Pringle, Elizabeth Allston (1845–1921)
Pringle, Elizabeth Allston (1845–1921)
American planter and author. Name variations: (pseudonym) Patience Pennington. Born Elizabeth Waties Allston on May 29, 1845, in Canaan Seashore, South Carolina; died of a heart attack on December 5, 1921, near Georgetown, South Carolina; daughter of Robert Francis Withers Allston (a rice planter) and Adele Petigru Allston; educated by governess at home and later at boarding school in Charleston, South Carolina; married John Julius Pringle (a planter), on April 26, 1870 (died 1876); children: one (died in infancy).
A Woman Rice Planter (1913); Chronicles of Chicora Wood (1922).
Elizabeth Pringle was the second daughter of Adele Petigru Allston , of Huguenot descent and sister to Unionist leader James Louis Petigru, and Robert Francis Withers Allston, a rice planter. The third of the Allstons' five children to survive childhood, Elizabeth was born on May 29, 1845, at the family's summer home in Canaan Seashore, South Carolina, not far from Pawley's Island. The Allston family had held title to land near Georgetown, South Carolina, for nearly a century. At the time of Elizabeth's birth, her father was growing rice on seven plantations which were spread over thousands of acres of land. In addition to serving as governor and a state legislator, he was responsible for authoring a comprehensive primer on the cultivation of rice. Both in public and private life, he campaigned passionately for a free public-school system and to reform laws governing the poor.
Elizabeth was named for her father's "Aunt Blythe," who may well have served as something of a model for her niece. Willed a wealth in rice lands by a man she loved but could not marry, the aunt proved to be an able and sensitive manager of the plantation and the slaves who worked it, becoming legendary in the area.
Both Elizabeth and her older sister Adele were first educated by a governess at Chicora Wood, the family home on the Peedee River, which was located 14 miles from Georgetown. At the age of ten, Elizabeth was sent off to Charleston and the boarding school of Madame Togno, which introduced young ladies from wealthy families to the wonders of music and the French language. Her singing was encouraged by the school's Italian-born music master.
In the years following the Civil War, which had devastated South Carolina's Low Country as well as much of the rest of the South, Pringle taught for a time in a school her mother had established in Charleston. In 1868, she moved back to Chicora Wood, the last of her father's plantations to remain under family control. There she lived with her mother, younger brother Charles, and younger sister Jane Allston . Two years later, on April 26, 1870, Elizabeth married John Julius Pringle, owner of the White House, a plantation less than ten miles from Chicora Wood. In a November 7, 1875, entry from her diary, she wrote: "We are settled married people without children—five years of married life have passed so rapidly that I feel but little older than the day I took those cares upon me." In 1876, the year after Pringle wrote this diary entry, her husband John died suddenly. His death followed that of their only child, a son, who had died in infancy. Shattered by her loss, Pringle returned to Chicora Wood, where she helped to care for her older brother's motherless children.
In 1880, Pringle was bequeathed some money that allowed her to acquire White House, her late husband's plantation, from his heirs. In 1885, despite advice to the contrary, she decided to take on its management. Her success at this was made all the more remarkable because she continued to live at Chicora Wood, an hour and a half from White House, so as to be with her mother. Not above sharing in the field work on the plantation, she proved herself more than capable of handling almost any task. She showed an interest in finding new ways to run the plantation more efficiently, which included implementing the use of an incubator. Along with the rice, she maintained livestock and poultry and grew a number of fruits, including peaches, grapes, and strawberries. Up until 1900, she would customarily turn a profit.
Following the death of her mother in 1896, Pringle received some financial help from her younger sister Jane and was able to scrape together enough money to buy Chicora Wood, which she assumed control of at age 51. But with limited capital and an increasingly unreliable labor supply, Pringle struggled for the following years to operate the two plantations. The early 1900s brought bad weather and technological advances in the form of mechanized rice cultivation, and the majority of the plantations in the Carolinas were forced to fold. By 1906, Pringle, who often had to rely on the sale of prized livestock to pay her taxes, was financially ruined.
Though Elizabeth Pringle had always shown an interest in writing, her early efforts to get her work into print all met with rejection. She was nearing 60 when the New York Sun agreed to print a series of entries from her diary. In 1913, using the pseudonym Patience Pennington, she published these entries along with further commentary, and illustrations by Alice R. Huger Smith , under the title Woman Rice Planter. Her second book, Chronicles of Chicora Wood, was published in 1922, the year after Pringle's death. It focused on her memories of growing up during the heyday of Low Country rice cultivation and has proven useful to historians of this period.
Pringle died at age 76 on December 5, 1921, at Chicora Wood after suffering a heart attack. During her many years there, she had established herself as a friend and teacher to those with less education than she, both black and white. She was buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston beside her husband.
Edgerly, Lois Stiles, ed. Give Her This Day. Gardiner, ME: Tilbury House, 1990.
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
Don Amerman , freelance writer, Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania