Wide reading, supplemented by a constructive faith in history, has taught me that, at least among Southerners, an exalted life must be built upon the exaltation of forebears.
Francis Butler Simkins, Edgefieldian and southern historian
Our view of white family life in Edgefield and the rest of the South has been obscured by the passage of time, the influence of stereotypes and received ideas, and the complexity of free society (as opposed to the cruel "simplicity" of slavery). Edgefield was an agrarian community, with farms and families of different sizes and configurations. One-mule farms were worked next to plantations that utilized hundreds of slaves. Families consisting of parents and children had as neighbors households in which no one was related. Edgefield embraced out-of-state relatives of wealthy families, who came to learn plantation management, and maintained links with families who migrated to the West.
White Southerners were an especially family-centered people. Attacks upon Yankee civilization frequently included charges that Northerners tended to sexual excess, that is, free love, marital instability, and divorce. After the Civil War, when social relations with blacks were painfully unsure, the family took on special significance because it was the most enduring and stable institution.
White Edgefield glorified the home and the family. Poems such as Thomas H. Shreeve's "The Bliss of Home" praised "the joy which gleans around / The hearth where pure affections dwell / Where love, enrobed in Smiles, is found." In 1832 Augusta attorney Henry Cumming told his wife, Julia, of his wish to withdraw from the world into his family. "But you have always said &