What was antebellum life like for the two communities of people—one white and one black—who lived and worked on a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland?
Thomas Marsh Forman was in his early twenties when he returned from the Revolutionary War to take over the proprietorship of Rose Hill plantation from his father. The estate lay alongside the Sassafras River in Cecil County, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. Rose Hill was a product of its historical moment, a moment in which men like Forman acted on their belief that the future prospects of the country required a continuation not only of their energy, their skills, and their desire to improve the lives of Americans but also of the slave economy they had done so much to shape.
A focused study of this one plantation, The People of Rose Hill illuminates the workings of the entire plantation system in the border region between the end of the Revolution and the approach of the Civil War. Lucy Maddox looks closely at the public and private lives of the people of Rose Hill, who labored together in a profitable agricultural enterprise while maintaining relationships with one another that were cautious, distant, sometimes secretive, and often explosive. Making extensive use of the letters of wife, Martha Ogle Forman, Maddox places the experiences of Rose Hill's inhabitants (enslaved and free) within the context of the cultural, economic, and political history of the state. Piecing together the scattered information in these documents, she offers readers fascinating insights into life and labor on the plantation, from grueling daily work schedules to menus for elaborate dinners and teas. Her account includes comparative analyses of family structures and social practices within the Forman family and in the community of enslaved workers. Individual sections profile thirty-eight of the fifty enslaved people at Rose Hill, identifying, as far as possible, that person's primary work responsibilities, family connections, and history at the plantation, thus giving each a recognized place in the larger history of plantation slavery in the Upper South.
Maddox's discussion of Rose Hill extends to the places around it where the slave culture of the plantation found confirmation and support: churches, law courts, social gatherings, agricultural fairs and societies, the parlors and sitting rooms of the Eastern Shore elite. The People of Rose Hill is a fascinating look at the intersection of the constricted world of the plantation with the larger world of early America.
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