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Current editors:
Beth DeFrancis defrancb@georgetown.edu, Editor
John Connolly jpconnolly@crimson.ua.edu, Assistant Editor

Virginia Libraries
Volume 45, Number 3

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Virginia Reviews

Edited by Julie A. Campbell

Charles Joyner, Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. xiii + 361 pp. $19.95 (soft cover), $49.95 (hardcover).

Historian and folklorist Charles Joyner won the National University Press Book Award for his 1984 publication, Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community, a study of the rice plantations of the low country. Joyner repeats his success with this new volume of essays, which asks "large questions in small places" and develops his examination of the folk culture that distinguishes the South.

Joyner defines folk culture as what is unforgettable. It "embodies in its traditional chain of transmission the visions and values of the folk themselves." Although the elements of folk culture appear uncomplicated, in fact they constitute an intricately woven fabric of considerable complexity. Joyner rightly reminds readers that, from the beginning, "Europeans of various ethnic backgrounds converged with Africans of various ethnic backgrounds and with Native Americans of various ethnic backgrounds." The result is a rich mix of traditions that have stimulated and modified each other. He also correctly points out that the equating of "folk" with "rural" is narrow and inaccurate.

Joyner divides his volume into five sections. The first two examine the interrelationship between history and the study of folk culture, including three essays commenting on the approaches David Potter, David Hackett Fischer, and Henry Glassie have taken to southern history. The third section offers looks at the persistence of folk culture in the New South, with essays on the Jewish population in Georgetown, South Carolina, southern musical traditions, and the role of folk tradition on the civil-rights movement. The fourth section suggests ways in which history can enhance our understanding of folk culture, as a balance to the previous essays, which examine the importance of folk culture in understanding history. Joyner closes with an essay on the impact of resort development on the folk culture of the Carolina sea islands and concludes that, although the folk culture may be endangered, it is hardy and will, as always, adapt and modify.

Joyner is an unfussy writer who tackles the subject with gusto and insight. Much of the book concerns the low country of South Carolina as well as Appalachia. He includes a fascinating essay on "the passion" of John Brown in which he places Brown's actions at Harper's Ferry and his execution at Charleston within the context of social drama, an anthropological method of analyzing events in other cultures. Nevertheless, Joyner's emphasis on examining the folk culture of the South fits well with the growth of social history. "Folklorists," he writes, "need history to help them understand the process of change in folk culture; social historians need folklore to help them understand the role of the folk in history."

- reviewed by Barbara Batson, Exhibits Coordinator

 

John Saillant, ed., Afro-Virginian History and Culture. New York: Garland Publishing, 1999. x + 252 pp. $55.00.

On summer mornings for the past dozen years, a small exodus of researchers from the Library of Virginia occurs about an hour after the reading room opens. The departing patrons are historians whose innovative research projects on Virginia topics and scholarly promise earned them Andrew Mellon Research Fellowships at the Virginia Historical Society, where the reading room opens an hour after the Library's. This collection of nine essays, most by younger scholars with important books in their future, is testimony to how the fellowships are energizing the study of Virginia's past. I know just about all the contributors, and one of them, Gregg Kimball, is an esteemed colleague at the Library. Even if they were complete strangers, however, I would still recommend the book to libraries with Virginiana collections and to anyone interested in an exciting new look at Virginia's past.

Editor John Saillant asked each contributor to stimulate further research, and Mark M. Smith's fascinating exploration of the evolution of work discipline on Virginia plantations, which seems to parallel developments in the factory system, is a fine example of that approach. Some themes emerge, too. The opening essay, by Douglas B. Chambers, on the slave trade to Virginia in the eighteenth century, argues that Virginian's debt-ridden tobacco planters were of marginal importance in the Atlantic economy, and, therefore, relatively few slaves came to Virginia. Of those who did (usually directly from Africa), a larger portion than in other slave markets were women and children. As a consequence of this brutally calculated demographic pattern, Afro-Virginians were quick to form families and to create communities.

