Tuesday, April 13, 2010


What does the founding of South Carolina have to do with cowboys?

I supposed folks in that southern state are well aware that their colony's genesis was different from colonies to the north. Rather than being started by British companies, with colonists from Britain, South Caroline was founded by venture capitalists from the (British) West Indies island of Barbados with a few whites and a whole bunch of black slaves. The money men on Barbados (and back in England) already had devoted every arable acre on Barbados to sugar cane that was harvested, crushed and boiled by a huge population of African slaves. The investors were looking to expand.

They were aware that their new colony in North America wasn't going to be able to raise sugar cane, but they knew it was at the same latitude as the Mediterranean, and so it might grow olives and the like. No dice.

So they tried other crops. One was rice, which Englishmen knew little about. Fortunately, West African slaves were familiar with the complicated process of growing and harvesting the crop. By 1710, some 1.5 million pounds of rice was shipped each year. By 1730, it was 20 million pounds.

Another economic venture involved cattle. Northern colonies generally raised cows for dairy products, but the plantations in South Carolina tried raising them for beef. Trouble was, as was the case with their lack of knowledge about rice, the English were unfamiliar with tending open-range cattle herds.

Once again, black slaves from Africa - where cattle were routinely raised for beef - took over. They knew what to do, so the plantation overseers gave their slaves the responsibility.

They called those cattle-tending slaves "cowboys."

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