of the Lowcountry without cultural borders.

Comment on Landrace Genetics and Farming

Most modern breeders are focusing upon nano and GMO seed improvement and many of our young geneticists are no longer working in the public realm. It would be folly to deny that we must address carrying capacity and the rising challenge to feed a growing global population. This is a given within our pursuits.

But we are aware of adaptive weaknesses in these modern systems. The CGRF set out at our inception to explore our mission scientifically and apply the results to modern rice agriculture systems. We know that landrace cereals regress in small populations and can exhibit more vigor and new traits in large populations. We are also aware that large cereal populations increase frequency of beneficial mutation and sporting in unintuitive ways. We know that there is little chance for this genetic expression in a seed bank replication plot, especially when the stated purpose of the plot is true type replication.

Our position on landrace farming is that we should all keep focused upon the mission to feed the world while leaving scientific and practical breathing room to support and study landrace plant systems that have been adapting to pest pressure and climate change in larger populations for centuries and many times millennia. 

The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation is following this mission to the letter. Dr. Shepard, Dr. Khush, and Dr. McClung cooperated, pro bono, to develop Charleston Gold Rice, an effort stretching nearly a decade and a half. Last year, 100 acres of commercial Charleston Gold Rice came to harvest. This year, over 300 acres of Charleston Gold rice will go in and interest is growing. We expect over 500 acres for 2013.

Landrace plant systems are based upon survival through vigor and flavor. Dr. Shepard, et al, have certainly imbued Charleston Gold Rice with the best flavor traits of Carolina Gold Rice while improving its vigor and field performance four fold.

One last comment. Drayton recorded over 100 varieties of landrace rices grown in the Carolinas by 1800. All of our efforts should be focused upon obtaining local landrace rice food security by diversifying beyond the two rices we have in production now.

Interpretation — Heirloom Rice Agriculture and Culture

The cultural interpretation of rice husbandry at Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, Middleton Place, and Brookgreen Gardens is impressive and enjoys international presence and respect. But none have working fields. Middleton Place stands alone in interpretation of Antebellum rice husbandry with a small plot of Carolina Gold rice below the butterfly ponds. The Middleton Place staff employs only authentic manual tillage with period implements, heel and toe manual planting, and manual harvest, threshing, pounding and winnowing... all with authentic implements. Middleton also engages authentic rice art and crafts, elite and common rice music and architecture within its interpretive programs. All of these historic plantation interpretive programs present and reflect upon the historic social justice issues and interpretive aspects of slavery as well.

But there are no scaled up interpretation fields of heirloom Carolina Gold Rice in America and no interpretation program focuses upon the importance of separate seed protocols in landrace rice husbandry. There is a growing awareness that the massive contributions and tribulations of slavery will not be embraced with respect to Antebellum rice production until a true vista of a working Antebellum rice field in scale can be part of our national experience. Orton Plantation, of all the Antebellum rice plantations, possesses this vista if her rice fields return to their original purpose, Carolina Gold Rice seed research and production. Orton’s facility and potential presence of scale are unmatched with respect to our surviving collection of Antebellum rice field landmarks.

Landrace Rice Seed — Demonstration of Need

The rapid increase of local food gardening and farming continues unabated across America. This movement is driving the establishment of mid-scale local and regional food hubs and is accelerating demand for local niche rices here in the South and elsewhere in America. In South Carolina and Georgia, these food hubs have lacked mid-scale cereal post-harvest handling and processing capabilities and there is no infra- structure for rice seed processing. In North Carolina, a similar deficit has impeded local cereal production. The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation helped develop a mid-scale heirloom rice seed cleaning, processing, and storage facility located in central South Carolina beginning in 2010.This facility is now operational.

We’re not aware that there is a local fully equipped facility for heirloom rice seed or production processing in North Carolina or Georgia at this time. There is a color sorter in the 2013 budget of the central South Carolina seed facility which will bring it fully online for quality seed (a dedicated color sorter is essential for rice seed quality and weedy rice prevention management, especially in landrace rice seed systems).

