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Virginia Libraries

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

July-September, 2001
Volume 47, Number 3

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Virginia Books

Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Julie A. Campbell, Editor

Edward L. Bond, Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2001. xi + 330 pp. $35.00 (hardcover).

This book is the first serious study of the religious life of seventeenth-century Virginia. Unlike most previous writers, the author began with the assumption that religious beliefs were important to the colonists and that their beliefs and practices had important consequences for the development of the colony. His inquiry identifies the roots of those beliefs and traces the implications of those practices.

Unlike the mother country, Virginia harbored relatively little religious prejudice and experienced almost no sectarian violence and repression. Unlike some other colonies, Virginia did not burn witches or banish dissenters to the wilderness. While the ramifications of the Reformation were still being worked out elsewhere, often with violent consequences for minority sects, the Virginians learned how to live together more or less peacefully and not demand so much doctrinal uniformity as to produce resentment or generate hostility. Instead, even without intending to, they gradually developed a political culture that fostered religious liberty, which was one of the most important concepts that the Virginians of the Revolutionary generation contributed to the rest of us.

The title harkens back to the old view and to the often-quoted exclamation of an English bureaucrat who responded to a plea that more be done to nurture the religious life of the colony and to save the souls of the colonists: "Souls! Damn your Souls! Make Tobacco." Although that attitude may have come from England, the Virginians, as Edward L. Bond shows clearly in this important new book, took very good care of themselves, indeed, and not only saved their souls but made tobacco and prospered materially.

-reviewed by Brent Tarter, Assistant Director, Division of Publications and Educational Services

Kevin Berland et al., eds., The Commonplace Book of William Byrd II of Westover. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. xv + 319 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).

The Commonplace Book of William Byrd II of Westover is an informative examination of the education of would-be gentlemen in Anglo-American society. For much of his life, William Byrd II (1674-1744) jotted down snippets of conversations and bits of the written word that particularly caught his ear and eye. The editors describe the result as "a collection of moral wit and wisdom, ancient and modern…together with a miscellaneous jumble of anecdotes, jokes, and recipes," a compilation of almost 600 entries in a bound volume known as a commonplace book.

In Byrd's only surviving commonplace book, the entries are interesting and amusing, but the editors provide the real meat. Their useful essays discuss education and the use of the commonplace book in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Byrd was sent to England at age seven and spent much of his life there before settling permanently in Virginia in 1726. The commonplace book and the editors' notes suggest how Byrd absorbed the changing values of gentility that sought to instill a sense of public responsibility.

Byrd's reading of the classic texts from ancient Greece and Rome provided guidelines for developing virtue and reason. Students at the time reconstructed lectures, readings, and conversations in their commonplace book as assignments. Doing so honed students' skills in argument and reason and developed the ability to read for understanding. Kenneth Lockridge's essay suggests that the commonplace book, which he dates to 1721-1726, reflects Byrd's uneasy passage into middle age and into his role as a leader in Virginia society.

The entries in the book reflect a wide variety of topics, including women, religion, public virtue, medical practices, and science. The editors provide contextualizing notes on many of the entries. For example, in Entry 396, Byrd recounts the success of Dr. Radcliff, a prominent physician and skilled diagnostician during the reigns of William of Orange and Queen Anne. Reading Byrd's entry suggests that Radcliff was a popular physician who enjoyed the favor of the royal house. The editors' explication, however, details Radcliff's problems with Whig adversaries, thus adding historical background and understanding.

One of the editors, Jan Kersten Gilliam, is an associate curator at Colonial Williamsburg. The book is a publication for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, also in Williamsburg.

-reviewed by Barbara Batson, Exhibits Coordinator

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s-1880s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. xix + 412 pp. $55.00 (hardcover), $19.95 (softcover).

In The Shaping of Southern Culture, Bertram Wyatt-Brown contends that the Civil War was not caused merely by disputes over the politics or economics of states rights or slavery. Rather, Southern notions of honor and Christianity were causes of the conflict as fundamental as political differences. He examines the interrelationship between honor and religion in the antebellum and postbellum American South and deftly explains how honor and religion led to war, and how war altered them.

