A Love Story of Rice and Dr. Henry Woodward

The following “Legend” was found in a little red book by E.C. McCants (Dr. Elliot Crayton McCants, PhD 1865-1953) called History Stories and Legends of South Carolina, 1927, The Southern Publishing Co. Dallas, Texas. The book was brought to me by friend on Edisto. Since the early explorer of Carolina, Dr. Henry Woodward, is of great interest to me, and I have never seen this, nor am I able to find this online anywhere, I think it appropriate to copy it here. This is exactly as it is written. The Captain in this story is most likely John Thurber. A historical record of rice can be found here. This is simply a delightful story of ‘moonbeams forming a glittering path across the water’ to love, and one I will now read to the children.

Madagascar is an island in the Indian ocean on the eastern border of Africa. Although the island is African, its people are largely of Malay blood and are an olive-yellow complexion. Owning to its elevation, much of the island has a temperate climate. The principal food crop of the island is rice.

It was in this tropical island, at about the time that the first settlers were landing in Charles Town, that a man and a woman came down near the seashore and began to build a hut. Tall and powerful was the man, for he had been one of the principal warriors of the King, and lithe and well-formed was she, for she was the daughter of the warrior’s King. Well-placed and well satisfied each had been until one day they had met and had loved each other. After that they were both sorrowful, for how could a simple soldier of the king’s army, although he was a valiant soldier, hope to marry the daughter of a king? And yet love takes no account of rulers, whether in African jungles or in the seats of the mighty.

So, having looked upon each other, this young pair met again and again. Sometimes their meetings were by accident. Often they sought each other outide the Malagasy King’s village. And the King began to notice this thing, and soon he looked upon the young warrior coldly and questioned his daughter. And his daughter told him nothing in words, but her hesitations and tremblings told him more than he wished to learn. Then he tested the point of his war spear and arose from his dwelling place and went out toward the habitations of his warriors.

But although the King had said nothing, his daughter had read his face. He had moved quickly, but she had gone more quickly still, so when the King came to the street of the warriors, that one whom he sought had fled. Moreover, when he returned to his house he found that his daughter had also fled. Then he caused his great war drum to be beated, and his warriors gathered about him and he sent them out into the forest two by two’s and three by three’s to search for the two who had departed, but for many days even the most expert of his trackers brought him no news.

In the meantime the man and the woman had passed through the dense forest, and coming to a shallow stream they waded down it, for the stream made a path through the jungle and its current betrayed no footstep: And when night came they crept out upon the bank of the brook and ate of the fruits of the jungle and slept. And in this way, after many days, they came within sight of the sea, and there, on the slopes of the hills overlooking the wide ocean, they halted and began to build a hut, for they were far away from the territory of that King who was father of the woman.

Then, when the hut was completed, the young man hollowed out a canoe in order that he might sail upon the sea and catch fish there. And after a time he dammed a stream that flowed down from the hills and planted a rice field in the valley. But while he was doing these things, the trackers of the King who was the father of the woman sought for the two continually because the King was very angry and would allow his warriors no rest.

And it happened after many days that two of the searchers came to the crest of the hills that are above the sea. There they saw the hut and the little field and the man and the woman together on the sand near the seashore. And one said to the other, “Shall we go down and spear them where they stand?”

But the other said “No,” for he was a prudent fellow, and not only was he afraid to kill the King’s daughter, but he remembered that the man who stood with her was accustomed to war and not at all likely to wait meekly to be speared. Therefore they returned to the King and told him what they had seen.

Then the King gathered his warriors and they went through the forests and after a hard journey they came to the place. And after the night had fallen they came down and surrounded the hut went into it and fell upon the fugitives while they slept. They bound the man with strips of bark, but because the King loved his daughter he did not tie her, but shut her in the hut and set a guard at the door. Thus the night passed and the morning came.

And in the morning the sun rose red over the eastern sea and the man struggled against the bonds. But the withes did not yield, and the woman, hiding her face, sobbed and shuddered in a corner of the hut. Then the King was pleased because he had the man at his mercy, so he rested and feasted with his warriors. But before the sun a high three-cornered sail appeared on the horizon, and the King and his men watched as the ship as it drew near and took counsel together as to what they should do.

However, the vessel was a small one and their own number was considerable, so they decided to await its arrival, and when it has come to land they saw that it contained Arabs who sometimes visited the island to buy spices, and rice, and slaves. These Arabs landed and made a display of their goods, but the King, not having come to the coast to trade, had nothing to offer in exchange for the wares which the strangers spread before him. When he saw that this was the case, the Arab captain offered to buy the man who lay bound, but the King demurred, for his anger against that man was great and intended to put him to death.