Regarding landrace rice seed production: There is no certified foundation rice seed production facility in North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia at this time, even though we have access to sufficient breeder seed stock to support at least one now. We envision the need for mid-scale certified foundation rice seed and rice production, processing and storage facilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia by 2015 based upon current growth rates and the unpredictability of rice seed supply in the United States.

Orton Plantation is strategically and geographically situated to maximize rice seed and production security (if it is in production) against catastrophic loss due to storms in South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. This was Orton Plantation’s strategic role during the first half of the 19th century as well. Without Orton, we cannot achieve rice seed and production continuity in our region in the future.

Landrace Rice Seed Market — Demonstration of Need

The growth of acreage planted to Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold production rice is about 10 percent per year over the last four years as the market for heirloom niche rices accelerates nationally. Landrace (heirloom) Carolina Gold Rice seed and Charleston Gold Rice seed, produced in head row, breeder, and certified foundation protocols has been produced only in one facility in the USA, the Texas Rice Improvement Association in Beaumont, Texas.

As of January this year, head row and breeder Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold Rice seed stock will be grown out at Dale Bumpers Institute in Stuttgart, Ark., only. TRIA will continue to produce certified foundation seed from DPI breeder. The CGRF asked TRIA to produce 300 cwt each of 2011 Certified Foundation Carolina Gold Rice seed and Charleston Gold Rice seed to serve niche landrace rice growers in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. The CGRF produces an additional 300 cwt VNS rice seed per year to assist in seed availability and act as reserve against catastrophic loss.

The niche rice market is growing rapidly and this season, record acreage of Carolina Gold Rice and Charleston Gold Rice will be planted in the aforementioned Southern states. These acreages are split evenly between conventional and organic rice production management. TRIA will reach their maximum security allocation for Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold certified foundation seed production in 2014. We estimate this at 500/cwt for each rice. The CGRF has capability of producing another 500 cwt VNS as a backup. Although we may have additional VNS capability for these rices, we will need additional sources for certified foundation heirloom rice seed thereafter.

This overview does not account for our new variety research programs for Carolina Long Rice, a black Tribute rice and the Italian cultivar associated with first rices at Caw Caw wilderness south of Charlestowne by Italian growers in the late 1600s, tall straw Italian heirloom rices including Vialone Nano.

Having only one certified foundation seed production facility for the growing number of Carolina Gold and Charleston Gold rice farmers in the South is an increasing security risk. A hurricane in Beaumont could easily wipe out a year’s seed production. Weather completely wiped out our seed crops at TRIA once in the last decade and took down half of our seed crop two years ago.

The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation is funding the establishment of 50 acres of seed protocol fields off the Savannah River fed by well system and protected from coastal storm systems to a fair degree.

We need Orton rice seed production for strategic security against catastrophic loss as a landrace seed facility at the very least. We also project demand for local rice in North Carolina will grow vertically, once available. We advocate for the restoration of Orton Plantation’s full array of fields for rice seed production and, especially, Orton’s larger fields because they can be deployed for scale-up field trials to be able to assess genetic stability in landrace rice seed.

Part 2 — Orton Plantation Rice Production: Golden Seed Rice History

Written By Glenn Roberts, David S. Shields, & B. Merle Shepard

Originally Published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2012


Although rice was planted as a market crop in the Carolina Lowcountry near Charlestowne by 1685 and proliferated North and South rapidly along the Carolina and Georgia coasts over the next century to become a major pre-revolutionary commodity export, rice did not become a distinctive American export crop with respect to its morphology, taxonomy, and unique identity until after our revolution. 

Dr. David Shields writes extensively about the genesis of Carolina rice in his introduction to The Golden Seed. “Some time before the Revolutionary War, the ‘Gold Seed’ rice was introduced (from what precise quarter, and how, has not been accurately ascertained) which, owing to its superiority, soon entirely superseded the white.” Dr. Shield notes that “more precise commentators pinpoint its (Carolina Gold rice) introduction to the period after the cessation of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain form 1783-1785.

Even though we cannot state with certainty the origins of Carolina Gold Rice, we can site planter-naturalists of the era who presented the first informal characteristic description of Carolina Gold rice: “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.”

