Today, Arkansas Grand Prairie, Mississippi Delta (part of Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana), the Gulf Coast (Texas and Southwest Louisiana, and the Sacramento Valley of California are the four regions that produce almost the entirety of the rice crop in the USA.
While Arkansas is the first producer in the US, harvesting 5.5 million tons in 2020, and accounting for half the country’s total production, the rice cultivation in the US started in the Carolina colonies in the 17th century, making South Carolina the US leading producer of rice for more than two centuries until Louisiana surpassed it in the 1880s.
But how did South Carolina become a rice producer and turned out to be famous for its Carolina Gold Rice? There are several versions of the story.
The version from Undiscovered Charleston says that, in 1685, a merchant who had had problems with his ship had it repaired in Charleston and paid for the service with a single barrel of rice seed from Madagascar. Then, Dr. Henry Woodward started planting the seed in South Carolina.
The version from Eat Your World relates that the grain arrived in Charleston in the 1680s, when a ship from Madagascar, hit by a storm, ended in the harbor for repairs, and gave the local farmers a bag of rice. They planted the seed and realized that the climate and the soil in the area were great conditions for the crop.
The version from Bluffton Today states that Captain John Thurber who sailed from Madagascar gave Dr. Henry Woodward, a surgeon living in Charles Town, a bushel of rice in recognition for his assistance to his crew when his ship, caught in the middle of a storm, sought refuge in Charles Town.
LA Farm and Ranch Magazine’s version affirms that “Dr. Henry Woodward of Charleston, S.C., in 1685 obtained the rice seed from Captain John Thurber, who had sailed his ship to Charleston from the island of Madagascar.”
Notwithstanding the version, the common factor of the stories is that the first seed planted in South Carolina came from a boat which sailed from Madagascar, and it marked the beginning of the state’s two-century-history as the leading rice producer in the United States. The production of rice spread rapidly in the area, and by 1695, British Proprietors were paid with rice. By 1700, South Carolina exported 181 tonnes (400,000 lbs.) of rice annually.
Today, South Carolina remains famous for its Carolina Gold Rice and is available in the retail stores for about US$10 a pound.
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