Published Sunday, December 02, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Award-winning author Pamela Bauer Mueller shared insights into the life of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a Revolutionary War supporter and innovative planter, at an event sponsored by the Friends of the Powell Library.
The Powell Friends held their 2012 Author at the Asa M. Powell Sr. Expo Center. Mueller, who lives on Jekyll Island who was Georgia Author of the Year in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Mueller talked about her latest book, “Water to my Soul: The Story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney.” An art contest was held in conjunction with the event, and members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution wore colonial costumes for the Oct. 13 event.
Pinckney was born in Antiqua in the West Indies. Her father, George Lucas, was a British officer. Mueller talked about the strong connection between father and daughter.
There was a “need to find a cash crop,” and George Lucas wanted to find a way to grow indigo in the Carolinas. Farmers there said it was impossible to grow the crop in that region, though it was a popular and lucrative crop in the West Indies.
“He leaves her in charge of these three plantations. She was 15-and-a-half, maybe 16, when he takes off,” Mueller related. Lucas told his daughter he would be sending her some indigo plants.
The first set of plants were victims of an early frost. Eliza Lucas oversaw planting of a second set of plants only to find “the cutworms have eaten them all,” Mueller said.
“In the meantime, she’s asked her father to send her an expert,” the author said. The teenage girl felt an expert could help her not only with planting and growing indigo but with the process to use the plant to make a valuable dye for cloth.
Nicholas Cromwell was sent from Montserrat. “He did not want to be there. He knew if he taught her to grow indigo, she would teach others,” Mueller said. “He came with a plan to sabotage it.”
The young woman figured out Cromwell was leading her astray, but by then she had gathered enough information to successfully grow the crop. “She says, ‘Now I know how to do it myself. I don’t need him,’” Mueller said.
At 17, Pinckney saw her first successful indigo crop harvested. She taught her methods to her neighbors. “All of them became very wealthy based on Eliza’s indigo,” Mueller said.
At 20, Eliza Lucas married a widowed neighbor, Charles Pinckney. Mueller spoke of “the love she had for her husband even years after his death.”
The Pinkneys went to England for awhile where the vivacious bride became a favorite of Augusta, the Duchess of Wales. The two shared a discussion on the merits of breastfeeding infants.
The family returned to America and became involved in the patriot cause in the years leading up to the Revolution. Pinckney’s sons became friends of George Washington.
At one point, Martha Washington wrote to Pinckney, telling her George Washington would like to stop at the Pinckney plantation for breakfast. The future president enjoyed being there so much, he spent the entire day and ate three meals at Eliza Pinckney’s table.
Though Pinckney was widowed for many years and had numerous suitors, she never remarried. She died – “still stunning” – at 71, Mueller said.
Her sons, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Thomas Pinckney, added to the lustre of their family name. Charles ran twice for national office with John Adams. “They were defeated by Jefferson and Burr,” Mueller noted.
Thomas Pinckney served as governor of South Carolina and later as minister to Spain.
“Her life was hard but very exciting for a person of her time,” Mueller said of Eliza. She described her book’s heroine as “very strong in sprit but very gentle at the same time.” Pinckney went to Philadelphia in search of treatment for breast cancer and died and was buried there.
Mueller said her next book will probably be about Catherine Littlefield Greene, another prominent colonial figure. Greene was “another amazing woman – not nearly as nice as this one,” she said.
About 45 people attended the Powell Friends event. “You have to be very disciplined when you write,” Mueller said. She told the group she can write for about three hours straight – with some coffee.
Because she writes historical fiction, Mueller said she keeps notes and folders at hand.
“I don’t always write in sequence,” Mueller said. “You can do the hard stuff after you do the easy stuff. At least that’s my method.”
Historical fiction is “a very narrow genre,” Mueller said “Truman Capote started the genre I’m writing – the non-fiction novel.” His book, “In Cold Blood,” is still considered a classic by many.
“I like history much better in the novel form than in the history form,” Mueller said.
Jane Westberry presented awards to the winners of the art – Julia Wilkins, Kyle Waters, elementary; Morgan Lichty, middle school; and Olivia Wright, high school.
“I really want to thank our community of supporting our art contest,” she said. Westberry said parents and art teachers encourage the talented young artists to participate and the results were “just outstanding.”