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Voices of the Old South

  • Spanning the period from the earliest European expeditions to the eve of the Civil War, Voices of the Old South assembles a fascinating array of firsthand perspectives on the great events that shaped the region as well as its customs, attitudes, and commonplace occurrences. Encompassing key themes in southern history, the eyewitness accounts Alan Gallay has brought together for this volume are remarkable in their variety. In addition, Gallay's selections reflect a multicultural approach in which African Americans, native Americans, and women are treated not as mere tokens but as major participants in southern life.

    Unlike many works on the Old South, which tend to focus on the immediate pre-war years, this volume gives equal attention to the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Its geographic definition of the region is notably broad, including not only British America but also French Louisiana, the mountain areas as well as the lowlands, the pine barrens and the cotton belt. While famous names--such as Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Frances Anne Kemble--can be found here, Gallay also features writings by a number of obscure or less familiar figures. A French carpenter's account of an ill-fated expedition in Florida, a Scottish tradesman's description of the social mores of Georgia and the Carolinas, a free black's journal of daily life in Natchez, Mississippi--these are but a few of the rare and unusual documents excerpted in the book.

    In his introduction, Gallay explains the diversity of his selections, contending that to identify common threads among particular groups is not enough: we must also understand how the common threads take different forms when they penetrate different subcultures. By allowing the reader to listen to the richly divergent voices of those who lived in or visited the Old South, this collection suggests some fruitful ways of reaching that understanding.

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