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History of Early American Landscape Design

Eliza Lucas Pinckney

[http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/research/casva/research-projects.html A Project of the National Gallery of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts ]

Elizabeth “Eliza” Lucas Pinckney (December 28, 1722–May 26, 1793) managed several plantations in South Carolina, including Wapoo and Belmont, where she laid out gardens. Her extensive correspondence includes descriptions of local houses and gardens. An agricultural innovator and amateur botanist, Pinckney was a pioneer in the American cultivation of indigo, which became South Carolina’s second most lucrative cash crop—second only to rice—and a crucial buttress to the colony’s faltering economy.

History

Born to expatriate English parents living on the West Indian island of Antigua, Eliza Lucas received a classical education in London.[1] In about 1739 she and her family relocated to South Carolina, where her father had inherited a plantation on Wappoo Creek, near Charleston.[2] Recalled to Antigua shortly thereafter, he entrusted the responsibility of managing Wappoo Plantation and two much larger Carolina estates to his sixteen-year-old daughter. She later recalled his assurance that she could channel her fondness for “the vegetable world” into “something of real and public utility, If I could bring to perfection the plants of other Countries which he would procure me.”[3] Armed with her father’s collection of books and the seeds he sent from Antigua for trial growth, she experimented with ginger, cotton, cassava, and alfalfa before producing a successful crop of indigo (Indigofera tinctoria), an export commodity that was in great demand in Britain for its use as a blue dye.[4] She also carried out landscape improvements at Wappoo, laying out a fig orchard, groves of oak and cedar trees, and a garden where she strolled each morning.[5] These and other agricultural projects, together with political and local events and social calls to neighboring houses, such as Crowfield, are detailed in her letters.

In 1744 Eliza Lucas married Charles Pinckney (1699–1758), a wealthy, widowed South Carolina lawyer and planter who shared her interest in horticulture and who promoted indigo cultivation in articles published under the pseudonym “Agricola.”[6] Continuing to act as her father’s agent, she embarked on fresh experiments, endeavoring to cultivate flax, hemp, and silk as well as foreign species of trees. For advice, she turned to Dr. Alexander Garden, a family friend and pioneering South Carolina botanist.[7] Pinckney and her family left South Carolina for England in 1753. She arranged an audience at Kew Palace in order to present Princess Augusta— mother of the future King George III—with gifts indigenous to South Carolina, including birds (an indigo nonpareil and a yellow bird) and silk of her own cultivation.[8] On a tour to see “everything [that] was curious and Elegant” in Wiltshire, she visited several stately homes renowned for their gardens and parks, including Wilton House and Longford Castle. From her residence in Surrey, she often visited friends at Beddington Park, where magnificent Tudor-era gardens featuring orangeries and imported fruit trees had been updated a few decades earlier with a canal and radiating tree-lined avenues.[9]

Soon after returning to South Carolina in 1758, Pinckney’s husband died and she assumed responsibility for managing a number of his plantations and other properties. She corresponded with an extensive network of friends across the Atlantic, to whom she occasionally sent distinctive South Carolina flora and fauna. To the King family of Ockham Court, Surrey, for example, she sent a pimento tree (“a pretty ornament in my Lords Green-house”) as well as myrtle and magnolia seeds, describing the latter as “the most beautiful of all trees.”[10] In a letter of 1760 to a friend in London, she described the extensive landscaping project she was overseeing at Belmont Plantation: “I am myself head gardener and I believe work much harder than most principal ones. We found it in ruins when we arrived from England, so that we have had a wood to clear, and indeed it was laid out in the old taste, so that I have been modernizing it which has afforded me much imployment.” Carrying out her work with precision, Pinckney complained of the mistaken felling of “one remarkable fine tree” planted by her husband, explaining that “Being a sort of enthusiast in my Veneration for fine trees, I look upon . . . an old oak with the reverencial [sic] Esteem of a Druid.”[11] On a visit to South Carolina in 1791, George Washington visited Pinckney and her family, who “arrayed [themselves] in sashes and bandeaux painted with the general’s portrait and mottoes of welcome.” When she died two years later, Washington asked to serve as one of her pallbearers.[12]

Robyn Asleson


Texts

  • Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1742, in a letter to Miss Bartlett, describing Wappoo Plantation, property of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Charleston, SC (1972: 35)[13]
“O! I had like to forget the last thing I have done a great while. I have planted a large figg orchard with design to dry and export them. I have reckoned my expence and the prophets to arise from these figgs, but was I to tell you how great an Estate I am to make this way, and how ’tis to be laid out you would think me far gone in romance.”


  • Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1742, describing Wappoo Plantation, property of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Charleston, SC (1972: 36)[13]
“You may wonder how I could in this gay season think of planting a Cedar grove, which rather reflects an Autumnal gloom and solemnity than the freshness and gayty of spring. But so it is. I have begun it last week and intend to make it an Emblem not of a lady, but of a compliment which your good Aunt was pleased to make to the person her partiality has made happy by giving her a place in her esteem and friendship. I intend then to connect in my grove the solemnity (not the solidity) of summer or autumn with the cheerfulness and pleasures of spring, for it shall be filled with all kind of flowers, as well wild as Garden flowers, with seats of Camomoil and here and there a fruit tree—oranges, nectrons, Plumbs, &c., &c.”


  • Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, c. May 1743, in a letter to Miss Bartlett, describing Crowfield, plantation of William Middleton, vicinity of Charleston, SC (1972: 61)[13]
“The house stands a mile from, but in sight of the road, and makes a very hansoume appearance; as you draw nearer new beauties discover themselves, first the fruitful Vine manteling up the wall loading with delicious Clusters; next a spacious bason in the midst of a large green presents itself as you enter the gate that leads to the house, which is neatly finished; the rooms well contrived and elegantly furnished. From the back door is a spacious walk a thousand foot long; each side of which nearest the house is a grass plat ennamiled in a Serpentine manner with flowers. Next to that on the right hand is what imediately struck my rural taste, a thicket of young tall live oaks where a variety of Airry Chorristers pour forth their melody; and my darling, the mocking bird, joyned in the artless Concert and inchanted me with his harmony. Opposite on the left hand is a large square boleing green sunk a little below the level of the rest of the garden with a walk quite round composed of a double row of fine large flowering Laurel and Catulpas which form both shade and beauty.
“My letter will be of an unreasonable length if I dont pass over the mounts, Wilderness, etc., and come to the bottom of this charming spott where is a large fish pond with a mount rising out of the middle—the top of which is level with the dwelling house and upon it is a roman temple. On each side of this are other large fish ponds properly disposed which form a fine prospect of water from the house.”


  • Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, c. May 1743, in a letter to Miss Bartlett, describing Charleston, SC (1972: 62)[13]
“I . . . cant say one word on the other seats I saw in this ramble, except the Count’s large double row of Oaks on each side the Avenue that leads to the house—which seemed designed by nature for pious meditation and friendly converse.”


  • Pinckney, Eliza Lucas, 1761, describing Wappoo Plantation, property of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Charleston, SC (1972: 162)[13]
“I will endeavor to make amends and not only send the Seeds but plant a nursery here to be sent you in plants at 2 years old.”

Other Resources

Library of Congress Authority File

American National Biography Online

The Digital Edition of Eliza Lucas Pinckney & Harriott Pinckney Horry, 1739–1830


Notes

  1. Harriet Simons Williams, “Eliza Lucas and Her Family: Before the Letterbook,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 99, no. 3 (July 1998): 259–79, 265–68, view on Zotero.
  2. For evidence regarding the date of the family’s arrival in America, see Williams 1998, 268–77, view on Zotero.
  3. Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739–1762, ed. Elise Pinckney (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972) 8, view on Zotero; see also David L. Coon, “Eliza Lucas Pinckney and the Reintroduction of Indigo Culture in South Carolina,” Journal of Southern History 42 (1976): 66, view on Zotero; Christopher P. Iannini, Fatal Revolutions: Natural History, West Indian Slavery, and the Routes of American Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 119, view on Zotero; Barbara L. Bellows, “Eliza Lucas Pinckney: The Evolution of an Icon,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 106 (2005): 147–65, 152, view on Zotero.
  4. Andrea Feeser, Red, White, and Black Make Blue: Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013), 103–104, view on Zotero; Joyce E. Chaplin, An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730–1815 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 152, 192, view on Zotero; Coon 1976, view on Zotero.
  5. Harriott Horry Ravenel, Eliza Pinckney (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1896), 5, 31–32, 38, view on Zotero; Pinckney 1972, 7, 34–36, 38, view on Zotero.
  6. Feeser 2013, 55, 57, view on Zotero; Coon 1976, 71–75, view on Zotero. For his career, see Walter B. Edgar and N. Louise Bailey, Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, 5 vols. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1977), 2:522–24, view on Zotero.
  7. Feeser 2013, 101, view on Zotero; Ben Marsh, “Silk Hopes in Colonial South Carolina,” Journal of South History 78 (2012): 807–54, view on Zotero; Ravenel 1896, 102, 130–31, view on Zotero.
  8. Ravenel 1896, 143–53, view on Zotero.
  9. John Phillips, Beddington Park and the Grange Management Plan 2009–2014 Appendices (Sutton Parks Service, 2008), 5, view on Zotero; John Phillips and Nicholas Burnett, “The Chronology and Layout of Francis Carew’s Garden at Beddington, Surrey,” Garden History 33 (2005), view on Zotero; Ravenel 1896, 143–54, 157, view on Zotero; Pinckney 1972, 77, 80, view on Zotero.
  10. Pinckney 1972, 119–20, 139, 155–56, 162, 175–76, view on Zotero.
  11. Pinckney 1972, 185, view on Zotero; re. Pinckney’s failed attempt to prevent the British from burning “certain Oak Trees of remarkable beauty” planted by her husband at Belmont, as described in Alexander Garden, Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in America, with Sketches of Character of Persons the Most Distinguished, in the Southern States, for Civil and Military Services (Charleston: A. E. Miller, 1822), 268–69, view on Zotero; and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, “Letters of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1768–1782,” ed. Elise Pinckney, South Carolina Historical Magazine 76 (1975): 170, view on Zotero.
  12. Ravenel 1896, 311, 316, view on Zotero; see also Constance Schulz, “Eliza Lucas Pinckney and Harriott Pinckney Horry: A South Carolina Revolutionary-Era Mother and Daughter,” in South Carolina Women: Their Lives and Times, ed. Marjorie Julian Spruill, Valinda Littlefield, and Joan Marie Johnson, 3 vols. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 1:101, view on Zotero.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Pinckney 1972, view on Zotero.

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