By Colton Williams
Dr. Daniel Littlefield, the Carolina Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, lectured at Sewanee on “Slavery and the South Carolina Rice Plantation.” An expert on colonial America and comparative plantation societies, Littlefield authored the book Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina. Littlefield gave his lecture January 29 in Gailor Auditorium.
Vice-Chancellor John McCardell welcomed Littlefield and introduced him and his work. “It’s a great temptation too easily succumbed to read history backward,” McCardell said. “Those of us who practice the profession are always tempted because we know the outcome, or think we know the outcome of the story that we’re telling, to shape the narrative leading up to it in a particular way… I think professor Littlefield’s study of Rice and Slaves: Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina does an admirable job of resisting that very same temptation.”
Littlefield’s lecture focused on the various African ethnic groups that were transported to America as slaves, and how particular groups were preferred by South Carolina planters because of their experience working with rice cultivation. He argues that Africans helped influence the emerging American society perhaps more so in South Carolina than anywhere else.
Additionally, due to the practical knowledge and skills of Africans in South Carolina, the enslaved were able to have more – but of course not total – flexibility.
“African knowledge and capability may have created analogous if not quite similar conditions to those existing for the relatively few blacks of early Virginia,” Littlefield said. “At least in terms of treatment, though not in access to freedom. In both cases, an inchoate society permitted rough equality among working blacks and whites.”
Littlefield also emphasized the importance of a “task system” instead of a “gang labor” system for the enslaved. In South Carolina, the task system was more feasible and better for the staple crops, and it gave the enslaved more of their own time.
In addition to lecturing, Littlefield attended McCardell’s American Studies course, “The Civil War and Reconstruction in the South Carolina Sea Islands,” and engaged with students on his work.“Like any thorough historian, Dr Littlefield enlightened us to the nuances of the era,” said Will Priest (C’21), a student in the class. “The assignment of Rice and Slaves as our prior reading made for a rich question and answer session that lasted for more than an hour.”