Sea Islanders - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities, After the Civil War and prior to the erosion of the land base, the islands supported a mixed economy of small farmers and fishermen who produced both for subsistence and for the urban markets of Savannah and Charleston. Infusions of cash were provided by the seasonal employment of men in off-island occupations such as commercial fishing, logging, and dock work. Outside employment was necessary for paying the all-important property taxes and for buying the staple foods of rice and grits, which were not produced on the islands. Fish, shellfish, game, garden vegetables, and domestic animals produced on the islands provided the rest of the diet. Industrial pollutants have seriously reduced marine resources (particularly the oyster and shrimp populations) and have placed severe limits on the ability of small, independent fishermen to meet subsistence needs. The identification of island men as "fishermen" or "rivermen," however, remains ideologically important. Full-time employment in the service economy, especially in the resort industry, has now become the major source of income.

Industrial Arts. A number of distinctive island crafts have recently become items of interest to tourists. The well-known coiled baskets, made of local materials like pine needles and sweet grass, are an especially popular art form for both domestic use and for sale. Some communities have become specialized in the production of distinctive foods and as destinations for urban excursion boats.

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