Jonathan Lucas honored for contributions to the rice mill industry
Nearly 230 years after shipwrecking on the Carolina coast, British millwright and inventor Jonathan Lucas was recognized at the unveiling of a historical marker showcasing his contributions to the rice mill industry.
More than 40 descendants of the extended Lucas family attended the ceremony hosted by the Town of Mount Pleasant and the Mount Pleasant Historical Commission. Located on Vincent Drive, the marker oversees traces of the mill foundation and holding pond visible at low tide.
“Many historians say that Jonathan Lucas is to rice what Eli Whitney was to cotton,” said council woman Linda Page. “His invention not only increased productivity and revolutionized the industry; it also propelled Charleston in the center of the rice-milling business. “
The fascinating story of Jonathan Lucas was brought to life with a historical marker - the product of a partnership between the eighth grade social studies classes of teachers Jennifer Burroughs and Gerilyn Leland at Cario Middle School and the Mount Pleasant Historical Commission.
“Mrs. Victoria Musheff, who was then chairing the Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission, asked for our participation in creating this new historical marker,” said Burroughs. “Finding the time to meet with students from two different social studies classes and limiting our research to fit on the marker were challenges we met head-on. Students did extensive research of old newspapers, books and of course the internet. We created the marker text and provided the draft to the commission for final editing.”
“Hannah Massar, Karly Fitch, Kayley Munkers, Caitlin Woodard, Grace Crawley, Samantha Connell, Sydney DeJong, Allison Barry, Eden Artidiello, Cayla Wakser, and Julia Wakser embarked on a journey of discovery than spanned over the entire school year,” said Leland. “I would like to commend them for their attention to detail and their enthusiasm. They created a marker that will educate future generations on the history of Jonathan Lucas and the rice mill industry in our region and beyond.”
Hannah Massar, now a high school freshman, was present at the marker unveiling she had been instrumental in creating. “It is amazing to see the marker in the ground, a tangible proof of the work we’ve done. I am very proud to have been part of this fascinating process.”
Current Historical Commission Jose D. Hernandez, chair, concurred. “The Jonathan Lucas story is a tale of human ingenuity,” he said. “By replacing the traditional process of hand-threshing with an innovative tidal powered mechanical rice mill he was able to separate the husk and bran layers from the rice kernel.”
“In terms of rice milling, Jonathan advanced America to the top slot for agricultural technological achievement,” said Musheff. “His new milling inventions solved numerous problems that were present in the colony’s rice industry since the late 1600’s. His mills were known as technological marvels that revolutionized the industry. Lucas made America’s rice milling process the most efficient in the world and set an American agri-technological standard that remains today.”
Below is the exact wording of the Jonathan Lucas/Greenwich Mill Historical Marker:
“Jonathan Lucas, Sr., a skilled millwright, sailed from England in the 1780s and shipwrecked on the Carolina coast. Remembered for his brilliance in wind and water-powered mill design, Lucas invented a system that combined rice grinding and mortar and pestle technology. In 1787, he built the world’s first water-powered mill that used this new mechanical process, followed by the first tidal-powered mill that operated without holding tanks. Lucas’ invention replaced the laborious task of hand-pounding and threshing rice. His tidal-powered mill was a technological marvel and revolutionized the industry. Lucas became the foremost builder of rice mills along the Georgia and Carolina coasts. In 1793, he purchased 471 acres at Haddrell’s Point including the old Greenwich Mill for 500 lbs. sterling. Lucas modified this saw mill into a dual rice/saw mill powered by Shem Creek tides, the first of its kind in the Charleston area. He built a home on the knoll overlooking the mill pond from which he operated his flourishing mill design and manufacturing business. In 1801, Lucas and son Jonathan also built a large tidal-powered toll rice mill on the Ashley River and Charleston became the center of the rice-milling industry. That year Governor John Drayton said of Lucas, “For these mills, the public is indebted to the exertions and ingenuity of Mr. Jonathan Lucas…” Lucas sold his Shem Creek property to William, his son and business partner, for 2,000 lbs. sterling in 1816. At the end of the Civil War, the buildings were burned by Confederate troops as enemy soldiers approached. In 1869, William sold the Greenwich Mill tract for $12,000. Today, traces of the mill foundation and holding pond are visible at low tide.” This marker was erected in 2013 by Thomas Cario Middle School eighth grade students, teachers Mrs. Burroughs and Mrs. Leland and the Mount Pleasant Historical Commission.
For more information on Jonathan Lucas, visit the town online at www.tompsc.com and click on the upper right tab labeled “Our History.” Follow on Facebook at “The Town of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina” to view the photos of the marker unveiling.
Check out ther new “Mount Pleasant Historical” app at http://mountpleasanthistorical.org brought to you by the Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission. Mount Pleasant Historical is a free website and app that puts the town’s history at your fingertips. Explore unique historic places and take self-guided walking tours. Find interesting people, places and events in Mount Pleasant’s history. With a growing list of interpretive stories, each point on the interactive GPS-enabled map includes historical information about the location, along with historic images.