The meteoric rise in acreage devoted to Carolina Gold rice after our revolution followed the trajectory of improved practices characterized today as the scientific agricultural movement. Over 100,000 acres of ricelands were in production and those acres demanded pure seed. Scientific farmer/breeders moved aggressively to develop vigorous pure Carolina Gold seed to combat the increasing incidence of weedy red rice in Carolina Gold production fields. Their routines against foreign variety and weedy contamination were extensively researched and trialed after 1800. R. F. W. Allston, E. T. Heriot, and Joshua John Ward rose as South Carolina scientific breeders whose seed rices were legendary for purity and vigor in their regions. 

It is no small coincidence that Dr. Frederick Jones Hill, Orton’s owner from 1826 to 1854, worked closely with his South Carolina colleagues and was equally respected with regard to his research, weedy rice suppression protocols, seed selection, and market production. In short, Orton was one of only five great rice research stations strung along the Carolinas and Georgia devoted to breeding and horticultural science during that era. Orton’s many rice fields were used to develop and trial Carolina Gold rice in any scale from small isolated 100 sq. ft. rice plots to massive field trials on hundreds of acres for production.

Golden Seed Rice History at Orton Plantation

Orton Plantation, under Dr. F. J. Hill, became the vital Northern supplier of pure Carolina Gold Rice seed to support the vast market rice production across all ricelands extending deep into Louisiana beginning in 1830. Orton’s reputation for pure seed was legendary and critical to national rice horticultural advances between 1830 and the Civil War.

Dr. Shields writes of Orton’s rice seed history:

“During the 1830s, ’40s, and ’50s, Orton Plantation was the northernmost producer of Carolina Gold rice seed, replenishing the production stock of planters nationally. The plantation’s owner during this period, Dr. Fred J. Hill, belonged to the rigorous network of planters extending from the Santee River to the Cape Fear who exchanged seed stock and policed seed purity. The entire Southern rice planting system depended upon seed produced by these breeders. Careful planters as far away as Louisiana improved their rice plantings with an infusion of “northern seed” [the 19th-century designation for production from this area north of the Santee and PeeDee] on a three-year cycle; less careful, on a six year cycle.

Hill embodied the experimentalist spirit that enlivened the most successful southern planters during the second quarter of the 19th century. Because of a fire that destroyed Orton’s mill and grain processing infrastructure in 1824 during the Governor Benjamin Smith’s final years of residence, Dr. Hill, when he took possession in 1826, rebuilt with state of the art engineering the finest rice hulling and milling factory in the region. He installed gates on the water system, and created a fully functional tidal irrigation scheme on the S.C. model. He sought seed partnerships with important rice breeders in South Carolina — R. F. W. Allston, E. T. Heriot, and Joshua John Ward — to secure the best available seed stock. As the most learned of the Cape Fear Planters, he became the resource for the growers at Belvidere, Buchoi, Clarendon, Lilliput, Kendal, Hilton, and Sans Souci Plantations in Brunswick County, providing advice on insect infestation, red rice pollution of fields, and declining field production.

The heyday of rice production ceased with the Civil War. Orton was declared abandoned by the Federal authorities and briefly turned over to occupancy by freedmen. The lands lay abandoned for 15 years. When K. M. Murchison secured ownership of Orton in the final quarter of the 19th century, the expense of rice planting in Carolina made in noncompetitive with high-yielding Honduran white rice planted in the Southwest. Even John F. Garrell, the greatest agricultural savant of the region after the War, could not make Sans Souci plantation’s rice (despite its superior taste, mouth-feel, and appearance on the plate) compete in the commodity market against rice from Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana.

