Like cotton, indigo has defied its humble origins. Left alone
it might have been a regional plant with minimal reach, a localized
way of dyeing textiles, paper, and other goods with a bit of blue.
But when blue became the most popular color for the textiles that
Britain turned out in large quantities in the eighteenth century,
the South Carolina indigo that colored most of this cloth became a
major component in transatlantic commodity chains. In Red,
White, and Black Make Blue, Andrea Feeser tells the stories of
all the peoples who made indigo a key part of the colonial South
Carolina experience as she explores indigo's relationships to land
use, slave labor, textile production and use, sartorial expression,
and fortune building.
In the eighteenth century, indigo played a central role in the
development of South Carolina. The popularity of the color blue
among the upper and lower classes ensured a high demand for indigo,
and the climate in the region proved sound for its cultivation.
Cheap labor by slaves-both black and Native American-made
commoditization of indigo possible. And due to land grabs by
colonists from the enslaved or expelled indigenous peoples, the
expansion into the backcountry made plenty of land available on
which to cultivate the crop. Feeser recounts specific
histories-uncovered for the first time during her research-of how
the Native Americans and African slaves made the success of indigo
in South Carolina possible. She also emphasizes the material
culture around particular objects, including maps, prints,
paintings, and clothing. Red, White, and Black Make Blue
is a fraught and compelling history of both exploitation and
empowerment, revealing the legacy of a modest plant with an
Subjects: History, Sociology, Business
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