Abstract

Agricultural and environmental historians of the US South have in the last three decades focused on planters’ engagement with scientific pursuits as a means toward financial and environmental improvement. But in focusing on these failed attempts of conservation husbandry, the discipline has paid little heed to southern antebellum agricultural efforts beyond the commodity crops of rice and cotton. Following in the stead of the New Agricultural History’s awareness of environmental processes in shaping life and labor, “Sowing Diversity” identifies the root of truck farming in the American South through exploring the connection between antebellum agronomic organizations and changing visions of agronomic advancement, technologies of information, and economic relationships over the course of the nineteenth century. Focusing on agronomic experimentation in the urban sphere, specifically the lasting impact of Charleston’s rich antebellum horticultural community, this article exposes the deep roots of southern agronomic efforts beyond rice and cotton, bringing to light southern planters’ keen interest for agricultural advancement beyond the scope of financial profit.

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Notes

1. The term stems from the French verb torquer, meaning the act or practice of trading by exchange. St. Th., “Truck,” Notes and Queries series 3, vol. 9, no. 1 (1866): 323.
2. “Early Southern Produce—Truck Farms Near Charleston,” New York Times, Mar. 23, 1879; Handbook of South Carolina: Resources, Institutions, and Industries of the State, ed. E. J. Watson (Columbia: State Company, 1907), 290-91; South Carolina Department of Agriculture, Handbook of South Carolina: Resources, Institutions, and Industries of the State (Columbia: State Company, 1907), 290.
3. These authors have not come to a consensus on what prevented a full implementation of scientific agriculture. While Stoll argues “nothing could have been as insidious to reform as the influence of slavery,” Nelson articulates tight crop markets prevented farmers from experimenting with capitalist intensification efforts including “new crop varieties, improved livestock, [and] high-powered fertilizers.” Steven Stoll, Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002), 158; Lynn A. Nelson, Pharsalia: An Environmental Biography of a Southern Plantation, 1780-1880 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), 26. Also see Joyce Chaplin, An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730-1815 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993); Benjamin R. Cohen, Notes from the Ground: Science, Soil, and Society in the American Countryside (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); John Majewski, Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009).
4. Majewski, Modernizing a Slave Economy; Caitlin Rosenthal, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018)
5. Mart A. Stewart, “What Nature Suffers to Groe”: Life, Labor, and Landscape on the Georgia Coast, 1680-1920 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 228-29.
6. Manuela Albertone, “The American Agricultural Societies and the Making of the New Republic, 1785-1830,” in The Rise of Economic Societies in the Eighteenth Century: Patriotic Reform in Europe and North America, ed. Koen Stapelbroek and Jani Marjanen (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012), 342.
7. Elias Horry, An Address Delivered in Charleston, Before the Agricultural Society of South Carolina at its Anniversary Meeting, on Tuesday, the 19th of August, 1828 (Charleston, SC: A. E. Miller, 1828), 12.
8. Thomas Heyward Jr., South Carolina Gazette and Public Advertiser, Aug. 27, 1785, 2.
9. “Committee Report on the Memorial from the Agricultural Society Concerning Their Request to Be Allowed to Raise a Sum of Money by Lottery,” Item 38, Series S165005, South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, SC.
10. Chalmers Murray, This Is Our Land: The Story of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina (Charleston, SC: Carolina Art Association, 1949), 38.
11. Heyward, Jr., South Carolina Gazette and Public Advertiser.
12. John Solomon Otto, Southern Agriculture during the Civil War Era, 1860-1880 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), 5-6.
13. See, for example, Nicholas Herbemont’s “Address to the President and Members of the United Agricultural Society of South Carolina,” in Pioneering American Wine: Writings of Nicholas Herbemont, Master Viticulturist, ed. David Shields (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 261-67; and James Henry Hammond, Anniversary Oration of the State Agricultural Society of South Carolina (Columbia, SC: A. S. Johnson, 1841).
14. Majewski, Modernizing a Slave Economy, 62-63.
15. “Report on the Geology of South-Carolina,” Southern Quarterly Review 16, no. 31 (Oct. 1849): 162, emphasis in original.
