Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Sara B. Bearss, Editor
Helen C. Rountree. Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough: Three Indian Lives Change by Jamestown. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2005. xii + 292 pp. $29.95 (hardcover).
Helen C. Rountree has written a monograph on the early years of the Virginia colony from the Indian point of view. She begins by listing several caveats, warning the reader that John Smith will be known as "Chawnzmit" and the English adventurers as "invaders" and "strangers." She has stated that it was difficult consistently to tell the story backward, as it were, deliberately reading the primary sources from the alternate point of view. Having researched and written about Virginia's Powhatan Indians for more than thirty years, however, Rountree is certainly the scholar most qualified to make the attempt. In her introduction, she discusses the difficulties of this approach, the absolute dearth of primary Indian documents, the widespread destruction of records in the counties of early settlement, and the necessity of depending on English first-person narratives, some of which were written several years after contact. Nevertheless, Rountree emphasizes that this is no work of fiction. Her scrupulous use of these sources, as well as her longtime study of cultural and anthropological evidence and the information she introduces from new developments in dendrochronology and ethnobotany, all inform a new view of Jamestown's three principal Indian actors that will satisfy academic and general audiences alike.
In the anticipatory atmosphere generated by the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's founding, interest in Pocahontas requires a new attempt to place these three historical actors in the correct context. Through this book and earlier articles, Rountree has repositioned Pocahontas in Virginia's historical pantheon, dispelling the worst myths about her and leaving a less important but more three-dimensional character than either Disney or the D'Aulaires ever tried to envision. In chapters entitled "The Alliance's Creaky Beginning" and "Contain Them, Then Let Them Starve," Powhatan and Opechancanough also emerge from the sources as multidimensional leaders, dealing with tribal, domestic, and diplomatic issues, and sometimes trapped by their own cultural perspectives into too sanguine an attitude about the long-term fortunes of the English. Powhatan is rendered as a still-intimidating presence whose decisions emphasize the terrible importance of corn in a subsistence farming culture. Opechancanough is less a bloodthirsty old man and more a canny strategist who saw, perhaps more clearly than his elder brother, just how desperate the Powhatans' situation had become.
The fact that the reader also fears for the Powhatans' situation attests to the success of Rountree's endeavor. Her use of maps and photographs are an extra method of keeping the reader anchored in the Powhatan territory and the Virginia countryside. Finally, her engaging writing style and colloquial explanations cap the project, making this work a useful correlative for American libraries.—reviewed by Patricia F. Watkinson, Research Archivist
Carl R. Lounsbury. The Courthouses of Early Virginia: An Architectural History. Colonial Williamsburg Studies in Chesapeake History and Culture. Cary Carson, Series Editor. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2005. xxii + 430 pp. $65.00 (hardcover).
Using a wealth of primary source information culled from local court records, Carl R. Lounsbury tackles the task of explaining the complex history of civic architecture in Virginia. From the taverns of the colonial era to nineteenth--century brick edifices, The Courthouses of Early Virginia unveils the story not only of public architecture but also of the burgeoning governmental system as well. Indeed, Lounsbury's work illustrates that the advance of civic architecture is inextricably linked to the maturation of the judicial arm of government.
Court Day in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries revolved around an almost carnival-like atmosphere with hucksters, shopkeepers, and barmen drawing most of the attention and leaving jurisprudence as an afterthought. As the laws and their enforcement became more a part of everyday life, the tavern or ordinary gradually became a less appropriate place to hold court. The gentlemen justices wanted to convey the transition from an itinerant judiciary to a more permanent one in the edifices they erected. The Courthouses of Early Virginia cites numerous English antecedents for building designs and fittings that developed in America. The author points not to the professional architect as the source, but to the importation of architectural publications and the travels of wealthy gentry in local positions of power.
Lounsbury also contends that the elevation of courthouse architecture reflects the rise in the status of county officials. These men used architecture to convey the solidity and status of their rank and power. This status expressed itself in the gradual transformation from clapboard-and-beam, single-room buildings to substantial masonry structures with such embellishments as arcades, cupolas, and fanlights and such interior fittings as raised platforms for the justices. Also reflected in this development was the growing complexity of court procedures. Local order books illustrate that eighteenth-century justices began calling for more room in their new buildings for recordkeeping, office space, and jury rooms. Slowly, the court complex with jail, clerk's office, and other municipal structures developed around "the square." Lounsbury contends that by the 1730s, courthouses in Virginia had become distinct enough that they were not to be confused with any other type of building.
