An accomplished young woman: A review of The Indigo Girl

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd

If you’re looking for an engaging story, you will find that The Indigo Girl is a page-turner. Written by Natasha Boyd, this novel is based on true events in the life of Eliza Lucas between 1739 to1744. The seeds for Eliza’s story were planted after Boyd overheard a conversation about the real Eliza Lucas, while attending an indigo exhibition at Picture This Gallery. The conversation sparked Boyd’s interest to write about this forgotten and ambitious young woman who defied the familial and societal norms.

The story begins in 1739. Colonel Lucas leaves his sixteen-year-old daughter, Eliza, in charge of the family’s three plantations in Colonial South Carolina to return to Antigua to pursue his military career. Eliza’s selfish mother wanted nothing more than Eliza to fail and to find a suitable husband. The tensions between the British, and the Spanish in Florida were causing the slaves to uprise, and soon the Lucas family was in danger of losing their plantations.

When Eliza heard that the French had successfully been growing indigo in Louisiana, she was convinced that indigo was her family’s financial salvation. She experimented with indigo seeds and she also planted live oaks to be used in the shipbuilding industry. The first two attempts of growing indigo failed. The first time, the frost killed all the new indigo plants. The second time, her indigo consultant, Mr. Cromwell, supported by Eliza’s own mother, sabotaged her plans by pouring purposely too much lime in the indigo dye vat. Everyone seemed to be against her. Her only allies were Mr. Deveaux, an elderly neighbor who shared her love of botany; Mr. Pinckney, an older married lawyer; and Ben, a slave who used to be her best friend in Antigua. Ben taught Eliza the process of making indigo dye and she, in return, taught the slave children to read.

Although Eliza’s plans were thwarted, she did manage to succeed in growing indigo. Her indigo dye cakes were sent to London for testing and were found to be of equal or superior quality as the French indigo. But her success didn’t come soon enough to save the family’s mortgaged plantations. Her family moved back to Antigua, but she remained in South Carolina and married Mr. Pinckney three months after his wife died.

Based on historical documents and Eliza’s letters, this story of forbidden friendships, romance, betrayal, and ambition will surely move you. Eliza’s accomplishments influenced the economic history of South Carolina for approximately fifty years as indigo dye became the second most valuable export, after rice.

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