Wyatt-Brown argues that the Revolutionary generation was greatly motivated by honor, and Southern Revolutionaries even more so, for the slaves living within their midst served as a reminder of what the loss of honor and liberty meant. Southerners linked personal and political honor. An attack on a Southerner's political views became an assault on his personal integrity. Backing down from a political confrontation damaged not only one's political prestige, but one's personal honor. Andrew Jackson was the epitome of this dilemma.

Religion in the South created an atmosphere of honor sanctioned by God. Southern ministers found themselves pulled into the sphere of honor and justified the personal and political views of the Southern white class. When the South and slavery came under attack from Northern abolitionists and ministers, Southern ministers agreed with Southern politicians that the only defense of their way of life was secession. They also concurred that honorable men with God on their side could not lose.

When war came and the Confederate cause was defeated, Southerners received a psychic blow. Many fell into severe depression; some became lethargic for the rest of their lives; others went insane. Defeat dealt a double blow. It would take a generation for Southerners to reclaim their sense of honor and their belief that they were a chosen people.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown is the author of works on Southern honor and other topics. He is the Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida.

-reviewed by Trenton Hizer, Private Papers Archivist

Rod Andrew Jr., Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. viii + 169 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).

In Long Gray Lines, Rod Andrew Jr. examines the development of military schools in the South from 1839 to the beginning of World War I. Although he discusses the institutions that existed before the Civil War and their importance in the development of later schools, his primary focus is on schools that developed after the war, including those established for young African American men. This thin volume is not intended to provide a comprehensive look at all of the South's military schools, but rather the common ideas that bound them together.

Andrew's main objective is to show that Southern military schools were not founded on a distinctive tradition advocating deliberate preparation for war, hostility toward the North, and opposition to threats against slavery from outside the region. Rather, Andrews argues that these schools, before and after the Civil War, were more concerned with republicanism and with instilling moral, mental, and physical values and traits in the South's young men. Although he discusses the major military schools that existed before the Civil War, such as the Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel, he also pays attention to colleges established by the Morrill Land Grant of 1862 that created their own military education programs.

Long Gray Lines should occupy a spot on the shelf of any library seeking to maintain strong Southern history and education collections. It reads well and is backed by substantial research in primary and secondary sources. The book includes both a bibliography and annotated endnotes. The author is an assistant professor of history at Clemson University and a former teacher at the Citadel.

-reviewed by Dale F. Harter, Assistant Editor, Virginia Cavalcade

William C. Davis, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2001. xiv + 496 pp. $30.00 (hardcover).

It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction. In An Honorable Defeat, William C. Davis demonstrates that the true story of the final days of the Confederate government is as compelling as a novel. As a matter of fact, it would be difficult to write fiction that is as gripping, lively, and fast-paced as this narrative.

The book focuses on two men, high-ranking professional politicians with opposing visions of the demise of the doomed Confederate nation. One, Jefferson Davis, the autocratic president of the Confederacy, vowed to fight on to the last, taking his government and army to Texas and eventually to Mexico if need be. The more pragmatic John C. Breckenridge, secretary of war, realized the ever-increasing futility of the struggle and worked toward the most lenient and favorable surrender terms available. The book traces the flight of both men and the entire Confederate cabinet, Davis's "government on wheels," from the fall of Richmond to their eventual escape or capture.

Even after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Davis refused to concede defeat. With every shift farther south, Davis and his government's decisions became of less and less consequence; department heads had no departments; governmental authority disintegrated as it was literally run into the ground. All the while, Breckenridge worked toward peace, which Davis wanted to fail, consequently forcing Southerners to fight on. After the surrender of Johnston's army in North Carolina, Davis grudgingly and slowly realized that his fate was sealed. For his own good- mand almost without Davis's knowledge-Breckenridge made the president's escape his personal mission.

