Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Sara B. Bearss, Editor
Avery Chenoweth and Robert Llewellyn. Empires in the Forest: Jamestown and the Beginnings of America. Earlysville, Va.: Rivanna Foundation, 2006. Distributed by the University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville and London). 207 pp. ISBN 0-9742707-0-9. $49.95 (hardcover).
The story of the founding of Jamestown is a familiar one. The task facing writer Avery Chenoweth and photographer Robert Llewellyn was how to blend words and contemporary photography to create a new, interesting, and visually compelling book. Chenoweth and Llewellyn had previously collaborated on Albemarle: A Story of Landscape and American Identity (2003). They have collaborated once again to produce a sumptuously illustrated history of the moment when two cultures — the Virginia Indians and the English — collided. Chenoweth’s graceful prose describes the conflicts between two very different peoples whose belief systems eventually led to armed conflict and, within a century, the loss of a thriving native culture. The English culture that was transported across the ocean also changed as it adapted to a new land and new dynamics between settlers and native peoples.Llewellyn’s photographs … evoke the spirituality of people dependent on the natural rhythms of the earth and sea.
Using the newest scholarship, Chenoweth discusses the native peoples who first moved into what is now Virginia and the spiritual beliefs that permeated the earliest Virginians’ lives. Llewellyn’s photographs accompanying this section evoke the spirituality of people dependent on the natural rhythms of the earth and sea. The English, on the other hand, were people who were less attuned to nature’s spirituality but instead understood nature as a resource. Throughout the book, the writer’s and the photographer’s sentiments are on the side of the Virginia Indians. Devastated by European diseases and facing loss of habitat, the Indians struck back at the English invaders. Chenoweth delves into John Smith’s personality without flinching about Smith’s strengths and weaknesses. He also develops Pocahontas as a person, exploring her emotions and intelligence within her context. Whether or not one agrees with Chenoweth’s psychological analyses, the main characters of the Jamestown story — Pocahontas, Powhatan, and Smith — emerge as complex human beings.
Members of the Virginia Indian tribes portrayed Pocahontas, Powhatan, Opechancanough, and other Native Virginians in the photographs. These actors dressed in native costume and body adornment. Other actors portrayed John Smith, Christopher Newport, and other English settlers. The most successful photographs are those of the land. The images of people work best when there is a sense of calm or repose. Those photographs with Virginia Indians generally are muted in darker tones and are frequently blurred as if to reinforce the sense of the “mists of time.”
— reviewed by Barbara C. Batson, exhibitions coordinator
Jeff Broadwater. George Mason: Forgotten Founder. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. xii + 329 pp. ISBN 0-8078-3053-4. $34.95 (hardcover).
George Mason, as Jeff Broadwater reminds us, is America’s forgotten founder. Mason briefly appears on the pages of the history books to write the Virginia Declaration of Rights, serve in the federal constitutional convention, and oppose the ratification of the convention’s work. Mason then retreats back to his Fairfax County home, Gunston Hall, on the banks of the Potomac River. Broadwater’s George Mason: Forgotten Founder resuscitates the reputation of this reclusive and elusive father of the Republic.
Broadwater constructs from scant evidence as much as possible on Mason’s early life and rise in the Virginia planting gentry. In many ways, Mason’s life parallels that of George Washington, his one-time friend. Both diversified their plantations’ agricultural production as protection against the tobacco economy’s perils, and both were involved in Western land speculation. Mason’s experiences as a planter and as a speculator influenced his perception of Virginia’s relationship with Great Britain and helped lead him into the ranks of the revolutionaries.
Mason reluctantly entered politics and was an indifferent member of the House of Delegates. As relations with Britain deteriorated and revolution occurred, he emerged as one of the leaders for independence. Mason wrote much of what eventually became Virginia’s first state constitution and drafted the state’s Declaration of Rights, which served as the model for the federal Bill of Rights. He remained active in Virginia politics after the Revolution, and his stance on particular issues was often seen as vital to their success or failure.
Mason served in the federal constitutional convention and the Virginia ratifying convention. At the first, he was active in shaping the Constitution, but he did not like its final form, especially the lack of a bill of rights, which led to his opposition to the document in the second convention. Broadwater presents the complexity of Mason’s objections to the Constitution. Mason did not vote for ratification, and he was pleased to note efforts to define the limitations on the federal government. He ultimately supported the federal Bill of Rights as passed by Congress and ratified by the states.… freedom and blackness also appeared inherently dangerous to white Virginians.