16. Majewski, Modernizing a Slave Economy, 74.
17. David McCord, ed., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina: Containing the Acts Relating to Corporations and the Militia (Columbia, SC: A. S. Johnson, 1840), 369. Charlestonians this time lagged behind similar groups which had already formed in New York (1818), Philadelphia (1826), and Boston (1829).
18. James Cuthbert, “Extract from an Address delivered in Charleston, before the Agricultural Society of South Carolina, at its Anniversary Meeting, August 18th, 1830,” The New-York Farmer and Horticultural Repository 3, no. 2 (1830): 233-34.
19. John Legare, “Horticultural Society of Charleston,” The Southern Agriculturist and Register of Rural Affairs 3 (1830): 613.
20. Reverend J. Bachman, An Address Delivered Before the Horticultural Society of Charleston, at the Anniversary Meeting, July 10, 1833 (Charleston, SC: The Horticultural Society of Charleston, 1833), 1.
21. Reverend J. Bachman, An Address Delivered Before the Horticultural Society of Charleston, 1.
22. William Thomas Okie, The Georgia Peach: Culture, Agriculture, and the Environment in the American South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 21.
23. C. M. Hovey, “Horticultural Society of Charleston, S.C.,” Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs 2 (1836): 357.
24. Joseph F. O’Hear, “Horticultural Society of Charleston, S.C.,” The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs 5 (1839): 77.
25. “A New Variety of Pea,” Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Affairs 1 (1835): 434.
26. C. M. Hovey and P. B. Hovey Jr., “Mr. Michel’s Garden, near Charleston,” American Gardener’s Magazine 1 (1835): 272.
27. Shields, Southern Provisions, 51-58.
28. Edwin Wolf, Philadelphia: Portrait of an American City (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1975), 193.
29. William Welch and Greg Grant, Heirloom Gardening in the South: Yesterday’s Plants for Today’s Gardens (College Station: Texas A&M University, 2011), 173.
30. Farm ledgers of William Kennerty’s St. Johns Island farm, boxes 33/99/1-5, Rossina Sottile Kennerty Papers, 1917-1958 (1273.00), South Carolina Historical Society; D. Landreth Seed Company Catalog, no date. Mertz Library, New York Botanical Garden, New York City.
31. Susan Lanman, “‘For Profit and Pleasure’: Peter Henderson and the Commercialization of Horticulture in Nineteenth-Century America,” in Industrializing Organisms: Introducing Evolutionary History, ed. Susan R. Schrepfer and Phillip Scranton (New York: Routledge Press, 2004), 19-42.
32. Farm ledgers of William Kennerty’s St. Johns Island farm. Detroit beets were introduced in 1892 but from selections of the Early Blood turnip beet available as early as 1825. Seed Savers Catalog (2019), 18-19.
33. Fifth Census of the United States, 1830, NARA microfilm publication M19, rolls 76 and 103, Records of the Bureau of the Census, RG 29, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Washington, DC; Hovey and Hovey, Jr., “Mr. Michel’s Garden, near Charleston,” 272.
34. The Charleston Times, Apr. 30, 1802.
35. S. Max Edelson, Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 148.
36. Edmund Ruffin, Agriculture, Geology, and Society in Antebellum South Carolina: The Private Diary of Edmund Ruffin, 1843, ed. William Mathew (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992).
37. Historian Frederick Knight explains West Africans practiced these same techniques as adaptations to farming without heavy reliance on livestock. Frederick Knight, Working the Diaspora: The Impact of African Labor on the Anglo-American World, 1650-1850 (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 34-35.
38. Quoted in Joseph Dabney, The Food, Folklore, and Art of Lowcountry Cooking: A Celebration of the Foods, History, and Romance Handed Down from England, Africa, the Caribbean, France, Germany, and Scotland (Naperville, IL: Sourcebook, 2010), 235.
39. Judith Carney, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 20-21.
40. Charles Ball, Slavery in the United States: A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Charles Ball (New York: John S. Taylor, 1838), 126; and Eliza Person Mitchell Diary, Person Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
41. Otto, Southern Agriculture during the Civil War Era, 1860-1880, 47.
42. In his 1867 diary, John Gadsden of Summerville, South Carolina, frequently bemoans the heavy caterpillar season. John Gadsden diary, 1867 (34/685), South Carolina Historical Society.
