The best books about the Antebellum South

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Antebellum South and why they recommend each book.

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

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

By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese,

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.

From the list:

The best books on plantation life in the Antebellum South (Colonial and early federal America)

Book cover of Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century American South

Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century American South

By Edward L. Ayers,

Why this book?

This is a classic, pioneering study of the major elements of southern crime and punishment at a time that saw the formation of the fundamental patterns of class and race—and how they shaped the South’s criminal justice system.  Ayers studies the inner workings of the police, prison, and judicial systems, and the nature of crime, while at the same time adeptly linking the antebellum with the post-bellum criminal justice system. 

From the list:

The best books on crime and punishment in the Antebellum South

Book cover of Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865

Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865

By Philip J. Schwarz,

Why this book?

Philip J. Schwarz’s Twice Condemned adeptly analyzes the history of enslaved African Americans' relationship with the criminal courts of the Old Dominion from roughly 1700 to the end of the Civil War.  Based on over four thousand trials from the colonial, early national, and antebellum periods, no other book does such a comprehensive job of analyzing the prevalence, longevity, and variety of behavior attributed to slave convicts. This book also provides a detailed picture of how one slave society evolved, and along the way, it uncovers previously unexamined aspects of slave culture, and of slave owners' attitudes toward the…

From the list:

The best books on crime and punishment in the Antebellum South

Book cover of Life on a Plantation

Life on a Plantation

By Bobbie Kalman,

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…

From the list:

The best books on plantation life in the Antebellum South (Colonial and early federal America)

Book cover of American Homicide

American Homicide

By Randolph Roth,

Why this book?

In this comprehensive study of homicide in America, Randolph Roth charts changes in the character and incidence of homicide in the U.S. from colonial times to the present. The book is particularly strong in addressing the South’s penchant for violence. In readable fashion, Roth argues that the United States, especially the South, is distinctive in its level of violence among unrelated adults―friends, acquaintances, and strangers.  Roth notes that the homicide rate rose substantially among unrelated adults in the slave South after the American Revolution; and it skyrocketed across the United States from the late 1840s through the mid-1870s, while rates…

From the list:

The best books on crime and punishment in the Antebellum South

Book cover of Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

Women's Life and Work in the Southern Colonies

By Julia Cherry Spruill,

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…

From the list:

The best books on plantation life in the Antebellum South (Colonial and early federal America)

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

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

By Catherine Clinton,

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.

From the list:

The best books on plantation life in the Antebellum South (Colonial and early federal America)

Book cover of Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South

Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South

By Ira Belin,

Why this book?

This book uses census data and other historical facts to highlight the 250,000 free blacks who were in the south post-Civil War. It shows the struggles black people faced in regards to their community, liberty, education, and economic independence inside an oppressive society. Berlin does a good job at depicting the interaction between Blacks and Whites both free and enslaved. He offers a better understanding of the complex race relations that existed in the south. He gives one of the best accounts on record, of the wealth black people accumulated during slavery and 20 years after despite the pushback they…

From the list:

The best books on the history of land dispossession

Book cover of Kindred

Kindred

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why this book?

It's a fantasy novel, or is it horror? A Black woman is transported back in time to the slave plantation where her ancestors labored. The story has the reader asking vital questions from the beginning. The knife's edge tension almost never lets up—and when it boils over, the results are explosive.

From the list:

The best boundary-pushing fantasy novels

Book cover of North and South

North and South

By John Jakes,

Why this book?

John Jakes’s trilogy is a huge investment of time, but for those who love family sagas, American history and intriguing conflicts, it's a huge banquet to sink your teeth into. This sprawling saga drew me in with its inevitable chain of events, namely the Civil War, and how it split families and friends apart due to a military conflict, one that threatened to split the nation apart and with profound humanitarian rights at its core. Superbly written and even beautifully captured on film, John Jake’s magnum opus is a winner. 

From the list:

The best historical fiction to capture the essence of 19th & 20th century America

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