The best books about plantations

4 authors have picked their favorite books about plantations and why they recommend each book.

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Life on a Plantation

By Bobbie Kalman,

Book cover of Life on a Plantation

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.


Who am I?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, either set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultures collided, or amidst the conflict-laden setting of the southern plantation. Her novel, Mountain Laurel, begins an epic family saga that immerses readers in 1790s North Carolina plantation life and the moral dilemmas created by the evils of slavery.


I wrote...

Mountain Laurel

By Lori Benton,

Book cover of Mountain Laurel

What is my book about?

Ian Cameron, a Boston cabinetmaker turned frontier trapper, has come to Mountain Laurel hoping to remake himself yet again--into his planter uncle's heir. No matter how uneasily the role of slave owner rests upon his shoulders. Then he meets Seona--beautiful, artistic, and enslaved to his kin.

Seona has a secret: she's been drawing for years, ever since that day she picked up a broken slate to sketch a portrait. When Ian catches her at it, he offers her opportunity to let her talent flourish, still secretly, in his cabinetmaking shop. Taking a frightening leap of faith, Seona puts her trust in Ian. A trust that leads to a deeper, more complicated bond.

The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

By Carla Gardina Pestana,

Book cover of The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661

Between 1640 and 1660, England, Scotland, and Ireland experienced civil war, invasion, religious radicalism, parliamentary rule, and the restoration of the monarchy. None of that will surprise historians of Britain, but they may not realize the impact of these events on Britain’s new colonies across the Atlantic. Some of them remained loyal to the king until his victorious opponents sent the first major Transatlantic expeditionary force to subdue them. 

Pestana shows how war and rebellion in Britain increased both the proportion of unfree labourers and ethnic diversity in the colonies. Neglected by London, several of them developed trade networks; some entered the slave trade. By 1660, the English Atlantic had become religiously polarized, economically interconnected, socially exploitative, and ideologically unstable.


Who am I?

I teach history at The Ohio State University. This project began when I listened in 1976 to a radio broadcast in which Jack Eddy, a solar physicist, speculated that a notable absence of sunspots in the period 1645-1715 contributed to the “Little Ice Age”: the longest and most severe episode of global cooling recorded in the last 12,000 years. The Little Ice Age coincided with a wave of wars and revolution around the Northern Hemisphere, from the overthrow of the Ming dynasty in China to the beheading of Charles I in England. I spent the next 35 years exploring how the connections between natural and human events created a fatal synergy that produced human mortality on a scale seldom seen before – and never since.


I wrote...

Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

By Geoffrey Parker,

Book cover of Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century

What is my book about?

Global Crisis examines how a fatal synergy between climate change and human inflexibility eradicated one-third of the planet’s human population and unleashed an unparalleled spate of wars, invasions, and revolutions. Personal accounts and scientific data alike show how extreme weather disrupted growing seasons and destroyed harvests, bringing hunger, malnutrition, forced migration, and disease, and then, as material conditions worsened, precipitated economic chaos, political anarchy, and social collapse. 

Although humans played no part in causing this episode of climate change, they still suffered and died from the primary effect: a 2ºC fall in global temperatures. The fact that today we face an increase of 2ºC will not reduce either the extreme weather events associated with changes of this magnitude, or the adverse consequences for humanity. My book has a moral: where climate change is concerned, in the 21st century as in the 17th century it’s better – and cheaper – to prepare than to repair.

Making Ireland British, 1580-1650

By Nicholas Canny,

Book cover of Making Ireland British, 1580-1650

This book is the best analysis written by the forerunner of Atlantic history in Ireland. Based on an astonishing amount of literary and historical sources, it is an outstanding insight into the complex and lengthy process of English colonization of Ireland set within the broader Atlantic and European context. 


Who am I?

This is and will remain the example of historical research made by one of the leading authorities in the field of Atlantic history. Elliott’s book set the agenda by investigating and assessing the complex array of causes and consequences which brought England and Spain to have an ever-lasting cultural, economic, political, and religious influence on the history of North America and Latin America.  


I wrote...

Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

By Matteo Binasco,

Book cover of Making, Breaking and Remaking the Irish Missionary Network: Ireland, Rome and the West Indies in the Seventeenth Century

What is my book about?

