Great Female Inventors

Eliza Lucas Pinckney

Eliza Lucas PinckneyWhile many of the great female inventors were born into a poverty which compels them to overcomes struggles through their creativeness, Eliza Pinckney was instead a a Southern Belle, the daughter of a prominent Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army. Rather than follow with southern tradition, a spirited Elizabeth made her mark on southern society and southern agricultural industry. Her dyes were an important agricultural development, used in the homes in the South, apartments for rent in the North and the public houses of the day.

Elizabeth (Eliza) Lucas Pinkney was born in Antigua in the West Indies in 1722 and would be the oldest of four children. She was provided a formal education in a finishing school in England when she was young. Her father, George Lucas, moved the family to the British colony of South Carolina in 1738, hoping the climate would be more suited to the health needs of Elizabeth's mother. George bought several plantations near Charleston, one with 600 acres of land near Wappoo Creek and the other a 1,500 acre parcel at Garden Hill. Despite the move, her mother died soon after their arrival in South Carolina. Eliza was a curious child and was encouraged by her father to learn, having full access to his library.

She mastered the writings of Milton, Virgil, Plutarch and John Locke, spoke French and learned to play the flute. She even tutored a few of the slave children on their property, hoping they would later teach other slave children and soon thereafter, her father was recalled to his post in Antigua (where he would eventually become the Governor). To the bewilderment of some, he left the plantation, the children and around 20 slaves in the hands of the 17 year old Eliza.

In addition to managing the affairs and the running of the plantations, George, in his letters, encouraged his daughter to look into different types of crops which might be exported outside of the state. Eliza, with natural curiosity in botany considered the indigo plant as one of these crops. Indigo (Indigofera), was a valuable plant throughout the West Indies and they were brought to South Carolina but met with very limited success. The plant was used to create a natural blue dye which was rare at that time and as Eliza and her father conversed, they agreed to try to raise it as a crop on their plantation. George sent seeds of the plant to his daughter and she looked for ways to make it grow in the climate and soil of South Carolina. Aided by the plantation's slaves, many of whom had experience with plant in their native land, Eliza began cultivating the plant and developing new strain in 1739. The plant was highly prized in the developing textile industry in England and because of the difficulty in producing it, they were forced to buy it grudgingly from France. Figuring out how to grow the plant would allow England to rely less on France and would allow South Carolina to create a new staple crop.

After successful developing a strain of the plant that grew well in South Carolina, Eliza now needed help in finding a way to produce the dye in the form of cakes that could be shipped to England. Her father dispatched Nicholas Cromwell, a professional dye-maker from the British island of Montserrat to aid her in this quest. Nicholas, however, in an attempt to prevent competition with the dye-making industry on his home island, added a component to Eliza's mix, ruining the color of her dye and thereby destroying the batch. Her father next sent Nicholas' brother Patrick Cromwell to help her and he proved to be a legitimate dye-maker and they were able to produce six pounds of the dye-stuff, which was shipped to England. Her dye was found to be superior to the French-made indigo and she happily began to planters throughout South Carolina and within three year more than 100,000 pounds of indigo was shipped to England. It would become the second most important crop (to rice) in the colonies and would account for more than one-third of all exports.

At 21 years of age, a successful and independent woman, she was the target of many suitors. Eventually, she fell in love with and married a lawyer from Charleston named Charles Pinckney who was twice her age. A Speaker of the Common House of Assembly, Pinckney had been married to Eliza's friend who died earlier. Charles built a large house on a plantation he purchased and the couple moved in. Even though she was in new surroundings, Eliza experimented with the new soil and planted indigo and other crops. At one point, she even experimented with raising silkworms and created a new business venture, manufacturing silk.

The couple enjoyed the birth of four children (although one boy died in infancy) and spent time living with them in Charleston and London (where Charles served as a colonial agent for South Carolina). When war broke out between France and England, the family hurried back to South Carolina but during the voyage, Charles contracted malaria and died soon after their arrival. Now, after 14 years of a happy, married life, Eliza was now alone, having to raise three children and manage several plantations. Having dedicated herself to being as good of a mother as she was a businesswoman, Eliza prepared her children for challenges and success. Both of her sons, Charles and Thomas, were active in the Revolutionary War effort against England, serving as generals. Charles was actually so successful that he served as an aide to General George Washington. He later served as one of South Carolina's delegates to the Constitutional Convention and ran for President of the United States as the Federalist Party's candidate in 1804 and 1808 (losing to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison). Thomas served a South Carolina's governor from 1787-1789 and was appointed by President Washington to be the United States minister to Great Britain in 1792. Eliza Lucas Pinckney's Grave SiteHe later served a a special envoy to Spain and negotiated treaty with Spain laying out the border between the lands owned by Spain and the United States in North America. Later, Charles would be one of the early planters of cotton, which would become the biggest cash-crop for southern agriculturalists.

After a life of professional and personal success that far exceeded the limitations placed on most colonial women, Eliza Lucas Pinckney died of cancer on May 26, 1793. So highly thought of was she for her determination and innovation that President George Washington served as one of the pall bearers at her funeral.


Female Inventors


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