One of my 1963 Bellevue High School classmates is among those classmates who are still in touch with each other via email and Facebook. She lives in Chicago. Recently, knowing I have moved to Charleston, she sent me this Smithsonian article on the history of Indigo in Charleston and how Indigo is grown and used in the Low Country today. It is a beautiful article.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) is credited with starting the indigo industry on her family’s Wappoo Plantation, sw of Charleston. At the time she was 18 years old and in charge of this plantation in her father’s absence. Here is a link to her fascinating history: https://www.nps.gov/chpi/learn/historyculture/eliza-lucas-pinckney.htm
Eliza’s father was the Lt. Gov. of Antigua, so she was born and raised on a Caribbean plantation. Her parents sent her to a boarding school in London, which was very unusual for a girl child. When she was 16, her father sent her mother and her sisters to Charleston, where the family owned three plantations. At some point, he also sent her Indigo seeds to plant. Eliza loved botany and was something of an expert.
Local Charlestonians ridiculed her attempts to get Indigo to grow as they knew Indigo did not do well in the region during the winter. Besides, rice was the main crop in the region. But she persevered, and the rest is history. Indigo became a big and lucrative export crop, having been adopted by many in the region after Eliza paved the ways of growing it.
Eliza was very close to Charles and Eliza Pinckney, and the Pinckneys were a prominent family. When Eliza Pinckney tragically died, Charles Pinckney, then 44 years to her 22, asked her to marry him. At that point, Eliza’s father had sent for the family to return to Antigua, and independent Eliza did not want to go.
Charles Pinckney (1699-1758) was the South Carolina Chief Justice. He and Eliza had 4 children, among them Charles Cotesworthy Pinckney, one of the Founders of the United States and a signer of the US Constitution, along with his first cousin, Charles Pinckney.
The Pinckney family held a prominent place for decades in South Carolina, both politically and culturally.
Here’s the wiki link to Eliza Pinckney–who was an unusual and very interesting woman.
I will be exploring more about Indigo in Charleston today and about the historical role of the Pinckney family.
2 thoughts on “Indigo: “The Blue That Enchanted the World””
You might also like the 1991 film by Julie Dash titled Daughters of the Dust and these two books by Robert Pinckney: Blue Roots, African-American Folk Magic of the Gullah People and
The Right Side of the River, romance, rage, and wonder.
Hi Louisa- I love indigo-dyed fabrics. I was saddened to learn recently of the ties between indigo and enslaved people. See: https://www.npr.org/2011/11/07/142094103/indigo-the-indelible-color-that-ruled-the-world#:~:text=The%20History%20of%20Indigo,-While%20indigo%20traces&text=%22It%20was%20used%20literally%20as,those%20of%20sugar%20and%20cotton . Best- jude