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The Big House after Slavery

Virginia Plantation Families and Their Postbellum Domestic Experiment

Amy Feely Morsman

Publication Year: 2010

The Big House after Slavery examines the economic, social, and political challenges that Virginia planter families faced following Confederate defeat and emancipation. Amy Feely Morsman addresses how men and women of the planter class responded to postwar problems and how their adaptations to life without slavery altered their marital relationships and their conceptions of gender roles.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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pp. c-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

This book began as an idea formulated in a graduate seminar in Charlottesville, Virginia, many years ago. From there it developed into a doctoral dissertation and then a book manuscript. As such, it was on my mind when I fell in love, landed a job, got married, and had two children. It has even accompanied me all the way down the tenure track and beyond. Now, as I...

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pp. 1-12

For much of her life, Sally Carter Randolph did not know how good she had it. She was born into one of Virginia’s oldest, most distinguished families and then married well, joining Benjamin Franklin Randolph, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, in marriage in 1834. She and her husband settled down on a 642-acre parcel—a wedding gift from...

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ONE. "By Hard Labour and Close Economy" Virginia Planters Go To Work

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pp. 13-53

When Thomas Wats on took stock of his personal financial holdings in February 1861, he counted forty-four slaves and more than $28,000 worth of real estate in addition to investments, household wares, and agricultural items used at Bracketts, his plantation in Louisa County, Virginia. The secession of the Lower South...

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TWO. Keeping Up Appearances A Crisis of Status in Virginia's Postwar Plantation Households

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pp. 54-90

In the spring of 1883 , Lila Hubard filed for divorce from her husband, William, a member of a wealthy Buckingham County planter family. How and when their marital troubles began is not clear, but in the divorce proceedings both Lila and William claimed that the other had neglected spousal responsibilities. Family members recalled William’s...

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THREE. "For Our Mutual Protection and Advancement" Planter Families in Virginia's Postbellum Voluntary Organizations

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pp. 91-124

In 1874, Martha Ambler , the mistress of Lakeland Plantation in Louisa County, longed for company. She was far too busy working at home, however, to go visiting. Because she was “having a very quick time” keeping her family comfortable, Martha hardly ever saw anyone outside of her 1,200-acre plantation. Fortunately for Martha, by the...

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FOUR. Baring Virginia's Bosom for Political Gain Politicians, Manhood, and Debt

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pp. 125-157

When Lucy Holladay returned home to Prospect Hill Plantation after visiting relatives in Louisa County in the summer of 1869, she brought with her a letter for her husband. It was actually more a note than a letter, a brief, business-like one written by George Summer, a commission merchant from Louisa with...

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FIVE. Abandoning the Homestead How the Next Generation Embraced a New South

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pp. 158-192

In an 1877 speech delivered at the University of Virginia, state senator John Warwick Daniel had some special words for both men and women of the postbellum South. Speaking on the subject of conquered nations, Daniel saluted the “Old men” of the South and reassured them that their “work was not in vain” and that their good deeds and lost fortunes...

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pp. 193-198

Confederate defeat brought a number of changes to the lives of Virginia planters, including new responsibilities, new frustrations, and new alternatives for ordering their world. For Thomas Watson, however, one noteworthy practice did not change: he remained an extraordinarily steadfast correspondent. To friends, family, and business...


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pp. 199-248


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pp. 249-264


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pp. 265-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780813930084
E-ISBN-10: 0813930081
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813930039
Print-ISBN-10: 0813930030

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 4 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 759159951
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Big House after Slavery

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Virginia -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Marriage -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Sex role -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Man-woman relationships -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Social change -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Families -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Plantation owners -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Plantation life -- Virginia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Virginia -- Economic conditions -- 19th century.
  • Virginia -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950.
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