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Red, White, and Black Make Blue

Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life

Andrea Feeser

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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pp. 1-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xii

...I have many people and institutions to thank for their contributions to my work. For financial support, I am indebted to Clemson University’s College of Architecture, Arts, and Humanities for grants to conduct research in England at the National Archives, the British Library, the London Metropolitan Archives...

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Introduction. Why South Carolina Indigo?

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pp. 1-12

...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...

PART 1. South Carolina Indigo in British and Colonial Wear

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Chapter 1. South Carolina Indigo in British Textiles for the Home and Colonial Market

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pp. 15-26

...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...

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Chapter 2. South Carolina Indigo in the Dress of Slaves and Sovereign Indians

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pp. 27-42

...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...

PART 2. Indigo Cultivation and Production in South Carolina

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Chapter 3. Botanists, Merchants, and Planters in South Carolina: Investments in Indigo

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pp. 45-58

...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...

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Chapter 4. The Role of Indigo in Native-Colonist Struggles over Land and Goods

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pp. 59-72

...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...

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Chapter 5. Producing South Carolina Indigo: Colonial Planters and the Skilled Labor of Slaves

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pp. 73-84

...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...

PART 3. Indigo Plantation Histories

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Chapter 6. Indigo and an East Florida Plantation: Overseer Indian Johnson Walks Away

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pp. 87-98

...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....

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Chapter 7. Slave John Williams: A Key Contributor to the Lucas-Pinckney Indigo Concern

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pp. 99-108

...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 with the staple, which enriched...

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Conclusion. South Carolina Indigo: A History of Color

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pp. 109-112

...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...


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pp. 113-136


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pp. 137-140

E-ISBN-13: 9780820346564
E-ISBN-10: 082034656X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820346564

Page Count: 168
Illustrations: 10 color photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2013