As a teen, Eliza Lucas Pinckney was a model English lady in many ways. She spoke French, played music, and had a garden, but she was also a determined young woman who sought to pull her family’s plantation out of debt nearly single-handedly.
Born in 1722 in Antigua, she was sent to London for her education, where she discovered her love of botany. In 1738, her family moved to South Carolina, as her father had inherited three plantations from his father. Shortly after they moved, Eliza’s mother died, and not long after that, her father was called back into service in Antigua. At the age of 16, Eliza became responsible for both the care of her siblings and managing her family’s plantations. She and her father regularly corresponded, and he sent her seeds for potential cultivation. Committed to keeping the plantation going and supporting her family, Eliza settled on indigo as the cash crop she needed, as the textile industry was growing and would need dye. After three years of trying, she successfully grew and processed indigo, proving that it could be cultivated in South Carolina.
Eliza changed the face of agriculture in South Carolina. Because of her determination, Eliza not only saved her own plantations, but also shared seeds with other planters, and indigo became the second largest crop to be grown in South Carolina. Her actions created a new trade commodity for the colony, and even had a worldwide impact (the amount of dye exported grew from 5,000 pounds in 1745-46 to 130,000 pounds in 1748).
Additionally, Eliza was a patriot and the mother of a signer of the U.S. Constitution and a Minister to Spain. She never gave up her love of botany, though.