Any serious attempt to understand fully the exploitation of African and African American labor, throughout the country’s history, requires insight into the economic structures that were in place and upon which human enslavement was based. The social, psychological and physical conditions of human bondage are only parts of the story of early wealth building in the Lowcountry. To have become the wealthiest city in the colonies, Charleston accommodated and expanded intricate financial enterprises to assure its continued financial and political status.
Early colonists struggled to find a crop that would produce sufficient revenue for England, but by 1700 they discovered that rice was best suited for growth in South Carolina’s semi-tropical climate. Early attempts to capitalize on this discovery failed due to the settlers’ ignorance of the intricacies involved in rice cultivation.
Planters soon realized that by using slave labor from the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa to perform this complex, arduous work, they could start building economic stability.
Ultimately, the agricultural skill, ingenuity and technology of enslaved Africans made coastal South Carolina rice planters with the largest enslaved labor forces, very, very rich. The floods fertilizing the inland and tidal rice fields also created deadly work conditions, from which tens of thousands of enslaved men, women and children perished in the stagnant and mosquito-and-disease-infested swamps, paying the ultimate price for an economic empire.