Eliza Lucas Pinckney: South Carolina Botanist

Eliza Lucas was born in 1722 on the island of Antigua in the West Indies. She was sent to Europe for her education, but in 1739, returned and was put in charge of her father’s indigo plantation located “upon the Wappoo, a salt creek connecting the Ashley with the Stono, and only separated from the ocean by the long, sandy islands, James and Johns.”[1] Women in these days were normally given only domestic responsibilities, but Eliza’s father was compelled to stay in Antigua, and her mother was sickly.  Much of the information about Eliza and her exploits are preserved in her letters, some of which come from the correspondence between her and her father in which they went over plans and strategies about growing the indigo:  “the second great staple of South Carolina.” [2]

Eliza enjoyed gardening, even experimenting, and she was able to grow some indigo from seeds that her father sent from the West Indies after only a few tries. Mr. Lucas sent a man named Cromwell to aid his daughter in processing the plant for its dye. The man tried to deceive her when he realized the worth of the crop, but Eliza cleverly hired her own help in a Mr. Deveaux and learned simply by watching the process. Her father gave her the seed crop from the first successful planting, and she turned it over to her new husband, Colonel Charles Pinckney. Subsequent plantings were done by Pinckney and his friends. Before this time, France was supplying England with indigo at a high price, but as it spread from the hands of the Pinckneys to the enterprising planters, “it was estimated that this [money] might be saved by encouraging the cultivation of the plant in Carolina.”[3] Indigo in Carolina undercut the French West India suppliers: “Indigo proved more really beneficial to Carolina than the mines of Mexico or Peru were to Spain. In the year 1754 the export of indigo from the province amounted to 216,924 pounds, and shortly before the American Revolution to 1,107,660 pounds.”[4] The demand for indigo was replaced by cotton, but Eliza Lucas Pinckney is remembered for boosting the Carolina economy so much that the family wealth remains as a result to this day.

 


[1] Ravenel, Harriott Horry. Eliza Pinckney. Charles Scribner’s Sons:New York, 1896. 4

[2] Graydon, Nell S. Eliza of Wappoo A Tale of Indigo. The R.L. Bryan Company:Columbia, 1967. xiv

[3] Graydon, Eliza of Wappoo A Tale of Indigo, xvi.

[4] Graydon, Eliza of Wappoo A Tale of Indigo, xvii.

 

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