In 1911, the USDA in 1911 funded the draining of wetland ricefields at Orton Plantation to determine whether they could be converted to dry field agriculture. This attempt at secondary usage failed. A hurricane later in the year effectually brought an end to commercial rice production in the Carolinas until its revival in the 21st century. [Annual Report of the U. S. Department of Agriculture 1911, p. 762]

PART 1 — Orton Plantation Rice Production: Past, Present & Future

Written By Glenn Roberts, David S. Shields, & B. Merle Shepard

Originally Published in the Rice Paper Newsletter, Spring 2012


Between 1700 and 1775 no colony in British America experienced more impressive growth than North Carolina, and no region within the colony developed as rapidly as the Lower Cape Fear. Totally uninhabited by Europeans in 1700, this isolated corner of North Carolina's southern coast is particularly noteworthy for its relatively late colonization and its rapid rise to economic prominence, first settled in 1725, the region grew to be the most prosperous in North Carolina by 1775. The study of the eighteenth-century settlement of the Lower Cape Fear is a prime example for understanding North Carolina and the entirety of colonial America as a patchwork of regional cultures (Bradford, J Wood, 2004).

One family, the Moore’s, proved to be pivotal in the development of the Lower Cape Fear. During early 1700s they shaped the regions political and economic importance within North Carolina. The Moores provide an instructive if exceptional example. As the most powerful family in the region, they articulated an elite model of behavior many other families no doubt emulated. The Moores, like many other settlers, clearly developed impressive and complex kinship ties to the Lower Cape Fear. Maurice and Roger Moore were powerful men, coming from one of South Carolina’s most prominent families. Maurice’s father, James Moore, came to South Carolina from Barbados in the 1670s and served as Governor of South Carolina between 1700 and 1703. These connections insured that two of the 10 siblings, Maurice and Roger, would become wealthy and influential plantation owners.

Orton and Kendall plantations were created on lands granted by the Lords Proprietors in 1725 to Maurice Moore, who along with brothers Roger, Nathaniel, and a group of settlers founded Brunswick Town (now within Historic Brunswick Town District). Maurice established lands further up river and passed ownership of the land to Roger. Although the Moore’s had originally emigrated from Ireland via Barbados, Orton and Kendall were named after the Moore’s ancestral homes in the Lake district of North of England. 

Roger Moore was among the first settlers to build a distinctive plantation system along the Cape Fear River. Some fragmentary business accounts reveal that by 1735 Moore already exported lumber, turpentine, and wood shingles from Lower Cape Fear. At this time Moore also traded with connections in both South Carolina and Barbados.

These accounts probably provide only a small glimpse of the range of activities on Moore’s Orton & Kendall plantations. Fifteen years later, Moore’s will revealed that his resources included “Twenty Odd Thousand Acres of Land & Near Two Hundred and Fifty Slaves,” making him almost certainly the wealthiest plantation owner in North Carolina.

Sometime between 1726 and 1730 Roger Moore established a modest house on the 10,000-acre site to be called Orton. The house was burned down by Cree Indians and his next home was established on neighboring land, which subsequently became Kendal Plantation. However, by 1735 he had moved his family to a more suitable brick mansion situated on the original Orton house site. Over time and subsequent ownerships the original brick structure was enveloped and extended to create a Greek Revival Antebellum house that is one of the most recognized in North Carolina today.

Orton Plantation’s rice fields as seen today were constructed sometime between 1726 and 1750 together with the damming and construction of Orton pond, which was essential as a reserve to supply the rice fields with water. 

The pond and rice field layout is recorded on many early historic navigation plans of the Cape Fear River. Research is ongoing and current thinking suggests that the ‘back’ rice fields contiguous to Orton pond, protected by higher ground and most easily fortified against the brackish Cape Fear River, were developed first as a beta test site to experiment with rice cultivation. 

Due to their success, a large dike impoundment was built out into a shallow portion of the Cape Fear River. This was equipped with extensive irrigation and water control structures to modulate water levels. At the same time sluices drained the fresh water of Orton pond through a series of paddies and canals within the original “Back” rice fields to the 200-plus acres of rice fields that provide the magnificent foreground view from the front of the plantation house. Although cultivation of rice and other crops has been intermittent in the last few decades, the original system of water controls, sluices, canals, and embankments are largely in place and functional.