Mason is often overlooked in the histories of the early Republic. He was reluctant to become involved in politics and often unwilling to compromise on his positions. Yet his contemporaries appreciated his intellect, the force of his arguments, and his commitment to independence and good government. This is the George Mason who emerges on the pages of Jeff Broadwater’s biography.
— reviewed by Trenton E. Hizer, senior finding aids archivist
Eva Sheppard Wolf. Race and Liberty in the New Nation: Emancipation in Virginia from the Revolution
to Nat Turner’s Rebellion. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. xxi + 284 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-8071-3194-7. $45.00 (hardcover).
The language of liberty that the American Revolution unleashed naturally exposed to criticism the institution of chattel racial slavery in the new nation. The states north and east of Maryland and Delaware responded to the incongruity of beliefs and practices by adopting programs that led to the gradual elimination of slavery. To the south, where slavery was much more deeply rooted in the social culture and formed the basis of the agricultural economy, slavery endured. This extremely well-researched and well-written volume treats the challenges that slavery faced in Virginia during the decades after the Revolution began and the reasons why those challenges failed to abolish the institution.
In addition to the Revolutionary rhetoric of liberty, new religious sensibilities, most evident among Virginia’s Quakers and the Revolutionary generation’s Baptists, impelled the General Assembly to relax the laws that governed the emancipation of enslaved persons. Until the exposure of Gabriel’s conspiracy of 1,800 frightened slave owners into retightening those laws, a significant but undetermined number of Virginians gained their freedom. The freed people did not become full citizens, however, and until the even more frightening and deadly rebellion led by Nat Turner in Southampton County in 1831, debate in Virginia about the institution of slavery also involved debate about the legal status of free persons of color, as the official records began to identify them. Not only did liberty and slavery appear inherently contradictory, but freedom and blackness also appeared inherently dangerous to white Virginians. After the 1831 insurrection, the General Assembly imposed harsher restrictions on free blacks in the interest of preserving intact the institution of slavery, even though many members of the assembly openly questioned whether the institution could remain profitable to the owners of enslaved persons.
Ideas about race and racial differences occupy a large space in Eva Sheppard Wolf’s subtle reading of the language in which white Virginians discussed slavery, the future of their economy, the stability of their society, and the meaning of freedom for themselves. For fifty years now, scholarship on slavery and white Virginians has flattered very few of them, and this important contribution to understanding the attitudes and actions of those white Virginians is no exception. Wolf could have lifted for her book the title of Winthrop Jordan’s 1968 study of the evolution of ideas about race and slavery, White over Black.
— reviewed by Brent Tarter, editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Bryan Clark Green. In Jefferson’s Shadow: The Architecture of Thomas R. Blackburn. Foreword by Richard Guy Wilson. New York: Virginia Historical Society in conjunction with Princeton Architectural Press, 2006. xxiii + 272 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1-56898-479-7. $50.00 (hardcover).
With a spectacular collection of antebellum architectural drawings as evidence, Bryan Clark Green’s In Jefferson’s Shadow: The Architecture of Thomas R. Blackburn asserts Thomas Jefferson’s influence on civic, commercial, and residential architecture in the Virginia Piedmont region. Through the compiled works of the architect and builder Thomas R. Blackburn, purchased and conserved by the Virginia Historical Society, the author illustrates the training of architect-builders, the processes of construction, and the sources of inspiration for building “undertakers” early in the nineteenth century.
In Jefferson’s Shadow, as the title indicates, spends considerable time explaining the president--architect’s influence on the numerous craftsmen employed on his varied building projects. None of these men is more indicative of that influence, the author argues, than Blackburn. Handpicked by Jefferson, skilled tradesmen such as Blackburn received substantial exposure to previously unavailable sources of architectural theory and philosophy. What Green terms an “ongoing architectural conversation” among Jefferson, his more mature overseers such as James Dinsmore and John Neilson, and younger tradesmen at the University of Virginia informed an entire generation of craftsmen, who eventually spread out across the commonwealth.
Beginning with his employment at the University of Virginia in 1821, Thomas R. Blackburn became a student of Jefferson’s architectural beliefs and, consequently, those of Andrea Palladio, the sixteenth--century Italian architect who inspired Jefferson. Blackburn honed his Jeffersonian Palladianism by copying from books in Jefferson’s personal library and, gradually, collecting a considerable library of his own. Even after striking out on his own in 1828, Blackburn remained connected to Jefferson through commissions from the president’s circle of influential friends and relatives, as well as through partnerships with other university craftsmen.