This book is the first to document the links which were developed between the Irish clerical community in Rome, Ireland, and the Irish migrants in the West Indies. Binasco vividly reconstructs the key figures, the perils, the efforts, and the pitfalls to connect the epicenter of global Catholicism with the far and troubled Ireland and West Indies of the seventeenth century. 

Tropical Babylons

By Stuart B. Schwartz (editor),

Book cover of Tropical Babylons: Sugar and the Making of the Atlantic World, 1450-1680

Although not exclusively focused on the Caribbean, the articles in this volume illuminate the long and complex history of sugar production in the early modern Iberian world, beginning with the Iberian Peninsula itself and expanding into the Atlantic island groups and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and Brazil. The last article focuses on sugar production in seventeenth-century Barbados, underscoring that a long history of sugar cultivation preceded the better-known establishment of sugar production in the English and French islands. Here the reader will learn how sixteenth-century Europeans eagerly incorporated sugar into their cuisines and diet, at times consuming prodigious quantities. Together these articles present a fascinating and often surprising early history of a commodity that has had a huge impact on the world.


Who am I?

Throughout my career as a historian I’ve been interested in the expansion of the Iberian world and its consequences for societies and cultures in Spain as well as Spanish America, especially Mexico. I knew that the Caribbean, the first site of European activity in the Americas, played an important role in that story, yet paradoxically it didn’t seem to receive much attention from historians, at least in the U.S. When I finally decided to focus my research on the period immediately following Columbus’s first voyages, I entered into a complex and dynamic world of danger, ambition, exploitation, and novelty. I hope to open that world to others in my book.


I wrote...

Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean: The Greater Antilles, 1493-1550

By Ida Altman,

Book cover of Life and Society in the Early Spanish Caribbean: The Greater Antilles, 1493-1550

What is my book about?

Columbus’s voyages brought enormous demographic, economic, and social changes to the Caribbean. Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans came into extended contact there for the first time in world history. I examine their interactions and the transformation of the islands of the Greater Antilles (Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica), addressing such topics as disease and conflict, the establishment of the Iberian Catholic church and a system of government, and economic enterprises. As a result of the rapid developments of the first half of the sixteenth century, a highly unequal and coercive but dynamic society characterized by the extensive mixing of all ethnic and racial groups came into existence.

Back of the Big House

By John Michael Vlach,

Book cover of Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

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.


Who am I?

Lori Benton is an award-winning, multi-published author of historical novels set during 18th century North America. Her literary passion is bringing little-known historical events to life through the eyes of those who lived it, either set along the Appalachian frontier, where European and Native American cultures collided, or amidst the conflict-laden setting of the southern plantation. Her novel, Mountain Laurel, begins an epic family saga that immerses readers in 1790s North Carolina plantation life and the moral dilemmas created by the evils of slavery.


I wrote...

Mountain Laurel

By Lori Benton,

Book cover of Mountain Laurel

What is my book about?

Ian Cameron, a Boston cabinetmaker turned frontier trapper, has come to Mountain Laurel hoping to remake himself yet again--into his planter uncle's heir. No matter how uneasily the role of slave owner rests upon his shoulders. Then he meets Seona--beautiful, artistic, and enslaved to his kin.

Seona has a secret: she's been drawing for years, ever since that day she picked up a broken slate to sketch a portrait. When Ian catches her at it, he offers her opportunity to let her talent flourish, still secretly, in his cabinetmaking shop. Taking a frightening leap of faith, Seona puts her trust in Ian. A trust that leads to a deeper, more complicated bond.

Sugar and Slaves

By Richard S. Dunn,

Book cover of Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713

My copy is loaded with underlines, dogears, and stickies to signify the wealth of information provided, particularly on the West Indies slave trade. From the geography of the islands to architecture, planting schedules, clothing fabrics, political corruption, and the slave market, Dunn covers everything in an interesting and illuminating way.


Who am I?

Nancy Blanton is an American author of Irish descent. A former journalist, she’s written four award-winning novels rooted in 17th century Irish history. Her first novel, Sharavogue, takes place in the lawless West Indies on the island of Montserrat, where the protagonist struggles to survive the slavery, disease, kindness, and brutality of an Irish-owned sugar plantation.


