David Dangerfield of Barnwell is April’s Golden Pen winner for his letter to the editor about the importance of curbing development that encroaches on historic districts that reflect the often overlooked cultural melange that helped create the modern-day Lowcountry.
“For instance,” he wrote, “when construction began on the Santee Canal in 1793, more than 1,000 people were working to excavate the 22-mile-long link between the Santee and Cooper rivers. Nearly all of them were enslaved African Americans, a common bond in the Lowcountry’s beginnings, but one that is still often overlooked somehow.”
Mr. Dangerfield, an assistant professor of history at the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie, pointed out that the Carolina Colony was itself an outgrowth of European development in the Caribbean and founded to produce rice and beef to feed slaves who produced sugar on Barbados.
“Soon, Carolina rice planters were altering the landscape along the Cooper River, building dikes to create rice fields for flooding and cultivation,” he wrote.
Mr. Dangerfield tipped his hat to The Post and Courier’s Warren Wise for a recent column about the history of Stony Landing at Santee Canal Park, but he also suggested we look past the stately old homes and diked rice fields to get a deeper understanding of the people who built them.
West African slaves “brought with them the requisite knowledge and skills for growing rice. With them came cultures that survive in our arts, music, food, folkways and churches. Bits of West African languages still pepper our Lowcountry conversations. In short, their story is integral to every aspect of the Lowcountry’s history and identity.”
The land also records the changes precipitated by Emancipation and the collapse of the slave economy.
“Hurricanes in the 1890s and 1900s wrecked the dikes, and saltwater moved farther upstream into rice fields,” he wrote. “And because the Cooper is a coastal river, it did not carry enough silt to renourish the fields. Artificial fertilizers only exacerbated the final threat, a fungus blight called rice blast.”
Mr. Dangerfield stressed the importance of not only preserving our historic districts physically but “reflecting on all of the people who built and transformed the Lowcountry and shaped who we are today.”
The Golden Pen award is awarded monthly, and winners are invited to an annual luncheon with the editorial staff.