Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Booknotes: Incidents in the Life of Cecilia Lawton

New Arrival:
Incidents in the Life of Cecilia Lawton: A Memoir of Plantation Life, War, and Reconstruction in Georgia and South Carolina edited by Karen Stokes (Mercer UP, 2021).

South Carolina Historical Society archivist Karen Stokes has edited (solo and in partnership with W. Eric Emerson) a number of South Carolina-related wartime diary and letter collections for publication by University of South Carolina Press and Mercer University Press. Her latest editing project, Incidents in the Life of Cecilia Lawton, marks the first appearance in print of the full Lawton memoir, which runs 113 pages in its published format.

From the description: "The daughter of a wealthy Georgia plantation owner," Lawton "was married at the age of sixteen and went to live at her husband's plantation in South Carolina, but a few months later, she found herself fleeing from the army of General William T. Sherman. She observed the aftermath of this brutal campaign, writing of what she saw in vivid, horrific detail. Following the war, Cecilia and her husband [Wallace] "struggled to survive on his ruined plantation, but after enduring many hardships and dangers, they moved away and began a new life on a sea island near Charleston. Raised in luxury and privilege, Cecilia had few of the skills expected of a farmer's wife, but despite her youth and inexperience she persevered and found success as a businesswoman in Charleston."

Preface and introduction note objections from the family custodian of the manuscript and those raised by others over how author Clyde Bresee utilized the memoir in two books published last century (1986's Sea Island Yankee and 1992's How Grand a Flame), so the book appears to also be an attempt to correct an allegedly distorted record. In addition to her fairly lengthy general introduction and epilogue to the volume, Stokes contributes footnotes to the Lawton material, a small collection of images, a pair of appendices, and an index.

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