Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hollis & Stokes (eds.): "TWILIGHT ON THE SOUTH CAROLINA RICE FIELDS: Letters of the Heyward Family, 1862-1871"

[Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields: Letters of the Heyward Family, 1862-1871, edited by Margaret Belser Hollis and Allen H. Stokes & assisted by Shirley Bright Cook, Janet Hudson, and Nicholas G. Meriwether (University of South Carolina Press, 2010). Cloth, maps, illustrations, index. 462 Pages. ISBN:978-1-57003-894-5 39.95]

The degree of economic devastation and social dislocation in many areas of the South during the Civil War years and Reconstruction was certainly unprecedented in America and remains unmatched. From the earliest point of the war, wealthy rice planters, whose plantations were situated along the coastline of South Carolina and its even more vulnerable sea islands, experienced the brunt of these shocking changes. The Heywards, with holdings inland near Columbia and at the coast's Beaufort District, were just such a family, and their wartime and Reconstruction letters are transcribed, compiled, and edited by Margaret Belser Hollis, Allen H. Stokes and others in Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields.

The letters contained in this thick volume reveal much about Edward Barnwell "Barney" Heyward (1826–1871), his relationship with his family, and his struggle to maintain his land, slaves, and wealth in the midst of war. During the war, Heyward's name was submitted to Secretary of War Seddon by Robert W. Barnwell for an officer commission in the Confederate Engineering Department, so his writings also provide some insight into military events in the area. A large number of the letters included in the book are to and from Barney's wife Catherine "Tat/Tattie" Maria Clinch Heyward, so domestic matters receive a great deal of attention, too.

Though the book is a hefty tome at almost 500 pages in length, supplemental scholarship is at a minimum, at least compared to the typical modern edited letter collection published by a university press. However, a series of brief biographical sketches of Heyward and Clinch family members is provided, as well as a fine introduction by Peter A. Coclanis that properly contextualizes the place of the Heywards within the rice economy and rice economy as an important dimension in international trade.

The correspondence is not formally annotated, with the editors's occasional and unsourced (but useful) comments located at the end of each letter. As explained in the brief Editorial Method section at the book's front, this largely non-interventional methodology is similar to that employed by Cook for the Papers of John C. Calhoun project. The material is transcribed verbatim with changes set apart by brackets and new headings provided. While a good index is present, there is no bibliography.

Tracing a remarkable period of societal upheaval at a personal level, the Heyward family letters collected in Twilight comprise a valuable resource for readers and researchers interested in South Carolina's rice culture and economy. It also sheds light on a family less well known today [I had never heard of them until this volume] but highly influential in antebellum American politics and history. Recommended.

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