The best books about plantation life

Many authors have picked their favorite books about plantation life and why they recommend each book.

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Cul de Sac

By Paul Cheney,

Book cover of Cul de Sac: Patrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue

Cul de Sac is an enticing micro-historical study of the economic trajectory of the old-regime French plantation complex in Saint-Domingue. Through deft mining of the archives of a noble family from Brittany and their correspondence with the overseer of their sugar plantation in the Cul-de-Sac plain, Cheney argues in this book that growing tensions between nascent capitalism and old-regime political and social structures pushed the model of the plantation complex in Saint-Domingue toward a dead-end even prior to the French and Haitian Revolutions.


Who am I?

I have been interested in the study of the early modern French colonial empire since my undergraduate years in Paris. As a Dane studying history in the French capital, I was struck by the strong presence of both Caribbean and African cultures in my local neighborhood, but I also noted the fraught colonial legacies that continued to condition the lives of many of its inhabitants. My book is an effort to grapple with a particularly transformative moment in the history of France’s imperial past and to reflect on the ways in which it conditioned later periods. The five books I recommended here brought home to me important aspects of this history in ways that insist on the reciprocal influences among France and its former colonies.


I wrote...

Economistes and the Reinvention of Empire: France in the Americas and Africa, C.1750-1802

By Pernille Røge,

Book cover of Economistes and the Reinvention of Empire: France in the Americas and Africa, C.1750-1802

What is my book about?

Exploring the myriad efforts to strengthen colonial empire that unfolded in response to France's imperial crisis in the second half of the eighteenth century, Pernille Røge examines how political economists, colonial administrators, planters, and entrepreneurs shaped the recalibration of empire in the Americas and in Africa alongside the intensification of the French Caribbean plantation complex.

The result is a novel perspective on the struggles to reinvent the colonial empire in the final decades of the Ancien Régime and its influences on the French Revolution and beyond.

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 Plantation Mistress

By Catherine Clinton,

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

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.


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 Gospel Truth

By Caroline Pignat,

Book cover of The Gospel Truth

This verse novel primarily sets the stage for a crucial journey Phoebe, a sixteen-year-old slave, living on a Virginia tobacco plantation in 1858, decides to make that will take her north to freedom. I like to write poetry myself and have favourites among verse novels that have proliferated in recent years. This is one of them. The poetry here is beautifully-crafted and underlines the power of language Phoebe has discovered, having taught herself to read. Pignat alternates viewpoints as she presents a cast of characters that includes a Canadian doctor posing as a birdwatcher who helps slaves escape. Bird imagery is a motif throughout the book—so apt in detailing a flight to a new world.


Who am I?

As a child, I was an avid reader and particularly fell in love with historical fiction. My favourite corner for reading was on top of the woodbox by my grandmother’s cookstove. Warm and cozy, I delved into such books as Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason and Jack Schaeffer’s Shane. How wonderful to land for a few hours in the world of Shakespeare’s London or the grasslands of the frontier west. When I worked as a children’s librarian and then began writing books myself, this early love has remained with me—so it factored into the books I chose for schools—and some of the novels I wrote such as The Runaway and Firebird.


I wrote...

Firebird

By Glen Huser,

Book cover of Firebird

What is my book about?

Set during World War I when thousands of Ukrainian immigrants were interned in concentration camps all across Canada, Firebird follows the journey of fourteen-year-old Alex Kaminsky, searching for an older brother who has disappeared. Riding the rails, staying with an immigrant Norwegian family in Edmonton and then, when authorities are on his trail, finding sanctuary with an elderly school teacher in Calgary, Alex finally discovers Marco close to death in a camp in Banff. 

My hope is that Firebird will allow young people of today to walk for a while in the shoes of these Canadian immigrant boys—back in the midst of a war that tore families apart not only on the battlefields of Europe but in the quieter corners of Canada.

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