Cover image for Landon Carter's uneasy kingdom : revolution and rebellion on a Virginia Plantation
Landon Carter's uneasy kingdom : revolution and rebellion on a Virginia Plantation
Isaac, Rhys.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxii, 423 pages : illustrations, 1 map ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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F229.C32 I83 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Landon Carter, a Virginia planter patriarch, left behind one of the most revealing of all American diaries. In this astonishingly rich biography, Rhys Isaac mines this remarkable document--and many other sources--to reconstruct Carter's interior world as it plunged into revolution.
The aging patriarch, though a fierce supporter of American liberty, was deeply troubled by the rebellion and its threat to established order. His diary, originally a record of plantation business, began to fill with angry stories of revolt in his own little kingdom. Carter writes at white heat, his words sputtering from his pen as he documents the terrible rupture that the Revolution meant to him. Indeed, Carter felt in his heart he was chronicling a world in decline, the passing of the order that his revered father had bequeathed to him. Not only had Landon's king betrayed his subjects, but Landon's own household betrayed him: his son showed insolent defiance, his daughter Judith eloped with a forbidden suitor, all of his slaves conspired constantly, and eight of them made an armed exodus to freedom. The seismic upheaval he helped to start had crumbled the foundations of Carter's own home.
Like Laurel Ulrich in her classic A Midwife's Tale, Rhys Isaac here unfolds not just the life, but the mental world of our countrymen in a long-distant time. Moreover, in this presentation of Landon Carter's passionate narratives, the diarist becomes an arresting new character in the world's literature, a figure of Shakespearean proportions, the Lear of his own tragic kingdom. This long-awaited work will be seen both as a major contribution to Revolution history and a triumph of the art of biography.

Author Notes

Rhys Isaac is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the College of William and Mary and a Research Associate of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Isaac (The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790) offers an eloquent and unique look at the beginnings and consequences of the American Revolution as seen through the eyes of early America's finest diarist, Landon Carter. Carter, who owned the magnificent Sabine Hall plantation in Virginia, recorded his daily life from 1752 until just before his death in 1778. Originally used to record "plantation procedures," as Isaac points out, the diary soon grew from a collection of proverbs about when to plant to a journal of Carter's attempt to understand the meaning of the coming revolution for himself and his family. A supporter of the British, Carter nonetheless sided with the growing American quest for liberty. He thought of himself much like a king whose authority extended over the realm of his plantation. As the larger revolution approaches, Carter experiences smaller revolutions and rebellions on his own plantation: his son defies him by marrying against Carter's wishes, and eight of his slaves rise up in an armed rebellion. Angry that his authority is being challenged on all sides, Carter also exhibits perplexity at the changing world around him. Isaac weaves entries from Carter's diary with a splendid biographical narrative to provide a profound and intimate glimpse into one portion of early America. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With this work, a major contribution to the study of the American Revolution, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isaac (Distinguished Visiting Professor, Coll. of William & Mary; The Transformation of Virginia: 1740-1790) shares the results of his 20 years of research on Virginia planter Landon Carter and the remarkable diaries he kept from 1752 to 1778. Carter's rich, evocative writing provides invaluable insight into the life of a landed patriarch in Colonial America, as he shares his innermost concerns about family conflict, which closely parallel his equally troubled thoughts about the revolution, the rebellion and escape of some of his slaves, his role as physician and agrarian patriarch of his tobacco plantation, and his final break with the king. Readers will be fascinated by Carter's impassioned narratives, masterfully placed in their time by Isaac's brilliant analysis. This admirable study joins Claire Tomalin's Samuel Pepys as an example of the finest scholarly analysis of personal diaries. Essential for Colonial America collections in all academic and larger public libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This book, largely a selective concordance to the Diary of Landon Carter, weaves in narrative capsules on the lives of characters featured in that work. Landon Carter (1710-78) delves into many subjects of plantation affairs and colonial society. Extremely conscientious, he oversteps himself in trying to dictate the course of action for others. Besides serving as the patriarch for his own family and numerous slaves, Carter meddled in political affairs, including service in the House of Burgesses (1752-68). Isaacs's book does double duty. It explains Carter's decisions in the text, profusely quoting from the Diary, and it presents long, expository footnotes to explain the explanations. The book could use a more distinctive categorization of narrative reconstructions. For this reviewer, Jack P. Greene's expertly annotated and edited The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall (1965) remains the very admirable primary study of Carter, and Carter's own prose is easy to read. Isaacs (visiting professor, College of William and Mary) would have served Carter better had he written a biography per se. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; all academic levels. H. M. Ward emeritus, University of Richmond

Table of Contents

The Argumentp. XI
First Wordsp. XIII
Dramatis Personae
The Carters and the Bealesp. XXIII
Sabine Hall--1770s Staff of the Dual Householdp. XXIV
I Revolution in House and Home
1 Morning of Revolutionp. 3
2 The Egypt of This Exodusp. 17
3 "All for Love"p. 37
II Enlightenment Calm
4 Plantation Pastoralp. 57
5 Landon's Libraryp. 85
6 Plantation Medical Sciencep. 105
III Politics, War, and Rebellion
7 Landon, Legislatorp. 123
8 Rebellions Beginp. 163
IV A Troubled Old Regime
9 Master and Slavesp. 187
10 Duties Betrayedp. 233
11 Contests at Homep. 265
V King Lear Into the Storm
12 Primal Rebellionsp. 287
13 Landon and Nassawp. 313
14 Toward Deathp. 323
Last Wordsp. 333
Chronologyp. 337
Annotationp. 339
About the Illustrationsp. 396
Acknowledgmentsp. 400
Indexp. 401