Eliza Lucas Pinckney brooch, Charleston Museum
There are no known images of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, but here is a picture of a piece of her jewelry. It gives you a sense of the elite, wealthy class that she occupied. To put another way — this jewel-encrusted brooch gives you a sense of what slave labor could buy. So great was the hunger for the wealth produced by slaves in Charleston in the 1740’s, that the slave traders could barely keep up with demand (they got rich, too, by the way). In those days, as rice cultivation got underway and markets were favorable, Carolina was known for its ‘easy wealth’ — which is a little like Thomas Jefferson asserting that the harder he worked, the luckier he got!!
photo of photo from Charleston Museum of Charleston Harbor
Yesterday, I came across a fantastic web page about Eliza Lucas Pinckney, located on the Clemson University website. There is even a picture of one of her descendants! And one of her garments. The page focuses on indigo, the slave contribution to the science and success of the commodity, and reveals some details about ELP’s slaves that I had yet to come across in my research. This is exciting.
Two books also came to my attention yesterday.
Two of my readers recommended the book by Patricia Klindienst called, “The Earth Knows My Name. Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans.” It looks fascinating, and I know from what reader Jacqui Holmes shared with me in an email yesterday, that it includes some specifics about Eliza’s experiences with indigo (none of which was news to me, however).
The other book I’ve already ordered. It’s by Andrea Feeser and called “Red, White, and Black Make Blue. Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life.”*
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On another note, I did a quick run up to Salem this morning. It was a good visit and traffic was a breeze, but I always come home a little spent and so I really ought to walk away from the screen right now, drink water, put on a fan, and sew for a while, just to collect myself. But I can’t help but going off, first, on a mini-rant.
My sister tried to convince me that Irish immigrants had it just as bad as African slaves.
No, no, and No!! I answered back.
My ancestors were reviled, yes, faced prejudice and economic hardship, yes… and what the English did to the Irish during the potato famine surely constituted genocide. But! So many differences. Even, knowing, as I do, how terribly the Irish were treated in the South in the mid-eighteenth century (in many cases, by the way, by the same landowners who were abusing and exploiting their slaves). Even having read letters by Southern mistresses asserting that they’d prefer ‘a lazy Negro to a slovenly Irish girl, any day of the week’. Even having read that sometimes Southern landowners employed the Irish for brutally exhausting labors specifically to avoid working AN ASSET (i.e. an African American bondsman) to death. Even learning, as I did yesterday, that Catholicism was outlawed in the colony in this period. Not the same at all. Just as one tiny example — being ripped off during indenture cannot possibly be considered comparable to being dehumanized into a piece of property.
Again (again!), I named the recent Atlantic article, “The Case for Reparations” (by Ta-Nehisi Coates) (I am thinking of making my boys’ second term tuitions contingent on reading this article). You could not possibly read that article and believe for a shred of a second that blacks and certain white immigrant groups got the same kind or degree of raw deals.
And speaking of being descended from Irish immigrants, two of whom were not here during the 250 years of slavery, Ta-Nehisi Coates specifically condemns taking the view that because our particular ancestors were not here during the ignominious slave years of American history, we are somehow exempt. We are not. Half my family tree was probably near-to starving in County Cork in the antebellum years. I am not exempt. My paternal great-grandfather fought for the Union. I am not exempt. As an American, how could I be?!
(I just ordered Coates’s memoir, too) (Whooa — big time spender here. ANOTHER reason to walk away from the screen).
* Book cover image used with permission of Clemson University