Rice to Ruin: The Jonathan Lucas Family in South Carolina, 1793-1929

Rice to Ruin: The Jonathan Lucas Family in South Carolina, 1793-1929


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In the 1780s Jonathan Lucas, on a journey from his native England, shipwrecked near the Santee Delta of South Carolina, about forty miles north of Charleston. Lucas, the son of English mill owners and builders, found himself, fortuitously, near vast acres of swamp and marshland devoted to rice cultivation. When the labor-intensive milling process could not keep pace with high crop yields, Lucas was asked by planters to build a machine to speed the process. In 1787 he introduced the first highly successful water-pounding rice mill—creating the foundation of an international rice mill dynasty. In Rice to Ruin, Roy Williams III and Alexander Lucas Lofton recount the saga of the precipitous rise and ultimate fall of that empire.

Lucas's invention did for rice, South Carolina's first great agricultural staple, what Eli Whitney did for cotton with his cotton gin. With his sons Jonathan Lucas II and William Lucas, Lucas built rice mills throughout the lowcountry. Eventually the rice kingdom extended to India, Egypt, and Europe after the younger Jonathan Lucas moved to London to be at the center of the international rice trade.

Their lives were grand until the American Civil War and its aftermath. The end of slave labor changed the family's fortunes. The capital tied up in slaves evaporated; the plantations and town houses had to be sold off one by one; and the rice fields once described as "the gold mines of South Carolina" often failed or were no longer planted. Disease and debt took its toll on the Lucas clan, and, in the decades that followed, efforts to regain the lost fortune proved futile. In the end the once-glorious Carolina gold rice fields that had brought riches left the family in ruin.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781611178340
Publisher: University of South Carolina Press
Publication date: 03/26/2018
Pages: 452
Sales rank: 476,039
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Roy Williams III is a retired South Carolina public school history teacher and administrator. He is the author of two works of local history, Sullivan's Island and Saint James Santee, Plantation Parish: History and Records, 1685-1925. Williams is a docent at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site near McClellanville, South Carolina.

Alexander Lucas Lofton (1919-2011) was an engineer and manufacturing-plant manager in Charleston, South Carolina. A descendant of the Lucas and Hume families, he was a docent on former family plantations in the Santee River region and family archivist. Prior to his death, he donated the Lucas family archive to the South Carolina Historical Society.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations xi

1 Shipwreck at Cape Romain 1

2 First Tidal Rice Mill 11

3 First Rice Toll Mill 22

4 Mill Builder, Troubleshooter 28

5 Jonathan Lucas II 34

6 William Lucas 43

7 Death of the Patriarch 54

8 Rice Planter Extraordinaire 58

9 William Lucas's Charleston Villa 70

10 Ann Lucas Pearce Venning 78

11 William Lucas's Expanding Empire 82

12 Jonathan Lucas II and His Family in England 92

13 The Children of Jonathan Lucas II 99

14 Jonathan Lucas III and J. J. Lucas 106

15 Thomas Bennett Lucas 114

16 William Lucas's Children 121

17 Secession-Before and After 130

18 Benjamin Simons Lucas's Sons-War and Aftermath 138

19 William Lucas's Progeny at War-Prelude 147

20 Alexander Lucas into Action 153

21 Comrades in Arms 162

22 Beginning of the End and the Fall 167

23 Attempts to Regain a Lost World 175

24 Engagement and Courtship of Alexander Lucas 185

25 Marriage, Rice, and Domestic Concerns 211

26 Robert Lucas in California 224

27 Death of Charles Lucas 236

28 The Frustrations of Robert Lucas 244

29 Settling a Depleted Estate 259

30 Pitfalls of the Lucas Genealogy 266

31 An Heiress Without Her Fortune 281

32 Robert's Hopes for Janie 293

33 Brothers Across the Continent 306

34 Defeat after Defeat 320

35 A Closing Circle 332

36 Contrasts within the Family 344

37 Death, Depression, Decline 354

38 Into the Abyss 365

39 Heir Disputes, Final Settlement 376

Appendix 1 391

Appendix 2 395

Bibliography 403

Index 411

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