Orton was the first rice plantation in the Lower Cape Fear Region and one of the largest in North Carolina and because of his vast land holdings, Roger Moore was referred to as “King” Roger. The amount of slave labor that was needed to build the original pond and back rice fields was significant, but with commercial success even more slaves were imported to build out and cultivate the massive front rice fields. This horrendous and cruel labor system gave way after the Civil War to large agrarian employment and eventually more mechanized cultivation.

Upon his death in 1750, Moore left his Orton and Kendal estates and 250 slaves to his sons, half-brothers George and William. William died seven years later and passed Orton to wife Mary and son Roger (the younger). Orton was thereafter passed through various ownerships:

  • Richard Quince: 1770-1796.
  • Benjamin Smith: 1796-1826, grandson of Roger Moore and Governor of North Carolina (1810- 11). 1800, Brunswick census lists 199 slaves
  • Dr Fredrick Jones Hill: 1826-1854. 1830 Brunswick census lists 55 slaves. 1850 census shows profitable Sawmill, Corn mill and Rice Threshing Machine producing 15000 bushels of rough rice (annual production of 325,000 pounds of Rice) with 77 slaves
  • Thomas Calezance Miller: 1854-1872. Rice plantation flourishes until end of Civil War. 1860 Brunswick census lists 144 slaves in 40 houses.
  • Isaac B Grainger: 1874 -1876
  • Currer Richardson Roundell: Feb 1876- July 1876
  • Col. Kenneth McKenzie Murchison: 1884 -1909
  • Luola Murchison Sprunt and James Sprunt: 1909-1924
  • James Laurance Sprunt: 1924-1973
  • James Laurance Sprunt Jr., Laurance Gray Sprunt, Kenneth Murchison Sprunt, Samuel Nash Sprunt
  • 1978-2010 Louis Moore Bacon (descendant of Roger Moore), as principal of parent company to Orton Plantation Holdings LLC.

Current rehabilitation of National Register-nominated Orton Plantation house and gardens together with the proposed rehabilitation and restoration of the rice fields highlighted the need to connect the plantation house, gardens, and rice fields as one historic entity, hence the desire and importance of including the rice fields on the National Register. In order to understand the rice field systems as agricultural features, the fields should be considered in context of the plantation, plantation house, slave villages, kitchens, outbuildings, and burial grounds. As cultural landscapes, rice fields consist of interconnected systems of land, water, vegetation, and wildlife that differentiate them from other cultural resources.

The rice grown and produced at Orton was of a high quality, fine grain which was highly prized and sought after as seed rice by the larger Southern plantations. The annual production of seed rice was critical in order to maintain the vast economies and rapid growth of rice plantations in the Southern states. Orton and other Lower Cape Fear plantations were a key factor in the maintaining the development and success of the Southern-based rice economy. Orton Rice fields have the potential to be primary sources from which researchers can gain understanding about Colonial and Antebellum periods of North Carolina and the Cape Fear Region.

Extensive slave labor made the economic development of the Lower Cape Fear possible and the circumstances surrounding slavery did as much to differentiate the Lower Cape Fear from other regions as anything else. Contemporaries acknowledged that there were many more slaves in the region than could be found on inland territories. Although fiercely independent of South Carolina, Governance and Tax structure, Lower Cape Fear rice plantations, represented the most northerly position of the Carolina Lowcountry and is known as the upper most limit of the “Deep South.”

Orton's rice fields are the last of the many rice plantations of North Carolina. They stand as tangible record of the skill and labor exerted by enslaved laborers. Although the noted Civil War battlefields of Fort Fisher and Fort Anderson flank the southern boundary of Orton, the reason for the war itself was the demands of the slave labor practice that built and cultivated the plantation's rice fields that will hopefully be restored as its own 'battleground' testimony.

The Summers Brothers: Imagining the Sustainable Plantation

written By David S. Shields

originally published in the rice paper newsletter, Spring 2012


Because any attempt to resuscitate a cuisine requires reviving the agricultural system that gave rise to it, a task before us is to research the best practices of the planters of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Because of the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation’s (CGRF) interest in the Lowcountry’s rice-based cuisine, we have tended to look to the writings of a half-dozen experimental rice planters of the antebellum period: James Hamilton Couper and Thomas Spalding of the Georgia Sea Islands and Joshua John Ward, R. F. W. Allston, William Washington, and J. Bryan from South Carolina. Their writings, for all their information about the management of Carolina Gold Rice and other field crops, did not speak to important dimensions of plantation food production. They provided little about livestock needed for meat production or the role of orchards and kitchen gardens in the market production of fruits and vegetables. 

