Sugarcane is the foundation of efforts to preserve, revitalize Geechee culture on Sapelo Island

By Amy Carter

Sapelo Island was the epicenter of early experimentation with sugarcane as a commercial crop in Georgia. Lying just east of McIntosh County, the island was the home of an 18th century planter named Thomas Spalding, who experimented with olives, dates, arrowroot, cotton, oranges and sweet potatoes, as well as sugarcane.

According to research by David Shields, a food historian at the University of South Carolina, Spalding found little success until he imported from the Caribbean a cold-hardy cane called Purple Ribbon. Spalding erected a sugar refinery on the island – the tabby ruins of which still stand today – and established “Spalding Sugar” as a widely recognized brand.

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