Planter, matriarch. Born on December 28, ca. 1722, in the West Indies, probably Antigua, Eliza was the oldest of four children of George Lucas and Anne Milldrum. Her father was a sugar baron of fluctuating fortune who later served that island in its military forces and as lieutenant governor. At an early age, Eliza was sent from the remote plantation there to attend school in London. After she briefly rejoined her family in Antigua, they moved to the Lucas family’s property on Wappoo Creek near Charleston. When George Lucas returned to the West Indies in 1739, Eliza was left in charge of the Wappoo plantation.
With the world rice market declining and Britain’s New World supply sources disrupted by wars with Spain and France, George Lucas, from Antigua, sent his daughter a variety of seeds from the West Indies, hoping that Wappoo would provide a profitable crop. In the case of indigo, fresh seed of a desirable type was essential. In 1740 young Eliza wrote her father that she “had greater hopes from the Indigo (if I could have the seed earlier next year from the West India’s) than any of the rest of the things I had tryd.” George Lucas sent Nicolas Cromwell, an experienced dye maker from Montserrat, to South Carolina to construct an indigo “works” at Wappoo. In the fifth year of experimentation, the plantation could make use of its own seed supply and produced a crop worthy of marketing. “We please ourselves,” Eliza wrote her father, “with the prospect of exporting in a few years a good quantity from home and supplying the Mother Country with a manufacture for which she is now supplied from the French Colony and many thousand pounds pr annum thereby lost to the nation which she might be as well supplied here if the matter was applied to in earnest.” The six pounds of the finished dyestuff were sent to England “to try how tis approved there.” A London broker “tried it against some of the best french, and in his opinion it is as good.”
Indigo had been considered to be a potentially valuable crop for Carolina since the earliest colonizing, and stands of it were regularly included on many plantations. In the 1740s Eliza was the link in demonstrating that Carolina could produce a superior type. Her efforts were instrumental in alerting other planters to greater profitability, and she gave away indigo seeds “in small quantities to a great number of people” in the area. By July 1744 she was able to write to her father of “the prospect of exporting in a few years a good quantity from hence and supplying our mother country with a manufacture for which she has so great a demand.”
On May 27, 1744, Eliza Lucas married Charles Pinckney, a widowed Charleston attorney and member of the Royal Council twenty-four years her senior. The Pinckneys settled into his Belmont plantation near Charleston on the Cooper River. During the next five years Eliza had four children, including the future soldier, diplomat, and Federalist Party leader Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and the future governor, diplomat, and congressman Thomas Pinckney. At Belmont, Eliza experimented with silk culture, producing in her “factory” enough thread to be woven later in England into three different patterns.
In 1753 the Pinckneys moved to London, where Charles represented South Carolina at the Board of Trade and the boys could be established in suitable schools. Leaving the two boys enrolled in schools there, the Pinckneys returned to Charleston in May 1758. When Charles died of malaria on July 12, Eliza readjusted to the role of directing plantations and spent increasingly more time with her daughter Harriott Horry’s family at Hampton Plantation on the Santee River. Both sons returned from England in time to take up arms against the mother country. Eliza rode out the Revolutionary War at Charleston, Belmont, and Hampton. During the final stresses of British occupation, she wrote to an English friend, “I have been rob[b]ed and deserted by my slaves; my property pulled to pieces, burnt and destroyed; my money of no value, my Children sick and prisoners.” But with victory, the fortunes of the area were reversed. Eliza Pinckney died on May 26, 1793, in Philadelphia, where she had gone for cancer treatments. She was buried in St. Peter’s Churchyard, Philadelphia.
Coon, David L. “Eliza Lucas Pinckney and the Reintroduction of Indigo Culture in South Carolina.” Journal of Southern History 42 (February 1976): 61–76.
Pinckney, Elise. “The World of Eliza Lucas Pinckney.” Carologue 13 (spring 1997): 8–12.
Pinckney, Eliza Lucas. The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739–1762. 1972. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
Ramagosa, Carol Walter. “Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s Family in Antigua, 1668–1747.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 99 (July 1998): 238–58.
Treckel, Paula A. “Eliza Lucas Pinckney: ‘Dutiful, Affectionate, and Obedient Daughter.’” In Developing Dixie: Modernization in a Traditional Society, edited by Winfred B. Moore, Jr., Joseph F. Tripp, and Lyon G. Tyler, Jr. New York: Greenwood, 1988.
Williams, Frances Leigh. A Founding Family: The Pinckneys of South Carolina. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.
Williams, Harriet Simons. “Eliza Lucas and Her Family: Before the Letterbook.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 99 (July 1998): 259–79.