Rice planter, author. Pringle was born on May 29, 1845, on Pawleys Island at her family’s summer home at Canaan Seashore. Her parents were Robert Francis Withers Allston and Adele Petigru. Her father, a state legislator and governor, owned 630 slaves and more than fourteen hundred acres planted in rice or covered by timber. The Allstons’ home, Chicora Wood, was by the Pee Dee River near Georgetown. A governess tutored Pringle until she was nine, when she was sent to Madame Acelie Togno’s Charleston boarding school.
The Civil War disrupted Pringle’s education. She sought shelter in various places. After her father died in 1864, Pringle endured economic hardships because he had mortgaged most of his possessions. She taught in a Charleston boarding school her mother established until her dower’s rights to Chicora Wood were legally recognized and the Allston family members were reinstated in their home. She married her neighbor John Julius Pringle on April 26, 1870, and they lived at nearby White House. The couple’s only son died as an infant. In 1876 Pringle’s husband succumbed to malaria.
By 1880 Pringle was able to buy her home and fields from her husband’s family, and she later acquired Chicora Wood after her mother’s death in 1896. Pringle relied on her land yielding profitable rice crops to pay her mortgages and taxes. She wanted her family to regain its prestige and affluence lost during the Civil War, and she persevered to overcome obstacles in the patriarchal society. Her brother and other men questioned Pringle’s ability because she lacked agricultural experience. With minimal assistance from family and friends, Pringle oversaw both farms, utilized scientific agriculture methods, and decided to plant fruits such as peaches and rent property to hunters to supplement her income. She refused to sell her land.
Desperate because rice production in the lowcountry faced decreased profits, Pringle convinced the New York Sun editor to buy weekly articles she wrote about being a female rice-plantation owner. Under the pseudonym “Patience Pennington,” Pringle’s essays were printed from 1904 to 1907. In 1913 her articles were collected in a single volume, A Woman Rice Planter. Pringle edited her previous pieces to resemble a diary, with vignettes that describe plantation life from a sentimental, aristocratic point of view that is often patronizing and racist. She included insightful details about African American folklife, white-black relationships, and racial attitudes. As the book’s narrator, Pringle subtly criticizes contemporary popular opinion that southern women should be passive.
Pringle’s best-selling book eased her financial worries. By 1920 she began writing another book to tell about her childhood and how women fared during the Civil War and Reconstruction. She died on December 5, 1921, at her family home and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery. Her manuscript was published posthumously the next year. Like her first book, Chronicles of Chicora Wood depicts an aristocratic view; the book gives the impression that white southerners heroically endured traumatic social changes and, incorrectly, assumes that slaves enjoyed their servitude. In 1994 Pringle was posthumously inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors.
Blythe, Anne Montague. “Elizabeth Allston Pringle’s ‘The Woman Rice Planter’: The New York Sun Letters, 1903–1912.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1987.
Pringle, Elizabeth Allston. Chronicles of Chicora Wood. New York: Scribner’s, 1922.