The author devotes a chapter to explaining in detail the design and construction of a new civic building. Lounsbury combed through original records to identify the builders of county and city courthouses. The information gleaned from these sources reveals interesting facts about the social structure of the period. In addition, the author demonstrates how local building practices and regional precedent helped determine the design of new courthouses.
The Early Courthouses of Virginia: An Architectural History gives attention not only to the structural, but also to the development of interior fittings and furniture and their relationship to larger social changes, such as the evolution of the lawyer's profession. Lounsbury concisely lays out his argument that the development of public architecture is interwoven with the growth of the government itself. No one person or event initiated the shift from small, domestic-scale court buildings to substantial public structures; rather, a number of factors combined to instigate this change. The examples and images used by Lounsbury to illustrate his theories, as well as the "Checklist of Public Buildings in Early Virginia" inserted as an appendix, make this volume not only a compelling read but also a useful reference source as well.—reviewed by Vincent Brooks, Senior Archivist for Architectural Records
Joseph J. Ellis. His Excellency, George Washington. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. xiv + 320 pp. $26.95 (hardcover).
With apologies to Thomas L. Connelly and Robert E. Lee, George Washington is American history's original Marble Man. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams have come down through the years as flesh-and-blood figures, warts and all, who reveal the American Revolution as a triumph of the human spirit. But not so Washington. As Joseph J. Ellis writes in His Excellency, George Washington, most Americans have grown up with an image of Washington as an aloof, distant demigod of the Revolutionary era, staring stonily at them from the one-dollar bill. And yet, even with that perception, Washington is considered primer inter pares — first among equals of the Founding Fathers.
None of the other Founders is considered the indispensable man that Washington was. When the Continental Congress cast about for a general to lead the rebelling colonies' army, it turned quickly to Washington and considered no other. When the federal constitutional convention designed the office of the presidency, it did so with Washington in mind as the first occupier of that position. Ellis notes that other Founders were wiser, more brilliant, better read, more intellectually sophisticated, or more politically astute, but all deferred to Washington. In His Excellency, Ellis explores how Washington achieved this status among the group of men considered the most brilliant and original of their time and in all American history.
Washington achieved his success through his iron will, which brought his youthful ambition and severe temper under control. He often curbed his immediate desires in order to achieve longer-lasting aims, and showed an ability to persevere through less-than-ideal situations in order to succeed in larger goals. Washington realized the need to diversify his crops at Mount Vernon to free himself from personal debt to British merchants, and in doing so he perceived political parallels that led him to support revolution. During the Revolutionary War, the impetuous nature of his youth conflicted with the more measured nature of his maturity, but Washington overcame his desire to defeat the British army in an open battle and instead wore the British down. In doing so, he won a greater victory and independence for his new nation.
When that new nation reformed its government in 1787, Washington understood that a stronger federal government was needed to secure the freedoms won in the Revolution. As in the Revolution, Washington's success became intertwined with that of the new government. Only his reputation and his measured handling of the new authority given the presidency could bring enough stability for the government to survive. It is hard to imagine any other Founding Father guiding the new ship of state successfully through the troubled waters of the 1790s. Washington set many of the precedents that prevented the presidency from devolving into a position of lifetime authority while also giving it the necessary prestige to work.
Ellis's book provides great insight into George Washington and gives a clearer portrait of the man behind the marble, revealing his fiery temper and ambition. It ably describes how Washington controlled and handled these traits in order to gain not only a greater reputation for himself, but also a new nation.— reviewed by Trenton E. Hizer, Senior Finding Aids Archivist
Damon Lee Fowler, ed. Dining at Monticello: In Good Taste and Abundance. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2005. 202 pp. $35.00 (hardcover).
When considering Thomas Jefferson's place in American food history, historians are likely to laud him as the visionary who introduced ice cream to the United States, denigrate him (as Patrick Henry did) as the gourmand who "abjured his native victuals in favor of French cuisine," or ignore him altogether. In the halls of culinary legend, Jefferson occupies a space that is often, as editor Damon Lee Fowler writes, "lost between exaggeration and inattention." Dining at Monticello succeeds in giving substance to Jefferson's role as a developer of American cuisine.
Dining at Monticello addresses Jeffersonian food ways and food lore, from procurement and production to preparation and presentation. Scholars from a variety of disciplines contribute ten essays to this volume. Justin A. Sarafin finds that, although Jefferson appreciated the food he found in France and designed his kitchen around a French model, he remained an advocate of indigenous American foodstuffs. (For example, he requested that pecans and cranberries be shipped to Europe.) Dianne Swann-Wright discusses the distinctive African note that enslaved cooks and gardeners overlaid on Jefferson's cuisine, as well as the meals they prepared for their own families. Karen Hess examines the extensive records that attest to Jefferson's food practices and preferences. Elizabeth V. Chew considers the complex systems required for feeding a large household and how women, free and slave alike, worked to oversee the kitchen, supervise storage spaces, secure ingredients both familiar and exotic, and monitor the use of valuable foodstuffs.
