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Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold

Phosphate, Fertilizer, and Industrialization in Postbellum South Carolina

Shepherd W. McKinley

Publication Year: 2014

Shepherd McKinley presents the first-ever book on the role of phosphates in economic, social, and industrial changes in the South Carolina plantation economy. Fueling the rapid growth of low-country 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 freedpeople to extract housing and labor concessions. Using extensive research, McKinley shows how the convergence of the phosphate and fertilizer industries carried long-term impacts for America and the South.

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.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. vii

List of Illustrations

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

This journey began in July 1995 at Drayton Hall with a conversation with Richmond Bowens—historical interpreter, son and nephew of phosphate miners, and grandson of slaves. As a tourist, I was spellbound as he described the important industry that began nearby and showed me pictures from his scrapbook. I returned two years later to interview...

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pp. 1-9

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...

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1. Antecedents, Precedents, and Continuities, 1800–1865

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pp. 10-34

The rocks seemed to be everywhere, but no one knew their value. Francis S. Holmes was a nineteenth-century planter, slave owner, and gentlemanscientist living next to the Ashley River, northwest of Charleston, who followed local tradition and directed slaves to remove the “useless nodules” from his fields. Before the discovery...

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2. The Creation of Industry and Hope, 1865–1870

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pp. 35-65

When Francis S. Holmes returned to Charleston in November 1865, he, like many other former slaveholders, had hit bottom. Late in the war, an “incendiary” had burned his office, personal papers, books, and specimens, and over a year later he complained, “[T]he times are hard and the money is tight.”1 His brother-in-law, George A. Trenholm, had an even more...

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3. Land Miners and Hand Mining, 1867–1884

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pp. 66-96

Assumptions of mastery died slowly along the Ashley River. In the turbulent wake of emancipation, former slave owners such as Francis S. Holmes had to adapt to a world without a reliable, malleable, and abundant labor supply. Many of “their people” had fled the plantations, and former masters could not compel new arrivals or remaining laborers to work...

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4. River Mining and Reconstruction Politics, 1869–1874

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pp. 97-122

Just as South Carolina’s planters and slaves had grown rice in both dry and water cultures, so too did the state’s entrepreneurs and laborers mine phosphate on land and in the rivers. River mining unofficially began in 1869 as an unsanctioned use of public resources and officially in 1870 as a separate industry from land mining. Although a few land-mine entrepreneurs...

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5. Convergence and the Fertilizer Industry, 1868–1884

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pp. 123-152

Surveying South Carolina’s fertilizer industry in 1882, Edward Willis wrote, “As the cotton mills are annually nearing the cotton fields, so the fertilizers based on crude phosphate rock must come to the fountainhead of the industry.”1 The convergence of the land-mining, river-mining, and fertilizer-manufacturing industries...

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Conclusions and Epilogue

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pp. 153-166

The rise of land mining, river mining, and fertilizer manufacturing in South Carolina was by no means representative of the southern experience in the twenty years after the Civil War. The marriage of science, raw materials, wealth, and entrepreneurial vigor was unique, especially so early after the war. Scientists, entrepreneurs...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 167-168


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pp. 169-198


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pp. 199-220


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pp. 221-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048697
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813049243

Page Count: 242
Illustrations: 15 b/w photos, 4 maps
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 869735733
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Stinking Stones and Rocks of Gold

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Industries -- South Carolina -- History.
  • Fertilizers -- South Carolina.
  • Phosphates -- South Carolina -- History.
  • Phosphate industry -- South Carolina -- History.
  • South Carolina -- Economic conditions.
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