The Best Books On Plantation Life In The Antebellum South (Colonial And Early Federal America)

The Books I Picked & Why

Life on a Plantation

By Bobbie Kalman

Life on a Plantation

Why this book?

When I begin researching a new historical subject I usually turn first to children’s books for a quick, broad overview. For Southern USA plantation life, Kalman’s book, part of the Historic Communities series, is a perfect introduction to the subject of southern plantations, with splendidly detailed drawings of homes and outbuildings, a glossary of terms, and many photographs from the latter decades before emancipation. Its focus is split between the planters’ lives and the lives of those they enslaved, introducing readers to every facet of this setting and the challenges faced by those who lived there. A great springboard into the subject for homeschooling.


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Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

By John Michael Vlach

Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

Why this book?

Though it was wealthy white planters who built plantations, the enslaved people who worked them imbued these landscapes with their own meanings. With over 200 photographs and drawings of Antebellum plantations, Vlach leads readers on a tour of plantation outbuildings, providing examples of how slaves used these spaces despite—and in defiance of—their masters’ intentions. Testimonies of former slaves (drawn from the Federal Writers’ Project collection) give the reader a sense of what it was like to live and work in these settings.


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Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South

By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South

Why this book?

This extensive and prize-winning narrative of Southern women’s daily existence in the antebellum era covers all the bases on this subject. With the following chapter titles, how could it not? Southern Women, Southern Households; The View from the Big House; Between Big House and Slave Community; Gender Conventions; Women Who Opposed Slavery; And Women Who Did Not. A must-read for anyone wishing to delve into the subject of women’s lives in the antebellum south.


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Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

By Julia Cherry Spruill

Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

Why this book?

A classic work on the social history of women in the colonial south (originally published in 1938), this book examines the daily lives of 17th and 18th century American women, how they “lived and worked and passed their time; what they ate and what they read; how courtships were conducted, who married whom, and the perils and joys of married life.” Spruill drew extensively from colonial manuscripts, court records, and newspapers for firsthand accounts, because in 1938 there were few (if any) works of this sort to draw from. In my research for novels I try to find a source like this on a given subject written by someone more than a generation before me. It helps give the subject a balanced view. Spruill’s is the book of this sort I choose for this subject.


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The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South

By Catherine Clinton

The Plantation Mistress: Woman's World in the Old South

Why this book?

Another in-depth examination of the topic, this book focuses on the fifty-five years following the Revolutionary War, exploring the swift and sweeping changes in American society during this early Federal period and how they influenced the daily lives of planters’ wives. Clinton drew on hundreds of memoirs, diaries, and women’s letters to explore the issue of gender in antebellum Southern culture. This book makes a good follow up to Spruill’s work on the lives of Southern colonial era women.


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