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Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry

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Part of Cambridge Studies on the American South

  • Date Published: January 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107656185


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About the Authors
  • On the eve of the Revolution, the Carolina lowcountry was the wealthiest and unhealthiest region in British North America. Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry argues that the two were intimately connected: both resulted largely from the dominance of rice cultivation on plantations using imported African slave labor. This development began in the coastal lands near Charleston, South Carolina, around the end of the seventeenth century. Rice plantations spread north to the Cape Fear region of North Carolina and south to Georgia and northeast Florida in the late colonial period. The book examines perceptions and realities of the lowcountry disease environment; how the lowcountry became notorious for its “tropical” fevers, notably malaria and yellow fever; how people combated, avoided, or perversely denied the suffering they caused; and how diseases and human responses to them influenced not only the lowcountry and the South, but the United States, even helping to secure American independence.

    • An unusually wide perspective on the impact of disease in the South
    • Reveals the connection between disease and the cultivation of rice using enslaved African labor
    • Shows how the defense of this economic system shaped ideas about race and influenced pro-slavery arguments
    Read more


    • Co-winner of the 2012 SHEAR Book Prize

    Reviews & endorsements

    "A compelling and meticulously researched account … McCandless has made exceptional use of a wide variety of primary materials, including letters, personal papers, diaries, official documents, parish records, pamphlets, and newspapers, to reconstruct the impact of tropical diseases in the lowcountry … This is a valuable and provocative study and will appeal to those interested in southern history as well as the history of medicine."
    Shauna Devine, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

    "… until now, few authors have been able to intertwine the economic, medical, and environmental threads so successfully. One recent exception who managed to set the bar high is William Dusinberre, author of … Them Dark Days: Slavery in the American Rice Swamps … McCandless has cleared that same bar with apparent ease. We can only hope that their impressive works inspire more such compelling interdisciplinary studies, for the Lowcountry and beyond."
    Peter H. Wood, Southern Spaces

    "… a valuable book for anyone interested in the history of health in the American South."
    Bradford J. Wood, Journal of Southern History

    "McCandless makes a significant contribution to the scholarship on lowcountry slavery and disease by connecting variable contemporary medical theories with political and cultural concerns that shifted from year to year."
    Jeffrey Robert Young, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

    "McCandless offers insight into the shifting understanding of early American medicine, how it is shaped by geography, economics, and demographics specific to an area."
    Lindsay Rae Smith, Southern Historian

    "McCandless nicely balances attention to rural plantations and their urban entrepôt, demonstrating how the spector of yellow fever and other afflictions strained and recast Charlestonians' lifestyles, customs, and commercial aspirations."
    Michael D. Thompson, The South Carolina Historical Magazine

    "… offers thought-provoking insights …"
    Karen Cook Bell, Journal of American History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107656185
    • length: 324 pages
    • dimensions: 234 x 156 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.5kg
    • contains: 6 b/w illus. 4 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Talk about Suffering:
    1. Rhetoric and reality
    2. From paradise to hospital
    3. 'A scene of diseases'
    4. Wooden horse
    5. Revolutionary fever
    6. Stranger's disease
    7. 'A merciful provision of the creator'
    Part II. Combating Pestilence:
    8. 'I wish that I had studied physick'
    9. 'I know nothing of this disease'
    10. Providence, prudence, and patience
    11. Buying the smallpox
    12. Commerce, contagion, and cleanliness
    13. A migratory species
    14. Melancholy.

  • Author

    Peter McCandless, College of Charleston, South Carolina
    Peter McCandless received his Ph.D. in Modern British and African History from the University of Wisconsin in 1974 and joined the history faculty of the College of Charleston that year. He received the college's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1985 and was named a Governor's Distinguished Professor in 1998. He is the author of Moonlight, Magnolias, and Madness: Insanity in South Carolina from the Colonial to the Progressive Eras (1996) and numerous journal articles.


    • Co-winner of the 2012 SHEAR Book Prize

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