Red, White, and Black Make Blue

Red, White, and Black Make Blue: Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life

Andrea Feeser
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Red, White, and Black Make Blue
    Book Description:

    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 outsized impact.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4656-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Why South Carolina Indigo?
    (pp. 1-10)

    IN THE FINAL STAGE of dyeing with indigo, a dyer pulls the cloth from an indigo bath, exposing the material to oxygen and setting off a chemical reaction that changes the cloth from yellowish-green to blue. Watching the transformation is not unlike watching time-lapse photography of a flower blossoming: one thing becomes another slowly enough to mesmerize and quickly enough to thrill. In short, it seems magical.

    To dye something is to stain it, and the effect and affect of a spreading stain can be either troublesome or lovely. The cultivation of indigo has this dual aspect, shaded by a...

  5. [Map]
    (pp. 11-12)
  6. PART 1. South Carolina Indigo in British and Colonial Wear
    • CHAPTER 1 South Carolina Indigo in British Textiles for the Home and Colonial Market
      (pp. 15-26)

      ABOUT 250 YEARS AGO in Covent Garden, one of London’s prime business and entertainment districts, dyer Barnaby Darley’s sign hung prominently among other trade placards.¹ The eye-catching sign features an Indian “queen” in flowing, patterned garb shaded by two scantily clad, male attendants who hold aloft an umbrella. Both wear headdresses of feathers or leaves and reach no higher than the queen’s shoulders: the taller of the two is black; the smaller one, clearly a child, is lighter skinned. The sign closely resembles those that hung outside London linen and silk shops, a phenomenon that communicates in a visual, allegorical...

    • CHAPTER 2 South Carolina Indigo in the Dress of Slaves and Sovereign Indians
      (pp. 27-42)

      TWO LATER EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY IMAGES of African and American Indian women—the former visual and the latter textual—provide glimpses of how black and native people adopted and adapted English cloth to suit their needs and interests. The first image is an illustration by English artist and poet William Blake for John Stedman’s Narrative of a Five-Year Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, 1772–77 that depicts largely African females and their children about to be sold into slavery (illus. 1). The second is a description of Cherokee women by Lieutenant Henry Timberlake, an English soldier who spent three months...

  7. PART 2. Indigo Cultivation and Production in South Carolina
    • CHAPTER 3 Botanists, Merchants, and Planters in South Carolina: Investments in Indigo
      (pp. 45-58)

      BRITISH SETTLERS IN SOUTH CAROLINA initially experimented with growing indigo not long after the colony’s founding in 1670. The settlers were hoping to find agricultural ventures that would become as successful as the sugar plantations of the British Caribbean, and they tried the dye plant alongside other crops because blue dye had a ready market in Britain. However, settlers could not immediately commit wholly to indigo or other export crops but first had to concentrate their energies on finding subsistence and protection from hostile Indian and Spanish neighbors.¹ When colonizers began planting in earnest in 1690, rice proved well worth...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Role of Indigo in Native-Colonist Struggles over Land and Goods
      (pp. 59-72)

      SOUTH CAROLINA’S GROWTH as a staple producer depended on Indian land and Indian goodwill, both of which were cemented with, as well as compromised by, trade. Indigo was infused into this mix when colonists began cultivating the dye plant on what had been or was still native land and Britain began using the dye to color cloth, some of which was exchanged with natives. When indigo became South Carolina’s second staple, it assured and strengthened the colony’s ties to agriculture along with Britain’s ability to produce “homegrown” blue textiles to sell throughout its domain. South Carolina indigo was thus an...

    • CHAPTER 5 Producing South Carolina Indigo: Colonial Planters and the Skilled Labor of Slaves
      (pp. 73-84)

      IN 1779, GODIN GUERARD of Prince William Parish placed a notice about a runaway slave in the South Carolina and American General Gazette. As was common for such notices, this one included detailed information about the runaway so that readers could identify him. Guerard sought Jupitor, a young man between twenty-four and twenty-five years of age who had been born in South Carolina and who stood five feet, four inches tall. The planter stated that he had bought Jupitor from Gabriel Manigault of Silk Hope Plantation, where the slave’s relations lived; this information would have led readers to infer that...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  8. PART 3. Indigo Plantation Histories
    • CHAPTER 6 Indigo and an East Florida Plantation: Overseer Indian Johnson Walks Away
      (pp. 87-98)

      ONE DAY IN 1767, “Indian Johnson,” the overseer of a developing indigo plantation in East Florida, turned his back on the place he had managed well and walked off into a swamp, never to be seen again. He left behind well-tilled fields, at least fifty slaves along with a surplus of plantation-grown provisions to feed them, and an extremely important absentee landowner and his surrogates in the region, including the governor of East Florida.¹ Johnson’s actions are difficult to understand: he left a secure position working for and alongside some of the most influential Britons in America, who were in...

    • CHAPTER 7 Slave John Williams: A Key Contributor to the Lucas–Pinckney Indigo Concern
      (pp. 99-108)

      DURING MOST OF THE 1750S, after she had produced excellent indigo on her father’s South Carolina plantations, planter and amateur botanist Eliza Lucas Pinckney lived in England with her family, and at some point just prior to that sojourn, she created a beautiful wrap for herself (illus.9).¹ With painstaking, careful stitches, she crafted a looping, curving pattern of vines with delicate leaves, producing a veritable garden of foliage in which she might immerse herself. She chose to depict indigo plants on her wrap, and it is easy to imagine that this gorgeous textile was her personal tribute to her success...

  9. CONCLUSION. South Carolina Indigo: A History of Color
    (pp. 109-112)

    IN ADDITION TO COLORING CLOTH, eighteenth-century indigo was used to make ink and in bluing (the process of whitening paper or fabric). Making ink was a rather straightforward process: ground indigo was added to lampblack (the chief ingredient for eighteenth-century ink) to produce an ink with rich, dark color. However, the overriding effect was black rather than blue, and over time, the color fades to brown, meaning that extant documents written with such ink now bear no visible link to the dye plant.¹ Paper was made from rags during the eighteenth century, and a dingy, yellowish cast to both paper...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 113-136)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 137-140)