But the Arab argued cunningly. He said that he would take the man to Mozambique, where the Portuquese slavers would buy him. And that these in turn would take him far away to the white man’s land, where he might be fattened and eaten for all that the Arab knew to the contrary. So at last the King bartered the man to the Arab in exchange for a bright cutlass and five yards of cloth. Then the man was loosed from his bonds and was taken on board the vessel and carried away.

After the vessel had gone the King went to the hut and released his daughter. Up to this time she had wept, but now she faced her father dry-eyed.

“What have you done with him,” she demanded. “If you have killed him, I too…”

“He is not dead, ” her father told her. “I have sold him to the Arab. He is going away – across the sea. Come. Forget him!”

Then the woman went down to the water’s edge and looked across the blue water and saw the brown sail of the Arab vessel far away. Then she cried out, but only a sea gull answered her. She stretched out her hands, but her bare palms remained as empty as was the bare sky above her head. And at her feet, lying on its side on the sand, she saw the canoe which the man had fashioned with fire and with adz.

That night, when all were asleep, the woman crept out of the hut. Lying at the door was a small bag of unhusked rice which the warriors had brought with them for food. This she took to the canoe, and she also took a large calabash filled with fresh water. Then she thrust the canoe into the water, and, getting in herself, paddled away. Men had taken her lover beyond the sea; then beyond the sea she would follow him. She had yet to learn how vast is the sea, how great are the distances that lie below the horizon.

The canoe rose and fell on the long swell of the waves. The moon rose, and its beams formed a glittering path across the water. The stars circled over her head. But she did not heed any of these things, for she knew that she had far to go.

When morning dawned the land lay like a blue cloud behind her. She was tired, so she lay down in the canoe and slept. A shark ranged alongside, and disappeared. The sun beat upon her, but she did not waken. Toward noon she sat up, drank some water, and began to paddle onward. Night came, and then morning again.

As the sun rose she saw a ship, and headed the canoe toward it. Little by little the hull of the vessel appeared. She did not doubt its being the Arab’s ship, and she bent to her paddling. The canoe drew nearer the ship and the ship drew nearer the canoe. She could now see men who made gestures in her direction. She waved her hands to them.

After a time a boat was lowered from the ship and approached her. The men in the boat were white. She tried to speak to them, but could not understand their answers. They caught the canoe with a boathook and towed it to the vessel. Then they took her and her bag of rice aboard and cast the canoe adrift. They gave her food and were puzzled at her presence. She ate the food and wondered who they were. Then she wept, for she knew that this was not the ship of the Arabs.

“Let her help the cook,” said the Captain, for he was thrifty. So they put her in the galley to help the cook and her bag of rice went with her.

The vessel stood on its course. It rounded Cape Agulhas and beat northward. The long days passed. Africa was left behind, and the North Atlantic was reached. The Captain began to think of his home in Rhode Island, the crew whistled and sang psalms. And then a West India hurricane fell upon them.

For days they found the storm and at times they were near to sinking, but at last they rode it out. The brigantine had survived, but a mast was gone and the vessel was leaking. For the purpose of making repairs the Captain put in to Charles Town.

Who can say what the thoughts of the woman were during that long voyage. Bit by bit she had learned the English words. Day after day she had cooked and washed and cleaned. So much is known, but the wild thoughts that rose in her savage brain, her hopes, her despairs, her bewilderment as each sun went down in the west and there was yet to be seen nothing but the great waste of heaving water, have left no record.

The ship came into the harbor under skies so fair and breezes so light that a storm seemed an impossible thing, and in front of the town, they dropped an anchor. Fresh from their battle with the hurricane, the sailors were worn out, and yet the ship must be lightened so that the leaks might be reached. Therefore the Captain went into the town to hire negro slaves from their masters to unload the cargo.

While on this errand he met Dr. Henry Woodward and fell into conversation with him. Woodward told the Captain strange tales of how he had lived with the Indians and how he had sailed with the privateersmen, and how, of late, he had bought a strange negro from a Portuguese slaver. This negro, said Woodward, looked more like an Indian than a negro, and yet was no Indian.

Then the Captain told of the woman who he had picked up. This woman also resembled an Indian and yet was no Indian. And finally the Captain told of the canoe and the little bag of rice.

At this Woodward became excited. “Rice, did you say?” he inquired. “I believe rice would thrive in this province, and I would try it had I had the seed and someone teach me how to grow it.”

“Why,” replied the Captain, “the rice is aboard the brigantine and you may have it. Yes, and the woman also, if you will, for doubtless she has seen the grain growing in her own country.”

Then Woodward called his slave and made ready to accompany the Captain to the ship, for he would need the slave to bring the rice home. And when the Captain saw this strange slave of Woodward’s he said, “He is very like the woman, and I doubt it is not that they are of the same nation. Therefore let us bring them face to face.”

