BY Stephen Nartey, 1:30pm September 28, 2022,

How the contributions of enslaved Africans led to the boom of the blue dye market in South Carolina 

African slaves working on indigo plantation/Photo credit:Charleston County Public Library

Historians credit the use of indigo in textile production to West Africans before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15thcentury. The indigo plant is the source of the blue dye which fueled the economic wealth of South Carolina. 

The success of the blue dye to the economy of South Carolina would be incomplete without the contributions of the enslaved Africans who were involved in its cultivation, experimentation and mass production for international markets, as documented by the Institute of the Black World. 

Indigo became the second biggest foreign exchange earner after rice for the local economy of South Carolina. Indigo is one of the plant species that grows in tropical areas like India, Africa and Latin America. 

Botanical researchers claim that early Indians are the first to make use of the extract of the Indigo plant. But, the plant became prominent in the South Carolina economy in the early 1700s when it was badly needed to feed textile factories in England. According to the Charleston County Public Library, the planting and extracting of the dye from indigo required a lot of labor. The indigo plantations fell on enslaved Africans; they grew the plant in South Carolina. 

The fortune and wealth of the British economy were dependent on the volumes of indigo plantation owners South Carolina produced. However, the natives of South Carolina were partially involved in the cultivation of indigo because they were not certain of its economic value. They considered its production laborious, costly and time-consuming especially when its profit was not guaranteed.

Not until the 19th century when cheap labor from slavery was in abundant supply, the cultivation of indigo among natives of South Carolina was minimal. The arrival of the African slaves gave the indigo business a boom as many had knowledge of its cultivation and production. 

Their knowledge of processing indigo into blue dye came in handy but they had to offer it for free to plantation owners in South Carolina because of their status. One of the pioneers of the blue dye who benefited immensely from the knowledge of the enslaved was Eliza Lucas. She is regarded as the godmother of indigo production in South Carolina. 

She lived on the Wappoo Creek plantation where she conducted analysis on the extraction of dye from indigo. She was assisted in these experiments by the enslaved who did not only cultivate the plant but also operated in her laboratory. 

Individuals such as Charles Hill, James de la Chappelle, Thomas Mellichamp and Andrew Deveaux and other enslaved Africans contributed to the Eliza Lucas exploits with the blue dye.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 28, 2022


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