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A Respected South Carolina Lady

Eliza
Lucas Pinckney 1722-1793

     During the 18th Century, a
woman’s role in society was to be a wife and mother. There were a few women
that found their place in South Carolina history in a different way than
homemaker.

      Eliza Lucas was born on December 28, 1722
to Anne and Colonel George Lucas in Antigua, British West Indies. She
was the oldest. As was society’s way, her brothers were sent to London for
their education. But Eliza and her sister Polly were not left out; they also
received an English education, which was unusual. Eliza enjoyed music and
French, but she fell in love with botany.

     Because Colonel Lucas inherited three
plantations from his father in the Lowcountry, the family moved to South
Carolina in 1738. He was called back to Antiqua the following year, and Eliza
became the head of the household in her father’s stead. She sought his advice,
while at the same time reading through his library. Agriculture was her prime
interest.

     At age 17, Eliza was running the family’s
plantations, taking care of her ailing mother, teaching her younger sister, and
starting a new venture with indigo seeds sent by her father.

     Success wasn’t immediate. A rare
Charleston frost killed the first crop, and worms ate up the second. The third
year was promising, but a dishonest employee betrayed her. On the fourth year,
seventeen pounds of indigo were exported to England, and Eliza changed the
economy in South Carolina. She didn’t give up, and her determination to
keep-on-keeping-on is an example to all of us.

     Eliza’s father died in 1747, but she
continued with her new business. Historian Edward McCrady wrote, “Indigo proved
more really beneficial to Carolina than the mines of Mexico or Peru were to
Spain….The source of this great wealth…was a result of an experiment by a mere
girl.” (Perhaps you will agree with me that Eliza Lucas was hardly a mere
girl!)

     But it wasn’t all work for Eliza.
Charleston society beckoned her, and she became close friends with Charles and
Elizabeth Pinckney. Elizabeth thought of Eliza as a daughter, and the
relationship was warm. Because Charles Pinckney traveled so much, Eliza became
a regular visitor at the home. To no avail, Elizabeth fought a year-long battle
with illness and left Charles a widower at 45. Charles asked Eliza to marry
him, and the ceremony took place on May 27, 1744.

         Eliza Pinckney enjoyed
her new life and home at Belmont Plantation. She spent many days planting
magnolias and oaks. She continued her experiments with hemp and flax and
revived the silk industry in the Lowcountry.

     Even though the land and agriculture
appeared to call her by name, Eliza and Charles had three sons and one
daughter, and her devotion to her husband and family was the major calling on
her life. She believed what the Bible said about a woman’s influence in the
home.

     The Pinckney’s left South Carolina in 1753
for five years in England. Eliza took a gift to the Princess of Wales. It was a
handspun silk dress that Eliza had made.

     Unfortunately within months of their
return home, Charles died of malaria. Eliza grieved, but she continued to keep
busy. She wrote frequently to her sons at school in England and her new English
friends. She enjoyed visiting with her friends in Charlestown, also. Harriott
married, and soon Eliza became a grandmother with all its privileges.

     With war with England pending, C.C and
Thomas came home in 1769, and the whole family pledged its support to the
American Revolution. Eliza unselfishly gave to the cause, and the British
repaid in kind by destroying her property. Both Eliza and Harriott acted as
spies for General Francis Marion throughout the war.

     After the war, Eliza went permanently to
live with her daughter. She had the opportunity to influence her four grandchildren.
In 1791, mother and daughter entertained President George Washington with their
Southern hospitality. And when Eliza Lucas Pinckney died in 1793, President
Washington returned their graciousness by offering to be a pallbearer at
Eliza’s funeral.

     We can learn much from the life of Eliza
Pinckney. She was a determined woman who followed her dreams, and that
beautiful blue of our flag reminds us of her. This woman of substance had
visions far beyond her years or her time, and we are the benefactors. Her
influence was finally noted in 1989 when she was inducted as the first woman
into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame.

    The Charleston
City Gazette
wrote in her obituary, “Her manners had been so refined by a
long and intimate acquaintance with the polite world, her countenance was so
dignified by serious contemplation and devout reflection…that it was scarcely
[possible] to behold her without emotions of the highest veneration and
respect.”

     Thank you, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, for your
sterling example. We salute you!

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