- The Rural Hill Farm Journals of Adam Brevard Davidson, 1834-1856 ed. by Ann Williams
The Rural Hill Farm Journals of Adam Brevard Davidson, 1834-1856, edited by Ann Williams, contains transcriptions of two farm journals kept by a third-generation planter, Adam Brevard Davidson (1808-1896), in antebellum North Carolina and spanning the Mecklenburg County cotton plantation's enterprises from 1834 through 1854 in the first volume and 1856 in the second. Williams offers a brief introduction to the journals, with Davidson family background and genealogy, an overview of the people who lived near Rural Hill, and an overview of the enslaved population at Rural Hill—mostly accounting for the number of enslaved people and how the plantation acquired them.
Williams correctly appraises the journals' greatest value to historians as the representation therein of scientific agriculture on antebellum cotton plantations. She reports that Davidson was a member of the "very active" Mecklenburg County agricultural society, and the journals represent his sincere attempts to learn from his own successes and mistakes (p. 24).
The journals themselves are typical of an antebellum planter's farming diary, with short and simple entries that are often just a date and note of the crops or tasks that were worked that particular day. Davidson sometimes recorded how high his corn had grown, the dates when his first cotton blossoms appeared, and [End Page 436] how many slaves were set to a particular task. He entered notices when family members and slaves were born or died and penned a matter-of-fact report for his own nuptials on April 20,1836: "I was maried [sic] on this day about 50 persons at the weeding [sic] and about 75 at the infair [infare (reception)]" (p. 45). The second volume, covering 1856, continues to offer the same type of information as the first volume but has more detailed ledgers for the plantation's stock, market transactions, and enslaved people—including a log of their names and amounts of cotton picked. The 1856 volume was written in an agricultural record book titled Plantation and Farm: Instruction, Regulation, Record, Inventory, and Account Book (Richmond, Va., 1852). Williams includes the instructional portions of Plantation and Farm in the appendix.
As a whole, the editor's contextual portions of the publication are perhaps geared more for the genealogical and lay audience, and some of the observations, particularly on slavery, may disappoint scholars. For example, Williams observes, "If one had to be a slave the Carolina piedmont was a fair place to be one, especially compared to the enormous dens of inhumanity that were the costal [sic] or river plantations of the deep south" (p. 22). Despite this, Williams does good work explaining scientific agriculture and the ways various crops would have been grown on a plantation like Rural Hill. And the journals within The Rural Hill Farm Journals of Adam Brevard Davidson are themselves valuable primary sources for those studying the day-to-day work patterns of an antebellum cotton plantation.