“on the business of the plantations”

I have always liked diaries and letters that describe “a day in the life of” a particular girl or woman. Here is one by the amazing Eliza Lucas who, while she was still in her teens, was responsible for managing three plantations in South Carolina for her father, a British army officer posted in Antigua. (See another post here.) With her mother ill (she died in 1759), her two brothers at school in England, and her younger sister Polly at home, Eliza was the one who took upon herself the business of operating the plantations and making them profitable. To this end, she carried on an extensive correspondence with her father who provided instructions and advice, and considered Eliza’s suggestions for improvements. Eliza’s life wasn’t all business as her letter describing her daily routine, ca. April 1742, to Miss Bartlett indicates.

In general I rise at 5 o’ Clock in the morning, read till Seven, then take a walk in the garden or field, see that the Servants [slaves] are at their respective business, then to breakfast. The first hour after breakfast is spent at my musick, the next is constantly employed in recolecting something I have learned least for want of practise it should be quite lost, such as French and short hand. After that I devote the rest of the time till I dress for dinner to our little Polly and two black girls who I teach to read, and if I
have my paps’s approbation (my Mamas I have got) I intend [them] is for the rest of the Negroe children—another scheme you see.

But to proceed, the first hour after dinner as the first after breakfast at musick, the rest of the afternoon in Needle work till candle light, and from that time to bed time read or write. . . . Mondays my musick Master is here. Tuesdays my friend Mrs. Chardon (about 3 miles distant) and I are constantly engaged to each other, she at our house one Tuesday—I at hers the next and this is one of the happiest days I spend at Woppoe [one of her father’s plantations]. Thursday the whole day except what the necessary affairs of the family take up is spent in writing, either on the business of the plantations, or letters to my friends. Every other Fryday, if no company, we go a vizeting so that I go abroad once a week and no oftener. . . .

Eliza was especially interested in botany and experimented with methods of growing and processing indigo which was much in demand for dying cloth by England’s textile industry. Her success in cultivating the plant and processing it in cake form suitable for export added to the wealth of southern planters and was especially important at a time when the price of rice, the cash crop, was falling. Indigo production was very labor intensive and contributed to the perpetuation of slavery in the South.

For information on Eliza Lucas Pinckney during and after the Revolution see In the Words of Women, pages 144 and 150-51. Her Letterbook can be found HERE.

posted April 14th, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Daily life, Farming, Slaves/slavery


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