43. Otto, Southern Agriculture during the Civil War Era, 1860-1880, 61.
44. On the slow death of coastal South Carolina’s commercial rice industry, see James H. Tuten, Lowcountry Time and Tide: The Fall of the South Carolina Rice Kingdom (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2013).
45. Armenius Oemler, Truck-Farming at the South: A Guide to the Raising of Vegetables for Northern Markets (New York: Orange Judd Company, 1884), 8, from Okie, The Georgia Peach, 48.
46. “Raising Carolina Truck,” Fruit Trade Journal and Produce Record 49, no. 3 (1918): 14.
47. Beaufort District, South Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau Labor Contracts, A-W, 1866, Microfilm Publication M1910, Roll 59, Target 3, NARA, Washington, DC.
48. For example, the descendants of former bondspeople lived in the same cabins on McLeod plantation as late as 1991. Eugene Frazier Sr., A History of James Island Slave Descendants & Plantation Owners: The Bloodline (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2010), 3-14.
49. Otto, Southern Agriculture during the Civil War Era, 1860-1880, 55.
50. Gabriel Manigault quoted in J. William Harris, Deep Souths: Delta, Piedmont, and Sea Island Society in the Age of Segregation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 24; also see Frances Butler Leigh, Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation since the War (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1883), 75; Henry Hammond, “Report on Cotton Production of the State of South Carolina,” Report on the Cotton Production in the United States, ed. Eugene W. Hilgard (Washington, DC: Department of the Interior, 1884), 61.
51. John Gadsden diary.
52. South Carolina Historical Society, A Little History of St. Andrew’s Parish and Its Adaptability to Early Truck Farming, Dairy Farming, Stock Raising, and Other Purposes (Charleston, SC: Charleston Bridge Company, 1889), 3.
53. After subtracting expenses for fertilizer, “barrels, baskets, crates, nails, bags, etc.,” and seed, Kennerty’s net income for the year settled at just over $45,000. Rossina Sottile Kennerty Papers, 1917-1958 (1273.00), South Carolina Historical Society; A Little History of St. Andrew’s Parish, 3.
54. Noisette family history and genealogy research files (30-4 Noisette), South Carolina Historical Society.
55. Martha Zierden, Big House/Back Lot: An Early Archeological Study of the Nathaniel Russell House (Charleston, SC: Charleston Museum, 1996), 26.
56. Noisette family history and genealogy research files.
57. Peter Henderson, quoted in J. W. Fitz, Profitable Farming in the Southern States (Richmond, VA: Franklin Publishing, 1890), 361.
58. Michael Trinkley and Debi Hacker, Archaeological Investigations at Mullet Hall Plantation, Johns Island, Charleston County, South Carolina (Columbia: Chicora Foundation, 2018), 65.
59. William Richardson, quoted in Eugene Frazier Sr., James Island: Stories from Slave Descendants (Charleston: The History Press, 2006), 65.
60. Michael Trinkley, The Archaeology of Sol Legare Island, Charleston County, South Carolina (Columbia: Chicora Foundation, 1984), 11.
61. Frazier, James Island: Stories from Slave Descendants, 49, 65.
62. “Charleston, SC-Section Old Market,” 1910, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:City_Market.jpg (accessed Apr. 5, 2019).
63. Shields, Southern Provisions, 222.
64. David Ramsay, Ramsay’s History of South Carolina, From its First Settlement in 1670 to the Year 1808 (Charleston, SC: A. E. Miller, 1809), 289; Charles Flint, “Progress in Agriculture,” in Eighty Years’ Progress of the United States: From the Revolutionary War to the Great Rebellion (New York: New National Publishing, 1864), 79.
65. Rural Carolinian, “Truck Farming,” Fruit Recorder and Cottage Gardener 3, no. 11 (Nov., 1871): 1.
66. Alfred Glaze Smith Jr., Economic Readjustment of an Old Cotton State: South Carolina, 1820-1860 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1958), 62-63; Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, 345-48; Eight Census of the United States, 1860, 128-31.
67. An Edisto Planter, “On the Sweet Potato,” The Southern Agriculturist and Register of Rural Affairs 9 (1836): 184-86. Also see Benno Humbert Alfred Groth, The Sweet Potato (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1911).
