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Old Southampton

Politics and Society in a Virginia County, 1834-1869
Daniel W. Crofts

BUY Cloth · 448 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813913858 · $49.50 · Nov 1992
BUY Paper · 448 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813925929 · $29.50 · May 2015

Nat Turner's 1831 slave insurrection made Virginia's Southampton County notorious. Gradually, however, the bloody spectacle receded from national memory.

Although the timeless rhythms of rural life resumed after the insurrection, Southampton could not escape the forces of change. From the Age of Jackson through to secession, wartime, and Reconstruction, it shared the fate of the Old South. Many who had witnessed the insurrection lived to see Tuner's cause triumph as war destroyed the slave system, inaugurating an intense struggle to shape the new postwar order.

Old Southampton links local and national history. It explains how partian loyalties developed, how white democracy flourished in the late antebellum years, how secession sharply divded neighborhoods with few slaves from those with large plantations, and how, following emancipation, former slaves challenged the prerogatives of former slaveholders.

Crofts draws on two volumnious diaries and other rich records, plus rare poll lists that show how individuals voted. He vividly re-creates the experiences of planters and plain folk, slave owners and slaves, the powerful and the obscure.

This deft combination of political and social history is must reading for anyone interested in the Old South and the Civil War era.


Old Southampton is a sensitive and finely textured account of a memorable southern community. A gifted analyst and storyteller, Crofts has composed an intimate, convincing portrait of ordinary rural Virginians and their experience of social change and political conflict in the era of the Civil War.

Harry L. Watson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This is not merely a chronicle of a rural southern county; it is a readable narrative and incisive analysis of a microcosm of the Old South in the crucible of sectional conflict and Civil War. The discussions of slavery and of politics in Southampton are especially good. Crofts makes compelling connections between events in the county and the larger framework of crises that reshaped the South.

James M. McPherson, Princeton University

Local studies such as this are essential to a proper understanding of the political life of the Civil War era, and only through them can we really understand the way in which the relatively ordinary people who suffered through the Civil War actually experienced this cataclysmic event....This is the social history of politics at its very best.

William G. Shade, Lehigh University

Croft's engaging analysis of political development in Old Southampton is community history at its best. His well-crafted story situates class resentments, partisanship, and political history in the texture of the society and culture of the people of rural Virginia and, in doing so, informs us about important issues in southern and ninteenth-century American history.

Orville Vernon Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

About the Author(s): 

Daniel W. Crofts is Professor of History at Trenton State College. He is author of Reluctant Confederates: Upper South Unionists in the Secession Crisis.

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