Author Topic: Haint Blue  (Read 1777 times)

nebo113

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Haint Blue
« on: August 02, 2020, 12:27:30 PM »

"Haint blue" is a term that, supposedly was coined to describe/define a color made from indigo which was used by enslaved people in the south, and associated later with Gullah/Geechee culture.  I have been trying to locate a credible, primary source that links the folklore of the color as a precaution against evil spirits directly to enslaved people and then Gullah/Geechee culture.  The first use of the color in the cabin of an enslaved family (that I have found) was in Savannah around 1714.  The historians who found the painted walls just assumed that because the blue was found in the cabin of an enslaved person, it is "haint blue."  Am I explaining my dilemma with any tiny bit of clarity??  I'd like a primary source that links blue paint from indigo, in the South, used by enslaved peoples who referred to it as 'haint blue."  Thank you for your patience!

clean

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2020, 12:52:08 PM »
Jefferson (Thomas, not George) used to journal a lot.  In my few visits to Monticello, he was known to keep track of the youngins in his nail foundry.  Perhaps there is some discussion of the paint used on Mulberry Row in their archives?
that would be the first place I would think of. 
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nebo113

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2020, 08:01:23 AM »
Jefferson (Thomas, not George) used to journal a lot.  In my few visits to Monticello, he was known to keep track of the youngins in his nail foundry.  Perhaps there is some discussion of the paint used on Mulberry Row in their archives?
that would be the first place I would think of.

That gives me an idea!  I think I will reach out to plantations and museums specifically in South Carolina and Georgia.

fleabite

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2020, 08:50:09 AM »
Quote
The first use of the color in the cabin of an enslaved family (that I have found) was in Savannah around 1714.  The historians who found the painted walls just assumed that because the blue was found in the cabin of an enslaved person, it is "haint blue.

I am extremely dubious. Don't quote me on this, but I'm pretty sure that indigo was rare in the American colonies in the first half of the eighteenth century and mostly had to be imported. Furthermore, it was traditionally a pigment used for dyeing cloth rather than painting. On the other hand, Prussian blue paint (NOT made from indigo) was wildly popular in colonial interiors in the eighteenth century, and is documented to have been used in America as early as 1715. I doubt that it would have been used to paint the interior of a cabin of an enslaved person in Savannah that early (you mention circa 1714), as it was a newly fashionable imported product. Instead, I suspect that the color dates from a later eighteenth-century repainting of the interior of the cabin, after Prussian blue became very widely used.

On edit: I got curious and did a little more research. It turns out that indigo could be employed in distemper to create a blue wash that was used on walls. There seem to be two or three books about the history of indigo available; maybe you could find more information in them. But I would still wonder where the indigo came from (to be used in a very humble setting at that early date). Again, this could be a question of a later rather than original wall treatment.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2020, 09:16:02 AM by fleabite »

Anselm

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2020, 09:37:38 AM »
Do we have any kind of academic department or center on Gullah culture that can be contacted about this?

Related trivia:  Justice Clarence Thomas grew up speaking Gullah.
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mamselle

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2020, 10:10:50 AM »
A few thoughts:

1. The Shakers used a blue interior paint made from blueberries and buttermilk, if I'm correctly recalling a tour guide's discussion of this, at...Sabbathday Lake in Maine, or one of their other sites (site was L18th-19th c.; tour taken in 1984, I'll have to locate my notes).

May not be relevant, but it's another source of blue paint by an isolated culture...

2. A lot of studies of paints on early American objects have been done by dec. arts curators of the NY Met. Museum, NYC's American Folk Arts Museum (?now gone, I believe...RIP). the Boston MFA, Colonial Williamsburg, etc. The Smithsonian's American material culture division is reliable, too.

3. There are discussions of this in material culture studies like the Durham, NH conference journals ("New England Prospect, Meeting House, and Church" comes to mind), where paint scrapings from colonial buildings were matched to variously colored prints and mezzotints to confirm color validity.