Other essays explore such topics as Jeffersonian hospitality, Jefferson's fascination with gardening, and the emerging importance of wine to Jefferson. Historical notes sprinkled throughout the book explain obscure terms, describe practices, and shed light on individuals such as Burwell Colbert, Jefferson's butler at Monticello. Also included are photographs of Monticello documents, scenes, art works, and artifacts that all serve to illuminate Jefferson's food environment.
The second half of this book comprises a collection of seventy-seven recipes culled from references in family documents and developed by Fowler. Adapted to suit modern equipment and ingredients, they provide readers an intriguing glimpse of historic Virginia cooking. Cooks, too, will enjoy revisiting such old standards as okra soup and bread pudding and experimenting with olla (a pork and vegetable stew of Spanish origin) and wine jellies.
Drawing material from Jefferson family papers, recollections of visits to Monticello and Washington, D.C., and period cookery books, these essays contain sound scholarship. They are accessible to the general public and will appeal to readers interested in Jefferson himself as well as historical American cookery.— reviewed by Kelly Gilbert, Research Archivist
T. Keister Greer. Genesis of a Virginia Frontier: The Origins of Franklin County, Virginia, 1740–1785. Rocky Mount, Va.: History House Press, 2005. xxvi + 150 pp. $20.00 (softcover).
In Genesis of a Virginia Frontier: The Origins of Franklin County, Virginia, 1740–1785, T. Keister Greer revisits his 1946 University of Virginia honors thesis. This work has survived almost sixty years and remains an accurate reference source.
Greer begins his exploration of the history of Franklin County with the presence of Native Americans. Unfortunately, the written references to the members of the Sapony and other tribes are few, and they dry up suddenly — as if the Native American population suddenly disappeared.
Next, Greer examines the immigration to Franklin County of people of European heritage. To facilitate the discussion, Greer creates three "periods" of settlement: the first ending with the French and Indian War, the second from 1756 to the American Revolution, and the third from 1776 "until the formation of the county and the subsequent stabilization of its national, racial, and religious composition." Each of these sections contains an alphabetized listing of prominent settlers, many with brief biographical sketches. Greer also investigates the role of religion in the region, specifically in regard to the presence of the Anglican Church, as well as the Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.
Finally, Greer discusses the movement to establish Franklin County from lands previously in Bedford and Henry Counties, the creation of elements of county government, and the challenges faced by the new county. The appendix comprises eight detailed maps of the Franklin County region with dates ranging from 1731 to 1946, as well as a map of the Franklin County watershed.
This work has emerged as a classic about the origins of colonial settlement of the geographic region that became Franklin County. Since the book focuses on the period before the formation of the county, constructing it required a complex research methodology. As detailed in the 1946 introduction, the author used records from counties that previously encompassed what is now Franklin County, including Bedford, Brunswick, Lunenburg, Halifax, Henry, and Pittsylvania. Greer details the limitations of the available resources as well as the documentary treasures.
The detail and extent of research initially carried out by Greer nearly sixty years ago is evident in this new paperback release. With great care, he acknowledges new findings related to the history of Franklin County in both the preface and the introduction. Still a relevant study of frontier Virginia, this work illustrates the settling of the western portion of Virginia.—reviewed by Laura Drake Davis, State Records Archivist
Alice Davis Wood. Dr. Francis T. Stribling and Moral Medicine: Curing the Insane at Virginia's Western State Hospital, 1836–1874. Waynesboro, Va.: Gallileo Gianniny Publishing, 2004. 292 pp. (softcover). Available print-on-demand from Xlibris Corporation, http://www.xlibris.com.
In 1825, Virginia's General Assembly created the Western Lunatic Asylum (after 1841, the Western Asylum, and after 1894, the Western State Hospital) for Virginians "of the western waters" who desperately needed treatment for their mental illnesses. Under the guidance of Dr. Francis T. Stribling, superintendent from 1836 to 1874, the Staunton hospital emerged as a leading facility in the movement to rehabilitate insane asylums. Stribling's tenure is the subject of Alice David Wood's Dr. Francis T. Stribling and Moral Medicine: Curing the Insane at Virginia's Western State Hospital, 1836–1874.
The volume is divided into twelve chapters and includes an appendix of documents and statistics related to Stribling's work. A glossary defines specific nineteenth-century medical terms.
