Saturday, August 04, 2012

South Carolina's Earliest Barbecue?

During my research for Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, I pored over countless journals and newspapers and other sources, but I was never able to find a single mention of a barbecue being held in Charleston in the colonial era. And that really surprised me, especially since I turned up a good account of a "barbacue house" and the carousing that went on there just down the coast in Beaufort. It's hard to prove a negative, but eventually I had to conclude that, "Though it was firmly entrenched in the daily life of Virginia planters, barbecue does not seem to have played a significant part in the Lowcountry plantation culture of Charleston, South Carolina."

Now, ironically, while engaged in a completely different line of research (seeking out recipes for rum toddy in the colonial South), I have stumbled across a barbecue reference in Charleston--and very early on, too. It's in an imitation of Horace that was published in London's Gentleman Magazine in 1753, and it was written by one "C.W." residing in Charles Town, South Carolina.

The writer is reveling in the spring, the time at the end of the Charleston season when the planters were wrapping up their business in town and preparing to head back to their rice plantations to begin a new growing year. But first, the poet implored, they should should enjoy themselves a little:
Let's each hold a gen'rous barbicu feast,
And with toddy and punch drink rich wine of the best.
So, perhaps barbecue did have a role in colonial Charleston's social life after all.

The full poem is below:

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