Eliza Lucas

Eliza Lucas

Eliza Lucas Pinckney (c. 1722–1793) was the first planter to introduce the cultivation and processing of indigo into South Carolina (and continental North America). It was an important cash crop of the colony. Pinckney was the first woman to be inducted into South Carolina's Business Hall of Fame.

Early life and education

Eliza Lucas was born in Antigua, the daughter of Lieut.-Colonel Lucas of the British Army and his wife. She had two younger brothers and a younger sister. As was typical of those who could afford it, the Lucas parents sent their children to London for schooling. Eliza and her brothers all attended school in London and boarded there. Eliza's favorite subject was botany.

Move to South Carolina and career

In about 1738, the Lucas family migrated from Antigua to South Carolina, where George Lucas bought several plantations. He was almost immediately recalled to Antigua.

After her father's departure, at age 16 Eliza Lucas undertook management of the plantation and achieved astonishing success. She imported silkworms in an effort to establish silk manufacturing in the colony. Silk cultivation and production had been a hope of colony proprietors, but the industry never fully developed. In addition, Lucas undertook the education of her younger sister and a few young black children.

Lucas spent most of her time working on cultivation and processing of indigo, with which she was somewhat familiar from the Caribbean. The fermentation and processing of the indigo in plastered pits was complex. The dye was important to 18th and early 19th textile manufacturing.

While Lucas had only a general idea of the process from what she had observed in the Caribbean, for years she directed experiments to develop productive methods for South Carolina conditions. She likely relied heavily on her African slaves' own knowledge of indigo processing which they had learned firsthand in Africa. Imported African slaves brought techniques for both indigo and rice cultivation and processing to the American and Caribbean colonies. They were instrumental in the successful production of both important cash crops. Indigo was used to dye textiles in the burgeoning manufacturing mills in England.

Marriage and family

In 1744 Eliza Lucas married Charles Pinckney, a chief justice of the South Carolina court. She was his second wife and several years younger than he. She bore three children: Harriott Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney.

Contemporary historians have often cited Eliza Pinckney as an example of republican motherhood in the years after the Revolutionary War. In fact she was less enthusiastic about American independence than were her two sons, who both became prominent Federalist politicians.

Fourteen years after her marriage, Lucas Pinckney was widowed when Charles died in 1758. At his death, Lucas Pinckney promptly took control of their plantation. She continued to direct the work of indigo cultivation and processing.

Honors and legacy

For her contributions to South Carolina's agriculture, Eliza Lucas Pinckney was the first woman to be inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame. In 1753 she presented the Princess of Wales with a dress made of silk produced from Lucas plantations.

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