The 29mm brass token pictured above is one of a set of four different tokens issued by Samuel Mortimer Ward of Georgetown County, South Carolina. The tokens were utilized to pay the field workers at the Prospect Hill rice plantation and were redeemable at the general store located on the plantation. Issued in the 1880s, these tokens found their way into the hands of the former slaves, who, now being emancipated, found themselves working on some of the same plantations on which they had been enslaved. Most had limited skills, and were forced by necessity to seek employment in the only occupation they knew. In Georgetown County, that was rice planting.
Rice was South Carolina’s chief agricultural product through most of the 1800s and amongst the different regions of the state, Georgetown District was one of the leading producers. And the largest planter in Georgetown during the mid-1800s was Joshua John Ward, probably also the largest planter in the whole state. Ward was born at Brookgreen Plantation in the year 1800, son of Joshua and Elizabeth Ward. In the 1820s and 1830s, Ward, as did other rice planters, enlarged his holdings by acquiring other plantations, including Springfield, Alderly, Longwood, and Prospect Hill (on which this month’s token was issued). In the year 1850, Ward controlled six large plantations and produced 3.9 million pounds of rice. Ward was able to produce so much rice because he owned 1092 slaves, a full 5 percent of the slaves in the whole district. Ward was also involved in politics, serving in both houses of the state legislature and as lieutenant governor in 1850. At his death in 1853, his holdings were divided between his three sons, Prospect Hill being given to Benjamin Huger Ward.
Rice plantation workers in Georgetown County circa 1890.
Samuel Mortimer Ward (see reverse of this month’s token) was the grandson of Joshua John Ward. S.M. Ward was also born at Brookgreen Plantation in 1858, five years after his grandfather had died. He seemed destined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and, after being educated at Porter Military Academy and Sewanee, took up rice planting also. He was also heavily involved in politics, serving as a state senator for 18 years, for many of those years sitting as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Ward also served in the South Carolina National Guard, retiring at the rank of brigadier-general, after 21 years of service. Additionally, he was postmaster of Georgetown County during the Cleveland and Wilson administrations.
But it was into a family of rice planters that S.M. Ward was born. By 1880, Ward was planting many of the same plantations that his grandfather had planted. And, over time, he also became the largest rice planter in the state. Around the turn of the century, however, rice planting began to decline. Foreign competition began to put pressure on the smaller planters, whose fields were bought up by the larger ones. Some large planters even tried to plant rice under a corporate model, an idea which involved the combination of a number of plantations under the operation and financial control of a joint-stock company. Around 1900, S.M. Ward and Company was formed by S.M. Ward, St. Julian M. Lachicotte, and A.A. Springs, for the purpose of growing rice on a corporate scale. (This company also utilized tokens, redeemable at a store on Richfield Plantation, but these were issued about 20 years later than the Prospect Hill tokens shown above.) These rice-planting corporations were short-lived, as rice prices continued to decline and a series of hurricanes destroyed the elaborate system of dikes and canals needed for irrigation of the rice fields. By 1911, the industry had collapsed and there was virtually no rice being grown in South Carolina at all.
The main house at Prospect Hill Plantation, built circa 1790, is now known as Arcadia. In 1819, it was the site of a visit by U.S. President James Monroe.
The Prospect Hill Plantation continued to exist, however, even after the cessation of rice planting. The plantation, as many of the former rice plantations in the Georgetown area, was purchased by a wealthy Northerner, Dr. Isaac E. Emerson of Baltimore. In 1906, Emerson purchased Prospect Hill and, over the ensuing 25 years, added several more plantations to his holdings, including Clifton, Rose Hill, Forlorn Hope, George Hill, Fairfield, Oak Hill, and Bannockburn. He combined these properties into one holding, which he named Arcadia. The main seat of Arcadia is the original Prospect Hill mansion and gardens, and has a fine history of its own. The home was started around 1790 by Thomas Allston, but was unfinished at his death in 1794. His widow then married Benjamin Huger II, son of Major Benjamin Huger of Revolutionary War fame. After her second husband’s death, Mrs. Huger sold the plantation to Joshua John Ward, as mentioned above. But prior to her sale of the plantation, the home had been the site of a visit by then President of the United States James Monroe.
Alberta Lachicotte, in her book Georgetown Rice Plantations has this to say about the visit: “President Monroe’s welcome to Prospect Hill on April 21, 1819 was an elaborate one. One story of the great event says that a carpet for Monroe to walk upon was laid from the front entrance of the house to the canal, the direction from which the President’s party came. Possibly the carpet has been extended a few feet with each telling of the tale, for laying such a cloth even halfway to the canal two hundred yards away would have been task enough and suitably impressive. But the plantation gentry were fond of doing things in the grand manner, and the President may indeed have walked on carpet all the way from canal to mansion. The welcome of Monroe’s party was equaled by the lavish departure to Georgetown next morning in one of the plantation barges, profusely decorated and adorned for the occasion with the United States’ colors proudly floating at its head. Eight Negro oarsmen dressed in livery propelled the barge.”
Let’s take another look at the tokens. The obverse inscription reads: GOOD FOR / 5 / CENTS / IN / MDSE / AT PROSPECT HILL STORE. The reverse reads: 5 / CENTS / S.M. WARD. Both sides also feature a beaded border. The entire legend is incuse, that is, struck into the surface of the token. This style of manufacture is often indicative of an issue date in the late 1800s. As mentioned previously, the 5 cent token shown above was one of a set of four tokens. The other denominations in the set are 10 cents, 25 cents, and 50 cents. All four tokens are made of the same material (brass) and all are the same diameter (29mm). The inscriptions on each token are identical except for the numeral(s) in the denomination and holes placed in the 10 cent and 50 cent tokens. Even with the holes, the similarities in size and inscriptions probably led to a lot of confusion in telling the different denominations from each other. The 50 cent tokens are the rarest, with only 5 or 6 specimens known to exist at the present time. The 25 cent denomination is considered to be scarce. And the 10 cent and 5 cent tokens are encountered more often. Each one is an interesting reminder of the end of an era of South Carolina’s history - the era of the rice plantation.
Next month we will continue our series with another of South Carolina's classic nineteenth century tokens.
Copyright 2000 by Tony Chibbaro.
South Carolina Tokens by Tony Chibbaro, Token and Medal Society, 1990.
Georgetown Rice Plantations by Alberta M. Lachicotte, State Commercial Printing Company, 1955.
The History of Georgetown County, South Carolina by George C. Rogers, Jr., University of South Carolina Press.
History of South Carolina, Volume IV edited by Yates Snowden, Lewis Publishing Co., 1920.
Biographical Directory of the Senate of the State of South Carolina, 1776-1964 R.L. Bryan Company, 1964.
If you collect or have a casual interest in South Carolina tokens or tokens issued by cotton mills, lumber companies, or other types of businesses, you may want to purchase my book, South Carolina Tokens and its two supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.
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