Sunday, September 27, 2020

Lorri Glover's "Eliza Lucas Pinckney"

Lorri Glover is the John Francis Bannon Endowed Chair in the Department of History at Saint Louis University. She has written extensively about early America, including Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries.

Glover applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Eliza Lucas Pinckney: An Independent Woman in the Age of Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eliza Lucas Pinckney describes the opulent house where Eliza lived in the 1740s, in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Hers was the largest, most elegant private residence in the city. When she left for England in 1753, successive royal governors rented the East Bay mansion, seeing it as a suitable home for the most powerful person in the colony. The page, while essential to illuminating Eliza’s lifestyle, does not capture the heart of the book—just as the lavish home did not capture Eliza’s heart. Part of page 99 reads: “Eliza’s education and personality made her quite adept at the role of refined lady. She acted her part. But sometimes she found it all a bit boring in comparison to botanical experiments.... Though she resided in the most majestic house in Charleston, Eliza’s mind, as a descendant explained, ‘does not seem to have dwelt on furniture or bric-a-brac’.”

The chapter that includes page 99 also covers an outlying decade of Eliza’s life: when she was filling more traditionally “female” roles as a wife and mother. Most of the rest of her adult life—the years before she married and the decades after she became a widow—Eliza was a quintessential planter-patriarch. We are unaccustomed to imagining colonial women as commercial planters, much less patriarchs. But Eliza met the responsibilities, exercised the racial power, and enjoyed the community authority that came with the role. She was, long before the Revolutionary War, proudly independent. “There is,” she said as a still-young widow in the 1750s, “no body to call me to account.” She bought that autonomy through brutal enslavement of people of African descent.

Eliza Lucas Pinckney recovers the life of an audacious agricultural innovator, a boundlessly curious Atlantic wayfarer, a ruthless enslaver, and savvy business entrepreneur who was also a woman. She kept a lifetime of writings, in which she was incredibly frank and reflective. Readers of the biography can, I hope, see in a new light the tumultuous unfolding of the Age of Revolution and better understand the far-reaching ambitions and wide-ranging roles of eighteenth-century women.
Learn more about the book and author at Lorri Glover's website.

The Page 99 Test: Founders as Fathers.

--Marshal Zeringue