The early Lucas’s in the Caribbean – John, a planter in Antigua, and Thomas, a merchant in St. Kitts – were believed to be related to the Royalist Lucas’s of Shenfield. When the King was defeated by Cromwell and his troops, many Royalists left England for this Caribbean fringe of Empire.
John Lucas had arrived in Antigua by the early 1680’s and was elected Speaker of the Antigua Assembly in 1695. His son George was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the colony in 1737.
At around that time, George had decided to relocate his family from Antigua to South Carolina where he had inherited three plantations from his father. Unable to leave Antigua, he left his daughter Eliza in charge of affairs in South Carolina. She was just 16 years of age at the time. She would record all her decisions and experiments at the plantations by copying her letters in a letter book. This letter book is one of the most impressive collections of personal writings of an 18th century American woman and gives much insight into her mind and society at that time.
From Antigua, her father would send Eliza various types of seeds for trial on the plantations. They and other planters were eager to find crops for the uplands that could supplement their cultivation of rice. First, she experimented with ginger, cotton, and alfalfa. Starting in 1739, she began experimenting with cultivating and improving the strains of the indigo plant, for which the growing market in textiles created a demand.
After three long years of persistence and many failed attempts, Eliza finally proved that 0he indigo dye could be successfully grown and processed in South Carolina.
After her marriage to lawyer Charles Pinckney in 1744, she revived the cultivation of silkworms and manufacture of silk on his plantation. Widowed at a young age, she continued to manage her extensive landholdings until her death in 1793. President George Washington was a pallbearer at her funeral. The signature of one of her sons, Charles Pinckney, is among those affixed to the U.S. Constitution. He was also a Federalist Presidential candidate. Her other son, Thomas, served as Governor of South Carolina and also as Ambassador to Britain.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney (December 28, 1722–1793) changed agriculture in colonial South Carolina, where she developed indigo as one of its most important cash crops. Its cultivation and processing as dye produced one-third the total value of the colony's exports before the Revolutionary War. Manager of three plantations at age 16, Pinckney had a major influence on the colonial economy. She was the first woman to be inducted into South Carolina's Business Hall of Fame.
Early life and education
Elizabeth (known as Eliza) Lucas was born on December 28, 1722, in Antigua, British West Indies, where she grew up at Cabbage Tree, one of her family's three sugar plantations on the island. She was the eldest child of Lieut.-Colonel George Lucas, of Dalzell's Regiment of Foot in the British Army, and his wife Ann (probably Mildrum) Lucas. She had two brothers, Thomas and George, and a younger sister Mary (known to her family as Polly). Col. and Mrs. Lucas sent all their children to London for schooling. It was customary for elite colonists to send boys to England for their education when they might be as young as 8 or 9. Girls would not be sent until their mid teens when nearing marriageable age. During this period, many parents believed that girls' futures of being wives and mothers made education in more than "the three "R"s" and social accomplishments less necessary.
But Eliza's ability was recognized. She treasured her education at boarding school, where studies included French and music, but she said her favorite subject was botany. She wrote to her father that she felt her “education, which [she] esteems a more valuable fortune than any [he] could have given [her], … Will make me happy through my future life.”
Move to South Carolina and career
In 1738, the year Eliza would turn 16, Col. Lucas moved his family from Antigua to South Carolina, where he had inherited three plantations from his father. With tensions increasing between Spain and England, he believed his family would be safer in Carolina than on the tiny, exposed island in the West Indies. Eliza's grandfather, John Lucas, had acquired three tracts of land: Garden Hill on the Combahee River (1,500 acres), another 3,000 acres on the Waccamaw River, and Wappoo Plantation (600 acres) on Wappoo Creek—a tidal creek that connected the Ashley and Stono Rivers. They chose to reside at Wappoo, which was 17 miles by land to Charleston (then known as Charles Town) and six miles by river.
In 1739, Col. Lucas had to return to his post in Antigua to deal with the political conflict between England and Spain. He was appointed lieutenant governor of the island. England’s involvement in the War of the Austrian Succession thwarted his attempts to move back to South Carolina with his family. Eliza’s letters to him show that she regarded her father with great respect and deep affection, and demonstrated that she acted as head of the family in terms of managing the plantations. Her mother died in Antigua on October 25, 1759. Eliza's letters
Eliza was 16 years old when she became responsible for managing Wappoo Plantation and its 20 slaves, plus supervising overseers at two other Lucas plantations, one inland producing tar and timber, and a 3,000 acres (12 km2) rice plantation on the Waccamaw River. In addition she supervised care for her young sister, as their two brothers were still in school in London. As was customary, she recorded her decisions and experiments by copying letters in a letter book. This letter book is one of the most impressive collections of personal writings of an eighteenth-century American woman, and gives insight into her mind and society.
