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82CIVILWAR history can naval experience and of those individuals who were the prime movers within that experience. Captains of the Old Steam Navy is a gratifying and satisfying demonstration of how far we have come in both our knowledge and our understanding of the American naval tradition. Edward W. Sloan Trinity College Tombée: Portrait of a Cotton Phnter, with the Journal of Thomas B. Chaplin (1822-1890). By Theodore Rosengarten. (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986. Pp. 750. $22.95.) "The world should have been his oyster." With these words Theodore Rosengarten introduces us to the feckless antebellum planter Thomas B. Chaplin, master of Tombée Plantation on South Carolina's St. Helena Island. He was born to position and affluence (the top two percent of the wealthiest people in America), yet his life was full of woe. He was insensitive , ill-tempered, and emotionally and socially insecure; he drank to excess and was a poor manager; he was spoiled and unhappy. Chaplin's problems were in part due to declining social mobility. On Tombée, corn was king and not cotton, but good corn crops did not keep creditors at bay. In the late 1840s he was forced to sell land, slaves, and his boat; the last was especially humiliating because a Sea Island planter could do without horses and boots more readily than he could do without a boat. Economic slippage led to social slippage, and he lost his place in society. The deeper causes of Chaplin's misery were personal. His father died when he was a small boy, and his mother, Isabella, was thereafter too busy accumulating husbands and plantations to raise her son properly. "She married him off just before his seventeenth birthday—very early for a young man of his background to be pushed out of the parental nest." Isabella's fourth and last husband was a "bankrupt pharmacist and portrait painter" nearly twenty years younger than herself. Stepson and stepfather hated one another at first sight; and they barely waited for the consummation of the marriage before starting a legal war over the estate that dragged on for a quarter-of-a-century. Chaplin's economic prospects partially revived in the 1850s, but then came"that great blast of ruin and destruction," the Civil War. Readers of Willie Lee Rose's RehearsalforReconstruction will recall that St. Helena was one of the Sea Islands captured by the Union navy in 1861 and subsequently engulfed in the Port Royal experiment. Chaplin went into the army and, like most of his neighbors, "was cut adrift from his plantation forever." After the war (he died in 1890) he drifted from job to job, including—ironically, considering his previous lack of empathy with his slaves—teaching in a school for black children. In most respects, Chaplin was an average Sea Island planter. His goals BOOK REVIEWS83 and values, his two marriages and seven offspring, even his lack of success , were entirely conventional. What set him apart was his literary habits . From 1845 to 1858 he religiously kept a daily journal, recording his observations of weather, crops, slaves, family, community, business, enemies, creditors and other matters. He "kept faith with his journal" for thirteen years; then "for thirty years more he lugged it around in exile, periodically reading it and penciling in afterthoughts." Tombée, like Rosengarten's oral history of Nate Shaw (All Gods Dangers), is a big book. Half of it is a meticulously researched biography of Chaplin, unconventionally organized by topics: family, planting, estates , social life, slavery, and so on. The other half is Chaplin's edited journal. Despite a few inconsistencies, both as biographer and editor, Rosengarten has done an excellent job. Chaplin is a strangely compelling figure, and a wealth of social history is recorded in these pages. This impressive book belongs on the shelfwith Mary Chesnut's Civil Warand Children of Pride. Ted T UNNELL Virginia Commonwealth University A Biography: Jessie Benton Fremont. By Pamela Herr. (New York: Franklin Watts, 1987. Pp. xiii, 496. $24.95.) Intelligent, energetic, aggressive, ambitious, and outspoken, Jessie Benton Fremont chafed under the restrictions of the conventional nineteenth -century woman's role. Unable to stand passively...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 82-83
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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