To understand how the production of pork, beef, poultry, fruit, and vegetables connected with the cultivation of grains and field crops on a plantation we have to turn to the writings of planters from the sandhills skirting the Lowcountry. We have to turn to the greatest theoreticians of sustainable planting in the antebellum south: the Summer Brothers, chemist Thomas Summer, Col. Adam G. Summer of Ravenscroft Plantation, and William Summer of Pomaria Plantation in South Carolina.

Farming in the Newberry district of the Carolina sandhills, the Summer Brothers during the 1840s and ’50s put into place diversified farming systems. A visitor “would see, even in the winter, fields green with grass, winter oats, barley, wheat and turnips (ruta baga).”2 

One field of Egyptian winter oats pastured 30 Southdowns sheep who manured the three acres. In March this and other fields were deep plowed with a Remington Steel Plow and fertilized for cotton or corn. Cattle, pigs, horses, mules, and sheep supplied the plantation’s fertilizer. 

In the south the Summer Brothers pioneered the stabling of livestock. In 1859 S. B. Buckley observed, “This is the first and only instance I have seen of cows and cattle being stabled at the South.” Imitating the dairy-farming regimens of northern experimentalists such as Jesse Buel, the Summer Brothers maintained extensive pasturage, growing red clover and alfalfa for grazing, corn and oats for fodder, and root vegetables (rutabaga, sweet potato, and Jerusalem artichoke) for winter stall feeding.

Book farmers of the best sort, plugged into the major horticultural, agricultural, and pomological networks, the brothers jumped on every promising novelty. The experimental introduction of sorghum from France in 1853 had Adam Summer growing 20 acres of “sugar millet” for fodder. He fed cattle both millet and leaves.3

Thomas Summer, who studied chemistry in Germany under Justus Liebig, had begun the renovation of the midlands’ soil with Red Clover. Having read of the experiments in Pennsylvania of Judge Peters during the Revolutionary period with the red clover and gypsum, Summer showed that countering the acidity of the soil with an alkaline manure could enable this nutritious and soil-building cover to grow in the deep south.4 His findings on clover culture and his writings on the soil chemistry of cotton growing won him fame in southern agricultural circles despite his death while still in his twenties. 

Col. Adam Summer

Col. Adam Summer

His brothers William and Adam took up his research and extended the experiments to include the fall planting of Bremen Oats, rye, barley, and buckwheat for winter grazing. William Summer thought a September planting of rye requisite for the pasturing of lambs and calves born in February.5 Because of rye’s tenacious root system, it holds up well to grazing, withstanding being trodden down or pulled. 

Rye first captured the attention of agriculturists in the 1830s. Jesse Buel may have been the first American to grow it in his experimental farm near Albany. A Charlestonian noted in 1840 that it was not grown in the South, but that seeds for both “Italian Rye Grass” and “Baily’s Rye” were readily available from European sources.6 The Summers were apparently the first to make systematic experiments with it in the early 1840s, growing the Italian Rye Grass and supplying well publicized progress reports to the Newberry Agricultural Society. 

In contrast to rye, barley did not lend itself to grazing. But because it was a “certain” crop, reliable in cold weather, and because it was nutritious, the Summer brothers grew it, scythed it, and employed it in stall feeding (known then as “soiling”) horses and cattle. Barley only became important in winter feeding with the establishment of livestock stables.

William Summer favored mixing root vegetables with grain and silage when stall feeding animals. Visitors remarked his use of the rutabaga, the Swedish turnip that vied with mangel wurtzel as the favorite feed root of progressive northern herdsmen. But Summer was more fascinated with the benefits of two other roots: the sweet potato and the Jerusalem artichoke. Sweet potatoes because of “the fine effect which they given when fed to milch cows” imparting sweetness and character to milk and butter, became a fixture in the planting scheme.7 The plant’s immense productivity (“no crop can be planted which will yield more to the acre”) particularly recommended it. 

