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Eliza Lucas: A Girl Planter Of The 15th Century
by [?]

IN our day any young woman who shows keen interest in civic, agricultural, or social reforms is loudly applauded and spoken of as a New Woman, a product of the twentieth century, but there is a small volume of letters written by a girl of two centuries ago, which disproves this, and it is worthy of perusal and applause because of what she accomplished for what was then the province of South Carolina, while she was still in her teens.

Lieutenant-Colonel Lucas, an officer in the English army stationed at the West Indian island of Antigua, left the island in 1638 for South Carolina, taking with him his delicate wife, in search of a climate which would be of benefit to her, and with them went their two daughters, Polly and Eliza, who up to that time had been in London with a family friend, Mrs. Boddicott, being educated, only returning to the island for their vacations. Their brothers, Tom and George, were also in London at school, where they remained while Colonel and Mrs. Lucas with the two girls went to the new locality. So delighted with it was the Colonel that he at once bought land, laid out plantations and was hoping to settle down and begin experiments in planting crops in the strange soil and climate, when war broke out between England and Spain and the Colonel received orders to hasten back to his West Indian post, leaving his family alone in their new home. Mrs. Lucas was entirely too frail to burden with plantation cares, so in his hurried leave-taking the Colonel entrusted all his affairs to Eliza, in whose practical common sense and business ability he seems to have placed implicit reliance, and the trust was well merited.

Eliza was only sixteen years old then, but she seems to have assumed the unusual amount of responsibility so unexpectedly thrust upon her with calm assurance that she could carry it, and we find her general manager of the home and the plantation when the series of letters begin which gives such a vivid glimpse of life at that time, and also some idea of the character of the girl on whose slender shoulders rested such a heavy burden.

First, let us look for a moment at the background to our picture. The Lucas plantation was on the Wappoo, a salt creek connecting the Ashley river with another creek and separated from the ocean only by two long sandy islands. Although that part of the country was very flat, it was extremely pretty, and being on a salt creek, sheltered from the north winds, the climate was very mild. Trees grew to a great size, land was very fertile, all growth hardy and luxuriant, and it was no wonder that even in his short stay Colonel Lucas had become deeply interested in discovering what crops could be most profitably raised there for export. At that time rice was the one agricultural product, the others being lumber, skins and naval stores.

Eliza, inheriting her father’s love of farming, and having heard many conversations on the subject, determined secretly after her father had gone, to try some experiments herself and became much interested in trying to raise indigo and ginger, with what results her letters disclose. Little farmer that she was, her love of agriculture and of nature then and always amounted to almost a passion, as it is easy to see. Separated as she was from all her old friends, letters were a vital medium of expressing to them what her new life held of work and play, and the fragments which we can reprint here give a clear idea, not only of the times in which she lived, but of Mistress Eliza herself.

To her brother George she writes, telling of the new country and life in this fashion:–