The Columbian Exchange has been known to be one of the most significant occurrences in human history. This crucial human intervention changed the world the way we know it, however this exchange mainly benefited the people of Europe and its colonies in the New World while bringing calamity and slavery to many Native Americans and Africans. Moreover, history has failed to give credit to Africans with the domestication of rice and development of sophisticated farming and production systems that were brought to the New World. While Europe and many Eastern Hemisphere countries gained from the Columbian Exchange in numerous of ways, African slaves were important agents to this exchange, especially in the colony of South Carolina.
The interchange of many different plant and animal species between the Eastern Hemisphere, what is known to be the Old World, and the New World lead to a major global economic shift that explains why Europe became one of the wealthiest countries in the world and why Africans were sold into slavery in unbelievable amounts. Many African slaves were able to build their immunity to foreign diseases that were brought by Europeans and diseases that already inhabited the New World by Native Americans. Unfortunately, many Native Americans were not able to survive this epidemic and eventually lead to a higher demand for African slaves. But because the demand was so high, nutrition and supply were needed to maintain the survival for slaves during their transportation. With little attention to this act, Africans domesticated several life-sustaining cereals that routinely provisioned the slave ships that delivered millions of slaves to the New World. Eventually South Carolina received one of its first deliveries of rice during the 1690s and it was said that when a Portuguese vessel arrived with slaves, there was a considerable quantity of rice that was the ship’s provision. Rice, being that it was African glaberrima, became so valuable that the demand for enslaved people grew. African slaves worked tirelessly under extreme and deadly conditions to grow profitable crops. South Carolina was filled with swamps that were full of alligators and disease carrying mosquitoes and many Africans risked their lives to build rice plantations. Without a doubt, the success and even the existence of rice in South Carolina was due to the forced labor of African slaves and the knowledge behind growing these crops and sustaining them in difficult and changing weather were brought from their very homeland.
The Columbian Exchange also introduced the Asian sativa rice to South Carolina during the Atlantic slave trade which was very profitable during its time. This was only possible because African slaves had already developed a production system that accepts it. The people of Africa had incredible experience in farming that ultimately sustained profits in South Carolina and without their knowledge, a huge portion of the economic and cultural rise of the Columbian Exchange would have not happened. Thomas Jefferson once tried to reverse the high mortality suffered by slaves growing irrigated rice in harsh conditions in South Carolina by obtaining a rice seed that could be grown with rainfall because the land’s conditions sweeps off numbers of African slaves with pestilential fevers. After receiving a shipment of rice from Guinea, the rainfed glaberrima rice seeds were sent to different locations by Jefferson and within 2 to 3 years, the rice grew substantially. However, difficulty was encountered when milling it because there was a lack of convenience in husking it. This highlighted the fact that sustaining these types of rice involved mastery and great skill that only the people of Africa knew since millions enslaved from West Africa were already experts in the cereal’s cultivation and production. Even if English planters could have learned to grow the cereal with rainfall and the typical South Carolina weather with similar techniques used in other crops, irrigated rice required an understanding of landscape and water flow in order to properly sustain the crops and fields. The technique and strategy for irrigated rice production developed indigenously in West Africa and eventually, for the great skill and expert understanding, many planters and slave owners in South Carolina learned the methods from their slaves. The work that African slaves had done ultimately shaped the Columbian Exchange into a profitable occurrence in history. Their skill and strategic methods only made it possible for different foods and other resources to become possible in the New World and by 1750, African slaves nearly made up half of Virginia’s population and it is known that the amount of enslaved people only grew in the south. Farming in South Carolina became so popular and marketable that the colony easily became one of the richest groups of all mainland colonies. Certainly, wealth was heavily concentrated that the forced labor subjected to the slaves only became much more difficult and intense as years went by.
Without a doubt, African slaves were agents of the Columbian Exchange and without their essential knowledge behind farming and the skill behind sustaining crops and other resources, the New World wouldn’t have been developed at such a high rate. There are always different options for development, but history tells us one of them. Slavery was an unfortunate and unethical method that was used during the Columbian Exchange, especially in the colony of South Carolina. It is only right to give significant credit to the African slaves who have shed blood and tears to transform a place that they were subjected to.
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