Here is a vivid, day-by-day account of Davis and his band. Using first-hand accounts by participants in the journey, the author weaves a compelling tale with intimate insight into the characters of Davis, Breckenridge, and company. William C. Davis is well-_qualified to write on the final days of the Confederacy from this perspective, having written definitive biographies on both protagonists. As a chronicle of the final days of the Confederacy and the flight of its leaders, the book is unsurpassed-and a great read.

-reviewed by Eddie Woodward, Local Records Archivist

Ethel Morgan Smith. From Whence Cometh My Help: The African American Community at Hollins College. Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2000. xiii +147 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).

The dust jacket of this book reproduces a grainy photograph from the 1903 edition of The Spinster, the Hollins College yearbook, showing two black women and a child bearing huge baskets filled with washing on their heads. Their faces are unidentifiable blurs. Ethel Morgan Smith, a professor of English at West Virginia University, began learning about these women as a graduate student in the famed creative writing program of Hollins College (now University), in Roanoke. As an older, African American student, she became interested in the black workers at the school and in the nearby neighborhood known as the Hollins Community, where many of the workers and the descendants of earlier generations of the washerwomen, waiters, janitors, and others who had served the school continued to live.

Her interest in the community initially met with resistance, but Smith had the good fortune to meet and become a friend of Mary Emma Bruce, a community leader and, as portrayed here, a generous, proud, and forgiving woman. Smith's times with Bruce obviously inspired her, and Bruce is the book's central figure. She, too, was a worker at Hollins, but her native intelligence enabled her to escape from cleaning dormitories to preparing chemicals and equipment for the science courses. When indifferent professors left her in charge during examinations, Bruce took the tests herself, scoring at the top. When Smith met her, however, she was retired from Hollins, without a pension, and still working in domestic service past the age of eighty.

Smith's anger at her discovery that Hollins and other Southern colleges and universities depended on a low-wage African American workforce that reproduced and reinforced the racial inequality of the larger society fuels the narrative. Smith also offers a capsule history of the college and of its black workers, beginning with the slaves brought there before the Civil War by the school's founder. In addition to the conversations with Bruce, the book includes oral-history interviews with other community members, transcriptions of old newspaper stories about favorite headwaiters and chauffeurs at the college, and reproductions of family photographs.

Smith is not a trained historian, however, and, with the narrative cast in the first person, the book is also a quasi-memoir of her own journey of self-discovery and reconciliation with the memory of her mother, a domestic servant required to be with her employers on the holidays instead of with her own family.

Ultimately, Smith packs her book with more purposes than she can fulfill. She is stimulating, not exhaustive. Nonetheless, the book offers a new and highly important way to think about the history of institutions of higher education in Virginia and the South. If the individual features of those workers from 1903 never come into focus, we do learn why their presence at Hollins mattered.

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

Sarah Shields Driggs, Richard Guy Wilson, and Robert P. Winthrop, Richmond's Monument Avenue. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. xi + 280 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).

Stretching west a mile and a half from its junction with West Franklin Street, the historic section of Richmond's Monument Avenue is the product of several currents in Southern society at the turn of the last century. It is here, on this grand, tree-lined avenue, that the generation of white Richmonders who experienced the Civil War enshrined their heroes and memorialized what they termed "The Lost Cause." It was here that Richmond finally made an important acknowledgement of the accomplishments of an African American hero. Monument Avenue also stands as a showcase of architectural styles on a grand scale, originally inspired by the City Beautiful movement. Richmond's Monument Avenue beautifully chronicles these and other parallel trends in society, sentiment, and architecture, and the handsome boulevard that was the result.

Central to the story of Monument Avenue is that of the six statuary monuments that serve as visual and emotional focal points along the street. The authors chronicle the often long and controversial debates that surrounded the appearance and location of the various statues. Monument Avenue is of such emotional, historical, and social importance to the city that heated debate over design and placement was common to bronzes of Confederate generals and African American sports champions alike. The description of the march toward the final versions of these monuments, whether in the 1890s or the 1990s, is a fascinating tale of factions, boosters, designers, and historians.

