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The Indigo Girl
by Natasha Boyd

Published: 2017-10-03
Hardcover : 352 pages
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An incredible story of dangerous and hidden friendships, ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice.

The year is 1739. Eliza Lucas is sixteen years old when her father leaves her in charge of their family's three plantations in rural South Carolina and then proceeds to bleed the estates dry in ...
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Introduction

An incredible story of dangerous and hidden friendships, ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice.

The year is 1739. Eliza Lucas is sixteen years old when her father leaves her in charge of their family's three plantations in rural South Carolina and then proceeds to bleed the estates dry in pursuit of his military ambitions. Tensions with the British, and with the Spanish in Florida, just a short way down the coast, are rising, and slaves are starting to become restless. Her mother wants nothing more than for their South Carolina endeavor to fail so they can go back to England. Soon her family is in danger of losing everything.

Upon hearing how much the French pay for indigo dye, Eliza believes it's the key to their salvation. But everyone tells her it's impossible, and no one will share the secret to making it. Thwarted at nearly every turn, even by her own family, Eliza finds that her only allies are an aging horticulturalist, an older and married gentleman lawyer, and a slave with whom she strikes a dangerous deal: teach her the intricate thousand-year-old secret process of making indigo dye and in return -- against the laws of the day -- she will teach the slaves to read.

So begins an incredible story of love, dangerous and hidden friendships, ambition, betrayal, and sacrifice.

Based on historical documents, including Eliza's letters, this is a historical fiction account of how a teenage girl produced indigo dye, which became one of the largest exports out of South Carolina, an export that laid the foundation for the incredible wealth of several Southern families who still live on today. Although largely overlooked by historians, the accomplishments of Eliza Lucas influenced the course of US history. When she passed away in 1793, President George Washington served as a pallbearer at her funeral.

This book is set between 1739 and 1744, with romance, intrigue, forbidden friendships, and political and financial threats weaving together to form the story of a remarkable young woman whose actions were before their time: the story of the indigo girl.

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

1739

The Negroes were singing.
Light danced over the dark, inky ocean, and I blinked my eyes awake.
No ocean.
Just the faint blue of a breaking day casting over the white walls of my bedchamber.
A dream still clung damp to my bones. Always the same since I was a child. Sometimes threatening, sometimes euphoric.
Breathing in deeply, I fancied the day held the weight of destiny.
I picked out the distinctive low rumble of Togo’s voice in the melody, the breadth of his voice in correlation to his size. In our few months in South Carolina, I’d already become familiar with how his deep tenor was the base upon which the other Negro voices blended and danced. I came to know that when they sang, they all worked together on some greater task. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Eliza, by all expectations, was an eligible prize. She was young (which meant she was malleable), and her family had land. Yet in her accounts and letters there is rare mention of more than an occasional interest in suitors. Apart from Mr. L, whom she soundly rejects in a letter to her father, and the obscure Mr. Murray, we don’t hear much about it. Do you think she didn’t find them worth mentioning since she had no intention of marrying, or was she really such a nonconforming lady that potential suitors didn’t quite know what to do with her?

2. It is clear from the currency issues Charles was dealing with that colonists were already beginning to chaff under British rule even as early as the 1740s. Why do you think it took another thirty years or so for there to be a revolution?

3. There is no surviving picture or likeness or even description of Eliza that exists today. She hardly discussed her own looks. But, after reading her story and getting to know her character, do you have a sense of her in your mind? Almost as if her character is what made up her likeness? How do you picture her?

4. Do you think Ben really did die, or do you think Quash told Eliza he was dead so that Ben could be free and Eliza could grieve his loss? Why would he do that?

5. Do you think Eliza and Charles Pinckney were in love before the death of his wife? Do you consider this infidelity on the part of Charles?

6. In this story, who do you think killed Starrat and why?

7. Eliza was twenty-one and Charles Pinckney was believed to be around forty-five at the time of their marriage. Did you think about their age difference as you read the story? How do you feel about it?

8. In this story, Eliza’s mother seems to be working hard toward getting Eliza married off. Do you think her mother was only doing what she thought would benefit Eliza, or was she thinking of herself?

9. It was clear that Eliza wasn’t exactly a fan of the institution of slavery. Do you think she could have done more to work against the system, and do you think she could have succeeded in producing indigo with paid labor instead of using unpaid slaves?

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