The colony of South Carolina was established as part of the Province of Carolina in 1663. Planters in South Carolina began bringing over enslaved women from West Africa and Madagascar in the 1690s with the goal of improving their rice harvests. Rice was a staple crop in the communities along Africa’s Atlantic coast, where women were the primary agricultural laborers. Therefore, West African women “accustomed to the practice of growing rice” were highly prized by plantation owners because their knowledge would make rice plantations more productive. Within twenty years, South Carolina produced enough rice to export the crop to England. By the 1750s rice cultivation had made South Carolina one of the richest colonies on the continent.
The enslaved women responsible for this economic success did not personally profit from their work. They were enslaved for life. 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 on 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, was a hollowed-out bowl where harvested rice hulls were placed. The hulls were pounded with the pestle, the long wooden paddle, until the grains of rice separated out. 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.
The pestle of this unit is a solid piece of cypress wood that is thirty-eight inches long and weighs about twenty-five pounds. These tools were dangerous to use and could cause severe injuries.