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  • A New Plantation World: Sporting Estates in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1900–1940by Daniel J. Vivian
  • Jennifer Whitmer Taylor
A New Plantation World: Sporting Estates in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1900–1940. By Daniel J. Vivian. Cambridge Studies on the American South. ( New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 351. $59.99, ISBN 978-1-108-41690-0.)

Daniel J. Vivian's A New Plantation World: Sporting Estates in the South Carolina Lowcountry, 1900–1940traces an aristocratic "'Second Yankee Invasion'" of South Carolina's Lowcountry and the transformation of plantations into sites of recreation and leisure (p. 3). Northern men trickled to the South Carolina coast beginning in the late nineteenth century to establish hunting clubs and retreats. Initially, they made only essential changes to their property. By the mid-1920s, northern elites flocked to the region to purchase plantation ruins. They ignited a new phase of significantly altering the plantations, dramatically expanding their size and lavishness. Owners rehabilitated properties in a variety of ways, renovating or restoring the main house and sometimes emphasizing the decay of buildings. Their choices reflected the antebellum roots of the sites, but country estates, extensive landscaping, and the desire for modern amenities also influenced designs. Local and national publications took notice of this blending of old and new. These newspapers and magazines also represented northerners as the aristocratic heirs to antebellum planters and provided native southerners excluded from these white elite spaces a glimpse into plantation renewal. To property owners and to the press, the big house was the most important feature, which minimized or completely erased slavery physically from the land as well as in print. The invasion of wealthy northerners, immune to the early effects of the Great Depression, peaked in the late 1920s and early 1930s. By the late New Deal, the boom had begun to abate. World War II and the rise of café society among the upper class accelerated the decline.

Northern plantation owners redefined plantations as sporting estates. These sites evolved from hunting refuges to heterosexual spaces of recreation that often required extensive entertaining and socializing. The concept of plantation [End Page 719]life produced by these changes portrayed the Lowcountry as a distinct "exotic realm," fused with qualities of "quasi-feudal" country life (p. 278). Set just before the rise of moonlight-and-magnolia plantation tourism in the South, the book adds valuable insight into the period of southern mythmaking explored by historians and media scholars. Elite northerners, in a parallel process, were simply performing their own short-lived version of the fantasy consumed by the nation in film, in novels, and, as Vivian so well illustrates, in print media and nonfiction. The unique characteristics of Gullah culture and the presence of domestic workers, farm laborers, and recreational guides from local black communities were used to fuel this fantasy. However, Vivian makes clear that this phenomenon did not simply replicate antebellum experiences but also amalgamated them to construct a new plantation world. Privileged northerners reimagined plantations for the Jim Crow era and reinforced white supremacy.

Vivian assesses seventy-six estates and devotes two chapters to detailed case studies of Mulberry and Medway plantations. He meticulously researches newspapers, magazines, government records, period encyclopedic texts of historic sites, manuscript collections, and a diary in a private collection. He also interprets black laborers' relationship to northern owners and the land, but, like the rehabilitated plantations, his sources only provide "suggestive glimpses" of the black experience (p. 277). Vivian's rich textual analysis of both plantation life and black communities would have been complemented and strengthened by the Moving Image Research Collections Digital Video Repository (MIRC-DVR) at the University of South Carolina. MIRC-DVR holds several collections that depict properties Vivian describes during the invasion's peak in the 1930s, including the Belle W. Baruch film collection primarily produced at Hobcaw Barony and the Anna and Archer Huntington home movies shot at Atalaya Castle. However, the absence of these visual sources does not diminish the monograph as an important contribution to the histories of Lowcountry plantation preservation, sporting culture, and Old South mythology.

Jennifer Whitmer Taylor
Duquesne University

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Additional Information

ISSN
2325-6893
Print ISSN
0022-4642
Pages
pp. 719-720
Launched on MUSE
2019-08-07
Open Access
No
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