The colony of South Carolina was established as part of the Province of Carolina in 1663. To improve their rice harvests and make their colony succeed, planters in South Carolina began importing enslaved women from West Africa and Madagascar in the 1690s. Rice was a staple crop in the communities along Africa’s Atlantic coast, and women “accustomed to the practice of growing rice” were highly prized by plantation owners because their knowledge would make the rice plantations of North America more productive. Within twenty years, South Carolina was producing enough rice to export to England, and by the 1750s, rice cultivation had made South Carolina one of the richest colonies on the continent.
The enslaved women responsible for this economic boom did not personally profit from their work. They were enslaved for life. If they bore children, they did so knowing that their children would also spend their lives on the rice plantations producing profits for someone else. And their success encouraged the planters to start more plantations and import more enslaved women to work them.
This mortar and pestle for pounding grain was used in the process of threshing, or separating, grains of rice from the rice plant. Threshing was a very labor-intensive process. The mortar, or bottom piece, has a hollowed-out bowl where harvested rice hulls are placed. The hulls are pounded with the pestle, the long wooden paddle, until the grains of rice separated out. The pestle of this unit is a solid piece of cypress wood that is thirty-eight inches long, and weighs about twenty-five pounds. After the grains of rice were separated, the rice was sorted from the hulls by shaking them through a basket woven of leaves and grass.