West India Islands supplied all the markets of Europe; and that Great Britain alone consumed annually six hundred thousand pounds weight of French indigo, which at five shillings a pound cost England the enormous sum of a hundred and fifty thousand pounds sterling. It was also found that the English West Indies were generally raising sugar cane instead of indigo. Accordingly, in 1748, a bounty was given "of sixpence sterling on all indigo raised in the British-American plantations and imported directly into Great Britain from the place of its growth."
Some years elapsed before the colonists learned the art of making it as well as the French. The planters were blamed by the English merchants for paying too much attention to the quantity and too little to the quality of their indigo, and the West Indian indigo brought a higher price in the market. But each year the skill of the colonists increased, and in process of time they brought indigo-making to such a degree of perfection as not only to supply the mother country but also to undersell the French in several European markets.
In 1748 the amount of indigo exported from South Carolina was 138,118 pounds, which was sold at 2s. 6d sterling; in 1754 the export was 210,924 pounds; and shortly before the Revolution it had risen to 1,107,660 pounds.
Various statements regarding the price of indigo are given in the old records. The value varied greatly during the half century of its production. A recent writer says, "The finest quality of the dye at one time sold in the market for as much as four or five dollars a pound, and fortunes were made rapidly by its cultivation." It is certain that between the years 1763 and 1775, when indigo was at the height of its importance, South Carolina had a most unexampled period of prosperity. Ramsay tells us that "indigo proved more profitable to South Carolina than the mines of Mexico or Peru to Old or New Spain." Wealth poured in upon the people, many of the planters doubling their capital every three or four years. During the years preceding the Revolution it is said that "a larger number of children were sent to England for education from South Carolina than from any of the colonies, and this on account of the greater wealth of the colony, owing to the superiority of her products rice—and indigo—which gave abundant means."
But the Revolution brought a change in industrial and commercial conditions. During the war more rice was raised than indigo, as was natural. After peace was declared, indigo culture increased again for a little time. But the conditions of trade were different. The English bounty was no longer available,
- Scott's Random Recollections, etc., 1876.
- See Ramsay's History.