4. Columbia University has had conservators interested in colonial preservation and conservation since the ramp-up to the 1976 Bicentenniel events.

5. Plimouth Plantation's replica shop had a furniture maker who used to know stuff about early paint sources. He may have also taught at the Bennett St. School in Boston, which also teaches responsible, very hands-on restoration and replication work.

6.The decorative arts curators at Historic New England have published on various aspects of this; I dont know if Nylander is still active, but that would be another source to check out.

Over and out for now, I'll probably think of others...

M.

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nebo113

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2020, 05:30:40 AM »
Quote
The first use of the color in the cabin of an enslaved family (that I have found) was in Savannah around 1714.  The historians who found the painted walls just assumed that because the blue was found in the cabin of an enslaved person, it is "haint blue.

I am extremely dubious. Don't quote me on this, but I'm pretty sure that indigo was rare in the American colonies in the first half of the eighteenth century and mostly had to be imported. Furthermore, it was traditionally a pigment used for dyeing cloth rather than painting. On the other hand, Prussian blue paint (NOT made from indigo) was wildly popular in colonial interiors in the eighteenth century, and is documented to have been used in America as early as 1715. I doubt that it would have been used to paint the interior of a cabin of an enslaved person in Savannah that early (you mention circa 1714), as it was a newly fashionable imported product. Instead, I suspect that the color dates from a later eighteenth-century repainting of the interior of the cabin, after Prussian blue became very widely used.

On edit: I got curious and did a little more research. It turns out that indigo could be employed in distemper to create a blue wash that was used on walls. There seem to be two or three books about the history of indigo available; maybe you could find more information in them. But I would still wonder where the indigo came from (to be used in a very humble setting at that early date). Again, this could be a question of a later rather than original wall treatment.

Yikes!  Early 19th century circa 1819!!! 

nebo113

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #7 on: August 04, 2020, 05:32:02 AM »
THANKS!!!!  I'm going to sort through everything and map out a strategy.  And please note my BIG ERROR ON TIME:  1819 NOT 1714.

mamselle

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #8 on: August 04, 2020, 06:40:24 AM »
Books on dye plants should have materials on all this, too.

If I recall correctly, woad is related to indigo and (if the《Braveheart》costumiers knew their stuff) was often used as a body paint...rather far back, I believe, as well.

M.
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Vkw10

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2020, 06:47:51 AM »
Indigo grows in the South Carolina lowlands, so it’s possible slaves could have had access to the plant. I vaguely recall a tour guide, long ago, talking about how indigo was briefly cultivated in the area before a war messed up trade. Rice was mentioned, too.

Never heard of haint blue, though I lived in that region for many years, but that’s not surprising since Gullah/Geechee tends to be a friends and family dialect today. I wonder if oral histories from the early 1900s would be a useful source?
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fleabite

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #10 on: August 04, 2020, 08:02:29 AM »
Indigo grows in the South Carolina lowlands, so it’s possible slaves could have had access to the plant.

Okay, 1819 makes much more sense. There was indeed an indigo industry in South Carolina by then, which was not true in the first half of the eighteenth century (problems in figuring out how to grow it successfully). (Some people were growing it, but that was far from widespread.)

I can provide one more bit of information that might be useful. Indigo discolors in oil paint, so if the cabin you mentioned was painted with an oil paint, the blue is unlikely to have been indigo. If the walls were painted with wash or distemper, then indigo is a possibility.*

*This is from some old notes I had from Roger W. Moss's Paint in America: The Colors of Historic Buildings, which might be of interest to you. Doing a little cross-checking online, I see that indigo was used to some extent in oil paints in Old Master paintings, so it was not impossible to use it in oil pigments; the degree of discoloration varied.
« Last Edit: August 04, 2020, 08:31:00 AM by fleabite »

Caracal

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #11 on: August 04, 2020, 08:55:03 AM »
Indigo grows in the South Carolina lowlands, so it’s possible slaves could have had access to the plant.

