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Georgia's Major Export: Rice

What’s dinner without a steaming bowl of white rice? In colonial days, rice was Georgia’s number one export. The swampy areas along the Savannah, Altamaha, and Ogeechee rivers were ideal rice fields. Richard Schultz, Jr., talks about helping grow rice during the hot, muggy summers at Turnbridge Plantation near Savannah. Alligators and snakes made the work dangerous. Today mechanical combines do the work of harvesting rice that slaves did in colonial Georgia. Jackie Edwards, a reenactor at Howfyl-Broadfield Plantation demonstrates how slaves would separate rice from its hulls using a very large wooden pestle and mortar to pound the grains. Faye Cowart, tour guide at the plantation, lists other potential disasters in growing rice. Plantations along the coast had to watch for hurricanes because the storm surge could force salt water up the river and onto fields ruining the crop for many years. Rice birds could devastate a crop in a short period. Robbie Harrison whose family has grown rice at Fife Plantation for more than 150 years concurs. He planted his last rice crop in 1984 after being plagued by birds and mosquitoes. Richard Schultz, Sr. allows that the crop had a high commercial value in its colonial days and brought great wealth. Before the American Revolution, 25,000 barrels were exported annually compared to 2,000 after the war. After the conflict, rice never again was Georgia’s number one export.

Teacher tip: Outline the story of the rice economy in Georgia using these major headings: Rice in Colonial Georgia, Rice during and after the American Revolution, and Problems in Growing Rice.