Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold: Phosphate, Fertilizer, and Industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina

Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold: Phosphate, Fertilizer, and Industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina

Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold: Phosphate, Fertilizer, and Industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina

Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold: Phosphate, Fertilizer, and Industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina

Synopsis

South Carolina Historical Society George C. Rogers Jr. Book Award

"A finely layered and important study that fills in gaps in the industrial history of the New South and especially low-country South Carolina."--Sidney Bland, author of Preserving Charleston's Past, Shaping Its Future: The Life and Times of Susan Pringle Frost

"Skillfully blurs the old, comfortable line between Old and New South economies and paints a nuanced picture of the new labor relations in the post-slavery era."--Charles Holden, author of In the Great Maelstrom


In the first book ever written about the impact of phosphate mining on the South Carolina plantation economy, Shepherd McKinley explains how the convergence of the phosphate and fertilizer industries carried long-term impacts for America and the South.

Fueling the rapid growth of lowcountry fertilizer companies, phosphate mining provided elite plantation owners a way to stem losses from emancipation. At the same time, mining created an autonomous alternative to sharecropping, enabling freed people to extract housing and labor concessions.

Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold develops an overarching view of what can be considered one of many key factors in the birth of southern industry. This top-down, bottom-up history (business, labor, social, and economic) analyzes an alternative path for all peoples in the post-emancipation South.

Excerpt

In the eighteenth century, Charleston, South Carolina, was the fourth-largest city in United States, and its planters comprised the richest families in America. the economy was geared toward agricultural export, with most commercial activities dominated by the planter elite—planters, factors, merchants, and lawyers—and subservient to the lucrative shipping of rice and indigo overseas. During the antebellum period, Charleston lost its position as one of the world’s premier rice suppliers, and the city declined relative to northeastern cities. As New York, Philadelphia, and other northern ports industrialized, Charleston clung to its more traditional economy. Although Charleston faded as a national economic leader, it emerged as a center of secessionist enthusiasm, eventually hosting the signing of South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession and the opening shots of the Civil War. With little industrialization, a large slave population, and strong regional loyalty, antebellum Charleston and the lowcountry were synonymous with the “Old South.” Indeed, white Charlestonians appeared to be fighting change as vigorously as Yankees during the war. By 1865, industrialization in Charleston seemed to be a concept as incongruous as slavery in Boston.

And yet, shortly after the war’s end, Charleston’s planter elites and former slaves introduced industrialization to the local economy and population. Following scientific advancements throughout the nineteenth century that identified phosphate rock as a primary ingredient in modern commercial fertilizers, lowcountry entrepreneurs and workers created land-mining companies to make use of what they had previously labeled nuisance rocks in local fields. Others established fertilizer-manufacturing factories in the city, on the Charleston Neck, and in other lowcountry locations to make use of the local rock. Individuals started to mine the rivers a few years later, and businessmen and politicians scrambled to secure territories and build . . .

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