SS04 E39: Book Club – Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation 1839-8 (Fanny Kemble, 1863)

In this episode, we talk about Fanny Kemble’s book Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-1839 which was published after her death in 1863.

Originally published in 1863 – and out-of-print and unavailable for almost a century- Frances Anne Kemble’s Journal has long been recognized by historians as unique in the literature of American slavery and invaluable for obtaining a clear view of the “peculiar institution” and of life in the antebellum South.

Brian opened the show with some new research resource discoveries he’s made for Alabama and Mississippi records on FamilySearch. And he also shared a tip for identifying enslavers in communities where slaveholders were largely absent (as in absentee enslavers) such as the Gullah corridor from South Carolina to Florida. You won’t want to miss these tips!

Brian spoke about how this book was – and is – invaluable to his Weeping Time slave sale research (1859). And it is important for the work he and others are doing researching the enslaved people held by Capt. John Bull, Col. Thomas Middleton, and Maj. Pierce Butler in SC.

Donya and Brian read from examples of the book that illustrate how social issues for Black Americans remain largely unchanged since Fanny Kemble’s accounts were written in 1838-9.

And they talk about the dangers of those who would like to see books like this in the U.S. removed from public access, or destroyed, to better enable a white-washing of the lived Black experience throughout American history.

Fanny Kemble was one of the leading lights of the English stage in the nineteenth century. During a tour of America in the 1830s, she met and married a wealthy Philadelphian, Pierce Butler, part of whose fortune derived from his family’s vast cotton and rice plantation on the Sea Islands of Georgia and formerly, South Carolina. After their marriage, she spent several months living on the plantation. Profoundly shocked by what she saw, she recorded her observations of plantation life in a series of journal entries written as letters to a friend. She never sent the letters. It wasn’t until the Civil War began and Fanny, divorced from Pierce Butler, was living in England where her letters were published in book format. This is a no-holds-barred kind of book. Fanny did not mince her words or sugar-coat the world she witnessed first-hand.

This book provides the modern reader with the historical and biographical background to move freely and with ease in Fanny Kemble’s world.

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