Kinship, friendship, and community figure prominently in all the essays. Gail S. Terry shows how slaves maintained bonds of kinship as Virginia planters moved west across the Appalachian Mountains, and John J. Zaborney investigates the practice of slave hiring and its consequences for families. Gregg Kimball shows how the congregation (largely slaves) of Richmond's First African Baptist Church communicated with former members in the free states, took up collections for missions in Liberia, and, on the whole, displayed a cosmopolitan awareness of the world outside Virginia. The black church is an equally important institution in Harold S. Forsythe's superb recreation of politics in Mecklenburg County during the 1880s, an example of local history at its best.

Other essays demonstrate the important roles of women. Michelle A. Krowl looks at the actions of African American women during the Civil War, and Barbara Bair highlights the roles that they played in the nationalist Garveyite movement of the 1920s. Both essays take subjects previously presented in male-oriented terms of self-assertion and independence and add illuminating complications. Philip J. Schwarz's essay, "The Gilliams' Dilemma," falls midway in the collection and is a sort of keystone. He tells of a free black family who had acquired property in Virginia, but who migrated north for greater opportunity and there successfully passed for white. All the virtues of this collection are present: careful research, a passion for understanding, and stories about human beings that will stick with you. This slim book is a very large monument to the success of the Virginia Historical Society's fellowship program.

- reviewed by John T. Kneebone, Director, Publications and Educational Services Division

 

Mary Louise Clifford, From Slavery to Freetown: Black Loyalists After the American Revolution. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1999. viii + 251 pp. $48.50.

Thousands of enslaved African Americans responded to British promises of freedom during the American Revolution, leaving their masters and homes to cross military lines. With the defeat of British forces and the Treaty of Paris, these ex-slaves became people without a country. Clifford's book focuses on those people who colonized first in Nova Scotia and then in Sierra Leone on Africa's west coast. In both places the expatriates carved out a difficult existence. In Nova Scotia the migrants faced poverty and racism; in Africa, life was complicated by colonial rivalries and politics, economic hardship, and conflict with native Africans. Despite these troubles, settlers created viable communities with religious and educational institutions.

Clifford's book sketches the overall history of the ex-slaves' experiences, relying mainly on secondary sources. But the author's primary focus is on the lives of a small group of black loyalists, among them Virginians Mary Perth, Moses Wilkinson, and David George. Early chapters introduce these central figures, describing their experiences under slavery and their initial bids for freedom. Each then reappears throughout the main narrative, which roughly spans the period from the American Revolution to the first decade of the nineteenth century. The use of the settlers' lives as a central narrative thread and the short, descriptive chapters should make the book accessible to a broad audience, but the sparse endnotes and minimal context and analysis may also limit understanding of the settlers' world.

- reviewed by Gregg Kimball, Assistant Director, Publications and Educational Services Division

 

Patricia West, Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America's House Museums. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999. xiii + 241 pp. $40.00 (hardcover), $17.95 (soft cover).

This book examines four historic sites: Mount Vernon, Orchard House, Monticello, and the Booker T. Washington National Monument, all but one of which (Orchard House) are in Virginia. House museums, West argues, are "products as well as purveyors of history." The founders of these institutions had varied and often complex motives. Some meant to memorialize a person, others intended to inculcate American values in recent immigrants, and most sought to advance political motives. Museums are not founded in vacuums, West writes, and they do not operate in one. Furniture, docents, and interpretation all reflect the climate of the times just as much (or more than) they reflect the past.

West begins her study with Mount Vernon, examining the role of antebellum women's associations in benevolence. Without the vote, women had only their moral influence to change the world around them. In the turbulent 1850s, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union converted George Washington's home into a shrine, raising funds by selling bouquets and postcards to visitors while attempting to bring together women from the North and South. After the war, women transferred the energies they had used in relief work to creating memorials, and house museums became model American homes.

Orchard House, the Concord, Massachusetts, home of writer Louisa May Alcott, was restored by women who set aside Alcott's pro-suffrage views and her father's transcendentalism for a more traditional "Little Women" house. The establishment of Monticello as a museum in the 1920s marked a turning point in the movement, when college-educated male professionals supplanted voluntary female organizations. Booker T. Washington's Franklin County birthplace, with its reconstructed cabin, received congressional support in the midst of the civil-rights movement, helping curators explore a very different type of history.