To the casual observer, the grand houses along Monument Avenue may appear to be simply individual exercises in architecture over the years by a series of moneyed Richmonders. To some extent this is true, but there is a subtext of real-estate speculation and the use of the grand boulevard as an open-air showroom of the building arts. In many cases, the earliest residents of the street were associated with architecture, the building trade, and real estate. They intended the homes they created on this, Richmond's grandest street, to demonstrate their affluence, enhance the value of the area, and display their talent and products. As one example of this trend, the authors cite the Binswanger family, a major supplier of glass in Richmond. Each of the four homes the family built on Monument Avenue was designed to demonstrate the quality and high style of the family's glass products.

The influence on Monument Avenue of another Richmond family is explained in the story of the Davis Brothers firm. This extended family of builders played an important role in the construction of housing and apartments for more middle-class residents who still wanted the cachet of a Monument Avenue address. Davis Brothers purchased multiple parcels along the street and built many handsome but affordable residences. The authors note that this created a bridge to the rest of the surrounding Fan District not shared by the large, high-style Georgian town homes of the wealthy. This volume does an admirable job of tracking the development of Monument Avenue and putting this grand street in the context of the surrounding city.

Of particular note are the graphics in Richmond's Monument Avenue. The images are a combination of period photographs collected from a variety of repositories, architectural drawings from the Library of Virginia, and the sumptuous photography of John Peters. He painstakingly composed his photos and made them over a span of seasons in order to best capture the face of Monument Avenue. He has also overcome the difficulty of capturing buildings and statues that are often obscured by trees, and the challenge of finding proper light for the buildings on the south side of the street.

Period photographs, like those of the Lee monument standing starkly in a veritable prairie, underscore what a blank slate the area was before it was developed. These make a wonderful contrast to Peters's color photographs of Monument Avenue as it appears today. To find the same structures in both images gives an appreciation of how the setting for these jewel-like homes and churches has evolved over a hundred years.

Richmond's Monument Avenue is an admirable combination of urban social history and a record of the architectural development of this unique boulevard. This, plus the combination of historic black-and-white and luminescent modern color plates, make the volume a worthy addition to the bookshelf of any Virginian.

-reviewed by Selden Richardson, sSenior Archivist for Architectural Records

Oliver W. Hill Sr., with Jonathan K. Stubbs, ed. The Big Bang: Brown v. Board of Education and Beyond: The Autobiography of Oliver W. Hill, Sr. Winter Park, Florida: FOUR-G Publishers, Inc., 2000. xxiv + 376 pp. $24.95 (hardcover), $19.95 (softcover).

On 11 August 1999, Oliver W. Hill received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for his six decades as a civil-rights lawyer. Best known for his participation as a trial lawyer in David vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County, one of five school-segregation cases the U.S. Supreme Court decided under Brown vs. Board of Education, in 1954, Hill was part of the Virginia team of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that filed more civil-rights suits in Virginia than in any other southern state during the segregation era. From his earliest years as a lawyer before World War II until his retirement in 1998, Oliver Hill has been a courageous leader for social change, fully deserving the honors that he has received.

His autobiography is based on extensive interviews with Hill that Jonathan K. Stubbs, a professor at the University of Richmond law school, has edited into a fascinating narrative. Hill recalls in detail growing up in Richmond and Roanoke before moving to Washington, D.C. to attend high school. He went on to Howard University and was among the group of talented law students, including his friend Thurgood Marshall and his later partner Samuel W. Tucker, whom Dean Charles Houston recruited to undo the legal framework of racial segregation. Hill established his busy but never lucrative practice in Richmond in 1939. Following military service in World War II, he became in 1948 the first African American elected to the Richmond city council since the Reconstruction era.

The story told here is an important one, and Hill tells it from the inside. He reveals what it was like to practice law in Virginia a half- century ago. He deftly characterizes his contemporaries, and he recalls forgotten details of events that have entered the history books. The book is an essential addition to any collection on Virginia. It is also a very satisfying read. Copies can be ordered from the Oliver W. Hill Book Fund, 3108 Noble Avenue, Richmond, VA 23228, or through the Library Shop at the Library of Virginia.

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


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