Georgetown and Carolina Gold

Melvyn Brown
Mon 6 Dec 2010 22:03

Our goal this morning was to get supplies.  The supermarket was about 1.75 miles from the marina and I’ve got into the habit of taking my cabin bag (with wheels) to assist in lugging the drinking water back to the boat.  At least Georgetown had pavements!  Rarely do we find pavements beyond the residential areas.  We trekked to the supermarket and were about 2/3rd the way back when the Town Guide stopped his little train/trolley en route to his first tour of the day and offered us a lift back to the marina.  He said he could always spot the mariners, they were the ones burdened with carrier bags, and the clincher…….walking!


Occupied a happy hour looking in the shops on the main street (Front Street).  Lots of small independent stores (handmade chocolates, antiques, bookstore, deli etc), each with their own character, but several empty units too.


Looked in an Estate Agents and found I could afford a re-possessed 3-bedroomed condo on Pawsey Island, the local tourist hotspot, but that waterside properties were priced in millions (notwithstanding my predictions they will be washed away in a few years!).  Apparently re-possessions cost nearly a third less, but concerns about the legitimacy of some of the recent foreclosures has meant even that market is slack.  The US still has mortgage interest tax relief and it really is a sacred cow.  I heard one pundit say if it were to be abolished they would have to phase it out over 10 or even 20 years in order to keep the housing market on an even keel.  It represents a saving of about $2,000 to the average family.


In the afternoon Melv and I visited the Rice Museum (we know how to live!).  Part of it was housed in the clock tower (pictured above) which was re-built in the 1800’s following a fire which destroyed the original.  (Fire seems to have been responsible for wiping out a lot of what little history there is in the States – the problem with wooden buildings.)  Rice was known as Carolina Gold and at the height of the State’s prosperity they exported more rice than any other country in the world.  However it wasn’t the first lucrative crop; the first was indigo.  I don’t think I would have known that it came from the stem of a plant and in one period of history they were paid a subsidy by the British to grow and ship the dried indigo back to England to be used to dye the navy’s uniforms.  The story of how rice came to be grown is that a ship’s captain en route from Madagascar called in to Georgetown for repairs, was unable to pay the bill, and offered his cargo of rice instead.  The area was ideal for growing rice because of the number of tidal rivers.  Slaves from Senegal were prized because they knew how to grow rice and the guide told us their knowledge was invaluable – a fact which I’m sure went very much unacknowledged at the time!!  An ingenious and highly efficient sluice gate was designed which controlled the amount of water in the paddy fields but kept the salt water out.  (If salt water got into the paddy field it would be two years before it could be used again.  Apparently a slave child was given a bar of soap and charged with continuously washing their hands on the freshwater side of the sluice.  If the soap didn’t lather that was an indicator there was salt in the water.)  Another thing I didn’t appreciate was that the water was designed to support the grass-like rice and keep the seed heads upright and so the depth was increased as the “grass” grew.  Each paddy field took 17 years to prepare staring with clearing the land of dense Cyprus trees, building the banks to enclose the fields, digging the canals which bordered them and provided a means of transporting the bundles of rice, preparing the paddy fields and building the sluices.  All this was dependent upon an enormous number of slaves to undertake the manual labour and so when slavery ended Carolina lost out to other states where they were able to use machines on the land.


Another fact we learned was that the house on the Plantation wouldn’t have been very grand at all.  The owners would only be there for the planting and harvesting periods, the rest of the time they went back to the town to avoid malaria.  The house in town would have been where they did their entertaining and would have been grand.   The slaves were thought to be immune from malaria but they now know that’s because many would have had sickle cell disease.  Also in the museum was a reference to local hero Captain Marion – the person after whom the town Marion was named (see earlier blog).


As we sailed out of Georgtown we passed many abandoned rice fields, not that we would have recognised them as such if we hadn’t been to the Rice Museum.  We could see the banks around the fields and occasionally spotted an old sluice.


There is one place rice is still grown in Carolina, a plantation which has been mechanised.  We bought a bag of the rice to try, apparently it smells like popcorn as it is cooking.