The Emergence and Evolution of Charleston's Antebellum Economy


This is an abstract from the session entitled "The Emergence and Development of South Carolina Lowcountry Studies: Papers in Honor of Martha Zierden" , at the 2022 annual meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology.

We approach the emergence and evolution of Charleston (South Carolina) from the perspective of landscape modifications associated with fires, livestock, commodity production, and cultural dynamics by exploring two distinct nodes in the colonial economy: urban Charleston and the rural Lowcountry for the period 1670–1860, and on to 1860. Zooarchaeological data document the role of cattle in the economy and bone chemistry data document trade networks and cattle management strategies. Sediment cores show multiple cycles of fire activity on the coastal plain, some likely of anthropogenic origin. Documentary evidence shows enslaved Africans used their knowledge of small-stream flood plains obtained from their cattle-herding experience to build extensive rice fields for the global commodity market. These records contextualize our study of the colonial economy by highlighting the environmental consequences of cattle, fires, timbering, drainage projects, demographic changes, and international trade on the Carolina cultural and physical landscapes.

Cite this Record

The Emergence and Evolution of Charleston's Antebellum Economy. Elizabeth J Reitz, Carla S Hadden, Hayden R Smith, Grant Snitker, Martha A Zierden, Angelina G Perrotti. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Philadelphia, PA. 2022 ( tDAR id: 469645)

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Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology