Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/667

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649
AN OLD INDUSTRY.
AN OLD INDUSTRY.

By MARY H. LEONARD.

IN the rich lands along the river banks of South Carolina, particularly in the Peedee section, there could be seen a few years ago an occasional vat or tank, made of the durable cypress timber, and raised high above the ground on wooden posts. Perhaps before the present time the last of these vats has disappeared; yet these recent traces of an old industry tell of a time when the making of indigo was the most important source of wealth of a prosperous colony. For fifty years, extending from a little before the middle of the eighteenth century to its last decade, when the invention of the cotton gin changed the direction of southern enterprise, indigo-making in South Carolina exceeded all other industries in importance.

To-day not an ounce of indigo is prepared for market purposes within the State. The cypress boards of the "eaters" and "steepers" have been converted into other structures. The records of the methods and profits of the industry have been shelved in the archives of the once flourishing Winyaw Indigo Society, whose old hall in Georgetown has been given over to the use of a modern graded school. The wild indigo still grows abundantly in the woods, but its associations are foreign to the thoughts of the present industrial generation.

There are two species of plants native to South Carolina from which indigo for market purposes has sometimes been prepared. The most familiar of these is the Baptista tinctoria, of the order Leguminosœ, commonly called "wild indigo," a branching herb with insignificant yellow blossoms and small, bluish-green leaves which blacken in drying. It grows in dry, sandy soil in all the eastern States, and is abundant along the woody roadsides of New England, where it is often picked to put over the heads of horses on the road as a protection against worrying flies.

The other indigo-bearing plant was known as "false indigo" or "bastard indigo." It is the Amorpha fruticosa, a shrubby plant, also of the order Leguminosœ, but bearing bluish-purple blossoms. A coarse kind of dye was formerly prepared from its young shoots.

In the palmy days of indigo-making the dye generally thought to be of finest quality was obtained from a cultivated plant similar to the "wild indigo" — a native of Hindostan, but introduced into South Carolina from the West Indies. A writer[1] of the

  1. This quotation is taken from A Description of South Carolina prepared by Order of Governor Glen, and containing Curious and Interesting Particulars relating to the Civil Natural, and Commercial History of the Colony within Forty Years (1710-1760).