So when they had reached the vessel they brought the slave into the presence of the woman, whereupon she gave a great cry and fell upon the deck, and the slave, stooping lifted her up and held her to his breast. And Dr. Henry Woodward, having lived much among savage folk, saw and understood and was touched.

“See now,” he said to them, “you shall go with me and shall not be parted. And the rice you shall fetch and shall plant it and bring it to fruition even as is done in your own country. Thus shall the people of this province be taught. And if you succeed with the rice, then you shall have for yourselves a hut and a plot of ground and no man shall make you afraid.”

So the man put the little bag of rice on his shoulder and took the woman by the hand and they followed Woodward. And they planted the rice, and it prospered, and the people came and saw it, so that they, too, afterward, took the seed that Woodward gave them and planted it. Thus rice became a source of wealth to all of South Carolina. And the man and the woman lived many years on the plot of ground that Woodward gave them, and after they were old they died there and their children buried them.

I was called to be an artist. And as an old old midwife said to me "If the Lord wants you to do something, you won't have no good luck' til you do." So, here I am, sharing what I love, longing to illuminate the work of art, which is everywhere.

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Posted in Arts & Culture, Charleston South Carolina, Food, Native American, Poetry, South Carolina History
11 comments on “A Love Story of Rice and Dr. Henry Woodward
  1. Cork Hutson says:

    Charlotte – what a great story. You know, this would make a great film script! I, of course know about Dr. Henry Woodward, our ancestor, but had never heard this story. Mom probably knew it from all her reading.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Cork! Yay! As much as I have read about this fascinating ancestor of ours, I had never seen this story. So happy to share it with you. I have often thought how great his life would be on film – pirates, priests, Indians, seafaring, doctoring, exploring, and then his lifetime pardon and blessing of the KING of England…..And thank for staying in touch, Cork. Come to Edisto soon!

  2. victoria mellichamp ware says:

    Charlotte – My Greatgrandfather Elliott Crayton McCants wrote many stories about the Revolution and Civil War. Many are based on his experiences. I have tried to collect as many of his books that I can. I know that we all appreciate that someone has left us a remembrance of what the people went thru to make this country. He had a way of writing that was so poetic and I believe he saw the world in this way. So the connection to these early settlers that he saw the beauty in the land and the people they incountered. My sister and I are planning a trip around the end of July and Edisto and Morris Island are definite stops. Can you tell me someplaces that we would not want to miss? We are doing a little ancestry searching and here are some of our family names – McCants, Mellichamp, Stiles, Lipscomb. The Mellichamps had 2 lighthouse keepers on Morris Island. We were thinking of treating ourselves to a stay in Edisto, can you recommend a nice spot by the water?
    Thank you – Victoria Mellichamp Ware (Benitez)

  3. Grover Woodward says:


    I am also a descendant of Dr. Henry Woodward and enjoy a collect every bit of information I find on him. I have copies of a book titled “Henry Woodward, Forgotten Man of American History” by Effie Leland Wilder, 1970. If you are interested.

    Have a GREAT day

  4. Paula Hutson Simmons says:

    Loved this story. I too descend from Dr. Henry Woodward. I hope to visit Charleston in the spring 2011. Maybe we can meet then.

  5. Charlotte, you do know that I am EC McCants great, great grandson and that his dad, Elliott Lipscomb McCants my grandfather was the one who brought us to Edisto. My real name is Elliott McCants Skidmore


    • No, Bud! How cool is that? I love this little book he wrote and just discovered it by accident. Did he write more? Tell me more about him, Elliot McCants Skidmore!!

      • Sarah Darling-Jones says:

        I’m Elliott McCants great-great-granddaughter. My grandmother, Hazel McCants Crawford, was his granddaughter. My name is Sarah.

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Welcome to my blog about the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a place proud with beauty, history and art. Sometimes we feel a call, to be, to go, to do. I was called to be an artist, and as an old midwife from Alabama said, “If the good Lord wants you to do something, you won’t have no good luck until you do it.”

So here I am writing about what I know, about the 'under glimmer' as the poet Basho, says, the way I have learned to see, to notice. I am inspired by, and talking about the history and art and culture of this place that has called me to herself. By the ancestors.

My background includes a degree in fine arts from a small private college in Florida, and before that, four years of all girls' boarding school in Asheville. I worked as a professional photographer, helped my children grow up, and now and I love seasoned things, good food, better conversation, beauty, my beloved and beautiful Italian Greyhound, Beau. Moved by the sacred places and stories of this beautiful historic land called the Lowcountry, I am here in spirit and I hope to infect you with my love of this place.

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