Nowhere is Blackburn’s Jeffersonian classicism more apparent than in his extensive work on the Western Lunatic Asylum in Staunton. Green devotes the lion’s share of his research to this project and Blackburn’s relationship with the reform-minded hospital administrator, Dr. Francis J. Stribling. It is with this project, the author contends, that Blackburn took what he learned from his mentor to the next theoretical plane. Throughout his career, but especially at the asylum, Blackburn imitated Jefferson’s interest in experimentation and improvement. In this and other civic projects, Blackburn developed innovative solutions to architectural problems, including more efficient modes of heating large structures.
Though much remains unknown about Blackburn’s life, the acquisition and study of this valuable collection of materials at the Virginia Historical Society shed new light on the profession in the period before the Civil War. The oversized volume, chronologically arranged by project, devotes more than half of its pages to color reproductions of Blackburn’s drawings. Carried through the text is the theme of Jefferson’s Socratic influence over the classical idiom in Virginia. Green does a laudable job of fleshing out Blackburn’s background to illustrate this point. Researchers can hope that future manuscript discoveries will reveal even more about this little-known period in America’s architectural history.
— reviewed by Vincent Brooks, senior local records archivist
Walter D. Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich, eds. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home. Translated by Susan Carter Vogel. Civil War America Series. Gary W. Gallagher, Series Editor. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. xxxiv + 521 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-8078-3044-4. $59.95 (hardcover).
Germans accounted for roughly 10 percent, or about 200,000 soldiers, of the Union army during the Civil War. Germans in the Civil War is a compilation of 343 letters by 78 German immigrants, written to their friends and relatives during the most turbulent era in American history. The collection, which was published in Germany in 2002, includes correspondence from men, both soldiers and civilians, and some women from a variety of geographical and socioeconomic backgrounds. Most of the letters are from Union soldiers or Northern civilians, while a handful come from German immigrants living in Texas.
The letters are organized into two sections corresponding to the Eastern and Western theaters of operation during the Civil War. Walter D. Kamphoefner and Wolfgang Helbich provide useful biographical sketches of each letter writer with such details as family, education, occupation, reason for emigrating, and outline of military service. Included in the book’s introduction are two sections devoted to German immigrants and Civil War-era politics and to German immigrants in the Union army. There are also some letter reproductions and often photographs of correspondents, as well as a short glossary of Civil War-related terms. The English translation reproduces the letters in modern grammar and spelling, with the exception of proper place and personal names, in which the original spelling has been maintained.
The letters contain many interesting observations of the United States, including the country’s wealth, the ability to earn a good living, urban landscapes, and race and slavery. The focus of the book is the Civil War, however, and the German correspondents, who most often joined the army to earn money, provide detailed and often stark descriptions of military battles and camp life. From privates to colonels, they often comment on the destruction of property and the corruption and war profiteering by soldiers and civilians. They also frequently describe the superior nature of German troops and how poor the American soldiers were in training, leadership, and discipline. Kamphoefner and Helbich argue that the Civil War was not a “melting pot” that unified Americans and immigrants, but rather a conflict that reinforced stereotypes and prejudices on both sides.
An unfortunate drawback to this fine compilation is that the letters included are excerpts rather than complete transcriptions. Kamphoefner and Helbich generally selected extracts from letters that contained observations on war, politics, and slavery; Germans in the military and civilian life; and immigrant and American interactions. The difficulty is that by limiting correspondence to this narrow range of immigrant perceptions, the editors have in most every letter deleted important — and intriguing — details that the correspondent experienced such as marriage, children, social engagements, living conditions, and business dealings. The editors have indicated in the transcriptions the number of lines removed, often dozens and sometimes scores of lines in a single letter, and brief descriptions of what has been left on the cutting-room floor. Germans in the Civil War: The Letters They Wrote Home, however, still is a fascinating read for scholars and general readers who are interested in firsthand observations of the United States and the Civil War by the often-overlooked German immigrant members of society.
— reviewed by John G. Deal, editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Edward L. Ayers, Gary W. Gallagher, and Andrew J. Torget, eds. Crucible of the Civil War: Virginia from Secession to Commemoration. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2006. viii + 226 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-8139-2552-3. $35.00 (hardcover).
The eight essays collected in this volume were crafted by both current students and recent alumni of the graduate history pro-gram at the University of Virginia. A product of skillful research and concise writing, this collection of works by these youthful historians differs from most other studies of this deeply scrutinized period in American history in that it concerns itself less with the battlefield struggles and more with conditions on the home front, a previously neglected perspective that has won wider attention over the past decade.
