A remarkable chronicle of one family's thirty-year plummet from prominence to poverty
A World Turned Upside Down follows the trials of the nineteenth-century planter family that once dominated the southern banks of South Carolina's Santee River. Voluminous, literate, and rich in detail, the Palmer letters and journal entries serve as a sustained narrative of the economic pressures and wartime tragedies that shattered the South's planter aristocracy.
The volume offers insight into every aspect of plantation life: education, religion, household management, planting, slave-master relations, and social life. While the antebellum writings reveal rigid attitudes about social, economic, political, and religious concerns, the wartime correspondence depicts the devastation of those attitudes and of the Palmers' lifestyle. In addition to overwhelming material concerns, the Palmers describe the emotional impact of wartime casualties and of God's seeming indifference to their plight.
By the close of the war, the Palmers were heavily in debt. Their letters from that period tell of unprofitable contract labor and sharecropping, the desertion and loss of slaves, the search for nonagricultural employment, and their changing social status.
Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Louis P. Towles holds a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina and teaches South Carolina and colonial history at Southern Wesleyan University.
"Both an elegy to a way of life destroyed by war and a pointillist examination of life on the South Santee. Every reader of A World Turned Upside Down will discover the South's tragedy in the Palmer family's travails."—Alexander Moore, executive director, South Carolina Historical Society
"A rare and revealing glimpse into the everyday life of one of the South's elite planting families. Not just another 'rise and fall' story, it is a must read for anyone interested in Southern agriculture, education, or family life."—Walter Edgar, author of South Carolina in the Modern Age