68. Oemler, Truck-Farming at the South, 200.
69. Aida White Moore, quoted in Frazier, James Island: Stories from Slave Descendants, 145.
70. For more on food crop cultivation on antebellum Charleston’s peripheral plantations, see Kelly Sharp, “Planters’ Plots to Backlot Stewpots: Food, Race, and Labor in Charleston, South Carolina, 1780-1850,” PhD diss., University of California, Davis, 2018, 13-18.
71. Rural Carolinian, “Truck Farming,” 1-2.
72. Trevor R. Reese, ed., Our First Visit in America: Early Reports from the Colony of Georgia, 1732-1740 (Savannah: The Beehive Press, 1974), 101.
73. Shields, Southern Provisions, 222.
74. Stewart, “What Nature Suffers to Groe”, 226.
75. Sarah Fick et al., Charleston County Historical and Architectural Survey Report (Charleston, SC: Preservation Consultants, Inc., 1992), 39. Comically, Norman Blitch’s occupation is listed as “Cabbage Plants” in the 1919 Charleston city directory. 1919 Directory of the City of Charleston, SC, 18.
76. North Carolina Christian Advocate, Jan. 9, 1908.
77. Walter H. Page, “A Journey through the Southern States: The Changes of Ten Years,” The World’s Work 14 (June 1907), 9030.
78. John Tobler, The South-Carolina Almanack, for the Year of Our Lord 1756 (Germantown: Christopher Sower, 1755), 19; “Statement of A. G. Summer,” Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1857 (Washington, DC: James B. Steedman, 1858), 220.
79. See for example, Sommerville, “On the Culture of Asparagus,” The Southern Agriculturalist and Register of Rural Affairs 5 (1832): 20-23; T. B., “How to Raise ‘Giant’ Asparagus,” The Southern Agriculturalist and Register of Rural Affairs 6 (1846): 381-82.
80. C. E. Myers, “Experiments with Asparagus,” Annual Report of the Pennsylvania State College for the Year 1915-1919 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State College, 1918), 558-59.
81. Peter Henderson & Co’s Manual of Everything for the Garden (New York, 1886), 10.
82. Peter Henderson & Co., Everything for the Garden, 1902 (New York, 1902), 23.
83. F. M. Hexamer, Asparagus: Its Culture for Home Use and for Market (New York: Orange Judd Company, 1915), 21-22; also see M. G. Kains, “Department of Horticulture,” Annual Report of the Pennsylvania State College for the Year 1914-1915 (Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State College, 1916), 468.
84. A. Oemler, “Truck Farming,” Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the Year 1885 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1886), 658.
85. “The Trucking Industry,” Year Book 1909, City of Charleston (Charleston, SC: Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1910), 10.
86. Shields, Southern Provisions, 218.
87. Margaret Hunter Hall, “The Dowdies and their Clumsy Partners,” The Travelers’ Charleston: Accounts of Charleston and Lowcountry, South Carolina, 1666-1861, ed. Jennie Holton Fant (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2016), 178.
88. “Early Southern Produce—Truck Farms near Charleston.
89. Nunan was born in Cork, Ireland, and likely migrated to Charleston in the late 1840s as a result of the potato famine in his home country. There is no record of Nunan’s arrival in Charleston but he married Catherine Bennett in St. Finbar’s Cathedral on Broad Street in April 1850. Seventh Census of the United States, 1850, NARA microfilm publication M432, 850 rolls, Records of the Bureau of the Census, NARA, Washington, DC
90. D. H. Jacques, “Nunan’s Early Prolific Strawberry,” Charleston Daily News, May 21, 1870, quoted in Shields, Southern Provisions, 219.
91. “Early Southern Produce—Truck Farms near Charleston.”
92. Frazier, James Island: Stories from Slave Descendants, 103.
93. James John Howard Gregory, Squashes: How to Grow Them (New York: James J. H. Gregory, 1893), 50.
94. Shields, Southern Provisions, 219.
95. Oemler, Truck-Farming at the South, 231-32.
96. V. A. Clark, Organization List of the Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations in the United States (Washington, DC, 1899), 42-63.
97. G. H. Aull, “The South Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station—A Brief History, 1887-1930,” South Carolina Agriculture Experiment Station Circular 44 (1930): 17-21; Paul Brockington et al., Rural Settlement in the Charleston Bay Area: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Sites in the Mark Clark Expressway Corridor (Atlanta: Garrow and Associates, Inc., 1985), 74.