Lesson Plan: Overview

“Lowcountry Rice Planting and Cooking ”

Grade Level: 8th


Academic Standards

8-1.1 Summarize the culture, political systems, and daily life of the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands, including their methods of hunting and farming, their use of natural resources and geographic features, and their relationships with other nations.

8-1.3 Summarize the history of European settlement in Carolina from the first attempts to settle at San Miguel de Gualdape, Charlesfort, San Felipe, and Albemarle Point to the time of South Carolina’s establishment as an economically important British colony, including the diverse origins of the settlers, the early government, the importance of the plantation system and slavery, and the impact of the natural environment on the development of the colony.
8-1.4 Explain the growth of the African American population during the colonial period and the significance of African Americans in the developing culture (e.g., Gullah) and economy of South Carolina, including the origins of African American slaves, the growth of the slave trade, the impact of population imbalance between African and European Americans, and the Stono Rebellion and subsequent laws to control the slave population.
8-1.6 Explain how South Carolinians used natural, human, and political resources to gain economic prosperity, including trade with Barbados, rice planting, Eliza Lucas Pinckney and indigo planting, the slave trade, and the practice of mercantilism.

Historical Background Notes

The earliest permanent settlers to the colony of Carolina were English.  Many of them came to the colony, however, not directly from England but from Barbados.  Successful plantation ownership had encouraged these Englishmen to pursue their fortunes into the New World.  While in Barbados, both French and English plantation owners made use of African slaves.  It was believed that Africans were more adept at the backbreaking field work than the natives found in the Bahamas.  The use of slaves was one of the factors that made plantation ownership so profitable.  Cultivation of crops in the Bahamas was extremely labor intensive, so slaves were vital in the economic prosperity of the Barbadian plantation culture.

When early Carolina was settled in the 1670’s, most of its settlers began farms and plantations with the same purpose they had in the Bahamas: to make money.  The Lords Proprietors, absentee English managers of the colony, made settling this area very appealing, for there was a great deal of money to be made from farming in an area which was rich in natural resources and had fertile soil.  Rice was introduced into the Carolina culture in the early 1700’s with seeds from Madagascar.  Dr. Henry Woodward was the first planter to attempt cultivation of the new grain. 

Africans had been successfully cultivating rice in West Africa since the early 1500’s.  Many slaves imported into Carolina during this period were sought after for their knowledge of rice cultivation. The area where the slaves came from came to be known as the Rice Coast.  These slaves were particularly desirable for the slave merchants in Charleston.  They came from areas we know as Sierra Leone, Gambia, and Angola.  “… 43 percent of the Africans brought [to South Carolina] during the eighteenth century… came from rice lands, a higher proportion than from any other area.”  (Hess, p. 13)

Rice cultivation was labor intensive.  Planters who grew rice often owned several hundred slaves.  In fact, in the late 1690’s, there were more African slaves living in the colony than white inhabitants.  The estates of many people included large numbers of slaves. (DeSaussure handbill.)  Slaves were used in all aspects of the growing of rice: planting, cultivating, threshing, transporting, and cooking.  Slaves from West Africa were almost entirely responsible for the entire process of growing rice in the Lowcountry.  This means that, without slaves in the early days of the colony of Carolina, the plantation culture surely would not have flourished as it eventually did. 

Slaves were bought and sold as any other kind of property in the early days of colonial Carolina.  Charleston was the site of hundreds of thousands of slave sales.  Many successful owners of slave trading companies lived and made a living in and around Charleston.  A large percentage of slave sales in the colonies and later in the United States were conducted in Charleston.  Advertisements for these sales would have been seen throughout the city.  In addition, records were kept which show the transactions and accounting for these sales.

Rice planting culture was organized on the task system.  This meant that slaves were assigned specific tasks in the cultivation, such as clearing, hoeing, digging ditches, etc.  When the slave was finished with his or her task, they were allowed to work for themselves or for their families.  (Hess, p. 8)   These rice planting slaves carried with them the traditions they learned in Africa: from the planting methods to “ hoeing in unison to work songs, the pattern … retained from West African forbears.”  (Hess, p. 14) 

Rice quickly became profitable crop for the colony, with the exportation of the grain increasing at a rapid rate.  In addition, rice was used in the colonial kitchen and quickly became a staple in the diet of colonists in Carolina.  (Hess, p. 8)  The economy of the colony and afterwards the state of South Carolina was very dependent upon the amount of rice that was exported from the area.  This rice culture continued through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and into the nineteenth century.  Slaves continued to be vital to the production of rice in South Carolina until the Civil War.

