In page 4 of the Robert Smalls graphic novel, Lydia Smalls gives birth to her son Robert in a dowdy room, where the walls have some degree of blue paint on them. I didn’t do this as a merely stylistic choice. This colour is “Haint Blue”.
Haints are a type of spirit or ghost from the Carolina coast and found in tales from all over the south. They are sometimes said to be restless spirits that haven’t passed on.
In stories often told by slaves of African descent in these areas, Haints would steal away naughty children.
These spirits, according to some variations of the legends, cannot cross water which led to these enslaved people and their descendants often painting walls, porches, window shutters, sills, and doors a shade of blue-green that became known as “Haint Blue”. It was made with a pigment derived from crushed indigo plants.
It’s another possibility that this paint was designed to mimic the sky to convince the spirits to pass through and out of the dwelling.
As cultures mingled, this tradition became popular among the white population too.
Perversely, the cultivation of indigo to produce the dye energized the 18th-century transatlantic trade, which in turn increased the enslavement of Africans.
Haint Blue is still often used today. While the superstition attached to the paint may have faded, there are those that claim its efficacy at warding off spiders and wasps. However, there currently exists no scientific evidence to support this).
I really enjoy finding out these sorts of things as I create this graphic novel and being able to share them with you.
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Unsung Superheroes is an ongoing project, creating graphic novels based on the stories of real-life historical figures whose stories may not be as well-known as they could be.
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