These historical letters to and from a young North Carolina man shed light on the education and development of an antebellum planter.
Tristrim “Trim” Lowther Skinner (1820-1862) was the well-educated only son of Edenton, North Carolina, planter Joseph Blount Skinner (1781-1851). At age 20, Trim took over management of his father’s enterprises. He served in the North Carolina General Assembly from 1846 to 1848, married Eliza Fisk Harwood (1827-1888) in 1849, and died in the Civil War as a Confederate captain in the 1st North Carolina Infantry Regiment. These collected letters begin when 13-year-old Trim was at boarding schools in North Carolina and Philadelphia, continuing through his college years and beyond as he became more seriously involved in farming and other business concerns; the letters end soon after his marriage. As she has in similar volumes, Maillard (The Belles of Williamsburg, 2015, etc.) offers a scholarly and well-researched collection of letters from the Skinner Family Papers housed in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, supported by a full scholarly apparatus including notes, bibliography, and index. Through these letters, readers learn in detail how a planter—and how a future Confederate officer—was made. Trim’s youthful curriculum sounds daunting: “I recite a lesson in Tacitus—one in philosophy—one in geography and one in greek,” [sic] writes 15-year-old Trim of his morning routine. He also reports on a duel in college that ended, somewhat ignominiously, without either party receiving much injury despite using guns and “3 or 4 pistols.” But Greek and dueling are put aside, and Trim’s adult letters chiefly reflect his close interest in crops, weather, and illness. In a typically detailed 1847 letter, he tells his father: “The worms have injured the stand of corn a good deal, and there is a long (1 1/2 inch) black caterpillar with smooth skin still at work.” The portrait that emerges is one of a hardworking manager always worried about crop prices, with little time for sipping mint juleps.
A useful and well-prepared addition to the scholarly research
War Southern planters.