cover image Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter

Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter

Theodore Rosengarten. William Morrow & Company, $22.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-688-05412-0

Rosengarten, recipient of a National Book Award for All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw, offers an excellent study that captures the life and times of a Southern slaveholder. Thomas B. Chaplin (182290), heir to a fortune in land and slaves, was 22 when he became master of the 376-acre Tombee Plantation on St. Helena Island, S.C. There, with a wife and four children, he lived extravagantly, managed poorly and sank deeper into debt and opium addiction, ultimately losing everything when federal troops arrived in 1861. Rosengarten's book, in two parts, opens with a well-researched biography of Chaplin, who was always cash-poor and struggling to keep up appearances while battling a much-hated stepfather for his mother's wealth. The second half, edited with the assistance of Susan W. Walker, is the daily journal kept by Chaplin for 15 years to make sense of his life of ""loss and disappointment.'' Through the story of this planter and his family, the author illuminates innumerable aspects of the planter's way of life on the eve of the Civil War. (July 18)