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Foundation Matters

An Archaeological Win for Charleston

Posted: November 7, 2018

“The Pinckney Mansion is arguably the most important site in colonial Charleston,” according to architectural historian and preservationist, Ralph Harvard. “The site could contain remnants and artifacts from the grand mansion, as well as valuable evidence from slave quarters.”

Charles Pinckney built a sprawling mansion in Charleston, South Carolina around 1746 at 235 East Bay Street. The Pinckney Mansion burned down in 1861, and the site has since been home to a coffee shop, a pub and in the future, Hotel Eliza. The name was chosen to honor the home’s historic owner and American business pioneer, Eliza Lucas Pinckney.

In a world where a wealthy woman’s role was restricted to little more than parties and childbearing, Eliza Lucas Pinckney was a force of nature. Denied the right to own property, Eliza relentlessly pursued her own destiny and altered the very fortunes of South Carolina in the process. (Spoiler: George Washington was one of her pall bearers!) Born into a wealthy West Indies family circa 1722, she was sent to London for formal education. Elite young women of the 18th century were typically only educated in order to form good social connections; however, Eliza relished her studies and excelled in botany in particular. Upon returning to the Colonies, her family relocated to inherited lands on Wappoo Creek. Her mother died shortly thereafter, and her father was recalled to Antigua. Faced with the care of her siblings as well as the management of three plantations, she diligently experimented with numerous crops in order to find a cash crop that could provide a stable income. Thanks to her knowledge of botany – and the growing demand for rich textiles in an increasingly global market – she was able to successfully grow indigo as a cash crop. The “indigo bonanza” that ensued ensured South Carolina’s success until the American Revolution. Indigo, grown by enslaved labor on plantations around Charleston, fundamentally changed the Lowcountry’s future. The magnificent mansions and grand public buildings of Charleston were paid for by the wealth derived from enslaved labor on indigo and rice plantations – an economic structure which Eliza helped develop. For an era when she was denied the most basic of rights, her accomplishments speak to her ability to work with and against the system – and her legacy is one we still enjoy, and grapple with, today.

“Part of the allure of this site was the significance of it in our city and our nation’s history. We, along with many historians, have always wanted to unearth any of the hidden pieces of the story it has to tell and to include those in our hotel to give it a true and tangible tie to its beginnings,” said Dean Pearce, of Pearce Development, the owner of the property on 235 East Bay Street. In spite of no architectural ordinance, Pearce Development initiated this pivotal dig out of commitment and respect for the city’s rich history. “The Pinckney Mansion was one of Charleston’s grandest homes in the 1700’s, and we are looking forward to what the findings could unearth about early Charleston history,” said Pearce.

Eric Poplin, Senior Archaeologist & Vice President of Brockington and Associates, will lead this project and break ground on the historic dig this fall.



4 responses to “An Archaeological Win for Charleston”

  1. Margaret Godowns says:

    “For an era when she was denied the most basic of rights, her accomplishments speak to her ability to work with and against the system – and her legacy is one we still enjoy, and grapple with, today.”

    Thank you so much for so eloquently celebrating Eliza while not glossing over that she participated in a horrific institution. Love the Historic Charleston Foundation!

  2. Michael and Joanne Cure says:

    Know your History! Go Charleston! Continued good luck to you!

  3. Marilyn Chinnici says:

    As I read this fascinating article, a book about Eliza, which I recently read, came to mind. The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd gives a factional view of Eliza and her life with reflections on her values, her pursuits, and her personality. It is well worth reading, particularly in regard to this future exploration into a prior residence of this visionary, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, and, let’s not overlook, the vision of these persons today to see the value of past enriching the present with archeological digs. Congratulations to HCF and all involved.

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