For most of its history prior to the current planned community Daniel Island was the site of various agricultural endeavors dependent on first slaves and, later, free men and share croppers. One of those endeavors was Sea Island Cotton.
Cotton was planted in March and April and the harvest would last from August to December. Picking of the cotton needed to be done as soon as the buds burst. Prolonged exposure to the sun and to bad weather damaged the fibers. Harvesting usually happened approximately every 10 days (a season’s average would be 10-12 pickings). The labor of those enslaved and, later, free Blacks was essential to the success of this crop.
Cotton was always handpicked even if machinery were available because the plants could grow up to 8 feet tall and its continuous blooming made it difficult to use machines for harvesting.
The name Sea Island Cotton applies only to cotton that was grown on the islands such as James, Johns, Wadmalaw and Daniel Island.
A variety of the long staple cotton that was cultivated in Berkley County was called Santee Cotton. The difference in soil and climate found on the islands yielded a cotton that was a higher quality than its inland sibling. Therefore, planters would focus on quality not quantity of their product.
The superiority of the Sea Island Cotton was such that the price reached as high as $2 a pound which in today’s money would be anywhere from $48- $58 a pound. The cotton grown in South Carolina was considered the highest quality fiber more so than the cotton grown in Georgia and Florida. Grown for only 134 years, the boll weevil that arrived in 1920 destroyed the Sea Island Cotton industry.
A driving force behind growing sea island cotton on Daniel Island was George Cunningham, later Mayor of Charleston. LEARN MORE ABOUT CUNNINGHAM HERE.