Historic house museums, West concludes, "were manufactured out of human needs bound by time and place." Founded in politically charged environments, house museums often attempted to present a carefully tailored, sanitized version of the past. In reality, the issues and conflicts of their times shaped the institutions. Domesticating History explores how and why these museums were founded, and thoughtfully considers their role in preserving America's past. Meaty endnotes and a handy index round out the illustrated volume.

- reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Assistant Editor, Virginia Cavalcade

 

John Gilman Kolp, Gentlemen and Freeholders: Electoral Politics in Colonial Virginia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. xi + 249 pp. $46.00.

Challenging Charles Sydnor's interpretation of colonial Virginia as a hierarchical, oligarchic society dominated by a handful of local elites, John Gilman Kolp argues that a variety of factors including geography, county formation, and local issues affected local elections for the House of Burgesses, leading to diverse political experiences for the colony's voters and officeholders. While long-established Tidewater counties with a stable gentry had few real electoral contests in the eighteenth century, newer Piedmont counties, particularly those lacking an established clique of gentry leaders, were far more likely to experience Ahighly competitive elections, long and costly campaigns, . . . and voter independence at the polls. The difference in interpretation, Kolp suggests, derives from the evidence historians use; while the letters and diaries of the gentry portray the ideal of an ordered political arrangement, existing pollbooks and reports of contested elections in the records of the House of Burgesses reveal that democracy, not oligarchy, ruled.

After looking in Part 1 at colonial law and issues from the local through the imperial level that affected elections, Kolp uses case studies of established eastern and newly formed frontier counties in Part 2 to demonstrate the variety of political cultures possible within the single political community of Virginia.

Kolp emphasizes the role of the small leaseholder in colonial politics. On average, about fifty percent of adult white Virginia males owned enough land to vote, while another twenty percent held life leases giving them the privilege. Kolp has found that tenants able to vote did so in significant numbers, forming as much as one half of the electorate, and making election results particularly difficult to predict. A divided or absent gentry only exacerbated the volatility of elections. Thus, Halifax County, a frontier community lacking an easily identifiable economic elite, experienced a combative style of politics resulting in frequent officeholder turnover as well as high political interest and awareness among voters.

Local issues, however, could also bring electoral volatility to established communities. Thus, in Accomack County, controversy over the need to seat a new church led to political squabbles lasting for decades. As tensions with Great Britain rose from the 1750s through the 1770s, however, Virginians in many counties experienced fewer competitive elections. Instead, voters were more likely to return incumbents to office, sending to Whitehall a message of colonial support for the House of Burgesses.

Kolp is an associate professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy. He used Virginia diaries, letters, newspapers, pollbooks, county histories, lists of tithables, and other rich sources to craft his political study, which is part of the "Early America: History, Context, Culture" series of the Johns Hopkins University Press.

- reviewed by Mary Carroll Johansen, Research Associate, Dictionary of Virginia Biography

 

Virginia Bookends

The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy makes a strong contribution to political study with its publication of the third edition of David Bearinger, ed., The Bill of Rights, The Courts, and the Law (Charlottesville: 1999, xx + 396 pp., $21.95 soft cover). The first two editions came out in 1987 and 1991. The current volume, which contains abridgements of fifty-five cases of the U.S. Supreme Court, features new material on property rights, federalism, assisted suicide, and (of special interest to librarians) the Internet and free speech. The six expert commentators all hail from Virginia institutions: University of Virginia, University of Richmond, Marshall-Wythe School of Law, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Sweet Briar College. The VFH and the Friends of Virginia Libraries have generously donated a copy to main-branch public libraries across the state, for which they deserve hearty thanks.

Researchers interested in Hanover County and African American history will want to see Black Hanoverians: An Enlightened Past (Rockville, Virginia: ITS Inc., 1999, 212 pp., $29.95 hardcover), by Dr. Vonita W. Foster, which includes interviews with black residents of Hanover County as well as photographs and a look at historical documents. It is the first in a projected three-part series, which will also cover "homes and communities" and "growth and pursuits." To order the book, send a check or purchase order for $29.95 to ITS Inc., P.O. Box 302, Rockville, VA 23146-0302.