Summer grew the Bermuda as an early crop, the white West Indian yam, the yellow yam, and the black Spanish variety. The potatoes were cured, chopped and mixed with silage before being offered to cattle. Unlike many sweet potato growers, Summer did not strip the leaves during the growing period to use as feed. Summer also tried using Jerusalem artichoke for stall feeding, but found that pigs preferred uprooting them in the field. Because the Jerusalem artichoke was perennial, prolific, and grew abundantly in stressed conditions, it was a forage crop singularly suited to waste areas on a property.

Several acres were planted in a peach orchard in Pomaria, S.C., last year, and under all the disadvantages of dense shade, drought, and exhausted soil, they produced quite a fine crop; and its adaptation as food for swine has been fully tested. A number of sows and pigs are now running on this last-mentioned lot and keep fat on what they glean from the field, which has been partially dug over, without a particle of other food. It is a great promoter of milk in all animals, and fully sustains the opinion ... concerning its being good food for cows and sheep.8

The Summer Brothers became famous early in the 1840s for their livestock by importing the best breeding stock available. Adam Summer purchased the award-winning Hereford bull calf “Pomaria” and the heifer “Marie” from the north’s premier breeders, Corning & Lotman, of Albany. His Southdowns Sheep came from John Ellman of Glynde, U.K. His flock of Cotswold Sheep (another long wooled breed) came from Sotham, a New York breeder.9 Col. Wade Hampton of Columbia, SC, bred his Blakewell Sheep, for which he won a premium in the 1846 State Agricultural Convention. For milk, he also secured a herd of Devon Cows from Lewis G. Morris of Maryland.10 From the same breeder he obtained a number of extraordinary Black Essex Pigs. For a decade he may have been the only breeder of Berkshire Hogs in the South Carolina.11 And he loved the Suffolk breed so much, he wrote a prose poem in their praise in the pages of the Southern Agriculturist.12 Only he and Richard Peters of Atlanta bred them pure in the south during 1850s. He loved the taste of their flesh, particularly after they had fed on fallen fruit in the plantation orchards.

Both William and Adam were avid pomologists. At William Summer’s plantation, Pomaria, an extensive orchard grew. Indeed, the plantings of fruit trees were so extensive that William operated the orchard as a nursery (the only one in the state) supplying the region with apple cuttings (Carolina Red June, Aromatic Carolina, Augustine, Epting’s Premium, Epting’s Red Winter, Lever, Maverick’s Sweet, Cook’s Red Winter, Hoover, Hammond, Ferdinand, and three of his own creations, the Greening Pomaria, the Fixlin, and Susannah),13 crab apples (Gore, Champagne Crab, and White Crab), Peaches (the Aremie, the white-fleshed Christiana, the Poinsett, Mrs. Poinsett, and Amelia varieties)14, Pears (Julienne, Sekel, Bartlett, Doynne Blanc, Duchesse d’Angouleme, B. Capiaumont, Fulton, Croft Castle, Dearborn, Upper Crust, Hebe)15 Adam’s plantation, Ravenscroft, possessed orchards of plums, apricots, and nectarines. 

By keeping a flock of chickens in the orchards, Col. Summer completely countered the depredations of the insect, curculio. “It takes more than a dozen hens and a gouty old cock to keep a few acres of these delicate trees clear of their enemies. A flock of a hundred is not too many: I find them a valuable auxiliary in manuring, as I consider domestic hen guano, properly tempered down, a good manure for trees the second year of their growth in the orchard.”16 

We know from premiums awarded at various fairs that Col. Summer excelled at breeding Dorking Fowl and Hong Kong Geese.17 The white five-toed Dorking fowl hailed from Surrey in England and won a reputation in England as the finest of yard birds for laying and for meat. While Summer ran his chickens through the orchard in Spring and Summer, in autumn he brought in his swine.



