The Somber Context Behind Blue Porches in the American South.
The United States of America is a patchwork land made up of many people. While we think of the U.S.A.. as this monolithic figure, the truth is that each state has its own deeply personal history. The American South has its own convoluted, painful, and textured history. From Texas to North Carolina, astute observers will notice the prevalence of blue porches on older homes. What do these blue porches signify?
What is the scary and sobering significance of the ‘haint blue’ paint that dresses so many doors in the South?
A Surprisingly Common Feature
From one end of the American South to the next, travelers and locals alike will notice the prevalence of a particular shade of blue, known locally as haint blue. You’ll find doors, porches, shudders, and ceilings all decked out in the color.
Adhering to Family Tradition
As you’ll soon find out, haint blue has a very specific meaning to folks living in the south. With that being said, not all people put stock in the importance of the color. For some people, like Ellen O’Neil, the prevalence of haint blue porches can be directly tied to family tradition. O’Neill would state, “No one would think twice about painting their porch blue, because their grandmother’s and their parents’ were blue.”
Still, there is a deeper meaning and context to understand here.
Potentially Rooted in Victorian Design
While there is much more to the story than this, some scholars suggest that the haint blue decoration came to the American South in the 19th Century by way of the Victorians. Applied generously to shades, shutters, and doors, haint blue was potentially chosen because it represents the beauty of the open sky.
Science Behind Blue Colors
While haint blue certainly can remind us of clear and blue skies, there is more to the story than just that! According to research performed by Colour Affects, blue tones can have a calming effect on people. If you were going to paint your porch, why not select a calming and relaxing color?
Getting to the Bottom of the Mystery
We could wax philosophical about the impact that the color blue can have on us for ages. What we are really here for, however, is a discussion on haint blue. There is a distinction to be made no matter how subtle. Popularized in South Carolina, haint blue became a favored color choice for residents throughout the South.
Unfortunately, the true story behind the popularity of these calming blue porches is a little more distressing.
What IS ‘Haint’ Blue
When we discuss the color ‘haint blue’, the most important aspect of our discussion belongs to the first word. The term ‘haint’ refers to a potentially paranormal entity, typically a ghost or spirit. In southern folklore, these entities aren’t exactly ‘kind’ and can occasionally manifest as ‘Boo Hags’.
Before you call Zak Bagans and the Ghost Adventure crew, keep on reading!
Story of the Boo Hag
According to our bastardized version of southern folklore, these boo hags would travel around the countryside under the shield of darkness, prowling for a victim to maim or murder. This is where our discussion on haint blue starts to really pick up steam.
What does haint blue really have to do with dastardly boo hags?
Protection From the Paranormal
While we would settle for a crucifix and a blessing, demon-plagued southerners were a little more proactive when it came to protecting their home from demons. According to legend, the haint blue as a color is supposed to confuse, scare, and scatter spirits.
If you were trying to protect your home from a spirit, it looks like you’d want to start by laying down a coat of turquoise-blue paint!
The Many Defenses of Haint Blue
Why was haint blue so effective at scattering spirits in southern folklore? Well, according to the stories, this shade of blue was reminiscent of water — a medium which boo hags are incapable of traversing. While we aren’t sure of the science behind the story, this definitely would make a superstitious person reach for their blue paint!
While the boo hag origin story is interesting, there is far more to the conversation than we have touched upon. Unfortunately, things only get darker from here.
Meet Eliza Lucas and the Indigo Plant
In reality, the importance of haint blue can be traced back to a 16-year-old child named Eliza Lucas and her success with indigo. At the time of Eliza’s work, synthetic indigo was essentially non-existent. What did this mean? It meant that attaining indigo dye was almost impossible!
Success With Indigo
In 1742, Eliza Lucas would make history for South Carolina’s agricultural sector as the young girl learned how to extract indigo. This was it, the moment that indigo dye became available to the United States via farming. The United States, still a British Colony, would begin sending the dye back and forth to Europe.
It wouldn’t take long for the indigo trade to become the second-largest export in the country at the time.
The Dark History Behind Haint Blue
So far we have discussed paranormal beings, young scientists, and British Colonies. Now, we are going to unveil the ugly truth behind the indigo trade. Farming indigo was incredibly labor-intensive, often taking 20+ hours of work. In order to make a profit without paying for the work, slave labor would skyrocket in the agricultural industry.
Slavery & Haint Blue Go Hand in Hand
As one of the most successful business exports at the time, America was struggling to keep up with the demand for indigo. As more and more orders came through, so too did the ‘need’ for more slaves. Almost half of every slave that landed in America would spend some time in South Carolina, according to Ancestry.com.
Indigenous Tribes Feel the Pain
As indigo farming became an all-consuming industry, the need for more land arose. What did slave-owning farmers do when they needed land? Well, they simply took it from local indigenous tribes.
By this point in the conversation, indigo had turned into the driving force behind systemic abuse of both African American slaves and indigenous local tribes.
End of an Era
As you no doubt know, America at the time was experiencing a confluence of transformative moments. From the American Revolutionary War to the official signing of the Declaration of Independence, the country that thrived on Indigo would not continue its trade.
Shortly after signing the Declaration of Independence, the indigo trade would crash.
Meet the Gullah People
We are now at the point in our history lesson where things get, if not good, more optimistic. The African slaves that were forced to die while farming indigo were often known as the Gullah people. It was the Gullah people who would popularize the boo hag myth as well as the impact of haint blue.
The Gullah people are doing their part to reclaim their heritage.
Meet Heather L. Hodges
Heather L. Hodges works with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and she has been a leading voice in the histories of the Gullah people. Hodges would say to Atlas Obscura, “Indigo dye is deeply rooted in African Culture.”
Hodges would go on to highlight how haint blue has become intertwined with the art created by Gullah artists and filmmakers including the film, Daughters of the Dust.
Hidden Meanings in Plain Sight
While we are hundreds of years removed from the booming indigo trade and the shameful behavior that made it possible, many folks still do not understand the significance of the haint blue color scheme. From movies like Daughters of the Dust to the organic folklore that survived slavery, it seems like there is always more than meets the eye when discussing details from our shared past!