Eliza Lucas Pinckney

Eliza Lucas Pinckney, probably the first important agriculturalist of the United States, was born in Antigua in the West Indies in 1722.

She attended a finishing school in England where French, music and other traditionally feminine subjects were stressed, but Eliza's favorite subject was botany. When she was still quite young, her family moved to a farming area near Charleston, South Carolina, where her mother died soon after. By age sixteen, Eliza was left to take care of her siblings and run three plantations when her father, a British military officer, had to return to the Caribbean.

She realized that the growing textile industry was creating world markets for new dyes, so starting in 1739, she began cultivating and creating improved strains of the indigo plant from which a blue dye can be obtained. In 1745-1746, only about 5,000 pounds of indigo were exported from the Charleston area, but due to Eliza Pinckney's successes, that volume grew to 130,000 pounds within two years. Indigo became second only to rice as cash crop, since cotton did not gain importance until later. Eliza also experimented with other crops. She planted a large fig orchard, with the intention of drying figs for export and experimented with flax, hemp and silk.

At the age of twenty-two she married Charles Pinckney, a politician who was supportive of her efforts but traveled frequently, so she continued to be in charge of the household and the plantations. Within five years she gave birth to four children. Continuing her scientific bent, she experimented with progressive early childhood education, subscribing to the "tabula rasa" theories of John Locke, where a person's mind at birth is thought to be like a blank slate upon which personal experiences create an impression. The progressive education she gave her sons enabled them to play major roles in the American Revolution and in the government of the newly-formed United States of America. Later in life, the British raids destroyed her property during the American War of Independence leaving her ruined financially.

Eliza Pinckney died in 1793. She was so well regarded by her contemporaries, that President George Washington served as one of her pallbearers at her funeral. Her headstone in St. Peter's Churchyard in Philadelphia reads "Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1722-1793, lies buried in unmarked grave. Mother of Two S.C. signers of Declaration of Independence." Actually, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and his cousin Charles Pinckney signed the U.S. Constitution and neither signed the Declaration of Independence.