In his thoroughly researched and meticulously foot-noted publication, An Edgefield Planter and His World: The 1840s Journals of Whitfield Brooks (2019, Mercer University Press) Dr. James O. Farmer, Jr., opens a window on the life of an elite family and its circle in a now iconic place, during a crystalizing decade of the Antebellum era. By the time he began a new diary volume in 1840, Brooks (1790-1851) was among the richest men in a South Carolina district known for its cotton-and-slave-generated wealth. His journal reveals Brooks’ attentiveness to his plantation and farms, self-image as a paternal master, religious sensibility, genteel but honor-bound bearing, personal and family connections, perspective on politics, and the effects of debilitating headaches. With his wife, Charleston heiress Mary Parsons Carroll, Brooks enjoyed and nurtured the social, cultural, and religious life of the village of Edgefield.
While the Brooks gave priority to the futures of their five surviving children, the mercurial temperament of their first-born, future Congressman Preston Smith Brooks, was a source of anxiety as well as pride. Herein lies the unique dimension of this document – its insights into the relationship between a father and the son whose archaic sense of honor would provoke perhaps the most sensational instance of Antebellum intersectional violence, the caning of Senator Charles Sumner in 1856.
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