Genealogists will be happy to learn of the publication of the newest volume of the ever-popular Cavaliers and Pioneers: Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, Volume 7, 1762-1776 (Richmond: Virginia Genealogical Society, 1999, $40) edited by Dennis R. Hudgins. The useful, information-packed book includes references to adjacent landowners and to earlier patentees who failed to pay quitrents. Historian John M. Hemphill II writes the introduction. To order, contact the VGS at 5001 W. Broad St., #115, Richmond, Virginia 23230.

Loudoun County: 250 Years of Towns and Villages, by Mary Fishback and the Thomas Balch Library Commission, is part of the "Images of America" series from Arcadia Publishing, 2 Cumberland St., Charleston, South Carolina 29401. Packed into 127 pages of this attractive little book ($18.99 soft cover) are more than 200 black-and-white photographs of historic homes, churches, schools, businesses, and other county institutions. Happily, many of the places are alive and well, but the caption of a ca. 1880 photo of the George Washington Hummer family says that their farm "is now the site of the new Holiday Inn on Route 28, near Dulles Airport."

The University of North Carolina Press has issued a soft cover reprint of Rhys Isaac's book, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill: 1999, xl + 451 pp., $16.95). Dr. Isaac, who teaches at the College of William and Mary, contributes a new preface to his important study, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Historical Society Book Prize in 1983. The Times Literary Supplement calls it "one of the best-and most provocative-books written on colonial Anglo-America."

Another soft cover reprint of interest comes during the 200th anniversary of George Washington's death: The Invention of George Washington, by Paul K. Longmore (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, x + 337 pp., $16.95). First published in 1988, the book studies how Washington himself shaped his image. The "well-written and thoroughly researched work explains George Washington's career in terms of his lifelong ambition for public recognition," writes Choice.

Civil War Bookends:

From the University of South Carolina Press comes The Civil War Letters of Alexander Campbell, 79th New York Infantry Regiment, and James Campbell, 1st South Carolina Battalion, edited by Terry A. Johnston Jr. (xx + 190 pp., $24.95 hardcover). The Campbells were Scottish immigrants who chose to fight on opposite sides of the war. Alexander wrote to his wife, Jane, in October of 1861 from "Camp of the big chesnut Va": "You must bear in mind that a Letter from home is thought a great deal of out here. Just consider yourself away in the wilds of Virginia and Living the way I am."

White Mane Publishing Company, of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and its imprints White Mane Books and Burd Street Press, have five new titles. First is Ben F. Fordney, Stoneman at Chancellorsville: The Coming of Age of Union Cavalry (White Mane Books: 1999, ix + 77 pp., $7.95 soft cover). The author, who teaches at James Madison University, wrote the book due to his conviction that George Stoneman "was a significant figure, who has received little recognition from historians, despite both his role in several crucial campaigns and his postwar service."

Virginian John Tyler anchors one chapter of Walter Brian Cisco, Taking a Stand: Portraits from the Southern Secession Movement (White Mane Books: 1999, viii + 141 pp., $24.95 hardcover). Cisco examines the motives of five secessionists. "I hope that my approach," he writes in the preface, "particularly in allowing these diverse but representative individuals to speak for themselves, will contribute to a fuller and fairer understanding of them and their cause."

In December 1863, Union forces attacked Salem, Virginia. That event is the focus of Darrell L. Collins, General William Averell's Salem Raid: Breaking the Knoxville Supply Line (Burd Street Press: 1999, ix + 174 pp., $24.95 hardcover). Collins calls Averell's feat "one of the most daring and remarkable" of its kind.

A famous battle gets a new treatment at the hands of JoAnna M. McDonald, "We Shall Meet Again": The First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), July 18-21, 1861 (White Mane Books: 1999, xii + 230 pp., $27.95 hardcover). The publisher says it "is the first book on this subject to include forty-five maps and over 200 photographs of the individual soldiers."

And finally comes a study of the development of the Confederate navy by R. Thomas Campbell, Academy on the James: The Confederate Naval School (Burd Street Press: 1999, xii + 283 pp., $39.95 hardcover). The Confederacy needed a navy and it needed to train its sailors, and thus was born the naval school. The classroom was not in a building somewhere in Richmond but afloat on the James River and onboard the CSS Patrick Henry.


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