Wood begins by writing about Stribling's early childhood, youth, and education. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, he spent four years in private medical practice and became the Western Lunatic Asylum's second superintendent in 1836. Stribling quickly emerged as Virginia's strongest supporter for the moral medicine movement.
Stribling believed that the "recent insane" could be cured if treated early. To encourage recovery, the hospital staff members created a cheerful living environment; patients were not shackled to their beds but were instead free to move about and engage in physical activities. Also, Stribling separated patients according to the severity of their illnesses and constructed separate living structures for the most severe and dangerous cases. Other hospitals around the nation adopted these innovative techniques.
Stribling's relationship with the superintendent of the Eastern Asylum in Williamsburg (after 1894, Eastern State Hospital), his correspondence with the antebellum reformer Dorothea Dix, and his communication with paying constituents and with the General Assembly are the focus of much discussion in the book. Stribling's attempts to create hospitals for Virginia's black population who suffered from mental illness are also discussed.
The Western Asylum and Francis T. Stribling's medical career survived the Civil War. Stribling remained superintendent and witnessed changes in the manner in which Virginia's mental health institutions provided care for the mentally ill. Increasingly, these facilities were regarded as holding facilities for Virginia's insane, and little emphasis was placed on curing patients of their mental diseases. Stribling strove to provide quality patient care and did so until his death in 1874.
Dr. Francis T. Stribling and Moral Medicine is a readable study of Stribling's career at the Western Asylum. Although the text suffers from poor editing and awkward sentence structure, anyone interested in Stribling's career and the history of Western State Hospital should read this work. The author clearly admires Stribling, and the information provided will be useful to anyone researching the history of Virginia's mental health institutions, Dorothea Dix, or the antebellum reform movement that Dix led to change how the nation treated its mentally ill.—reviewed by Cassandra Britt Farrell, Research Archivist
Peter Wallenstein and Bertram Wyatt-Brown, eds. Virginia's Civil War. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2005. xiii + 303 pp. $35.00 (hardcover).
With the end of the Civil War, the South was left a scarred landscape of burned buildings, hungry families, and tattered veterans. In Virginia, railroads, factories, and farms were in ruins. Communities and families were reeling from loss. With their empty sleeves and limping gaits, Confederate veterans served as tangible reminders of the war's devastation. While those who died were later glorified by the Lost Cause, those who returned were left behind to face the realities of life in the New South.
The twenty essays collected in Virginia's Civil War were largely contributed by younger scholars addressing difficult questions: What did the Civil War mean to Virginia — and what did Virginia mean to the Civil War? On the eve of secession, Virginia had the largest population in the South and the greatest number of slaves. Once the Commonwealth's voters ratified the Ordinance of Secession on May 23, 1861, Virginia joined the Confederacy and Richmond was named capital of the new nation. By the war's end, twenty-six major battles and more than four hundred skirmishes had left their mark. More men fought and died in Virginia than in any other state. "Petersburg has been a pretty Place," one Union soldier wrote in April 1865, "but it is a hard looking Place now." The same could be said for the rest of the Commonwealth.
The essays in Virginia's Civil War are arranged in three sections. The first four authors examine Robert E. Lee and the issues confronting his men. Most of the essays fall into the book's second section, which is devoted to the war itself; here, ten authors emphasize the wartime home front and explore questions of gender, race, and religion. In the last section on postwar Virginia, six essayists consider the conflict's aftermath. The essays are bracketed by a thoughtful introduction and an afterword by the editors, and supplemented by an appendix that includes some primary sources.
The book, which grew out of the Douglas Southall Freeman Conference held at the University of Richmond in 2002, showcases works in progress and, in the editors' opinion, "suggests what remains undone as well as what is underway." Perhaps the most intriguing essays examine the unexpected: Lucinda H. Mackethan reconstructs the life of a slave whose portrait survives at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond; John M. McClure looks at the clash between the Freedmen's Bureau School in Lexington and "General Lee's Boys" at Washington College (later Washington and Lee University); and more than one author ponders the central role of religion on the battlefield and the home front. Virginia's Civil War would make a useful addition to any library shelf for browsing and serious reading by students, scholars, and those interested in Civil War history.—reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Deputy Coordinator, State Historical Records Advisory Board
Peter S. Carmichael. The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion. Civil War America Series. Gary W. Gallagher, Series Editor. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. xiv + 343 pp. $39.95 (hardcover).
