by Elisabeth Payne Rosen
The well-researched Hallam's War unfolds at a pace that reflects the moral lassitude of life in the South on the eve of the Civil War. Serena and Hugh Hallam have moved west from their native Virginia. Feeling scruples about slavery, Hugh chose to let his brother have the slaves he might have inherited from his father, though he and Serena subsequently kept the family she inherited from her mother and took the opportunity to start a cotton farm in Tennessee.
The central thread of the story begins to unwind when the Hallams' neighbor buys a girl of twelve or thirteen from a traveling slave trader but refuses to buy the girl's father. "Hugh put down the gourd dipper from the water barrel where he was drinking and turned to look at the child and the man behind her. McQuirter was a volatile man under his easygoing manner—alternately harsh and lavish with his slaves and family alike, and given to bouts of extreme sentimentality under the influence of drink—a trait he exhibited as evidence of a tender heart. It was a combination Hallam had come to know well under the hothouse conditions of domestic slavery, and which he believed held the most potential for disaster." Hugh buys the father so he and the girl will at least live on neighboring farms.
With few slaves, Hugh acts as his own foreman and does work his neighbors scorn. Serena, to the horror of her visiting aunt, does her own gardening. "Taking her pruning shears from the basket on the back porch, she walked down the short flight of steps onto the gravel path beyond. Already, at half past six, the garden around her was alive with bees. Standing there with the rough pebbles under her feet, surrounded by the roses of every shape and color that clambered up the arbors and weighed down the trellises above her, she breathed in a deep breath and held it: nothing was more pleasurable, more satisfying—the rose perfume mingling with the rank smell of the earth below." (2008, 480 pages)
More information about Hallam's War from Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Other literary novels about slavery in the American South:
The Known World by Edward P. Jones, about black slaveowners. More info
Jacob’s Ladder: A Story of Virginia During the War by Donald McCaig, about a young man and a light-skinned slave girl who have an affair.
Beloved by Toni Morrison, about a former slave and her children. More info
Nonfiction about slavery in the American South:
Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art, edited by Angela D. Mack. More info
The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders by James Oakes. More info
Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made by Eugene D. Genovese. More info
Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South by Kenneth M. Stampp. More info
King Cotton article at Wikipedia
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