The collection’s approach to the subject matter is also innovative. While raising questions about how disunion and war af-fected the social, economic, and political spheres of society, the authors also endeavored to understand the motivations that led people to certain choices. Sensitive to the degraded conditions imposed on African Americans and the extremities faced by slaves and free blacks during wartime, they were also aware of the dilemmas confronting white Virginians caught in the grip of “profound uncertainty” as they grappled with unfolding, complex issues that directly and dramatically affected their futures and the future of their state. Thus the use of the term “crucible,” a word, one would suppose, not intended to refer to the political journey made by Southern firebrands from fiery speech to open rebellion, because partisans of every stripe are hardly burdened by a lack of certitude, but rather reserved for those ordinary folk for whom Virginia had become, in the words of one editor, “a place where confusion and ambiguity reigned.” Goaded by the urgency of events and beset by divided loyalties, many found it a time of severe testing when painful decisions were made that, however complex the motivations leading up to them, inevitably became the simplified, self-defining moments of their lives and, by extension, the collective life of a generation of Virginians.
The essays range over an assortment of topics, appraising with fresh eyes the sectional rivalry between the eastern lowland gentry and the mountainous northwest counties beyond the Alleghenies, the scale of domestic slave trading during wartime, and how race and religion played out in one Piedmont county between secession and surrender. One case study assayed the newspaper accounts and editorials published in several counties in the Shenandoah Valley, finding that the views and opinions expressed therein differed substantially from the conventional portrait of secession-era Virginians. Another writer investigated the origins of the Ladies’ Memorial Association, and still another studied the efforts made toward reconciliation during Reconstruction. The volume also benefits from an introduction and conclusion in which the editors assess the state of current Civil War scholarship as it pertains to Virginia and describe the intellectual framework of the methodology employed in the essays.
Taken together these essays constitute a closer examination of the mixed emotions and conflicted allegiances behind the behavior of many Virginians on the eve of the Civil War and during and after the fighting. This is a challenging undertaking, but according to one editor, it anticipates the type of historical analysis that will likely emerge in the coming years. As a harbinger of a different and exciting brand of historiography, this volume warrants a place alongside other studies of the American Civil War in Virginia libraries.
— reviewed by Donald W. Gunter, editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Donna M. Lucey. Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age. New York: Harmony Books, 2006. xi + 339 pp. ISBN-13: 978-1-4000-4852-6. $25.95 (hardcover). ISBN-13: 978-0-307-35145-6. $14.95 (softcover).
With stories like Archie and Amélie’s waiting to be told, authors need not make up romances, mysteries, or adventures. The story of John Armstrong “Archie” Chanler (later Chaloner) of the eccentric and impossibly rich Astor family and the love of his life, Amélie Louise Rives, a beautiful Southern writer of scandalous and bestselling fiction, contains all the finest turns of a novel set in the Gilded Age. Yet their story is true, and Donna M. Lucey has reconstructed the passion and heartache that was their lives through the careful research of their surviving papers and letters and contemporary newspaper reports, as well as through the memories of the people who still recall the mystique that surrounded them both.
Archie and Amélie’s romance began at a party in Newport, Rhode Island, where high society enjoyed the summer social season. Archie fell immediately in love and a little less than a year later convinced Amélie to marry him. She had just published what would be her most famous book, The Quick or the Dead? (1888), describing the forbidden love of a young widow and her dead husband’s cousin, a character whose resemblance to Archie was unmistakable. Archie and Amélie’s marriage was turbulent and fast-paced. They visited Europe; she wrote and became addicted to morphine. He rankled in her shadow and strove to find a place for himself in her life and in the business world. Their marriage was over in seven years.He rankled in her shadow and strove to find a place for himself …
The drama did not end. Amélie was immediately remarried to a penniless Russian prince. Archie lived next door to them and footed their bills for almost the rest of his life. Archie struggled with his family over money matters and his own risky investments. He studied his subconscious and became enthralled in spiritual, psychic research, a popular movement of the time. His family had him committed to a mental asylum for almost four years. Archie broke out and spent most of his time, money, and sanity to prove that he was not insane.
Archie and Amélie bewildered and shocked their families and the public as they tormented one another and themselves. Enormously rich when Archie controlled his family fortune and often genteelly poor, Archie and Amélie were enthralling and scandalous celebrities whose stories are still well-remembered in the corner of Virginia where they made their homes. Now the engrossing tale of Archie and Amélie can be enjoyed by any reader with an interest in either of these people, their families, or the excesses of the rich in the Gilded Age as well as by readers simply looking for an interesting story. Donna M. Lucey’s Archie and Amélie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age reads like a novel, yet proves all the more rich for its truth.
— reviewed by Maria Kimberly, project editor
Pippa Holloway. Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia, 1920–1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. xiv + 258 pp. ISBN 0-8078-3051-8. $59.95 (hardcover). ISBN 0-8078-5764-5. $19.95 (soft-cover).