From Antigua, Col. Lucas sent Eliza various types of seeds for trial on the plantations. They and other planters were eager to find crops for the uplands that could supplement their cultivation of rice. First, she experimented with ginger, cotton, and alfalfa. Starting in 1739, she began experimenting with cultivating and improving strains of the indigo plant, for which the growing market in textiles created demand for its dye. When Col. Lucas sent Eliza indigo seeds in 1740, she expressed her “greater hopes” for them, as she intended to plant them earlier in the season. In experimenting with growing indigo in new climate and soil, Lucas also depended on the knowledge and skills of enslaved Africans who had grown indigo in the West Indies and West Africa.
After three years of persistence and many failed attempts, Eliza proved that indigo could be successfully grown and processed in South Carolina. While she had first worked with an indigo processing expert from Montserrat, she was most successful in processing dye with the expertise of a black indigo-maker of African descent whom her father hired from the French West Indies.
Eliza used her 1744 crop to make seed and shared it with other planters, leading to an expansion in indigo production. She proved that colonial planters could make a profit in an extremely competitive market. Due to her successes, the volume of indigo dye exported increased dramatically from 5,000 pounds in 1745-46, to 130,000 pounds by 1748. Indigo became second only to rice as the South Carolina colony's commodity cash crop, and contributed greatly to the wealth of its planters. Before the Revolutionary War, indigo accounted for more than one-third of the total value of exports from the colony.
Marriage and family
Eliza and Charles Pinckney, a planter on a neighbouring plantation, became attached after the death of his first wife. Eliza had been very close to the couple before his wife's death. They were married on May 25, 1744. She was 20 and took her family responsibilities seriously, vowing
“to make a good wife to my dear Husband in all its several branches; to make all my actions Correspond with that sincere love and Duty I bear him… I am resolved to be a good mother to my children, to pray for them, to set them good examples, to give them good advice, to be careful both of their souls and bodies, to watch over their tender minds.”
Mr. Pinckney had studied law in England, and had become a politically active leader in the colony. He was South Carolina’s first native-born attorney, and served as advocate general of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, justice of the peace for Berkeley County, and attorney general. He was elected as a member of the Commons House of Assembly and Speaker of that body intermittently from 1736–1740, and he was a member of the Royal Provincial Council. Eliza was unlike many women of her time, as she was educated, independent, and accomplished. When the Pinckney’s lived in Charleston, Eliza was soon planting oaks and magnolias at their mansion overlooking the bay, and corresponding regularly with major British botanists.
Eliza soon gave birth to three sons and a daughter: Charles Cotesworth, George Lucas, Thomas, and Harriott Pinckney (born third). George Lucas Pinckney, her father's namesake, died soon after birth in June 1747. In 1753 the family moved to London for five years.
Shortly after their return in 1758 to South Carolina, Charles Pinckney contracted malaria and died. Widowed, Eliza continued to manage their extensive plantations, in addition to the Lucas holdings. Most of her agricultural experiments took place before this time.
The surviving Pinckney sons became influential leaders. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney was a signer of the U.S. Constitution and was the Federalist Vice-Presidential candidate in 1800. In 1804 and 1808, he was the Federalist candidate for President. Thomas was appointed Minister to Spain, where he negotiated Pinckney's Treaty in 1795 to guarantee US navigation rights on the Mississippi River to New Orleans. He was the Federalist Vice-Presidential candidate in 1796.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney died in 1793.
At the end of the 17th century, Antiguan political opponents of Eliza's grandfather, John Lucas, believed that the Lucas family had powerful influence in London through Henry Grey (1664–1740), later Duke of Kent, a senior member of Queen Anne's government; and Robert Lucas, 3rd Lord Lucas (1649–1705), then governor of the Tower of London. There is documentary evidence that the family used this influence. The West India merchant Thomas Lucas (c.1720–1784) and his business partner William Coleman were prominent. But, no researcher has documented a blood relationship between any of them and the Antigua and South Carolina family.
Honours and legacy