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Reading 2: Robert F. W. Allston and
Chicora Wood Plantation (originally known as Matanzas) became one of the most successful rice plantations in Georgetown County. The plantation itself was established sometime between 1732 and 1736 and the plantation house that still exists today was built prior to 1819. In 1827, Robert F. W. Allston (1801-1864) resigned as surveyor-general of South Carolina to take over full-time management of Chicora Wood, which he had inherited from his father. Allston became the most notable planter on the Pee Dee River and one of the foremost planters and slaveowners in South Carolina. Chicora Wood served as a home base for his network of rice plantations, which produced 840,000 pounds of rice in 1850 and 1,500,000 pounds by 1860. By this later date he owned seven plantations along the Pee Dee, with more than 4,000 acres in rice land and another 9,500 acres of pasture and timber lands. The slave labor force that produced rice for him increased from 401 in 1850 to 630 by 1860.
Allston shared his successful methods of cultivation in well-known agricultural journals. A collection of his papers entitled The South Carolina Rice Planter is considered to be among the most informative publications on this phase of southern agriculture. He was successful in areas other than planting as well. Educated at West Point and trained in law, Allston served in the South Carolina House of Representatives and the state senate for 24 years and was governor from 1856 to 1858. He spent his term pursuing such projects as railroad development, improvement of public schools, and the modernization of agricultural techniques. He also was very active in promoting social reforms such as better care for the deaf, blind, and insane.
Allston was an avid supporter of states rights. As the sectional tensions between the North and the South increased in the 1850s, the secession of South Carolina from a union in which slavery was threatened was considered by many of her leading citizens, including Allston, to be the best course of action available. Many of his fellow Georgetown County planters served in the Confederate army. Although too old to fight in the Civil War himself, he supported the cause by remaining in Georgetown County and continuing to produce rice. After three years of struggling to produce rice and send it to market despite the closure of the water route to Charleston, Allston died on April 7, 1864.
Although Allston's wife Adele was forced to give up most of the family lands during Reconstruction, she managed to retain Chicora Wood Plantation and lived there until her death in 1896. Many plantations were subdivided after the war while others were left intact, but the loss of an experienced and efficient slave labor force drastically decreased the planters' ability to produce rice. Georgetown County's production fell from 54 million pounds in 1860 to six million pounds in 1870. By utilizing improved methods and machines, newly-established rice plantations in Texas and Louisiana began to outproduce South Carolina. By 1890 Louisiana had replaced South Carolina as the leading rice producer in the United States.
Questions for Reading 2
1. Refer to Reading 1 for the average yield of a rice plantation in the Georgetown area in 1850 and 1860. How do these figures compare to Allston's yields? What does this indicate about Allston's success as a planter and his wealth?
2. Allston shared his successes in rice cultivation with agricultural journals of the time. Do you think he gave credit to the experience and knowledge of his slaves as contributing to his success? Why or why not?
3. Allston, an important figure in 19th-century South Carolina, held conflicting beliefs and values. What were these? Can you explain how he could reconcile such seemingly opposite beliefs?
Reading 2 was compiled from Nancy R. Ruhf, "'Chicora Wood Plantation" (Georgetown County, South Carolina) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1972.