North Carolina Tar Heels hail from the land of tar. Nebraska Corn-Huskers can shuck twenty ears a minute. New Mexico Cactus-Thumpers are famous for their bleeding fingers. But what about the South Carolina Sandlappers? How the hell did citizens of the Palmetto State earn this illustrious nickname?
When I was a sunburned redneck child, my social studies teacher Miss Videlia Coonpone would begin each morning by leading our class in song:
We are good Sandlappers,
Yes, we’re good Sandlappers,
And we’re mighty proud to say
That we live
Yes, we live
In the very best state
Of the USA!
Bursting with pride, we sang our little lungs out, having no earthly idea what a Sandlapper was, even though Miss Coonpone often passed around copies of Sandlapper Magazine, in which she herself had published an article on shagging, the official state “dance” of South Carolina.
As I romantic fifth grader I fancied that the term referred to the gentle lap of the Atlantic against our coastline, that sandy paradise stretching from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head. But when Miss Coonpone gave a lecture on the Sandhills, that infernally hot area in the Midlands that separates the Piedmont from the coastal plain, I assumed that the term Sandlapper celebrated this strip of beach-turned-desert. After all, when George Washington swept through South Carolina in 1781, he described our state’s midsection as “the most miserable pine barren [he] ever saw, being quite a white sand, & very hilly.” When Washington called our noble rustic denizens “Sandlappers,” perhaps the name, bursting forth from the lungs of this demigod, stuck.
Alas, the origin of our nickname is far more wretched than this. Here’s the dirt on Sandlappers:
Due to their mineral-deficient diet, impoverished Colonial-era South Carolinians ate mud. Just as pregnant women suffering from “pica” have been known to gorge on pickles and ice-cream or suck rusty nails, early Sandlappers not only devoured dirt, but took so much pride in their diet that they wrote a joyous ditty about it. When Yanks called us “Carolina Clay Eaters,” they weren’t just mudslinging; they were describing a cuisine that has been documented by scientists and historians as “geophagia,” which literally means “earth-gobbling.”
Of course early physicians, ashamed of this dietary quirk, blamed the slaves, dubbing the condition cachexia Africanus, which means “weird African wasting disease.” Plantation owners of the area claimed that soil-scarfing slaves became lazy good-for-nothings who withered away and eventually bit the dust. To keep their vassals from munching muck, they fitted them with muzzles—for their own good, of course!
As a proud Sandlapper, I’d like to conclude with a family recipe passed down through my Daddy’s maternal side.
Carolina Mud Pie
1 cup Pawley’s Island sand
2 cups Lynchburg Dirt (aka the “official state soil” of South Carolina)
½ cup Piedmont clay, softened
2 packages of Piggly Wiggly instant chocolate pudding
1 cup water from Hell Hole Swamp (Berkeley Country)
1 tsp salt-of-the-earth
Press sand into a 9 X 13 greased dish. Mix remaining ingredients with an old rusty spoon. Pour into pie shell. Set in the afternoon sun to bake.
–Posted by Possum