One muggy spring morning nearly five months ago, 1,500 circa-1939 Sea Island cotton seeds were planted at McLeod Historic Site. Today, thanks to the work of devoted volunteers, the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, local author and botanist Richard Porcher, the Friends of McLeod, and seed procurer Bill McLean, these seeds are now ready to be harvested.
Sea Island cotton was, other than Carolina Gold Rice, the cash crop of the Lowcountry from 1786 through the Civil War. This exceptional cotton varietal, Porcher writes in his book The Story of Sea Island Cotton
, "clothed the royalty and aristocracy of England and France." McLeod, at its peak, was the most productive plantation on James Island; in 1859, the 1,693 acres were producing as much as 64 bags of cotton a year.
On Sat. Oct. 21, more than 150 years after this record-setting production, McLeod, now a 37-acre public county park, will host a day-long event honoring this rare historic crop.
Site and cotton field tours will take place throughout the day, at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m. There will be a special talk by McLean and Porcher at 11 a.m., and another Porcher-lead discussion at 1 p.m. Visitors will be able to pick a boll of cotton from the field, de-seed it using a hand-cranked cotton gin or by hand, and dye it with indigo dye. Gullah-Geechee artist Sonja Griffin-Evans will also be on hand to discuss her Sea Island cotton paintings and their inspiration.
The crop will continue to grow and will be harvested throughout the fall. According to a CCPRC press release, "The public may return to the site throughout the rest of the year to see the cotton bolls as they continue to form. For history and agricultural enthusiasts, the Sea Island cotton harvesting is an exciting event; however, the plant also symbolizes generations of oppression for many people who worked on cotton plantations such as McLeod. These themes will be a major part of the conversation and tours during Sea Island Cotton Day."