2 S. B. Buckley, “Visit to a South Carolina Plantation,” The Cultivator 7, 5 (May 1859) p. 146.

3 “Statement of A. G. Summer,” Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1857 Agriculture (Washington, D. C. James B. Steedman, 1858), p. 220.

4 Isaac Croom, “The Clovers and Grasses of the South,” The Cultivator 13, 8 (August 1855).

5 “Cultivation of Spring Grain at the South,” The Cultivator 1, 12 (Dec. 1844), p. 390.

6 “I doubt whether the Italian rye grass has ever been seen in the southern states and scarcely in America, although I have a faint recollection of seeing a few plants, some years ago, on the farm of Judge Buel, nearly Albany in New York.” “Notes on European Agriculture: The Grasses,” The Farmer’s Register 8 (1840), pp. 361-63.

7 William Summer, “The Culture of the Sweet Potatoe,” The Cultivator 2, 2 (Feb. 1845), pp. 65- 67.

8 “Jerusalem Artichoke,” The Monthly Journal of Agriculture 1, 11 (May 1846), p. 537.

9 “Hereford Cattle, Cotswold and South Down Sheep,” Massachusetts Ploughman and New England Journal of Agriculture 4, 12 (Dec. 21, 1844), p. 1. For A. G. Summer’s assessment of the breed, see “Hereford Cattle,” The Southern Cultivator 4, 11 (November 1844), p. 171. “Stock for the South,” The American Agriculturist 4, 12 (December 1845), p. 382.

10 “North Devons—the Proper Cattle for the South,” Southern Cultivator 16, 4 (April 1858), p. 117. “The Great Cattle Sale of Lewis G. Morris,” The American Farmer (August 1, 1856), p. 59.

11 “The December 1854 Agricultural Fair,” The Southern Cultivator 13, 1 (January 1855), p. 25. 

12 “Suffolk Pig—Again,” Southern Agriculturist (March 1853), p. 80.

13 “Apples for the South,” Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste 23, 267 (September 1868), pp. 273-74.

14 William Summer, “New Fruits of South Carolina,” Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste 4, 6 (Dec. 1849), p. 276.

15 “Report from South Carolina by William Summer,” Proceedings of the National Convention of Fruit Growers 1848 (New York: Van Norden & Amerman, for the American Pomological Society, 1848), p. 113; “Hebe Pear,” The Rural Carolinian 1, 1 (1870), p. 27.

Forthcoming: Dr. Richard Porcher’s The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice

The University of South Carolina Press is preparing for publication later this year a landmark study of the mechanisms and processes needed to make Carolina Gold rice ready for the market. Composed by Carolina Gold Rice Foundation (CGRF) board member, Dr. Richard Porcher, The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice chronicles the development of the technology and milling know-how needed to establish the rice as a world brand during the 19th century. A paragraph from the Preface suggests the distinctive contribution that Porcher has made to the understanding of southern food culture.

“The Old South was generally reckoned to have been a technological backwater, with only four areas of mechanical production worth mentioning: sugar production, iron working, ship building, and rice milling. Even in these circumscribed areas, commentators have reckoned that the South, with the noteworthy exception of devising submersibles, was never an innovator in the creation of the means of production or products. Richard Porcher’s The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice dismantles this perception forcefully and definitively, showing that in the invention of devices to harvest, thresh, mill, and polish Carolina Rice, persons in South Carolina and Georgia restlessly worked at creating and refining mechanisms that could insure that the Lowcountry could supply the world with superlative rice. In rice milling technology South Carolina was during the antebellum era the world leader in innovation. No treatment of Southern technological production in any area has chronicled developments with the care, attention to mechanical detail, and illustrative clarity of this book. Because Carolina rice was a staple grain of the American larder, and because Carolina Gold Rice was reputed to be one of the great rices in world trade, Porcher’s study has importance in the area of food studies as well as the histories of technology and trade.”

Lavishly illustrated with schematic drawings by William Judd and a trove of historic images, Porcher’s book materializes the lost world of plantation factories that stretched from the Cape Fear River in the north to Cumberland Island, Georgia, in the south.