I wrote...

Sharavogue: A Novel of Ireland and the West Indies

By Nancy Blanton,

Book cover of Sharavogue: A Novel of Ireland and the West Indies

What is my book about?

It is December of 1649 as England’s uncrowned king, Oliver Cromwell, leads his new model army across Ireland to crush a violent rebellion. As the relentless cavalry approaches, Elvy Burke knows she will not give up easily. When Cromwell cruelly beheads a village boy, Elvy vows to destroy him. After escaping from his soldiers, she aligns with a Scottish outlaw whose schemes send them headlong into a tumultuous journey across the sea to the West Indies, where she learns to survive under impossible conditions and discovers the depth of her own strengths and emotions. Sharavogue is the compelling story of one girl’s journey and unwavering belief in destiny.

Teatime for the Firefly

By Shona Patel,

Book cover of Teatime for the Firefly

Set in 1940s India in the lead up to Independence, the backdrop is the rarely written about North-East India. The protagonists; Layla, (well-educated and independently-minded) and Manik (a free-thinker with a sense of adventure) are an unusual couple for the core romance but his work takes them to the remote tea plantations of Assam. I have written about the tea gardens in my India Tea Series, but largely from a British and Anglo-Indian point of view. Patel’s vivid depiction of this way of life is informed by her own upbringing, as the daughter of tea planters. It’s rich in detail with wonderful descriptions of Assam and keen observations of the British managers and Indian workers. As it builds towards Partition, the drama and tension are brilliantly evoked through Layla’s eyes.


Who am I?

As a historical novelist, my passion is world history and the story of my own family. Having survived the First World War, my Scottish grandfather went to India as a forester and my granny followed him out there; they married in Lahore. I was fascinated by their stories of trekking and camping in the remote Himalayas. They lived through momentous times: world war, Indian Independence and Partition. Grandfather Bob stayed on to work for the new country of Pakistan. Long after they’d died, I discovered their letters, diaries, and cine films from that era – a treasure-trove for a novelist! – which have helped enrich my novels set during the British Raj.


I wrote...

The Emerald Affair

By Janet MacLeod Trotter,

Book cover of The Emerald Affair

What is my book about?

After the heartbreak of the First World War, two friends leave Scotland for a new life in India. While Esmie endures hardship and danger nursing in the wilds of the Northwest Frontier, hedonistic Lydia dreams of a glamorous life at The Raj Hotel in Rawalpindi. But the simmering tensions at the hotel are mirrored in the unrest on the frontier and when crisis strikes, Esmie faces a shattering choice: should she stay the constant friend she’s always been, or risk everything and follow her heart? Love, loyalty, and friendship will be tested to their utmost in the heat and turbulence of colonial India. The Emerald Affair is the first in the Raj Hotel Series.

The Yellow Wife

By Sadeqa Johnson,

Book cover of The Yellow Wife

This book is a tearjerker that left me on the edge of my seat. The harrowing experiences of the protagonist, Pheby Delores Brown, are vivid and you don’t want to stop until you finish. Personally reliving Pheby’s life is one of the reasons why I enjoyed this book so much. The fear is real.


Who am I?

I am a writer who loves to create stories across cultures and time periods. Writing a historical romance novel involves a lot of reading about the history and the times. After reading a few historical novels, I started toying with the idea of writing one. I loved a slave is my second historical romance novel and I have started work on two more. Being transported into the time period gives me a lot of excitement and I hope you enjoy the books on my list as much as I have! I have a master’s in liberal arts and an MFA in Creative Writing.


I wrote...

I loved a slave

By Sinmisola Ogunyinka,

Book cover of I loved a slave

What is my book about?

Johnny Holt Jr. comes home to Kentucky for the summer to find his father, JJ has made alliances with a notorious slave owner, Spanish-born Edmond Maguerro to turn Holt Lands into a million-dollar plantation. Johnny doesn’t involve himself until he meets Elisa, one of his father’s slaves. Smitten, Johnny is convinced Elisa belongs with him in New York, where he is a law student at a prestigious college, or any other world where the society is color-blind. And he goes all out to remove her from slavery and into that world. Set in 1800s American slave era, I loved a slave follows the story of two lovers as they make their way through circumstances beyond their control to escape their reality and live in a world best imagined.

