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106Southern Cultures Tumult and Silence at Second Creek: An Inquiry into a Civil War Slave Conspiracy. By Winthrop D. Jordan. Louisiana State University Press, 1993. 391 pp. Cloth, $24.95. Reviewed by Charles Joyner, Burroughs Professor ofHistory at Coastal Carolina University. He is author of"Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community. More than twenty years ago, a young assistant archivist at the Louisiana State University Archives brought an unusual document to the attention of Winthrop Jordan, a visiting historian. A cover note said "these four sheets of paper" were "the literal, original testimony taken down" by Lemuel P. Connor regarding an "uprising of negroe Slaves near Natchez Miss just before Civil War." The document, written in Connor's own hand, consisted of reports of the testimony of twenty slaves, two of them examined twice, about a slave rebellion of unknown dimensions in Adams County, Mississippi, in mid-September 1862. Fascinated, both historian and archivist thought the subject might be developed into an article. The rebellion had been discovered and quashed by the slaveholders, and at least twenty-seven slaves had been executed. Yet, as Jordan began to look for corroborating evidence , he found that "this slave plot was kept so quiet at the time that it has since remained virtually unknown, or at least not written about by historians, or (so far as can be discovered) even spoken of by living descendants of the antagonists." After more than two decades of exhaustively searching for documents and patiently sifting an obscure array of "fragmentary and often ambiguous" sources, Jordan has produced Tumult and Silence at Second Creek. The book is not only a history of a particular slave conspiracy, but also an engaging detective story and a philosophical treatise on what Jordan calls "the nature of historical inference." He intensively cross-examines his sources and teases out the meaning of their collective silence, a silence that he says "lies like a smothering tarpaulin on the mountain of pain in Adams County, Mississippi, in 1861." Tumult and Silence offers possibilities, not proofs; it nevertheless sets an extraordinarily high standard of historical analysis. While Jordan makes no explicit claims to anthropological method, his careful attention to ethnographic details allows their meanings to become more visible. He is unusually sensitive to the otherness of people in the past, implicitly responding to the dictum of Claude Lévi-Strauss that "both history and ethnography are concerned with societies other than the one in which we live." The slaves who took part in the plot at Second Creek, Jordan writes, "need to be taken seriously as individuals with their own agendas and concerns, living as they did in situations very different from ours and, indeed, participating in a culture that, no matter how much it influenced our own, no longer exists." Jordan seeks to penetrate the surface of events to discover the skeletal substructure beneath the tough hide of behavior and expression. He treats the historical events of the Second Creek plot as a collection of "texts" in which the slaves as cultural actors reveal how they perceive their world. As he notes, "Expectations about what people should and would do powerfully shaped what individuals planned and said and did." In a dozen chapters Jordan reads his "texts" against the Mississippi environment, its sights, sounds, and voices; its water, land, and work; its politics, ideologies, and leaders; its rebels and road travelers; and its women, black and white. He even pays attention to the slaves' time orientation. Such close analysis perfectly exemplifies what others have called "ethnographic history." Jordan's perception of pattern in the historical events of the Second Creek plot is close to anthropologist Victor Turner's conception of "social drama," structured in time Reviews107 rather than in space and guided by subjective paradigms in the heads of the actors, "root" paradigms that reach toward the fundamental assumptions that undergird society. Jordan reads the plot as "a collaborative effort, with people on both the black and the white sides cooperating collectively amongst themselves and, without fully knowing it, with each other because both shared assumptions about what was possible, what was likely, and what was right." Tumult and Silence will enhance...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 106-108
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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