Since many of these slaves had been used to growing rice, they were also used to cooking it.  The early rice recipes found in cookbooks from the 18th century indicate that there were a great many African influences in not only how the rice was cultivated, but also how it was cooked.  ”It has often been said that only peoples who cultivate rice love and respect it sufficiently to cook it well; it was this understanding that the African growers of rice brought with them.   And it was they who did the cooking.” (Hess, p. 27)  Lowcountry rice dishes of today still bear the influence of these West African slaves.  Chic dishes, which are often found on the menus of downtown Charleston restaurants, have their roots in the rice kitchens of colonial Carolina plantations.

There have been many differences in the way that cookbooks and recipes are presented from early Carolina days to today.  One can look through old cookbooks and compare them to current ones to see these differences.


  Primary Sources
  Junior League of Charleston.  Charleston Receipts.  Charleston: Walker, Evans, and Cogswell, 1973.
  Alice Ravenel Huger Smith. Carolina Rice Plantation Series, 1950’s. Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, SC.
  Women’s Council Catering Committee.  Rice to the Occasion. Charleston: Carolina Art Association, 1987.
  Secondary Sources
  Horne, Paul A. and Klein, Patricia.  South Carolina: An American State. Selma, Alabama:  Clairmont Press, 2000.
  “When Rice Was King.” Columbia: South Carolina Educational Television, 1995.
  Hakim, Joy.  A History of US: Making Thirteen Colonies.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  Hess, Karen.  The Carolina Rice Kitchen: The African Connection. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992.
  Appleby, Joyce; Brinkley, Alan; McPherson, James.  The American Journey.  Westerville, Ohio: Glencoe/McGraw Hill, 2000.
  South Carolina: An American State. Textbook
  Transparencies of paintings by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith
  Lesson Plan for comparing old and new rice recipes
  Copies of old rice recipes
  Cookbooks, including but not limited to, Charleston Receipts
  Assignment sheet for homework

Lesson Plans

"Lowcountry RIce Planting and Cooking" was designed to be taught in 2 parts divided into two days and one homework assignment.  The original lesson was taught as part of two days’ instruction in 90-minute classes.  Not all of the class period for the two days was devoted to the lesson.


Day 1:

1. During unit of colonial South Carolina, take one day to instruct specifically on the rice culture, cultivation, and the economic impact of this activity on the colony. 

2. Show the transparencies of paintings by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith while instructing about the slave task system, about rice cultivation being labor intensive, and about slave life on the plantation.  The time for this instruction should be about 30 minutes.

3. When showing the transparencies, pose questions to the students:

“What is the first thing you notice when you look at this painting?”

“Does this image give you any clues about the location of the rice plantation?”

“What are the people doing in this painting?”

“Can you spot some of the steps in the process of rice cultivation in the paintings?”

“Can you guess where this ship might be going next?”

These questions will lead to students making assumptions about the location of the plantation, the destination of the rice-bearing ship, the steps in the process as well as jobs accomplished according to the task system, etc.  You can also ask them to predict why Alice Smith depicted the rice plantation culture in the paintings.

4. Assign a favorite family rice recipe for homework.  Distribute the assignment sheet and discuss it.

Day 2:

1. When homework is checked, ask some students to share stories about their favorite recipes, such as who gave it to them, how often have they eaten it at home, etc.  Take up the homework along with the attached assignment sheets.

2. Have students get into cooperative groups.  Use the attached cooperative lesson plan.

3. Share some recipes from the old cookbooks.  Have groups compare the old recipes to some from modern cookbooks. 

Questions: What are the differences that you notice?  Some things to look for: measuring amounts, language, cooking utensils, unfamiliar names of dishes. 

Use the comparison sheet to record the findings.  The discussion following the comparison can lead in many different directions.   The lesson, including the comparison of recipes, should take about 30 minutes.

4. An extension of this lesson could be choosing recipes and organizing a rice recipe cookbook.  For example, choose the best recipes from each class to put in the book.  Make another activity to allow groups to edit the recipes and assemble the best ones.  Research the possibility of using this cookbook as a fundraiser for scholarships for the field trips.

Teacher Reflections

No teacher reflections available for this lesson plan.

Student Assessment

Assessment for "Lowcountry Rice Planting and Cooking" was based on the following critera:

1. Informal assessment as students work on the classroom assignment.

2. Homework assignment: one recipe for the 8th grade cookbook.  Grade this assignment on a rubric that is included on the assignment sheet. (Attached to this lesson plan.)

3. Include vocabulary from the lesson on a test, for example (but not limited to):

Task system




Winnow house

Slave quarters


Carolina Gold

4. Include an essay question from this lesson on a test, for example (but not limited to):

  • How and why did the task system help in the production of rice?
  • How did South Carolina plantation owners justify their use of enslaved Africans?
  • Discuss the importance of rice in the development of South Carolina in the early 1700’s.

Examples of Students Work


Rosamond Lawson
Charleston School of the Arts