Eliza Lucas Enters The Perfect Storm (For Indigo That Is)

Eliza Lucas was born around 1722 in the West Indies and spent several years in school in England. Her father, Lt. Col. George Lucas, was in the British Army and was based on the island of Antigua.

Lt. Col. Lucas' father, John Lucas, had purchased property in the Charleston, South Carolina area around 1713, which consisted of a plantation on Wappoo Creek, a 1500 acre tract at Garden Hill on the Combahee River and rice growing lands along the Waccamaw River.

The rolling Waccamaw

The rolling Waccamaw

In 1738, Lt. Col. Lucas moved his invalid wife and two daughters, Eliza and Polly to the Wappoo plantation from Antigua thinking it would be healthier for his wife. A year after the move he was called back to Antigua because of the War of Jenkin's Ear and was appointed Lt. Governor of Antigua. During a battle in the Caribbean he was captured by the French and died in France on Jan. 11, 1747.

When he left South Carolina he put Eliza in charge of all three properties.

She was 16.

The events in 18th century world history played an important part in the cultivation of indigo in South Carolina. England was fighting with France and Spain and that resulted in the disruption of trade around the world. About the same time the quality of the indigo coming from the British plantations in Bengal, India became very poor and the market for rice in England and Europe bottomed out. This resulted in Britain looking for a source for indigo for their textile industry (which they couldn't buy from France or Spain because of trade embargoes), and the planters in the Lowcountry looking for another crop besides rice to grow to make money.

The young Eliza steps into the midst of this “perfect storm” with indigo.

After his return to Antigua, Eliza's father began sending her various seeds and plants to grow, always with the intention of a marketable crop, and in 1739 he sent her indigo seeds.

It took Eliza two to three years to have a successful crop as one was destroyed by an early frost and another by caterpillars. In 1744 she had a successful crop and the majority of that crop was saved for seed production. Eliza also had a hard time with the extraction process.

Sea Island Indigo

Sea Island Indigo

To help out with the indigo, her father sent her Nicholas Cromwell, an experienced dye maker, from the West Indies who sabotaged her first attempt at extraction. She felt it was because he realized the quality of her indigo would be competition for the West Indian indigo.

The next year he sent her Patrick Cromwell, another experienced dye maker and in 1744 he helped her have the first successful extraction of indigo. In that year Eliza began giving seeds to the other planters and the “indigo bonanza” began in the Lowcountry.

In May of 1744 Eliza married her neighbor, Charles Pinckney who was the first native born lawyer in the colony. He was 45 and she was 22.


Read part 1 of our story here: "Indigo: The Little Plant That Could"

To join our 3 day Sea Island Indigo retreat in September, register here.