Antebellum Virginia

John Randolph of Roanoke

By David Johnson

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"One of the most eccentric and accomplished politicians in all of American history, John Randolph (1773--1833) led a life marked by controversy. The long-serving Virginia congressman and architect of Southern conservatism grabbed headlines with his prescient comments, public brawls, and clashes with every president from John Adams to Andrew Jackson. The first biography of Randolph in nearly a century, John Randolph of Roanoke provides a full account of the powerful Virginia planter's hard-charging life and his impact on the formation of conservative politics."
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John Randolph of Roanoke by David Johnson

John Randolph of Roanoke by David Johnson

"One of the most eccentric and accomplished politicians in all of American history, John Randolph (1773--1833) led a life marked by controversy. The long-serving Virginia congressman and architect of Southern conservatism grabbed headlines with his prescient comments, public brawls, and clashes with every president from John Adams to Andrew Jackson. The first biography of Randolph in nearly a century, John Randolph of Roanoke provides a full account of the powerful Virginia planter's hard-charging life and his impact on the formation of conservative politics."

Lost Communities of Virginia by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg

Lost Communities of Virginia by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg

You can find them on a map. Barely.  Little towns that used to be rather important hubs dot the Virginia countryside, dating from the days when agriculture ruled along with the horse and buggy or mule and wagon. These central spots, often near rail stations, rivers, or better roads, were communities in their own right and many have faded away as the interstate system grew. The Lost Communities of Virginia, by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg, takes a look at these fading places, several of them near our area, including Mineral, Woodford, and Milford.

Fans of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café can relate to little Milford, situated in Caroline County and still located on a railroad line.  Originally the popular area here was Doguetown, named for the Dogue Indians who used the Mattaponi River for transportation. Milford, named for a nearby plantation in 1792, also used the river as a point for shipping—and inspecting—tobacco. The Mattaponi River was connected to both the York River and the Chesapeake Bay. By the early 1840s, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad ran from Richmond to Aquia Creek with a stop in Milford. Milford’s North-South railroad connections made it a target in the Civil War. 

Military Education and the Emerging Middle Class in the Old South

By Jennifer R. Green

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"This book argues that military education was an important institution in the development of the southern middle class as a regional group and as part of the national middle class in the late antebellum years. It explores class formation, professionalization, and social mobility in the 1840s and 1850s, using this data to define the middle class on a national level, while also identifying regionally specific characteristics of the emerging southern middle class."

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Virginia Horse Racing: Triumphs of the Turf

By Virginia C. Johnson and Barbara Crookshanks

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"Virginia, mother of presidents, is also the mother of American horse racing. From the very beginning, Virginians have risked it all on the track as eagerly as on the battlefield. Follow the bloodlines of three foundation sires of the American Thoroughbred through generations of rollicking races and largerthan- life grandees wagering kingly stakes, sometimes on horses not yet born. How did the horse nicknamed Damn His Eyes get protection money from other horse owners? What did it mean to tap the claret to break a neck-and-neck tie? Why was Confederate cavalry so much better than the Union--was it the riders, or was it the mounts? All these and many more stories of horsemanship on and off the track fill the pages of Virginia Horse Racing: Triumphs of the Turf."

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We Were Always Free by T.O. Madden, Jr.

Cover to We Were Always Free

Fiction authors sometimes begin historical narratives by announcing the discovery of a long-forgotten strong box in a dusty attic containing purportedly true accounts of times passed handily preserved for the modern reader’s enjoyment.  T.O. Madden, Jr.'s  We Were Always Free starts with just such a scenario, but unlike historical fiction, this is no ploy.  The history unearthed is real and traces back to colonial Virginia when Mary Madden, an Irish woman, gave birth to a child of mixed race on August 4, 1758 in Spotsylvania County.

Because of the laws of the time, just as the mother was free so would Mary’s child, Sarah, be considered free, as would all of Sarah’s descendents.  Mary and her newborn were first tended at the Collins farm in Spotsylvania, and the church vestry paid the Collins for their year of upkeep with 600 pounds of tobacco taken in tithes from the parishioners.  In 1759, still being paupers, Mary was sent along with her baby, to the local workhouse where the poor labored to support themselves. 

Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia Ex-slaves

By Charles L. Perdue

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Taken from the records of the Federal Writers' Project of the 1930s, these interviews with one-time Virginia slaves provide a clear window into what it was like to be enslaved in the antebellum American South.

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The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson's Boston

By Albert J. von Frank

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"Before 1854, most Northerners managed to ignore the distant unpleasantness of slavery. But that year an escaped Virginia slave, Anthony Burns, was captured and brought to trial in Boston--and never again could Northerners look the other way. This is the story of Burns's trial and of how, arising in abolitionist Boston just as the incendiary Kansas-Nebraska Act took effect, it revolutionized the moral and political climate in Massachusetts and sent shock waves through the nation.

"In a searching cultural analysis, Albert J. von Frank draws us into the drama and the consequences of the case. He introduces the individuals who contended over the fate of the barely literate twenty-year-old runaway slave--figures as famous as Richard Henry Dana Jr., the defense attorney, as colorful as Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Bronson Alcott, who led a mob against the courthouse where Burns was held, and as intriguing as Moncure Conway, the Virginia-born abolitionist who spied on Burns's master.

"The story is one of desperate acts, even murder--a special deputy slain at the courthouse door--but it is also steeped in ideas. Von Frank links the deeds and rhetoric surrounding the Burns case to New England Transcendentalism, principally that of Ralph Waldo Emerson. His book is thus also a study of how ideas relate to social change, exemplified in the art and expression of Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Theodore Parker, Bronson Alcott, Walt Whitman, and others.

"Situated at a politically critical moment--with the Whig party collapsing and the Republican arising, with provocations and ever hotter rhetoric intensifying regional tensions--the case of Anthony Burns appears here as the most important fugitive slave case in American history. A stirring work of intellectual and cultural history, this book shows how the Burns affair brought slavery home to the people of Boston and brought the nation that much closer to the Civil War."

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"Negro President"--Jefferson and the Slave Power

By Garry Wills

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Wills argues that the U.S. Constitution's three-fifths clause for slave "representation" in Congress and the Electoral College gave slave holders the edge in winning most presidential elections, controlling the federal government, and maintaining slavery by throttling personal liberties.

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