When I read history, I usually prefer biographies to historical fiction. Sometimes the fiction is so fictional I wonder why it is called historical. Not so with “The Indigo Girl” by Natasha Boyd. The only parts of this story that are fictional are the imagined conversations and friendships with the enslaved people.
“The Indigo Girl” is the story of Eliza Lucas, a real person. Eliza was put in charge of her family’s three plantations in South Carolina in 1739. Her father mortgaged the plantations to the hilt to fund his military and political ambitions. Eliza was only 16 when she began to manage the plantations for her family. For the next four years she managed to keep the family lands intact, despite a banker and overseers who believed she was too young and too female to do the job.
Eliza believed that indigo could be grown in South Carolina and be a profitable crop. She gradually, through trial and error, figured out how to grow the crop and how to process it into bars of dye. She was the leader in what would become a profitable industry in South Carolina. I would tell you what happens after she figures this out, but it would be a spoiler of the book. If you want to know more, you can read about Eliza Lucas in Wikipedia.
I was immediately drawn into the story and cared, from the very beginning, what happened to Eliza. The story sped along and kept my attention better than most biographies. Natasha Boyd has done a masterful job of researching Eliza and then making her a person of interest. Eliza fought against male prejudice and her age to make decisions that her invalid mother could not. Her father’s trust in her was not misplaced, although he could be faulted for making her job harder than it needed to be.
Although largely overlooked by historians, Eliza Lucas influenced the course of US history. When she passed away in 1793, President George Washington served as a pallbearer at her funeral. She was the first woman to be inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame.
Her sons were the Federalist candidate for President, a signer of the U. S. Constitution, and Minister to Spain.
“The Indigo Girl” is an excellent book to read during Women’s History Month. Eliza Lucas is an example of a woman who followed a dream and rose above the prejudice around her.