I just recently finished Richard S. Dunn’s A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia. This book took me over 18 months to finish (see my previous post about it for more detail). I read some other books start to finish in that time, and I also had my first child, but mostly I took so long to finish this book because it is incredibly detailed. I love a good non-fiction book, but A Tale of Two Plantations will not turn the pages the way, say, The Right Stuff did. Thats not the say I didn’t enjoy the book. In fact, I thought it was very informative. The book compares Virginia and Jamaica in in terms of family units, demographics, religion, quality of life, from acquisition to emancipation. It also looks at the lives and roles of slave owners. I think the interesting contrast was that Virginia owners lived closely with their slaves and experienced population growth that allowed them to sell surplus slaves and/or expand their operations. Jamaican slaveowners were absent from their plantations, relying on overseers to continually repurchase new slaves to replace those lost to disease and mistreatment.
The book details the lives of several generations of slaves and slaveholders in Virginia and Jamaica. The book also compares and constrats the two situations. The higher level detail I found to be very interesting. The detail of the individual persons was informative but made for an extremely dense read. Imagine a novel with hundreds of characters, and you will start to see why A Tale was so cumbersome a pursuit. I think I would have preferred to read a higher level comparative analysis without all the details about the individuals, but admittedly, I would have missed a lot of information I found valuable had I enjoyed a more condensed version of the book. While I would recommend the book to those that are very interested in the history of slavery, particularly in Tidewater Virginia, my general feeling is that I’m glad I read this book, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. In the interests of brevity and laziness, I’ll leave you with a few quotes I highlighted via my kindle. Hopefully some the quotes will spark your interest as this really was one of the most informative and enlightening books I’ve ever read.
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