Okay, 1819 makes much more sense. There was indeed an indigo industry in South Carolina by then, which was not true in the first half of the eighteenth century (problems in figuring out how to grow it successfully). (Some people were growing it, but that was far from widespread.)

I can provide one more bit of information that might be useful. Indigo discolors in oil paint, so if the cabin you mentioned was painted with an oil paint, the blue is unlikely to have been indigo. If the walls were painted with wash or distemper, then indigo is a possibility.*

*This is from some old notes I had from Roger W. Moss's Paint in America: The Colors of Historic Buildings, which might be of interest to you. Doing a little cross-checking online, I see that indigo was used to some extent in oil paints in Old Master paintings, so it was not impossible to use it in oil pigments; the degree of discoloration varied.

Not really my area, but if I remember correctly, indigo was a profitable cash crop because of particular British mercantilist trade policies and the industry mostly went away after the revolution. Of course, that might fit with its continued cultivation as a garden crop by enslaved people.

mamselle

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #12 on: August 04, 2020, 09:17:56 AM »
Indigo grows in the South Carolina lowlands, so it’s possible slaves could have had access to the plant.

Okay, 1819 makes much more sense. There was indeed an indigo industry in South Carolina by then, which was not true in the first half of the eighteenth century (problems in figuring out how to grow it successfully). (Some people were growing it, but that was far from widespread.)

I can provide one more bit of information that might be useful. Indigo discolors in oil paint, so if the cabin you mentioned was painted with an oil paint, the blue is unlikely to have been indigo. If the walls were painted with wash or distemper, then indigo is a possibility.*

*This is from some old notes I had from Roger W. Moss's Paint in America: The Colors of Historic Buildings, which might be of interest to you. Doing a little cross-checking online, I see that indigo was used to some extent in oil paints in Old Master paintings, so it was not impossible to use it in oil pigments; the degree of discoloration varied.

The upper end source of a deep, bright blue was ground lapis lazuli in the middle ages (not that all producers, whether commercial or monastic, could afford it at the time.)

A very interesting article came out recently in which it was possible to confirm by her exhumed skeleton that a medieval woman was an illustrator in a monastic scriptorium (and not merely a copyist) because the painters would lick their brushes to get the fine hairs to cohere before painting, and she was found with lapis deposits on her teeth.

Summary article here:

   https://www.history.com/news/medieval-woman-lapis-lazuli-teeth-study-discovery

original article here:

   https://phys.org/news/2019-01-lapis-lazuli-hidden-ancient-teeth.html

It should be noted that, although the articles try to make a big deal about females as illustrators, it was known before that they were active in that pursuit...gotta create a bit of "buzz" around your findings somehow.

Anyway, different use of blue, but...have topic, will research...

M.
Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

Reprove not a scorner, lest they hate thee: rebuke the wise, and they will love thee.

Give instruction to the wise, and they will be yet wiser: teach the just, and they will increase in learning.

Economizer

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2020, 02:20:35 PM »
As a young summer camper on an overnight horse hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains, prior to bedding down, my group was told a ghost story. It was a terrifying.story about horrendous activities by the "BLUE GUM GEECHEES".  Those were said to  be a mix of escaped slaves and Guale "Indians",  a tribe indigenous to Southeatern coasts prior to European explorations of such vicinities. As a matter of fact, a particularly vicious one of them leapt out of the woods at the end of the tale. We got very little sleep that night!
« Last Edit: August 04, 2020, 02:24:04 PM by Economizer »
So, I tried to straighten everything out and guess what I got for it.  No, really, just guess!

San Joaquin

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Re: Haint Blue
« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2020, 08:33:16 PM »
Pure folklore plus some DIY wisdom, separately acquired in a completely nonacademic fashion...

Poor folk in the south used to paint the inside of their window frames dark blue to confuse the evil spirits and keep them out of the house.

Also, painting your frames and soffits blue confuses wasps, who think it is sky and thus won't build nests on blue.

My useless trivia supply is abundant.