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Indigo: Feeling Blue? Essay

2041 words - 9 pages

Eliza Lucas Pinckney
Eliza Lucas Pinckney was born in 1772, in Antigua to a British mother and father. At the age of sixteen Eliza and her family moved to South Carolina after her father inherited three plantations from her grandfather. In 1739, when a trade-motivated war with Spain, known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear, broke out, Eliza’s father, Lieutenant Colonel George Lucas, was forced to travel back to Antigua, leaving Eliza in charge of the plantations. Realizing that the fate of the family and the Charleston plantation that they lived on rested on her shoulders, Eliza was determined to cultivate a successful cash crop in order to pull the plantation out of debt.
In a letter dated ...view middle of the document...

Her efforts interested other Carolina planters, who increasingly, adopted indigo as a cash crop. As more and more planters ventured into indigo production, technical knowledge of the plant culture and dye making became widespread.” 3

This statement shows that the success of indigo as a cash crop is generally accredited to Eliza Lucas Pinckney and her ingenuity and determination to provide for her family in her father’s absence.

Slave Labor in Reference to South Carolina Indigo Cultivation and Production
“Slavery was central to the economic development of South Carolina in the eighteenth century. Slaves were a majority of the population and labor force for much of the century, and made up close to half of the personal wealth recorded in probate inventories in most decades.”4
Slaves were not only brought to South Carolina to work on the plantations. Charles Town (present-day Charleston) was a major entrepôt for slaves during the time of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and over 40 percent of all slaves that arrived in North America travelled through Charleston Harbor.5 The slaves brought to Charles Town mostly came from West and West Central Africa. Many Africans were sold to plantation owners to work on their rice, indigo, or even rice-indigo hybrid plantations. It was common to see advertisements regarding the sale of Africans, such as this one,
“Public Auction, On Tuesday next, the 28th of October, Before our Store, No. 1, Scott’s Wharf, 3 likely Negro Fellows, 2 ditto ditto Wenches, 4 ditto ditto Children. The Conditions of the Sale are, one-fourth Cash, and the remainder on the 15th of January, 1784. Jacob Milligan, & Co.”6

This advertisement displays the matter-of-fact way that the sale of human beings in South Carolina was conducted on an every day basis. It is very likely that the slaves mentioned in this advertisement were sold to a planter that owned an indigo plantation.
The economic success of South Carolina depended on slave labor, because slave labor is what produced the cash crops, specifically indigo. Slaves were in high demand in South Carolina, because they cultivated and produced the indigo, from the seed to the cake of dye. As Mancall, Rosenbloom, and Weiss stated, “Staple agricultural production dominated South Carolina’s commercial agricultural activities and was the major employer of slave labor throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.” 7 The cultivation of indigo was intense and year-round, requiring a substantial amount of slaves. This labor intensive crop had numerous stages of cultivation and production, and required slaves for each one of the stages.
Beginning in December the soil would be prepared for the planting of the indigo seeds, by “using slaves to clear the land of brush, trash, and trees.”8 The slaves would normally plant the seeds in April, which would allow the growing season to run until August or September. “During this five-month period, planters could count on two...

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