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Eliza Lucas Pinckney
A Legacy in Silk
May 13 - July 9, 2023 Loeblein Gallery of Charleston Silver
In honor of the museum’s 250th anniversary, Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s gown will be exhibited in the Loeblein Silver Gallery, along with some of her personal items. This c. 1753 silk robe à la française is so delicate that it will only be on display for a limited time. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see it in person!
Robe à la Française Gown c. 1753 Silk, linen London, England Gift of Katherine Felder Stewart, 1940
Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1793) was an influential figure among the landed gentry in Charleston. Best known for developing indigo as a cash crop and for her attempts to bring sericulture to South Carolina, she was a botanist, planter, and landowner in addition to being a wife, mother, and grandmother. Although Pinckney herself was very invested
in agricultural work, she would not have been so fortunate without the labor of enslaved people, whose oppression built her wealth many times over on the Wappoo and Belmont Plantations.
Letter from Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722-1796) to her son, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825), dated September 10th 1785, describing the early days of indigo cultivation in South Carolina during the 1740s. Courtesy of the Charleston Library Society.
Eliza Pinckney moved to London in 1753 with her husband and children where, according to family history, she wore this pink silk floral gown, a modified robe à la française, “when presented at court.” With this information, we think it is more than likely that she was wearing the dress that autumn for the family’s audience with Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales.
Recent conservation, generously funded by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, has preserved the gown. However, it remains very delicate and can no longer be exhibited upright on a mannequin. In honor of the 250th anniversary of the Museum and the accompanying publication of a book, the gown was very briefly dressed for new photography. This allows the object to be seen in the round, and further documents it for posterity. Unfortunately, due to the strain that mounting puts on the fibers, it is unlikely to ever be dressed again in our lifetime.
With this exhibition of her dress and accessories, we invite you to consider Eliza Pinckney’s multifaceted legacy: influential gentry, wealthy enslaver, avid botanist, American patriot, and loving matriarch. Though small fragments of a large life, each of these objects tell a story about the real-life woman who became part of the larger South Carolina Lowcountry legend.
Digital Recolorization of the Robe à la Française Gown
For more information about Eliza Lucas Pinckey's life and legacy, including the cultivation of indigo and how her pink gown came to the Museum, check out our blog post!
In the Museum’s Armory, see excellent examples of historic weaponry, dating from 1750 to the twentieth century, with uses that ranged from military to more personal applications such as hunting and dueling.
In the Lowcountry History Hall, see materials relating to the Native Americans who first inhabited the Lowcountry and the African American and European settlers who transformed the region into an agricultural empire.
In the Natural History gallery you will see an extraordinary array of birds, reptiles and mammals that have called the South Carolina Lowcountry home since prehistory, including contributions from noted naturalists.