In this fascinating work, Pippa Holloway places sexual regulations passed in the Old Dominion during the interwar years at the center of elite white efforts to control working- and lower-middle-class Virginians. The intensified ban on interracial marriage, the creation of the State Board of Motion Picture Censors, involuntary sterilization of those deemed mentally unsound, and venereal disease prevention offered more than affirmations of traditional mores or white supremacy. Rather, they offered elite Virginians tools with which to delineate the commonwealth’s social structure, thereby justifying their monopolization of state power.
The invasiveness of the new regulations contradicted in many respects the Virginia elite’s longstanding commitment to small government and local control. What made them attractive was their ability to target the socially weak. The Virginia Act to Preserve Racial Integrity (1924), for example, closed perceived loopholes that might have allowed individuals with African ancestry to pass as white and marry into white families. Fueled by eugenics, sterilization of inmates of the state’s insane asylums and prisons (most of them poor) promised to minimize the burden exacted by poor and sexually promiscuous individuals. Film censorship reined in the popular entertainment that presumably would lead the mass of Virginians astray. The goal ultimately was the promotion of a disciplined, sexually restrained workforce that would help the state forge a progressive business climate.
Holloway is sensitive to areas of contestation within this disciplinary regime. Birth control advocates and opponents might share a belief in eugenics but still reach opposite conclusions on how best to promote a genetically improved population. African Americans could transform venereal disease prevention programs that had been designed with overtly racist goals into programs for racial uplift. As the federal government added a new layer of social intervention during World War II, the regime began to crumble, with different interest groups working toward divergent goals.
Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia is an important work that challenges some previous interpretations of the political philosophy of the Byrd machine while offering further insights into the Virginia elite’s dominance of the state.
— reviewed by William Bland Whitley, assistant editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Virginia Reference Shelf
The newly published third volume of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2006. ISBN 0-88490-206-4. xxi + 698 pp. $49.95) continues an ambitious project to document the contributions of Virginians to four centuries of local, state, and national history. Biographies in volume three range alphabetically from Allen Taylor Caperton (1810–1876), a member of the secession convention and of the Confederate States Senate, through Edward Dwight Daniels (1828–1916), an agricultural reformer who attempted to transform Gunston Hall plantation into a black cooperative farm, and chronologically from Sir Thomas Dale (d. 1619), who twice served as acting governor of Virginia, to Richard Bernard Caspari (1942–2000), a pioneering arthroscopic surgeon. In between, readers will find the fascinating stories of 471 individuals, including participants in and chroniclers of Bacon’s Rebellion; two colonial planters whose wealth and imperious bearing won them the nickname “king”; a surgeon general of the United States Public Health Service; the greatest third baseman never to play major league baseball; a Continental army soldier sent undercover to attempt the capture of Benedict Arnold; twentieth-century chiefs of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indians; a Broadway producer and a Hollywood star; a Danville ichthyologist; two convicted murderers; the Mother of Country Music; the Sleeping Prophet; founders of Liberia and of the Christian Children’s Fund; and a documents expert who gave critical testimony in the Charles Lindbergh Jr. kidnapping trial. The Dictionary highlights many women, African Americans, Indians, and others whose lives have never before been studied. By broadening the definition of who, and what, is important, the compiled biographies have begun to re-shape the narrative of Virginia’s history.
Exhaustive research in underused primary sources has corrected errors and uncovered new information about even the most well-known subjects. Also discovered through careful examination of election and archival records were two long-forgotten black members of the House of Delegates. George William Cole (died after 1880), of Essex County, and Johnson Collins (1847–1906), of Brunswick County, appear in no reference book of nineteenth-century black officeholders.
No one who died after December 31, 2000, appears in the third volume. The two previous volumes, published in 1998 and 2001, cover surnames Aaroe to Blanchfield and Bland to Cannon, respectively. A detailed finding aid is available on the Library of Virginia’s website at http://www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwedo/pubs/dvb/classind/index.htm. This index breaks down the 1,400 names in the 3 published volumes by time period, place, gender, race, contributor, and profession or area of renown. An advanced search feature allows users to search by two or more selection criteria. A teacher seeking local biographies to feature during Black History Month, for example, can use the advanced search to get a list of African Americans in Charles City County. A researcher can get a list of women active during the American Revolution, or of persons with careers in religion who lived in Wise County.
A Preservation and Access Reference Materials Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported completion of the third volume. This essential work deserves a place of primacy on every Virginia reference shelf and in every school library.________________________________
Sara B. Bearss is senior editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, published by the Library of Virginia.