In The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion, Peter S. Carmichael examines the ideological journey of a sample of 121 young, mostly single, white men who were born between 1830 and 1843, attended college, and were the sons of slaveholders. Carmichael selected them because they left behind letters, journals, speeches, theses, and other writings through which their beliefs could be elucidated. He argues that this last generation, so named because they were the last Southerners to grow up with slavery, were not the lazy and immoral hotheads frequently found in the literature of the Old South. Rather, they were educated, ideological young men who possessed well-articulated opinions about their state and region.
During the 1850s, the last generation insisted that their elders, so-called "old fogies," had allowed Virginia to fall behind the rest of the country economically and politically by adhering to the provincial cavalier aristocracy based on bloodlines and by failing to embrace progressive improvements such as railroads, manufacturing, and market relations. Like their fathers, the young Virginians adhered to an ideal of the Christian gentleman comprising duty, moral purity, and discipline. They differed, however, in their disregard for community obligations in favor of personal ambition and material wealth based on merit, both of which were endangered by the state's declining status. Maintaining a belief in the slaveholding hegemony, they argued for economic diversification and expanded educational opportunities as methods for returning the Commonwealth to its Revolutionary-era greatness.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln, the last generation reasoned that secession was the only way in which Virginia could stave off Northern economic and political dominance. Viewing the state as the centerpiece of a new nation, they believed a moral cleansing would occur, sweeping them into positions of authority and providing the personal success they so desired. Feeling the need to defend their personal honor, as well as that of the state and region, from Northern attacks on the Southern way of life, they eagerly participated in the Civil War. Seeing the conflict as an opportunity to improve themselves by displaying their manliness and self-discipline on the battlefield, they served as junior officers and aided the war effort by mediating conflicts between senior officers and enlisted men.
Following the Confederate defeat, Carmichael's last generation quickly accepted Reconstruction as an opportunity to renew efforts to expand the state's prosperity through modernization based on the principles of Northern industrial capitalism. While they carried this ideology through most of the postwar decades, these former young Virginians in their later years found themselves increasingly dislocated from the industrial Gilded Age America that manifested itself in moral decay, poverty, and corruption. As the new century dawned, the last generation became preoccupied with protecting their Civil War legacy, and subsequently turned away from their progressive ideology toward an acceptance of the fictitious Old South, with its cavalier myth of righteous Southerners honorably defending a noble way of life.— reviewed by John G. Deal, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Edwin M. Yoder Jr. Telling Others What to Think: Recollections of a Pundit. Foreword by Jonathan Yardley. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004. xxi + 245 pp. $34.95 (hardcover).
In Telling Others What to Think: Recollections of a Pundit, Edwin M. Yoder Jr. has written an account of his career as an editorial writer for the Charlotte News and the Greensboro Daily News, as editorial-page editor for the Washington Evening Star, and as a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post. His story is one of reporters, writers, and editors before the age of twenty-four-hour news. Yoder's recollections include discourses on those who helped to craft his trade.
Telling Others What to Think is divided into ten chapters. Readers are first introduced to Yoder's father, who, perhaps more than anyone else, taught him the art of independent thinking and cultivated Yoder's responses to the injustices of a segregated South. This is very apparent in Yoder's narrative of his undergraduate years at the University of North Carolina. He wrote editorials against segregation in the Tar Heel, and his penchant for independent thinking, and skills as a wordsmith, were noted. He received a Rhodes Scholarship and spent two years studying philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford. Any pupil will both appreciate and be amused by Yoder's academic recollections.
Yoder began plying his trade in anonymity as editorial writer for the Charlotte News and the Greensboro Daily News. Readers will enjoy his anecdotes about his career as editor and "shoe leather reporter" in North Carolina. In the mid-1970s, Yoder accepted the position of editorial-page editor for the Washington Evening Star. His Washington years witnessed Time's purchase of the Star and that paper's demise in 1981. In his chapter dedicated to Meg Greenfield, onetime editorial-page editor for the Washington Post, Yoder discusses his frustrations as a syndicated columnist during his post-Star years. Toward the end of his recollections, Yoder writes about his friendship with Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis Franklin Powell, a man he clearly admired and whose opinions he valued.
Readers will find Yoder's candid approach in Telling Others What to Think a refreshing alternative to other autobiographical works. Yoder openly critiques current journalistic trends and questions the validity of news offered by broadcast stations that are interested in entertaining the American public. This pundit makes no bones about his preference for the written word. In fact, a portfolio of Edwin Yoder's columns is listed at the end of the book for readers interested in his authoritative opinions.— reviewed by Cassandra Britt Farrell, Research Archivist
Sara B. Bearss is senior editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, published by the Library of Virginia.