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Letter Describing Plantation Life in South Carolina (2 May 1740, by Eliza Lucas Pinckney)


Of all Great Britain's colonies in the New World, South Carolina held most dear the "peculiar institution" of slavery. In an economy based primarily on the cultivation of rice and indigo, the colony's planters relied so heavily on unwilling human labor, in fact, that by the time of Ms. Pinckney's correspondence, slaves actually outnumbered free whites, accounting for some sixty percent of the population. South Carolina was the only colony so distinguished. The letter presented here is a look into a world in which landed white masters, often women, pined to visit fashionable cities like Charleston and to leave for a while the work of managing their sprawling plantations to overseers and hired hands. The commitment of Ms. Pinckney and her fellow citizens to an institution of forced labor would have long-lasting consequences, nationally as well as locally. Partly in deference to the wishes of South Carolina, the Second Continental Congress excoriated a condemnation of slavery from Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence. Following the American Civil War, during which it was first to secede from the Federal Union, South Carolina endured an especially difficult and tumultuous period of Reconstruction.

Laura M.Miller,
Vanderbilt University

See also Plantation System of the South ; South Carolina .

To my good friend Mrs. Boddicott
Dear Madam,

I flatter myself it will be a satisfaction to you to hear I like this part of the world, as my lott has fallen here—which I really do. I prefer England to it, 'tis true, but think Carolina greatly preferable to the West Indias, and was my Papa here I should be very happy.

We have a very good acquaintance from whom we have received much friendship and Civility. Charles Town, the principal one in this province, is a polite, agreeable place. The people live very Gentile and very much in the English taste. The Country is in General fertile and abounds with Venison and wild fowl; the Venison is much higher flavoured than in England but 'tis seldom fatt.

My Papa and Mama's great indulgence to me leaves it to me to chose our place of residence either in town or Country, but I think it more prudent as well as most agreeable to my Mama and self to be in the Country during my Father's absence. We are 17 mile by land and 6 by water from Charles Town—where we have about 6 agreeable families around us with whom we live in great harmony.

I have a little library well furnished (for my papa has left me most of his books) in which I spend part of my time. My Musick and the Garden, which I am very fond of, take up the rest of my time that is not imployed in business, of which my father has left me a pretty good share—and indeed, 'twas inavoidable as my Mama's bad state of health prevents her going through any fatigue.

I have the business of 3 plantations to transact, which requires much writing and more business and fatigue of other sorts than you can imagine. But least you should imagine it too burthensom to a girl at my early time of life, give me leave to answer you: I assure you I think myself happy that I can be useful to so good a father, and by rising very early I find I can go through much business. But least you should think I shall be quite moaped with this way of life I am to inform you there is two worthy Ladies in Charles Town, Mrs. Pinckney and Mrs. Cleland, who are partial enough to me to be always pleased to have me with them, and insist upon my making their houses my home when in town and press me to relax a little much oftener than 'tis in my honor to accept of their obliging intreaties. But I some times am with one or the other for 3 weeks or a month at a time, and then enjoy all the pleasures Charles Town affords, but nothing gives me more than subscribing my self

Dear Madam,
Yr. most affectionet and most obliged humble Servt.

Eliza. Lucas

Pray remember me in the best manner to my worthy friend Mr. Boddicott.

SOURCE: Pinckney, Eliza. The Letter book of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739–1762. Chapel Hill, N. C.: Univ. of North Carolina, 1972.

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