Absalom, Absalom!

By William Faulkner,

Book cover of Absalom, Absalom!

Faulkner’s greatest novel is less about slavery per se than about how thoroughly racism has warped America—its culture, its politics, its families—from the very beginning. It takes the quintessential American story—of a (white) man with a dream and determination, who pulls himself up by his bootstraps to become wealthy and powerful—and turns it upside down, little by little revealing how he has fundamentally misunderstood himself, his society, and even his own family. Thomas Sutpen’s ignorance around race is his—and, by extension, all of America’s—downfall, leading inexorably to violence and grief. It’s a dense, challenging read, full of point-of-view shifts, interlocking timelines, and frequent use of the N-word—but it is so worth it.


Who am I?

Growing up in a comfortable suburb, I was never encouraged to examine my privilege or to ask questions about our country’s social and economic arrangements. I knew shockingly little about U.S. history beyond the triumphalist narratives of great men and military victories; the dark side of that history usually came in footnotes, and always with the implication that our country’s sins are mere aberrations from its good intentions. I had to learn the most important truths about our history from literature, which shows us the impact that events have on individuals, painting a fuller picture of how America became the country it is, and the terrible price so many people have had to pay.


I wrote...

The Gringa

By Andrew Altschul,

Book cover of The Gringa

What is my book about?

Leonora Gelb came to Peru to make a difference. A passionate and idealistic Stanford graduate, she left a life of privilege to fight poverty and oppression, but her beliefs are tested when she falls in with violent revolutionaries. While death squads and informants roam the streets of Lima, and suspicion festers among the comrades, Leonora plans a decisive act of protest—until her capture in a bloody government raid, and a sham trial that sends her to prison for life.

Inspired by the real-life story of Lori Berenson, who spent fifteen years in a military prison following her conviction on terrorist charges, The Gringa maps the blurred boundaries between fact and fiction, author and text, resistance and extremism. 

The Kitchen House

By Kathleen Grissom,

Book cover of The Kitchen House

In this bestseller, Grissom offers an intricate view of little-known history. I am intrigued by stories that open a window onto aspects of life in history that, for one reason or another, are unfamiliar. Grissom’s story of an Irish indentured servant struggling to bridge the gap between race and class is just such a revelation. These issues remain timeless and powerful.


Who am I?

Diane C. McPhail is the award-winning author of The Abolitionist’s Daughter, her debut novel based on family history and little-known impediments to Southern Abolitionism and anti-slavery. Her yet-to-be-titled second novel, a historical 1900 Chicago & New Orleans psychological mystery, is due for release in the spring of 2022. As an experienced therapist, Diane has a passionate interest in the complex, sometimes conflicting, qualities of character and culture, and how those intricacies complicate the plot. Diane holds an M.F.A., M.A., and Doctor of Ministry.


I wrote...

The Abolitionist's Daughter

By Diane C. McPhail,

Book cover of The Abolitionist's Daughter

What is my book about?

In her sweeping debut, Diane C. McPhail offers a powerful, profoundly emotional novel that explores a little-known aspect of Civil War history--Southern Abolitionists--and the timeless struggle to do right even amidst bitter conflict.

On a Mississippi morning in 1859, Emily Matthews begs her father to save a slave, Nathan, about to be auctioned away from his family. Judge Matthews is an abolitionist who runs an illegal school for his slaves, hoping to eventually set them free. One, a woman named Ginny, has become Emily's companion and often her conscience--and understands all too well the hazards an educated slave must face. Yet even Ginny could not predict the tangled, tragic string of events set in motion as Nathan's family arrives at the Matthews farm.

A young doctor, Charles Slate, tends to injured Nathan and begins to court Emily, finally persuading her to become his wife. But their union is disrupted by a fatal clash and a lie that will tear two families apart. As Civil War erupts, Emily, Ginny, and Emily's stoic mother-in-law, Adeline, each face devastating losses. Emily--sheltered all her life--is especially unprepared for the hardships to come. Struggling to survive in this raw, shifting new world, Emily will discover untapped inner strength, an unlikely love, and the courage to confront deep, painful truths.

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