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South Carolina – History of South Carolina Tea Farms

SC SC State Symbols SC State Hospitality Beverage: Tea History of SC Tea Farms

Also see: SC Tea Rooms | South Carolina Tea: Steeped in History

Tea is South Carolina's Official Hospitality Beverage. It came to the United States in 1799 – by way of a French botanist named Francois Andre Michaux, who planted it near Charleston at Middleton Barony (today known as Middleton Place).

By 1848, tea plants were being grown the state over – including Greenville County, where Dr. Junius Smith attempted to produce it commercially on his plantation, Golden Grove. Smith's attempt was successful, but it ended abruptly when he was shot to death in 1853.

South Carolina's second attempt to grow tea commercially came in 1874, but it too was doomed. Dr. Alexis Forster planted a crop on his Georgetown plantation, Friendfield. Just a few years later, however, he was killed when his buggy flipped over as he attempted to flee a group of bandits.

About a decade after Dr. Forester's death, in 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation near the site of Michaux's original planting, in Summerville, South Carolina. A variety of tea known as Oolong was Pinehurst's claim to fame, and it even won first prize at the 1904 World's Fair. Sadly, like its predecessors, Pinehurst remained prosperous only until the death of its owner, in 1915.

The tea growing at Pinehurst was important however, as it allowed for the creation of the American Tea Growing Company – South Carolina's fourth attempt to grow tea commercially – and its fourth failure.

Early in the 1900s, two men named Major Roswell Trimble and Colonel Augustus C. Tyler transplanted thousands of Pinehurst's tea bushes, carrying them from Summerville to Rantowles, relatively nearby in South Carolina's Lowcountry. Some sources say their venture's ill fate grew from a quarrel between Trimble and Tyler's son. Others say that it was caused by yet another death – Colonel Tyler's in 1903 – and the repeal of the Spanish-American War import tax of ten cents a pound on tea. In either case, by 1907 the company had dissolved.

Much later, in 1963, the Thomas J. Lipton company established a research station on Wadmalaw Island. It too incorporated plants from Pinehurst. The research station operated for 25 years and – at long last – proved that a high-quality tea could indeed be grown commercially in South Carolina.

In 1987, Mack Fleming, a manager at Lipton, and his partner Bill Hall, a third-generation tea taster trained in England, purchased the 127-acre tea farm in order to create the Charleston Tea Plantation. Together, they created the brand known as American Classic Tea, which is still blended today. Their partnership dissolved however, and in 2003 the property ended up at auction where it would most likely have fallen into the hands of developers.

At this juncture, Hall joined forces with R. C. Bigelow, the Conneticut-based company well-known in almost every American grocery store, to buy back the farm. The company continues to grow and sell Fleming and Hall's original blend, American Classic Tea, and it remains the only black tea produced commercially in the United States.

This information was consolidated from an article by Cynthia Price entitled Charleston's Tea Party and from Max Tillberg's web site, The Way of Tea, which is no longer available in English.


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