TOMBEE: Portrait of a Cotton Planter by Theodore Rosengarten

TOMBEE: Portrait of a Cotton Planter

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A biography and journal of an obscure slaveholder, Thomas B. Chaplin, owner of Tombee Plantation on St. Helena Island in South Carolina. Rosengarten, winner of a National Book Award in 1974 for All God's Dangers: The Life ornate Shaw, has delved into a deteriorating society--the Southern aristocracy in the years just before the Civil War. What lends interest to his exploration is that the island of St. Helena, exclusively the preserve of cotton planters, was the subject of Federal experimentation early in the Civil War. Upon its invasion, the government promptly dismantled the plantation system there and turned over the land to the slaves. ""Nowhere else in the Old South was the system of landed wealth and power so resolutely dismantled."" A reading of Chaplin's journal itself is best accompanied by a heavy dose of irony. The bulk was written between 1845 and 1858, when Chaplin was at the height of his wealth and the plantation system was in full force. (It is hard to read some of his entries without awe at the ostentation.) Chaplin's life was reduced to rubble after the war, and Chaplin, to the end, reflected the patronistic attitude of master toward slave. Important for its glimpses into a dying society, but not destined for a large readership.

Pub Date: July 18th, 1986
Publisher: Morrow