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Major Butler's Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family
by Malcolm Bell
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Encompassing American history from the eve of the Revolution to the first decades of our own century, this book is a history of five generations of the Butler's, a family sundered at its very core by the same institution of slavery that would lead the nation into the horror and destruction of the Civil War. To his family, Major Butler's legacy consisted of two well-appointed properties in Philadelphia, the rich plantation lands in the South that paid for those properties, and more than nine hundred human beings bound to the soil of the plantations. Tracing the Butlers' private and public lives at their homes in Philadelphia and on their plantations in South Carolina and Georgia, Bell surveys every aspect of life on the great agricultural empire assembled by Pierce Butler for his heirs. He tells of the fields where rice, cotton, and sugar were cultivated; of the small fleet of ships that carried those goods to port and brought provisions to the isolated island plantations on their return voyages; and of the Butler's often testy relations with their managers, particularly with the paradoxical Roswell King. But most dramatically, Bell portrays the lives of the slaves, referred to by Pierce Butler as "the wretched Africans," whose toil brought riches to the family. He describes their work and the punishment they could expect when they transgressed in some way; their diet and health and the amusements with which they consoled themselves; and the "day of weeping" that came when Major Butler's wastrel grandson, in an effort to regain solvency, sold half the slave community- 460 men, women, and children- in an enormous auction at Savannah's Ten Broeck Raceway in 1859.
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