Friday, May 15, 2020

The Indigo Girl

Indigo is the deep midnight sky, a rich purplish blue. It's the quiet color with deep and subtle tones, between blue and violet. The color indigo was named after the plant indigo. The first recorded use of indigo as a color name in English was in 1289.
Indigo plants are mostly shrubs, but can occasionally sprout into small trees that can grow up to 20 feet tall. They are generally small flowering plants with many rows of neatly organized leaves, often covered in small purple flowering buds.
I enjoy reading accounts of strong women from history. "The Indigo Girl" by Natasha Boyd is a remarkable fictionalized historical account of a girl's determination to introduce indigo as a staple crop in South Carolina. It's a well written story based on the life of a real historical figure, Eliza Lucas. She was just 16 in 1739 when given the responsibility of running her father's three plantations in rural South Carolina. Eliza's brothers are in England and unable to leave their schooling. Her father has mortgaged the plantations in order to raise funds for his own pursuit of military ambitions in Antigua. Upon hearing how much French pay for indigo dye, Eliza believes indigo is the key to her family's salvation out of debt. She disdains marriage, and works hard at making the plantations successful. After a lot of trial and error with much help from slaves and neighbors, she does finally produce a small production of superior indigo. Eliza goes on to marry Charles Pinckney and one of her sons is a signer of the U.S. Constitution. It's quite a story of a remarkable woman.

Reading the endnotes and author's notes “The Indigo Girl” appears well researched with Boyd relying heavily on letters and documents from time period, 1739-1744. Most of the characters, events and locations are real. But to craft a fictionalized story and make it plausible for the reader takes a certain amount of risk and a lot of imagination on the author's part. Excerpts of real letters written by Eliza Lucas are interspersed throughout the story. Eliza was a determined, smart and tough woman who was in many ways a woman ahead of her times. While her mother worries about making a good match for her daughter, Eliza wants a husband who will treat her as an equal. She believes in compassion. Her slaves live in cabins free from draft, a dwelling has been built to serve as a schoolhouse and she has taught Quash and other Negroes to read. Eliza's kindness wins the respect of many around her. However there are those who hope she won't succeed and thwart her efforts on a continual basis.

I found it heartening to know that in spite of the societal demands of the times, there were women who were bold enough to do things considered to be only in the realm of men. Eliza is remembered for bringing to South Carolina the indigo crop that ultimately changed its economy. The indigo process was extremely interesting and well documented considering this was a historical fiction story.

Fun fact: The SC State Flag has a deep blue background because of the importance of indigo in the history of their early settlement.

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