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Indigo & Rice

British Period


Indigo was a highly-valued crop in British colonial Florida. One of the oldest and most durable of dyes, its use dates back to ancient times in India, Persia, Egypt, and Peru. Indigo was an intense blue dye derived from the indigo plant through a long and laborious process. Indigo required the most labor in July, August and September when the pea-like plants were harvested and fermented in great open vats, and the dye was extracted. Indigo was used primarily for dyeing textiles, but also was useful as paint, cosmetics and for cleaning wounds. Indigo processing was a noxious process which many now believe was toxic to indigo workers. Indigo production began in East Florida during the British period and it was the colonies most important crop. It became a profitable import quickly, as two to three productive crops could be harvested each year. It was not until 1878 that an artificial form of blue dye was created which could replace natural indigo.


Rice was a widespread and important British crop which played a crucial role in the establishment of slavery along the coastal southeast, including Northeast Florida, the Carolinas and Georgia. Just to the north of the Florida border, rice was considered a necessary crop for economic survival. After the Spanish left Florida, the production of rice moved southward. Many East Florida planters had family and business connections to the West Indies, Carolina and Georgia colonies where a knowledge of the coastal cultivation of rice had already developed. Growing rice in fields along coastal rivers required great amounts of labor and attention, nearly all provided by slaves. Dikes, ditches and water-retention devices were constructed to ensure that rice crops were well watered and protected from saltwater intrusion. Florida's climate was well suited for successful rice production.

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